The Bishop's Letters

Follow this page as we share with you the letters from Bishop Gregory. You can find these letters on the Diocese of St. Asaph Website or just by clicking each title. We hope that you find these letters inspiring, guiding and supporting through such challenging times.

If you'd like to read more from Bishop Gregory, who's letters are inspiring, thought provoking and guiding, he also publishes his "AD CLERUM'S" which we hope you will find of further help.

A photograph of Bishop Gregory at his finest.


To the members of the Family of St Asaph
A Pastoral Letter for the New Year, January 2021
"FOLLOW ME."


We’re familiar, I suspect, with the story of the twelve disciples, who are an integral part of the story of Jesus in the Gospels. As sure as Snow White belongs with the Seven Dwarfs, so Jesus belongs with the twelve, if that isn’t too trivialising a thing to say. What is so fascinating in the Gospels is what a motley band the disciples are. They make a mess of things, they misunderstand, they question, they fail to believe and to follow. Over the course of the ministry of Jesus, however, they are forged into apostles, and Jesus is not afraid at his ascension to put the whole business of the Gospel of Salvation and the Church into their hands.

I was challenged before Christmas when someone said to me that they didn’t think that Christians today thought of themselves as disciples, and that people didn’t understand what a disciple was. It was a name which belonged in the Bible, but was hardly a contemporary description of faith, they said.

For me, the fundamental question of faith is whether I am a disciple. Faith is not an abstract exercise of the mind, it is how it affects my daily life. A disciple is one who learns: it is clearer in the Welsh, where disciple and pupil are the same word: disgybl. To be a Christian is to lay one’s life on the line, and to follow Jesus. We see the “crisis” of discipleship when Jesus calls the twelve – peremptorily – from their fishing or their tax collection or their political activism. He just turns up, it appears, and issues the invitation (we might be better saying “command”.) And they go with him, they leave their work, they leave their families, they set out on a journey from which, to tell the truth, they never return, and yet they come truly home. The gospels even tell us about one occasion when someone said “no”: a rich young aristocrat, who just couldn’t tear himself away from the privileges of his wealth (Mark. 10.17-27).

Jesus, I’m afraid, doesn’t call us to stay where we are, in the sense of saying our creeds with meaning, but otherwise going about our lives. He calls us to set out on a journey, away from the familiar, to become larger than we are, greater in spirit, holier in life, loving in service. Nor does he make it easy, “If anyone does want to come after me,” he says in Luke 9.23, “they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and so follow me.”

Are we frightened by this? Was it enough to be baptised or confirmed in the past, so that we need not heed the call that comes today or tomorrow, to go somewhere we don’t expect and to learn something new about the real meaning of life? This is what it is to be a Christian: to learn what God has in store for us and to follow it, to be a disciple. The disciples didn’t find following Jesus easy, and indeed, the Gospel according to John tells us that on one occasion Jesus’ teaching was so demanding that a lot of people gave up, and left. (John chapter 6, particularly v.66 ff) Jesus has to turn to the twelve, and say: “Are you lot off as well?” It is good old Simon Peter who replies on this occasion: “Where else could we go?”, he says, “You are the one who has the words which give eternal life.”

And that’s the promise – to follow Jesus, to go on the unexpected journey, is to discover the riches of a life beyond compare, beyond blessing. “He who would true valour see, let him come hither,” wrote John Bunyan in the seventeenth century. “One here will constant be, come wind, come weather. There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent his first avowed intent: to be a pilgrim.” Pilgrim follower, disciple. Are you a disciple? I can think of no better vocation, no more exciting journey in 2021 than to get up, shake off the lethargy or the disgruntlement, and to go through the door of life, and look to Jesus, who stretches his hand towards us, and for us to say to him: “Here I am, and where you lead, I will follow.”



A Christmas Message from the Bishop of St Asaph, Gregory Cameron. Monday 21st December 2020.
"Let us listen out for the Angels."


My Christmas carol for 2020 is going to be It came upon a midnight clear. I suspect many of you will know it, and sing it this Christmas, but it says something very appropriate. The carol, written in 1849 by Edmund Sears, speaks of the darkness

of the world, but bids us listen to the message of the angels:

O rest beside the weary road, And hear the angels sing!

2020 has been a terrible year: the virus has cost us a lot, in lives, in livelihood, in lifestyles, and with news of the new lockdown we all probably feel very weary. Yet, perseverance must be our watchword, and, hopefully, 2021 will see the end of the tyranny of the virus as the vaccination programme rolls out.

Acknowledging the weariness, the carol bids us listen to the message of the angels, in the same way that, according to the Bible, the shepherds, cold in the fields and working night shifts, were surprised by a chorus of angels speaking words of good news and peace to them.

We are unlikely to be surprised by a heavenly host, but “hearing the angels sing” can have meaning for us – to concentrate and reflect upon the GOOD news of this year, of the bravery and dedication of those who have served us in the medical world, of the compassion and care offered by folk to their neighbours, of the love of friends and relatives. For me, as a Christian, it will also be to reflect on the birth of a child who is God’s gift to us, Jesus, in whose teaching we find the way of life, and in whose life we find the possibility of renewed love, joy and peace. Let us listen out for the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to all people of good will.”


A Pastoral Letter for December from the Bishop of St Asaph To all the faithful of the Teulu Asaph.
"THE LIGHT SHINES STILL"


One of the very greatest passages of scripture, in my opinion, opens the Gospel according to Saint John. It is known to scholars as “the Prologue”, because although it is part of John’s account of the ministry of Jesus, it begins, not like Matthew’s Gospel or Luke’s, with the story of Jesus’ birth, but with a meditation

upon the eternal significance of the Lord. It speaks about God as the one who gives Life and who is Light, and proclaims: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can’t grasp it” (John 1.5)

There’s an ambiguity in the original text which was written in antique Greek – “can’t grasp it” could mean “can’t understand it” or “can’t pin it down” or even “can’t hold it back”. It signifies hope. No matter how dark things get, no matter how much chaos threatens to overwhelm, the light of God still shines, and the threat of darkness can’t conquer. The power of evil, which is so often self-centred, cannot comprehend the true nature of Love, which is to give, to share and to serve – which is, quite simply, life-giving.

It’s in this context that John sets the birth of Jesus – the Word of God dwelt among us, he writes, full of grace and truth. At a time when the gloom of wintry nights and cold and cloudy days can be monotonous, when talk of Covid lockdown and illness still swirls around, when we all recognise that Christmas will be different this year, the message that God’s light seeks to kindle the fire of love afresh in our hearts is good news for those who turn in faith to seek God’s help. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Light has a magnificent quality. Even the smallest amounts of light dispel darkness, and when the flame of a candle is shared, it doubles the amount of light, as both flames burn with an equal intensity. So too, if we can show even little acts of love, it can transform a situation, and as love spreads, it doesn’t become more thinly spread out, it becomes unstoppable.

We are all called to be people of love, who by our own lives and witness carry the torch of God’s love into other people’s lives. This is what it really should mean to be Church. It is my prayer for you all this Christmas that first, you will know the light of God’s love in your own lives and families, and second, that you’ll be able to carry light to others, by your joy, by your love, by your readiness to serve the needs of those around you.

Christians believe that God gave his everything at Christmas, that the One who is Lord of All, at the same time both at the beginning and end of time, confined himself into the life of a baby born in Bethlehem so that he might live a human life, share with us in all the tribulations and sadness, and ultimately to fight against all that is destructive, and then to conquer. In all his life, Jesus was an agent of love, passing this gift to his disciples, and sending it out across the world in them in order to reach us today. Christians have stumbled at times, and have even dropped the torch they carry by seeking power instead of service, but the good news has never truly been lost, even as Jesus promised.

The flame of God’s love cannot be quenched, and I find that it is worth every day finding time to be still, quiet and open to the movement of the Spirit, so that I may centre myself in that love, and join afresh the Jesus movement. In quietness and confidence shall be your
strength” (Isaiah 30.15). 

May we all be able to find the space for quietness over the holidays and be enabled to face 2021 with confidence as bearers of light.




e might almost have felt that we have been going backwards in recent weeks. By the time you read this, we shall have finished our second bout of lockdown in Wales, while our neighbours to the east have settled down into a full month of lockdown. The second wave of Covid is flowing around us, and the outlook for Christmas is highly uncertain. My sense is also that we

are weary; weary of the vigilance, of the restrictions, of the uncertainty, of the risk. It was one thing to have almost the excitement and new challenges of lockdown in the Spring (Do you remember those weeks upon weeks of beautiful weather that we had?). It is quite another as the days and weather close in to realise that we are far from through this.

