I have been away for a few days, at our Diocesan summer conference in Aberystwyth. We were beside the sea, and heard plenty of seagulls (at all hours of the day), but sadly didn’t have much time to stroll along the Prom.
We were learning about ‘Fresh Expressions’, which many people in the Anglican church will know a lot about already. We are not so far west as never to have heard of FX, but I suspect many of us didn’t really know what all the fuss was about. We are now much wiser, but I’m not sure how many of us will have the confidence (or person-power) to put what we heard about into practice. Reassuringly, we were told that unless we feel a definite call to implement a Fresh Expression ourselves, it’s probably best to leave it to others.
Having learned, marked and inwardly digested, we ended on a high note, in more ways than one. Aberystwyth is a very hilly place and we were physically high above the town, but our thoughts were also high (and not in the way you’re probably thinking). The theme of the conference was ‘Wings to fly’ and we were reminded that the Celtic monks depicted the Holy Spirit both as a dove and as a wild goose. The main speaker chose a number of Biblical passages which referred to wings for his Bible studies, in particular those referring to eagles, such as: ‘But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ [Isaiah 40:31]
Our bishop, in his address at the eucharist today, gave us a vivid description of his initiation into the excitements of aerial photography, and also mentioned our local raptor, the Red Kite. As the result of a programme of reintroduction and conservation, the Red Kite is now so numerous in these parts that it’s not uncommon to see one or two drifting over my garden. Do we want to find ourselves conserved and protected in the way the Red Kite has been, the bishop asked, or is there another way forward?
On my way home, I saw two Red Kites, not far away from each other. They were both flying just above the hedgerow, but the second flew so low that I felt I could reach out and touch it. It flew ahead of me for a short while, so close that I could see its tail feathers adjusting as it steered against the wind. It is such a privilege to see these beautiful birds at close quarters that it takes the breath away.
Whether or not this encounter has any significance for the future of the clergy or the Church in Wales I have no idea. Red Kites are wonderful, God-given creatures which have also been given a helping hand by people who care about them. Maybe clergy are wonderful, God-given people who may need a helping hand from other people who care about them enough to do something when they start to reach breaking point. If things continue as they are, that point may come sooner than the general population realises. There are only so many hours in the day, and so many things that a clergy-person can do in them; and if that clergy-person is trying to minister to a parish which includes five, six or more churches virtually on their own, sooner or later something is going to have to give.
On a lighter (and hillier) note, in case you’ve never been there here are a few more photos of Aber.