St Ignatius Loyola is a Roman Catholic saint of the sixteenth century, who founded one of the most dynamic of the religious orders, the Jesuits. Pope Francis is a Jesuit – the first Jesuit to have been elected Pope in fact. Ignatius came from a soldiering background, and he applied all the discipline and training of the military life to the task of growing in faith and following Jesus. Ignatian Spirituality – the approach to faith and prayer and discipleship that he developed – is very popular in the twenty-first century and many Christians of all denominations find that its practices are a very real and practical help to growth in faith and wisdom.

One of the things that Ignatian Spirituality teaches us is to be conscious in our lives of both Consolation and Desolation. We’re probably familiar with these terms already – to be consoled is to have the comfort of friends and supporters; we are desolated when something goes deeply wrong and causes us upset. I’m sure that some of us will also have had the experience of getting the consolation prize, when we’ve missed out on winning! However, when Ignatius spoke of consolation and desolation, he was speaking of more than our feelings and emotions. He was speaking of our actions and our will. For Ignatius, to know God is the highest goal in life, to be caught up into his love and glory and light. Consolation is therefore movement towards God, while desolation arises out of movement away from God.

Amidst the encircling gloom of this season and of restriction, it seems to me that we have much to learn from Ignatian spirituality at this time. There is so much that can appear to come between us and God in these days: worry about our futures, preoccupation with our daily concerns, irritation and grumpiness with ourselves or with others, or merely life’s circumstances. It would be easy to live in desolation, and to give God and our faith a miss.

However, this is precisely the time when we need to move towards God, to seek out consolation. And consolation is so much more than giving ourselves a break and comforting things – although these have their place and are a good place to begin. It is even more than resting in the presence of God, although prayer is always a good way to reconnect with the goodness of God which can flow sometimes invisibly around us. It is about doing those things which nourish the soul, and which take us on a journey towards God. It may be the time to read a good book or watch an inspirational film, to use our creativity in music, art or craft, but even these are rather inward facing. Consolation can flow from living among our neighbours as Christ lived – in kindness, in generosity, in giving hope to others. These don’t have to be big actions; they may at times even be profoundly uncomfortable at first.

However, when desolation might just have the upper hand, investing in the things of consolation, that take us on the journey towards God, will give us balance, hope and life. On one occasion Jesus spoke to the crowds, “O that you would know the things that make for peace!” May God teach us the things that make for peace, that bring consolation, that help us to perceive and receive his blessing.



It does us good sometimes to look at the big picture – to stand back and remember our basic orientation as the people of God. When talking about the Christian message, the Church often says that it commissioned to proclaim “Good News”, and we do need to be good news for the people whom we encounter and serve. Part of that good news – the core of it in fact – is the belief that God is on our side, and enters into this world to bring us salvation. But what is salvation, and how does it speak into our present times?

I’ve often thought that Christianity is a very realistic religion because it begins with the fact that human beings mess things up. We do well on many things, of course - art and science and civilization. However, we also give in to darker impulses, greed and hatred and prejudice and sin. This operates on two levels – we fail as a society, and we fail as individuals, to live up to what God desires of us. This might be rather gloomy were it not for what comes next – God loves us, and is committed to our salvation. Herein is love,” says the scriptures, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4.10)

There can be said to be a double giving by God in Jesus – first, comes the Incarnation, celebrated at Christmas, when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1.14). By becoming human, God in Christ sanctifies creation, and unites heaven and earth. Yet Jesus’ life finds its climax in the crucifixion, at Easter, when God in Christ gives himself up to death on the cross: “God forgave us all our sins; he cancelled the unfavourable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2.14). To be a Christian is to enter into the mystery of Christ, to be baptised into his body, to share in the incarnation, and in his death and resurrection, to become inheritors of salvation and eternal life. I might just as well reference the whole of the Letter to the Romans here, as the opening chapters go into great depth about this, but let me choose one verse: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6.23). God wants all of us to grow into fullness of life. He tackles the mess we make of things by taking on the whole of human life in Jesus, and winning the battle for us. This is all gift: “... to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (John 1.12). To sum it up in one word that I used last month: it is atonement, God and humanity through Christ are brought together to be at one.

In the same way that “sin” (what I’ve described as “humans messing up”) operates on two levels, the individual and the societal, so does salvation: individuals are invited into eternal life; while together we are invited, under God, to build His Kingdom, and to be bearers of peace and justice.

“If God is on our side, who can be against us?” (Romans 8.31). To know Christ is therefore to know eternal life and to receive the hope of salvation, when we will be made whole, and when society is brought into the reality of God’s vocation of a redeemed, just and whole society – the Kingdom of God. This should give us hope in every situation, because if we know the destination, life – with all its troubles and challenges – is the process of journeying there. “For I am sure,” wrote Paul, “that he who began this good work in you will bring it to completion.” (Philippians 1.6). Even Covid cannot stop it; even death cannot defeat it.

How does this speak into our present situation? It means that putting our hands into the hand of God, of walking with him, makes the hope of salvation the context in which everything else takes place. In Covid, we struggle, we fear, we are forced into new ways. We face bereavement, and illness, and the opportunity to love. Yet “... I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29.11). Can we be people of hope and joy at this time? Can we be people who truly believe, and embrace God’s gift in Christ? And if you want some homework, take the opportunity perhaps, to sit down this week, and to read, in one sitting, Romans Chapters 1 to 8. Whether it is new or familiar – it speaks of Christian hope. 

May God bless you,



When I wrote to you at the end of July, the beginnings of the lifting of lockdown were underway. As I write in mid-September we are learning, if we didn’t already realise, that the lifting of lockdown is not a straightforward or linear process. What is lifted one week may have to be re-imposed the next. One freedom may be given, but the necessary strings of safety requirements may be attached the next. Very early on, people started talking about the possibility of a “new normal”, but now we are beginning to see what that will look like. Our churches will be open for worship, but it will include the wearing of masks and social distancing while we pray. The sacraments will be celebrated, but emergency measures may last a lot longer than we anticipated. The postponement of a couple of months may turn into a couple of years, while things remain uncertain, and people’s health and safety must remain the top priority.

All this can create in us a sense of anxiety and concern; as Fr Richard Peers described it to the Cathedral congregation last Sunday, a sense of unresolvedness. To live in the second half of 2020 is to live with uncertainty, and not knowing what shall be or what shall be asked of us.

The Scriptures are sure that in the light of uncertainty, our hope must be in God. As Psalm 46 says: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea ...” It is not that as Christians we can expect to be exempt from trouble – that much will be obvious already – but that we believe God holds the key to the long term future, and to eternity. Speaking to his disciples just before the catastrophe of his own arrest and the events of the Passion, Jesus says to his disciples: In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33).

One of the central doctrines of the Christian faith is the Atonement, literally the At-one-making. Christians believe that in dying on the Cross, God in Christ was taking all the pain of the world and the cost of human failings (of sin) onto his own shoulders  “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5.19) For the individual, this means that God is taking the price of our sin on the Cross and writing it off; for creation it means that God is acting to heal all that is broken and causing harm. It means that in the dark, we may find some light, that in desolation, we may find comfort, in distress, we may yet find peace. For these are the gifts of God’s grace – to be with us danger and difficulty, and to seek to strengthen us. Such a faith allowed Mother Julian of Norwich to see the whole of creation bounded as a small walnut in the hands of God, and to say: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

The Book of Revelation is mysterious in its imagery and symbolism, but the message is clear enough: after all the chaos and dangers of this world, God’s intention is to create a new heaven and a new earth in which there shall be peace. It is made possible by God’s willingness to bear the cost: in Revelation, Christ is depicted as a Lamb slain from the foundation of the World, but as such, as one who is worthy to open the way to a restored Creation.

This attitude of faith is described in several places in the New Testament as “patient endurance”. It is my prayer that such patient endurance will be God’s continuing gift to us as we face the ongoing challenges of the virus, and yet respond in faith and with courage.

May God bless you all,



How are you facing the prospect of the easing of lockdown? My sense is that there’s a real mixture of feelings – there is excitement for some; certainly going to the ordination a few weeks ago, and to a live licensing last Sunday brought for me a sense of real excitement and even joy to be going into Church again. On the other hand, many are extremely nervous of re-forging links, of actually being in the presence of others, and facemasks and sanitizer are the hallmarks of a new caution that will be part of our lives for some considerable time yet.

I am sure that the Spirit of God is seeking to encourage us, however. The sovereignty of God is exercised, in my opinion, not by making us marionettes, and by dictating every success or failure, every good thing and bad occurrence, but by moving among us to bring life out of death, light out of darkness, hope out of fear, and strength out of weakness. God works always towards the healing and wholeness of creation. And he invites us to get caught up in that movement, to join with him as life givers, light bringers, hope imparters, strength builders. “In this world you will have tribulation.” said Jesus, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33).

So God invites you and I, at this time of the easing of lockdown, to be bold in rebuilding society and lifting up those who have been cast down. This is the work of the Kingdom. It is not being foolhardy: there are risks, and we should follow best practice, and we must be sober in our judgment of how we stay safe. Nonetheless, the chief thought and intention in our minds at this time must be “What can I contribute to the greater good? How can I be am ambassador of the healing power of Christ to my neighbour at a time like this?” The cross of Jesus Christ is the mark that God bears our pain in his heart, and that by his death and burial, Jesus buries our sin and failure, our fear and our anxiety. His resurrection is the mark of the way in which God will put the possibility of new life and new expressions of love in our way, and we must claim the opportunities he gives us.

“You shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace” (Isaiah 55.12) was the promise of God to the nation of Israel when they were coming out of the lockdown of exile and despair in their own national life, and I don’t think it is too farfetched to believe that God would have us face the future in a similar spirit. We must dig deep into our spiritual resources to discover again that we are bearers of joy, which is the secret joy planted in our hearts when we catch sight of what the fullness of God’s Kingdom can be like. We must go forth to be peacemakers, having discovered afresh the peace which God imparts to his children, and which becomes manifest when we build up others by loving service, and by acting as healers of division and brokenness.

If our faith means anything, Christians must be at the forefront of creating a new society in which reconciliation, peace and justice can come to fruition. At the end of the Gospels, the disciples come across as quite disoriented, and unsure what to do next. As we come, blinking, into contact with society once again, we are not unlike them. Jesus gave the disciples a gentle push (perhaps not so gentle actually) – “Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16.15 – from the longer, possible additional, ending of the Gospel according to Mark, although all the Gospels have a similar sending) How can the Teulu Asaph be good news to the people of north east and central Wales? Of one thing then we can be certain, Jesus is prompting us forward to be his agents of hope and new life.

This will be the last of my weekly pastoral letters for now. I am taking a break in August, and hope perhaps to start monthly pastoral letters on a permanent basis in the Autumn. I’m enormously grateful for the positive feedback and encouragement I’ve received. May God bless you greatly, your going out and your coming in,



We have begun the long process of the return to worship. Our churches are opening again, but not to go back to what was before. In the first place, our return has strings attached, and there are precautions we are required to take. The virus is still there, hiding invisible among our communities; probably quite rare – I heard an estimate of 1 in 200,000 people the other day, but as it is impossible to say where, we still have to treat every encounter with the possibility that the virus may have managed to join our company.

More importantly, we have discovered in our long absence perhaps a new sense of why we come to worship. Someone said to me the other day: “I’m really missing Church”, and part of this will undoubtedly be the sense of “the beauty of holiness” that accompanies entering many of our church buildings. However, it is more than the building, it is the people. It is easier to pray when there are people praying around us. Communion with God – that fundamental sense of relationship and “heart speaking to heart” which is the religious experience – is complemented by communion with one another, baptised into one body as we are. I remember a friend of our family talking about the relationship with her young daughter some years ago: “It’s like watching my heart walking towards me”, she said. Would that we could feel that when we gather as sisters and brothers in a congregation – more importantly, it is what God feels when we approach him in prayer.

So as the 11 o’clock on a Sunday starts getting into its pace once again, and the wardens polish the silver, and the priest sets it upon the altar - in addition to abiding by all those distancing rules, what should guide us as we come back to Church?

First, worship is about giving God the worth due to him – it literally, in English, is “worth-ship”. As you slot the last piece of the jigsaw into place, there’s a sense of everything coming together, and that it what should be happening when we enter into the holy place – we gather around God, each metaphorically taking our place around the throne; we, as the tiny splinters of divine grace, drawn into the circle of the all consuming love of God. Read Isaiah Chapter 6 before coming into Church, and ask that your eyes may be opened to the eternal in our worship like the prophet.

Second, it is not therefore about what we get out of it, but what we put into it. When someone comes away from Church saying “Well, that did nothing for me”, they only have half a point. Worship should catch hold of our soul and carry it to the throne of grace, that’s why we should take care about what we do, but it isn’t there for personal entertainment: “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God”, it is written in 1 Peter 5.6, “that in due time, he may lift you up.”

Third, for the stranger and the visitor, you are the physical face of God, and the quality of the welcome you give is the impression that they’ll take away of the value and meaning of your faith. If visiting Church is about sitting in the right place, staying on the right page, and behaving in the right way, the message is more like a bad school assembly than “my chains fell off and I was free, I rose, went forth and followed thee”.

Fourth, worship doesn’t end when we finish the liturgy, close the book and switch off the lights as we leave. It’s a way of living life. Just as a tuning fork is struck and vibrates in the resonance of a particular note, but really sings when it is grounded, so our worship needs to be grounded in the discipled way in which we carry God’s love into the world.

Oh, I’m so looking forward to being back, and to seeing you all once again. May God bless our new adventures in holiness,



One of the gifts of the Spirit acknowledged in Scripture, and very active in the life of the both the Old and New Testaments, is the gift of Prophecy. One of the prophets, Joel, told us to expect a lot more of it. He wrote: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your youth will see visions, your elderly will dream dreams.”, and when Pentecost came, the apostles told us that in the life of the Church, we were to see this scripture being fulfilled. So where is prophecy today?

I think that there are two things to help us to recognise prophecy in its biblical understanding. First, is that it is less to do with predicting the future, and more about speaking about the consequences of what God is saying to the world now. I’ve seen shelves of bookshops filled with “the Prophecies of Nostradamus” which are nothing to do with true prophecy, which is designed to bring home to us the truths that God is summoning us to obey. It is, as someone put it, “reading the signs of the times”.

Second, it is highly political. So many people get prickly when Church leaders speak into political situations, and tell us to mind our own business, when in truth I think they mean that they’d like religion to be locked away from grubby realities, separated from truths they’d prefer not to have to face. The Prophets in the Bible – all of them, including Jesus – spoke the truth to the rich and powerful of the day, and often provoked just that negative response: how dare you? It’s why so many of them were killed.

So where is prophecy today? Some Christians look for something thrilling to come out of ecstatic worship, but I think that prophecy occurs when faith and wisdom go hand in hand: the wisdom to perceive how God is challenging us now. And there are many prophets among us – one such is John Bell, of the Iona Community. A couple of weeks ago he spoke during BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship, and I felt that in what he said then he was being prophetic, asking what were the consequences of our Christian belief, and demonstrating how they must impact on the way we build our world. Here is some of what he had to say:

“If we believe, as Jesus says, 'you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free', do we want children in the future to be as ignorant of the past as many or most of us adults have been? I mean, I had to wait until I was fifty to discover that Scotland had owned a third of the slave plantations in Jamaica, and that the Victorian opulence of Glasgow and other British cities was the result of the trans-Atlantic transport of enslaved Africans, tacitly condoned by Christian churches. Do we have to wait for statues to be toppled before we own our past?

“If we believe that Jesus declared there is good news for the poor, and if we know that poverty has grown in our nation, and that people living in poor neighbourhoods are far more likely to die from Covid 19 than the wealthy, are we prepared to identify the root causes, and to treat those who are economically disadvantaged with dignity in

the future? Or do we have to pray for another sporting personality or stage celebrity to name an injustice before it is rectified?

“If we believe that God loves the world, and we know that, in the world God loves, everything from the Australian coral reef to the Amazon rain forest to the Arctic Pole and even the humble bumble bee are all threatened by human failure to respect the integrity of creation, are we going to continue living so irresponsibly that the children of tomorrow will have to go to museums to see what we regard as commonplace today?

“If we believe that Jesus has mandated his disciples to heal the sick, are we going to live in the expectation that huge pharmaceutical companies and better medical technology will come up with the solutions? Or should we at least consider personal responsibility and preventative rather than responsive medicine?

“If we believe that Jesus cares that prisoners be released, and we know that the causes of crime are very often rooted in childhood trauma or deprivation, are we just going to build more prisons, or look at what can be done to prevent vulnerable people becoming potential offenders?

“And if we believe from the evidence of the gospels, that Jesus spent a hundred times more of his life on issues of healing, teaching, evangelism, and engaging face to face with people, than he ever did on bricks and mortar, are we going to going to shape the future of the church according to his priorities or remain obsessed by the upkeep of buildings and structures some of which have long been obsolete?”

This is the stuff of prophecy for me, because John takes fundamental truths that we recognise about God, and applies them quite directly to our responsibility for things that are going on in the world. Some of them, if not all of them, may make us quite uncomfortable – but that is what God does, he wants to move us from where we are, to building, under his guidance and with his grace, the Kingdom of God. The challenge is – what happens next? Jesus often finished his parables with “Let the one who has ears to hear, listen!”, “and”, we might add, “take action.”

I’ve said before that coming out of lockdown would be the time when the lessons of lockdown need to be learned. That moment is now, and how shall we respond to God’s prompting and to the prophecy happening in our midst?



Last Saturday, perhaps one of the strangest events in 900 hundred years happened in the Cathedral. In one sense, the cathedral had seen it all before; it was an ordination,

joyous, prayerful, focussed on the action of the Holy Spirit. On another level, there could be no physical congregation – everyone present had a necessary part to play in the proceedings – and at one point in the service, everyone present had to don visors, in order to ensure personal protection, as we necessarily had to come within two metres of each other for the laying on of hands. It was both faintly ridiculous and deadly serious at the same time.

After discussions with the Welsh government, it had been decided that diaconal ordinations could proceed, on the grounds that it was a necessary part of their beginning of ministry, but sadly, our priest candidates will have to wait until the autumn, with the hope of easier times to come.

So, how did it feel in the cathedral last Saturday? First, surprisingly holy. Our cathedral is a “thin place”, where the barrier between heaven and earth is thin, having been a place of prayer, word and sacrament for nearly a thousand years. The gathering of people in earnest desire of seeing the Lord at work generated a sense of excitement and expectation, a sense that the Spirit was moving in that place.

Second, it was humbling. Our nine diaconal candidates are so varied: young, old, male, female, married, single, Catholic, and Evangelical. They each bring a story, of different life experiences, of different journeys of faith. There are ways in which for each one the spiritual journey to the Cathedral that day has lasted years,

and been challenging, perplexing, inspiring, and transformative in turn. It was humbling as well to know that all nine feel that not only is God calling them to ministry, but that they are ready to invest their ministry in the teulu Asaph. There is something about our Church life that has caught their imagination and makes them keen and enthusiastic to share in our life and witness.

Third, the cathedral was alive with hope. These nine new ministers are deacons, servants of Jesus Christ, and called to be ambassadors of his love and of the Gospel to the world. God will use their wisdom and insights to bring them alongside people whom they can help. They will bring new life and new perspectives into the life of the teulu Asaph. We are changed by their vocation, and God will do new things through them; things that none of us, themselves included, can yet realise or anticipate.

“O magnify the Lord with me, let us praise his name together.” (Psalm 34.3) I want to thank God for all that he is doing in our midst. These nine are tokens, symbolic of the work that God is doing in our common life, and building our future. I am excited by the potential exhibited in the dedication offered in these lives. I hope that that excitement is shared by all across the diocese. These nine are tokens, and representative of what God is doing in a myriad other ways in our diocese, affirming those already ordained, enabling lay ministries as people offer their own gifting and talents to the work of building God’s Kingdom.

At a time when the Church is greatly challenged about its future and the viability of our present structures, I see last week’s ordinations as a down-payment of hope that God isn’t finished with us yet: indeed, that he has great plans for us.


A PASTORAL LETTER FROM BISHOP GREGORY FOR THURSDAY, 2ND JULY, 2020
"LOOSENING LOCKDOWN”


I Ithink that we’ve all been surprised by the lockdown. When it began in mid-March, we were uncertain how long it would last, but it looked like a period of time with a definite start and a definite finish. One day the danger of the virus would be past, and we would resume life. Now we’re learning that the lockdown is going to be lifted step by step – rather like treading one’s way across a treacherous frozen lake, we’re having to test the ice ahead to see if it will bear us - whether this step can be taken safely, or whether we shall have to retreat if the virus surges once again.

So the rules change; in England one day the schools are returning, the next day they’re not. TherulesinWalesaredifferentfromtherulesinEngland. Isittwometresdistance we must maintain, or one plus? One plus what? We can travel five miles - or more, if there’s good reason, but what would a good reason look like? Garden centres were amongst the first to open, barbers and hairdressers are taking bookings, but can they open yet? I must admit I’ve begun to get confused.

Even the rules for the churches are changing frequently. One week we’re open for private prayer, but it looks as if the resumption of weddings are on their way, and new announcements are in the pipeline. The Sunday celebration of the Eucharist in our local churches for all God’s people seems a way off yet however.

We’re going to have to learn the rules of loosening lockdown, and live by them. However, the situation has become complicated, and the united front of commitment and resilience is under pressure. The beaches have become too appealing for some, the chance to renew friendships is too attractive for others, and yet many, if not most have become more cautious, we’ve learned to dance around the supermarket, weaving to preserve the two metre rule.

What are the loosening lockdown rules of faith that apply in these times? How does God call upon to relate to one another? Here are just three that are close to the top of my list.

Compassion. I’ve written before about the way in which we’ve put the vulnerable in the centre of our society at this time. Our churches have done humble but important things well in these days  checking up on the shielded, delivering medicines, cooking and delivering meals, ensuring support. As we loosen lockdown, how can we remain compassionate, and as the business of life resumes, how do we find the space for others? “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”, said Jesus (Luke 6.36), and this is one of the chief marks of a loving Christian community.

Collaboration. One of the phrases I’ve heard frequently is that “We’re in this together”, but it has, it seems to me, become far more than words. We’ve been learning to co- operate. The things that we’ve done, the things that we’ve achieved, have often been because, like the Body of Christ, we’ve acted as a body. Too often we can make Christianity a religion of private faith: my prayers, my faith, my salvation. Yet there’s always a corporate dimension – it is when two or three are gathered that Christ is among us, and together we can do more. I hope that we’ll invest in the Church, as lockdown loosens. “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2.22) What a vision for the Teulu Asaph, that God should at home among us.

Courage. I’ve been amazed by the way that the Church family has been bold in facing the future. We’ve not put off decisions on finance, co-operation and evangelism. We’ve not abandoned worship or mission, as if these can wait for the future. And this commitment must continue, indeed, this must be accelerated as the lockdown loosens: what new things is Christ calling us to? “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed” God urged Joshua as he took over from Moses (Joshua 1.9), and I am sure that God speaks the same words to us today.

These are big words – and yet I think it’s fair to say that they have already been true of us over the last three months. May they also be watchwords for our future: rules for loosening lockdown, and being faithful to Christ.



Human beings find it very hard to contemplate infinity. We are so finite ourselves, living in a little corner of the world, aware that our lives are bounded by circumstance and mortality – especially at this time. Everything we know also speaks to us of the finite. How many miles is it to our destination? How many hours will it take to do this? How much did that cost? Yet when we come to God, we have to talk about infinity. We can read or even write a thousand volumes of theology, and the truth is that we have only captured the merest edges of his eternity. All the language that we use for God -every word – is an attempt to give shape to someone who is beyond boundaries. Our words are incomplete, any description is unfinished; it can only ever be a thesis, an insight, an analogy. As that beautiful hymn says: “Thou art a sea without a shore, a sun without a sphere”.

Christians believe that we can begin to talk about God meaningfully though, for one reason – because of revelation. God has revealed himself, and told us something of himself. “No man can see my face and live” Moses was told (Exodus 33.20), and that remains true of the totality of God’s being, but God, we believe, has revealed himself in the Word, and the Word subsists in two ways for us – in the Word of God himself, Jesus Christ, and in the “authorised version”, the record of that revelation, which is the Bible. Maybe that’s a topic for another pastoral letter ...

Sometimes the idea of infinity gets so much, that we tempted to reject it. “If God created the world”, asks the school child, “who created God?” “If God is omnipotent, why does he allow coronavirus?” Yet infinity is real. We only have to go out and look at the sky at night to realise that our own universe appears to be infinite, so that we cannot see its end, and even our most powerful telescopes haven’t plumbed its depths. Believer or non-believer, Christian, Muslim, or atheist, we can all ponder the question: just where did it all come from? Cutting edge scientists tell that that question of what happened before the big bang is illegitimate, that there can be no “before” when there is no space-time, that nothing proceeded the quantum fluctuation which started it all.

Christians however give a far more intriguing answer, that before the universe there was the three in one, the triune - one God, but a trinity of persons, dancing in life and love; that at the bottom of the bottomless well of the universe, is relationship and love; Creator, Word and Spirit. Why are humans so caught up with relationships? Why are friends and lovers just so important to us? The Darwinian says because of the impulse to survive, but what gave the universe that drive towards life in the first place? I want to say that all life is sacred because all life springs from love, the love of God who calls forth creation to himself – the heart calling upon the heart, as I put it in an earlier letter.

If this is right, if the nature of God as Trinity means that the fundamental truth about the universe is love and relationship, then all love is sacred – not the sort of love that demands selfish satisfaction, but the true love that sacrifices self, that nurtures, that heals, sustains and gives growth. It means that eternal significance rests not on what endures for the longest or the greatest, a triumphant human civilisation or the longest living star, but the quality of love that any human life can generate. “Beloved, let us then love one another, because love comes from God” (1 John 4.7)

A new bishop recently made her motto: Amor Vincit Omnia, Love conquers everything. “For I am convinced”, wrote the apostle Paul, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.38,39)

The trinity is a conundrum that none of us will ever solve, this side of eternity at least, but this teaching about God does school us to delight in love, the love which binds together the Trinity, which is revealed in God’s love for us, and in such love as we have for one another.

If anything can conquer coronavirus, it is love. If anything renews our strength and hope, it is love. If anything can make a difference, it will be grounded in love. That is what God’s revelation of
himself teaches us, and it gives us an agenda for tomorrow and today.


Iwas supposed to be writing to you about the Trinity today, but another subject has become so pressing in our national life that it cannot be avoided. It may seem peculiar that the death in custody of a detainee in the United States should spark huge demonstrations and even violent disorder on the streets of Great Britain, but this is what we have witnessed in the last two weeks. A death in custody should always be treated with the utmost seriousness. In 2015, the latest statistic I found, there were 14 deaths in police custody in the United Kingdom, while, more recently, in the year to March 2019, there were 286 deaths in prisons in the UK, many of which were suicide. These are disturbing statistics, because every death is someone’s child, husband, parent, daughter or relative. We hardly hear about them. Yet, in the case of George Floyd, protests in the UK have been widespread, and we have seen violence on our streets.

Someone might be tempted to ask “Why all this fuss about an American situation, appalling though it is?” “Why do we have to say Black Lives Matter, when surely all lives matter?” It would take more than a pastoral letter to address this subject properly, but I suppose this one death, swiftly followed by a second actually, the death of Rayshard Brooks, causes worldwide reaction. It is partly because their ends were caught on video, and live footage seems to indicate that these deaths arose out of trivial offences, and were completely avoidable, were it not for police brutality – and colour.

One of the truths about life is that oppression can be almost invisible to the more privileged party. Men can be completely oblivious to sexism, and straight people to homophobia. Sadly, it is also true that the white middle-classes can wonder why racism is an issue. I can tell you now that if it wasn’t an issue, it would not have brought thousands out on the streets. Law abiding citizens might see our police as the upholders of law and order, but those who are from black or minority ethnic communities are much more likely to be subject to stop and search. I write as an extremely privileged white university-educated male, favoured to be admitted to the bastions of ancient and privileged halls of learning. For me, the police are pillars of society, and I will always voice my support for them, and deplore any violence against them. I am not so sure that those who are disaffected in our society can see things in the same way. This is not to accuse the police of anything, I am their supporter, but it is to acknowledge that such trust is not readily forthcoming across all sections of society.

The ancient world was one which was highly stratified. Roman patricians were at the top of the pile, the plebs were the poor, but even poor Roman citizens counted for more than foreigners – the barbarians, who couldn’t speak Latin or Greek properly, and mocked for saying “Ba, ba, bar ...” Even they counted for more than the slaves. Jesus and Christianity literally overturned all that with the radical claim that everyone was God’s child, and that “

In just this last week, I have been accused of meddling and of grandstanding, because I’ve voiced again my personal dislike of statues to one particular local lad made good. Let me not start discussing that here! However, as a bishop, as a Christian, I believe that the followers of Jesus are bound to do what Jesus and the prophets themselves did, and that is to speak up always on the side of the least privileged. All lives matter, yes, and for each one Christ died, but we have to say Black Lives Matter because black and minority ethnic communities have come to believe that their lives don’t matter as much.

Rowan Williams once said that Christians should be very careful about drawing boundaries, because they will generally find Jesus waving at them from the other side of the boundary.

Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28). Now in context, this is a claim about our new identity in Christ, once we are baptised and reborn, but Christianity

There is neither

shook classical civilization to its roots because it said that anyone could be the equal of Caesar.

Today our faith compels Christians to stand with the outsider. “If you do it for the least of these my sisters and brothers”

said Jesus, “you do it as for me.” (Matthew 25.40)

Iwas torn this week about the focus of my pastoral letter. I so much wanted to write to you about the Holy Trinity, yet today is an often overlooked feast day in the Church’s calendar, Corpus Christi, or as we Anglicans in Wales like to call it, Thanksgiving for Holy Communion. So the Trinity will have to wait a week.

When St Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church about their celebrations of the Eucharist, he spoke very directly and sternly about what was going on. “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself.” (1 Cor 11.28,29) What is this about “discerning the Body”? I believe that Paul meant two things.

First, although Communion feeds those who receive it, it is not intended as an individual thing. In some church denominations, the wine of Communion is distributed in tiny individual cups, and in the early days of coronavirus, it was suggested that perhaps Anglicans should share the Eucharist in such a way. I resisted that suggestion, because for me, the symbolism of us coming together and sharing from one cup emphasises that we have the one Lord and Saviour, that we drink from the same fountain of salvation that he opened for us on Calvary, and that Communion is shared not just with God, but with each other. We are bound together into one Body as we receive Communion. To discern the Body is therefore to recognise this fact, to recognise that once we take Communion together our own relationship is changed; in the Lord, we are sister and brother, irrevocably and eternally, because we are bought by Christ. This is one of the reasons why, although I am sure that we miss Communion sorely, I do not think it right to parcel it out, or place our own bread and wine in front of the screen. To eat and drink as if it is a private thing, a gift for us alone, is to fail to discern the corporate aspect of what we are doing.

Secondly, Paul is quite clear that partaking of the bread and wine of the Eucharist is not just a sharing of ordinary bread and wine. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10.16) Christians have argued for centuries, and blood has been spilt, about the nature of the change that undergoes the bread and wine of the Communion in the Eucharist, and many of us may have learned the little poem of Queen Elizabeth I that tried to short-circuit the debate: “His was the word that spake it, he took the bread and brake it, and what his word doth make it, that I believe and take it.” For me, the answer is in Dr Who’s tardis, which I think most people will know is bigger on the inside. Outwardly, we see no change in the bread and the wine. By Christ’s word and command, however, on the inside, the whole treasury of God’s grace becomes present to be offered to us as God’s gift. To fail to discern the Body is to fail to recognise that God is really present in the eucharistic elements.

Catholic Christians tend to describe the Eucharist as the summit of Christian worship. This is not just because when we celebrate the Eucharist we are obeying Christ’s explicit command, but because this is the great sacrament by which the Christian is nourished by the gift of God’s grace. Some churches see themselves primarily Churches of the Word, where the Bible is faithfully preached; others describe themselves as sacramental churches, where the entire emphasis is on the frequent celebration of the Eucharist. Anglicans, classically, place themselves in the middle as a Church of Word and Sacrament. Originally, the Latin word “sacramentum” meant something that was dedicated to God, and entirely surrendered to the divine. However, like many things, Christians nudged the meaning of the word, so that a Sacrament is an action set apart for God, but through which God gives himself to us. We give bread and wine to God; God transforms it, and gives it back to us, to feed us with his grace and strength, to enable us to live in faith. I look forward to the day when we may share in the Eucharist once again.

However, the concept of sacrament goes further. God’s love is eternal and generous, and his grace, the powerful, passionate, loving attitude he has towards us, flows through creation. To be a sacramental Christian is to see God’s grace surrounding us, channelled to us and through us in a myriad ways. As we remember today how Christ gives himself to us in the “wonderful sacrament of the body and blood of Christ”, let us open ourselves to be a channel of his

love – to a neighbour, to a friend, to a family member – even within the restrictions of social distancing, and discern that God at work in more ways than we could suspect.


The moment which always electrifies me in the Ordination service is when all the ritual drops away for a moment, and we join together in singing one of the most ancient hymns of the Church, the Veni Creator (Come, O creator Spirit, come, and make within our hearts your home. To us your grace eternal give, who of your being move and live.) Sung in plainsong chant, unaccompanied where possible, it seems to me that, after all the build up, and before we actually come to the ordinations, everything is stripped away, and we simply seek the merciful action of the Holy Spirit, who alone can give meaning and significance to all that we are doing in that service.

If the Father is immortal and infinite, beyond our grasp, and the earthly ministry of the Son two thousand years ago, yet the Holy Spirit is the unending gift of God to his people to be with us, alongside us. In the Gospel according to John, there are, in the same form as so many other passages, two extended reflections by Jesus on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in Chapters 14 and 16. The Spirit of God is named there as “paraclete”, a term, which in the Greek has the sense of “one called forth to be alongside”. The name is translated variously, as “advocate” or “counsellor”, and neither word does it full justice, for the paraclete draws alongside us, to act on our behalf to bring us into God’s presence. “We do not know what to pray,” says Paul, “but the Spirit himself pleads for us in yearnings that can find no words” (Romans 8.26)

Pentecost is the fiftieth day after Easter, and it falls around the same time as the Jewish festival of Shavuot, as Easter falls around Passover. It is the day which the Bible records as the occasion when the disciples were transformed by God’s Spirit which was revealed as wind and fire, sending them out with courage and passion to proclaim the Resurrection. And the Spirit stays with us still. The Spirit’s work is promised in every Baptism, invoked in every prayer, and it is the Spirit who gives life to faith. I believe that the Spirit is at work in every situation to bring life out of death, light out of dark, love out of misery, hope out of despair. The Spirit whispers to us when we pray, and prompts us as we live out our discipleship. The Spirit is our advocate, because he makes us bold enough to seek God’s grace, and binds us into communion with the Father and the Son. St Augustine spoke of the Spirit as the Love that binds the Father and the Son, and who binds us into the life of God. The Spirit also seeks to guide us into the path of fullness of life. “If you wander off the road to the right or the left,” promises Isaiah (30.21), “you will hear his voice behind you saying, "Here is the way. Follow it."

I believe that God’s voice does speak to us in our hearts, if we train ourselves to listen. “My mind is full of thoughts,” someone might say to me, “How can I know which of them is the Spirit?”, but that is where stillness helps, where learning to measure the voice of God through Scripture and prayer and worship and fellow Christians and the testimony of the Church through two thousand years assists us in correct discernment.

Above all else, the Spirit seeks to encourage and embolden us. And the Spirit is Love. When we are prompted to care for our neighbour, that is the Spirit at work in us; when we feel compassion for the weak or the outsider, that is the Spirit leading us into Jesus’ example of love exercised for the sake of another.

Let us allow the Spirit to make a home in us. Let us use Pentecost to seek him to change us and mould us. Let us invite him to lead and to shape the Teulu Asaph. Come, Holy Spirit, come!

One of the persistent features of Scripture is waiting. The people of Israel wait in Egypt for God to free them, they wait in the wilderness for the Promised Land, they wait for God to send the Messiah. In the book of Psalms, the psalmist often asks “How long, O Lord?” as in the title of this letter - taken from Psalm 6, but one reference among many. At the Ascension, Jesus instructs his disciples to wait afterwards until the coming of the Holy Spirit. So, with Ascension Day last Thursday, and Pentecost this coming Sunday, we too wait, in liturgical time, for the coming of the Spirit.

The biggest wait of all, at the moment however, must be the wait for the end of lockdown. Britain took to the lockdown remarkably well, I think: I suppose we had the example of Italy and others ahead of us, and there was almost a stirring of the wartime spirit, especially as we also had VE75 Day to mark. “We will meet again” Her Majesty assured us, echoing Vera Lynn. Yet, in our prayers now, we’re probably beginning to join the psalmists, and wonder “How long?” The answers we pick up in the media do not inspire confidence. Even when the English government tells the schools that they can go back, there are many that don’t want them to, and we remain in a sort of indecision: we want to see the end of lockdown, but we aren’t quite sure that it is safe to go out yet.

The apostle Paul encouraged the early Christians who suffered for their faith, and who were waiting for the return of the Lord in glory. “We can take courage when under pressure,” he writes in Romans 5.3,4, “knowing that such pressures produce endurance. Endurance produces constancy, and constancy, hope. Hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit.” I understand this to mean, in other words, that God’s action comes first, and the fact that God’s love has been poured out upon us in Jesus and in the Holy Spirit, means that God is already at work in us, seeking to bring us through endurance to hope.

In a strange way, the busyness of life and ministry before lockdown may have stopped us languishing. The empty days of lockdown have presented us with the space of opportunity: but we have to generate our own energy, and we find ourselves getting weary. Yet God seeks to transform this cycle. He wants to edge us out of self-reliance into a greater communion with him, to open us to the renewing of the Holy Spirit in order to guide us upwards in the journey of life. “I have arrived at the door,” says the risen Jesus in Revelation Chapter 3 (verse 20), “and I knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will come in to dine with them, and they with me.”

I am interested that the living Jesus of the book of Revelation uses the imagery of the dinner party. ‘What shall we do when you let me in? We’re going to feast’ he seems to be saying. I’m sure that we have had the experience at some time of life of pushing the last guests out

of the door after a party, and them saying “We’ve had a great time, thank you.” This is what time spent with God should feel like. Perhaps we should see the lockdown as some sort of pitstop, in which God wishes to refresh us, and nourish us with spiritual bread for the journey. Now I know that a Formula One pitstop is only 16 seconds at most, and lockdown will be a lot longer, but every moment used for spiritual refreshment can help us on our way.

Invest in the ways in which you find God refreshes you. It may be silent prayer, or reading the Bible, investing in those you love, or finding inspiration in art, or poetry or music or the garden. Goodness me, it might just be all of them.

These thoughts seem to be a tale of two halves. One the one side, the acknowledgement of the weariness that can fall on us; on the other the refreshment that God wants to offer. Keep the faith, dear friends. Seek new strength from God. Look for the joy. 

May God bless you richly,


The Ascension of Christ into Heaven – the feast which the Church keeps tomorrow – is a break point. It is the end of the earthly ministry of Jesus - the last time he was physically present to the disciples before he returned to the Father. This mysterious event is described in the scriptures as a literal ascent, but it is not quite like the space shuttle achieving the momentum to break free of Earth’s gravity in a literal way: it is rather a transfer from this temporal realm into the eternal, into the ubiquity of

God’s presence. Although I say it is not a literal breaking free of Earth’s gravity, however, this phrase has a truth which actually makes for a magnificent metaphor.

The gravity of Earth might be used to symbolise everything that holds us back from holiness, from the ability to enter into that fullness of life which God wills for us. In our own lives we see the failure to be all we’d like to be, and all that God would like us to be (which is what the Bible calls “sin”). In the world, we see mankind’s sin as a whole rolled out in the manifold injustices, oppressions and violence that can wrench our world out of kilter. In the Ascension, Jesus quite simply breaks free of all that, but also invites us to break free as well. In the Gospel according to Luke, almost his last words to the disciples are: “... wait patiently ... until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24.49) This is an invitation to await the Holy Spirit, who will break in and empower the disciples at Pentecost to turn the world upside down, and to break free with the Gospel.

Even religion, however, can feel like gravity pulling us down at times. Weighed down with obligations, we struggle to keep going and to meet expectations. However, God simply doesn’t want faith to be like that. We are called to be a people who become acquainted with the Truth about life, embodied in the fullness of life lived and taught by Jesus and extended to us by invitation, and “the truth shall set you free” (John 8.32)

I have written in previous weeks about how I believe that we in our own discipleship, and the nation in its life, cannot go back to old ways when we are released from lockdown. I believe that there is also a great deal of “gravity” which keeps the Church in a state of heaviness, from which we are called to break free in the power of the Spirit. The renewal of the Church will not be about going back to the glories of the past, but about finding a confidence for the future. The faith remains the same, but the Church which bears witness to it has to change. I would like to see a Church which is free of doing things the way we’ve always done them, to become a Church which reimagines worship and word and sacraments for what they are – channels enabling us to draw close to God, that he might fill us with his “power from on high”. I would like to see a Church which sees its job, not as maintaining buildings and services as they were for the last hundred years, but as building full lives, which are based on faith, on following Jesus, on serving the world in love. I would like to serve in a Church where the question on everyone’s lips is not: “How will we keep going?” but “How can we be more like Jesus?”

When Jesus said to his disciples “I came that you might have life, and life in all its abundance” (John 10.10), I am sure that he saw faith as life giving, joy imparting, strength inducing, peace communicating. When I was a student in Cambridge, I remember a church which had a big notice on the way in: “In this Church we believe the fundamentals of the Christian Faith, i.e. the Authorised Version of the Bible and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.” I can’t help feeling that that particular Church was confusing the medium with the message. The King James Bible can be a magnificent medium, and a quiet Prayer Book Communion can still nourish my soul, but they won’t do that for everyone, and Jesus told us to go out, and bring the joy of faith to others.

People want to see how things make a difference in the modern world. If faith leaves people as grumpy and as staid as ever, then people leave the faith. It’s as simple as that.

If I am honest with you, Clare and I need to declutter in Esgobty. When our Church buildings reopen, we will all need to declutter our discipleship, and seek “power from on high”, so that God will help us break free from the gravity of all that holds us back, and be caught up in a vision of the heaven which beckons us onward.

May you have an amazing Ascensiontide, and a powerful Pentecost,

Have you noticed? It struck me recently that Britain made a surprising choice. We actually chose to put the most vulnerable at the heart of our society. For a brief moment, there was talk of “herd immunity”, of letting Covid-19 run loose in order that so many people would get it, and let the majority survive, that the mass of the population would become immune. Then we realised the cost, and we actually chose to make the most vulnerable the most important, and accepted

a lockdown that protected them. Okay, we haven’t done it perfectly; Government was slow off the mark, care homes were disastrously overlooked in the analysis, and a great number of deaths, each one a significant tragedy for a particular group of friends or relatives, have nevertheless occurred. However, by and large, we have consented to lockdown, and recognised that those most at risk need the gift of our protection. We have chosen to put lives already fragile over wealth and personal fulfilment.

Then, the professions we have prioritised are the carers: we clap for them every Thursday, we focus on their concerns and their needs, we recognise and applaud the work which they do for society. We accord them a certain precedence in our thinking and organisations. In society, we focus on values such as kindness, generosity and mercy, and I very much doubt if there are many other circumstances in which a centenarian could raise over £30M for the NHS by walking around his garden.

After Covid, we shall resume life in community, and I believe that we are called by God not to forget the lessons for our society that we have learned in the crisis – that the poor and the vulnerable are those who should be first in our thoughts in our society, and that those who care for and heal are amongst the most important vocations and professions.

I am reminded of the early Church. When James, the brother of the Lord, took over the leadership of the Church, he wrote to the early Christians about the way in which Church life was developing, and he warned the Church against a bias towards the rich and the powerful. As they started to frequent Christian worship, the temptation was to make a fuss of the people who brought money, power and influence into the Church. “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters,” he wrote, “has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2.5) James argued for the value of every child of God, and against preferential treatment for those who held the keys of influence. That radical egalitarianism has always amazed the world when the Church has been able to live into such a vision, and that must be the sort of society that Christians fight for once the lockdown is unlocked. Whether it be Francis in the thirteenth century, or Mother Theresa in the twentieth, we have admired their example, even when we have shuffled around the edge of it in our own decision making. Now is the chance to say “Look, we’ve made the shift already. Let’s abide by it”, and consider how a bias to those in need and to those who care might affect the future.

We cannot go back simply to the way things were. We have suffered, we have learned, we have changed our priorities. When I was very young, “the Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge was serialised on the back cover of my weekly comic. It bored me silly. But I do remember that at the end of it, the narrator goes away “a sadder and a wiser man”. The world post-Covid may well feel sadder and more fragile. Will we be wiser from what we have learned? In the words of Jesus himself, “Inasmuch as you do it for the least of my brethren, you do it as for me.” (Matthew 25.40)

My thanks as ever to those who do so much in our society, and in the life of the Church, to sustain us and to care. May God bless each one of you with strength, resilience and hope.
Not the Bible, but Jesus Christ Superstar. When Lloyd Webber and Rice took their show based on the Passion of Jesus to the West End, they wrote a new song to go into the production. It was sung by Mary Magdalene just after Jesus has been arrested, and events are spiralling out of control. Mary catches a glimpse of Jesus during the trial and scourging, and sings:

I think you've made your point now

You've even gone a bit too far to get the message home Before it gets too frightening we ought to call a halt

So could we start again, please?

I saw the show again recently on the video performance production put up on You Tube during the Easter weekend, and it’s a poignant song, reminding us that when things get out of control, we all of us tend to rethink our actions, and wonder about how things could have been done differently. There’s also a God dimension, a crying out to the Father asking for things to be different.

Well, the good news is that it can be. With God, we can always start again. It’s called repentance, and figures rather largely in the message of the scriptures. I wrote last week about Jesus being ahead of us, in our future, and God calls us to repentance and faith – to start again - in our discipleship, in our societies, in our faith.

The first call to repentance comes with baptism, when we are called to put off the old, and put on the new clothes of God’s Kingdom. Anglicans choose, like many other Christians, to do this on behalf of their children, having them baptised so that they’re claimed for the Kingdom of God from the very earliest days of their lives, and it is not always followed through, although God often has a way of worming his love in. It took fifteen years for my baptismal faith to flare into life, and I still have to turn to Christ and start again from time to time. Repentance is a way of living, of bringing ourselves always back to God. “Grant me, O Lord, to make a real beginning this day, for what I have done so far is hardly anything.” was a prayer written by Thomas a Kempis, one of the great late mediaeval spiritual writers, and it is reflected in the writings of St Paul in scripture:

I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Beloved, I do not consider myself yet to have laid hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should embrace this point of view. (Phil.3.10-15)

I want to write further about what repentance might mean for our society and for our Churches, but for now, let’s concentrate on where all change begins, with a change in the heart. Coronavirus has stopped our lives and our busyness. It has stopped our public rituals, whether they be our worship, our shopping, or our socialising. But we still have time to turn to God, and think about how to do our faith differently. If Jesus was calling us for the first time today, what would we want to do differently? Could we start again please? May the Lord bless you with the opportunity to reset your own faith in this out-of-joint season,


“I am going fishing” said Simon Peter.
“We will go with you”, [the other disciples] replied.
(John 21.3)

After all that had happened – three years of ministry with Jesus, the tumultuous events at Jerusalem, the betrayal of Jesus, the trials, the crucifixion, the tomb, the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances – at the end of it all, Peter says that he cannot think of anything better to do than to go fishing.

The story comes right at the end of the Gospel according to John, and Peter basically decides to go back to his old ways. It feels almost as if he’s said, “Right, that was exciting, but back to normality now everyone.” And we know what is going to happen in the story: the most life changing episode for Peter of all is just around the corner. (I’m not going to tell you; if you don’t know, go and read Chapter 21 of John’s Gospel.)

We might be forgiven for wanting to go back to normality. We’ve had the strangest Easter of our lifetimes, and things may have been absolutely awful, and, for others, in some way perhaps a little bit exciting, but we’re probably all ready for lockdown to be over, and to get back to normality.

It is not going to happen. First of all, lives have been changed, scarred by tragedy, swayed by experience in caring for Covid patients, by the experience of isolation. Society, I think, will be more wary, and even when the Government lets us, we may not want to rush back into crowded rooms and occasions, especially if the virus is still lurking around somewhere. Secondly, the Church has changed. We’ve learned to hold meetings remotely; we’ve learned to worship and to pray differently. We’ve missed some things, but perhaps have unconsciously already let go of others. The diocese’s budget is completely thrown out, and for some, businesses are undermined, and work isn’t coming back.

The Easter message is really telling us not to look back. Jesus is in our future, not our past. (Well, he may have worked great miracles in our past, and changed lots, but he doesn’t stay there.) He beckons us onward, and says “Come and follow me, I am making all things new.” We have a great opportunity now, to look at our Church, and at the mission of our Churches, in a new way. What is really important? What does Jesus say about clinging onto “this” or letting go of “that”? We can look at our faith, and say, “Where now, Lord?” Almost certainly, it will be for us as it was for the disciples – not back to the same old ways.

Catherine of Siena broke all the rules. A Dominican nun, she rebuked bishops and kings, and, in a man’s world, she held her own ferociously. She was simply amazing. She winkled the Pope out of exile in Avignon, and chivvied him back to Rome, brokered peace between the Pope and Florence, marshalled the Church and wrote a spiritual classic. She was among two women (with Theresa of Avila) who were the first to be recognised as Doctors of the Church – the top slot as a Christian teacher. She died on this day in 1380. Her vision was quite simply that the Church needed to be what Jesus wanted it to be – effective in witnessing to God’s truth and God’s love.

I take heart from Catherine because her indefatigability, and I pray that when the day comes for us to come out of lockdown, we won’t just want to go back to the old ways; to be tempted, like the disciples, to go back to fishing. “We are an Easter people, and Hallelujah is our song” said St Augustine.: Hallelujah is, of course, the Hebrew for “Let’s praise the LORD God”, and praise we must, not only with our lips, but in our (changed) lives.

Every blessing be with you,

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
(John 20.25)

One of the things that persuades me of the reliability of the Gospel accounts is the honest way in which the apostles are depicted. They generally come across as not very good at their job. If these are the cream of all Jesus’ disciples, they frequently misunderstand him, frequently make mistakes, get grand ideas, and bark up the wrong tree. Not unlike today’s Church leadership, you might say.

But that’s the point, faith is not about super-humanity, it is about ordinary folk, trying their best to walk with God through life. The quotation is one I suspect that you’ll recognise – especially if you’re following the lectionary, as it was last Sunday’s Gospel reading, where Thomas - doubting Thomas - expresses his scepticism about the Resurrection. We all know where it leads him.

We are not all vouchsafed an experience of the Risen Lord at the same level of Thomas’ experience, but we are allowed to have faith at Thomas’ level, expressing scepticism or doubt. If you’ve been following these letters, you’ll know how great a fan I am of the Book of Psalms. It seems to me that they speak out of every human experience – joy, wonder, fear, anger, bitterness, cynicism. They are united however, by one great attribute, the readiness to be honest to God and the readiness to speak, to pray, from what the heart is saying.

Our prayer should be like that, honest to God – the heart speaking to the heart, a phrase that so spoke to John Henry Newman, the great theologian and Roman Catholic convert, that he chose it as his motto, albeit in Latin – “Cor ad Cor loquitur”.

In this time of coronavirus, we are going to go through periods of doubt and bewilderment. Why does a good God allow such suffering? Do I have enough faith to see me through? Has the Easter message got any power to speak into my reality at this time? We are all Thomas at times. I have to be honest myself, I don’t have any explanation as to why God allows viruses to inflict so much destruction in this world, and each person behind the statistic is a real person loved and lost, so full of potential and snatched away. Nonetheless, God’s heart speaks to mine: “I care”, he says, “be the agent of my love.”, “I am with you, rest your uneasy heart on me.”

Paul, at one point, says that prayer almost has to be at times “sighing too deep for words” (Romans 8.26) simply because sometimes our faith is so battered that the words won’t come. Can I encourage you in your prayers this week? Can I encourage you to pray with the honesty of Thomas and the psalmist, and to speak from your heart to the heart of Jesus?

While I can’t find God in the virus, I do see him in the response of so many, the resilience and courage of the carers for whom we clap or ring our bells on Thursdays, the careful consideration of the needs of the vulnerable by the faithful – and others – in our communities, in the dedication of the clergy to continue in prayer and communicate their prayer so that others might join them. On one level, these are simple human acts, but for me they shimmer around the edges with the glint of God’s eternal Love.

Every blessing be with you,

“They left the tomb quickly, with fear and great joy.”
(Matthew 28.8)

It is clear from the Gospel stories that the Resurrection of Jesus took the disciples by surprise. The stories in the four Gospels read slightly differently, but a common thread is the chaotic and shambolic response of the disciples: confusion, hope, faith, disbelief, and here in Matthew’s Gospel, “Fear and great joy.”

Key women disciples went to the tomb early on Easter morning intending to finish the embalming process and expecting to have to find a way to tackle the heaviness of the stone sealing the tomb; they came away, having experienced the emptiness of the tomb and the presence of strange angelic figures who communicated the message of resurrection. This filled them with hope, but also bewilderment, not sure what they believed.

This mixture of emotions is very similar to what many of us are experiencing at the moment. There are the beauty of the Spring, happy moments with family in the household or over social media, but also the fear of infection, the sad news of people close to us suffering, which create in us a mixture of emotion. Are we to be happy, sad, frightened or joyful?

The central message of the visit to the tomb is that God takes the heaviness of the stone sealing the tomb and dislodges it with his action of raising Jesus from the dead. He wishes to take our heaviness away and imbue in us instead the joy of new life and hope. It is not so much that God will magically remove the challenges, but calls us to see them in a new perspective, in which the power and promise of the Resurrection tells us that in God, there is a victory to be won.

The question is whether we will allow God to work the changes needed in our hearts, and orient us towards joy. Now that we have celebrated a virtual Easter, there comes the reminder that the Resurrection is not only about what happened then, but how Jesus seeks to bring new life into our situations now. We may well be embarking on the coming weeks with a sense of fear – the chance of infection coming our way is still high – but God wants to encourage us to go forward in joy also, knowing that Jesus has won the victory over the perils of evil, suffering and death to become a source of life, of strength and of hope.

I am grateful to all my clergy who have been finding new ways to bring help and succour to you, and inventive ways to invite you into worship and faith at this time. Most of what I have seen has been of a very high standard, and makes me think that we are learning a new way of being virtual Church which will impact on us in a permanently different way of engaging with faith and worship in the future. As we move into the fifty days of Easter, let us resolve to discover how God’s message of new life in Resurrection can assist us to discover new things in life and the journey of faith which we can carry into the future – not just ways of worship, but life-changing decisions about our discipleship which will bring us closer to the Risen Lord and open our hearts more fully to the grace and strength and faith which he longs to impart to us.

Dear friends, keep well and keep safe at this time, and may the Risen Lord sustain you in unexpected ways, to lift the heaviness of fear with the light of his love,

Bishop of St Asaph

"The Song of Love."

I am already feeling disappointed that the lockdown means that celebrations of Easter, the Queen of Feasts, will be muted this week. Just when I would be preparing for the moving ceremonies of the Chrism Eucharist and Easter Vigil, not to mention Good Friday, I am conscious of the need to minister to a scattered family, where the future is more unclear than ever before. At the same time, I am given a huge privilege and opportunity, with the help of colleagues, to speak to all of you through the recording of liturgies (see https://dioceseofstasaph.org.uk/coronavirus/digital-prayer-and-worship/worship-from-esgobty/), so that services will be available for the Triduum – the three great days of the liturgy of the Passion) and also through this pastoral letter, with the opportunity to proclaim the Good News of our Salvation in Jesus Christ.

One of my very favourite hymns is “My Song is Love Unknown” by Samuel Crossman, written in 1664:

My song is Love unknown,
My Saviour’s Love to me,
Love to the loveless shown,
that they might lovely be,
O, who am I, that for my sake,
My Lord should take frail flesh, and die?

It might be said that these coming three days teach us all we need to know about Love. Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, when we remember the “Mandatum”, the command of Jesus: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” He demonstrated that love symbolically by washing the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper. He, who was Rabbi and Master, attended to the most basic needs of the disciples in caring for their tiredness, dustiness, and weariness. It is the nature of Love to care for the needs of the beloved. Love is more than emotion, it is an act of will, an act which “cherishes”.

On God’s Friday we see the cost of love – God gives himself up entirely for the pain and sin of the world. There are versions of the Christian faith that somehow manage to make God look sadistic – a vengeful father determined to inflict pain on someone, anyone so that the price of sin might be paid – but let us remember that in the Christian faith it is God himself incarnate in Christ who is crucified: God takes on to himself the pain, the hurt, the cost of sin. It doesn’t matter how intolerable the burden of the brokenness of the world is, God takes it on his own shoulders. “He has forgiven you all your sins: Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads, and has completely annulled it by nailing it over his own head on the cross.” (Colossians 2.13-15, Philip’s Translation)

On Easter Eve, running into Easter Day, we see the prize of Love, which is new Life. “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15.57) It is impossible for darkness, sin, death and evil to hold God down, and Christ is raised from death, the firstborn of many children (Romans 8.29), for his love is shown to us “that we might lovely be.” God’s love recreates the universe, and we are invited to the party at the end of time.

To be a Christian is to plant ourselves firmly under the banner of Love: to accept what God’s love has done for us in Christ, and to become channels of that love in the world. We are called to love extravagantly because God loved us. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4.10) “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” (1 John 4.7)

We may not be able to meet together publicly and physically in the coming days, but I urge you to make the journey of love alongside one another spiritually – to know that, as you make that journey, the Teulu Asaph makes that journey with you in the same way and at the same time. As we reflect on Jesus’ readiness to lay aside his robes, and gird himself as a slave to wash the feet of his disciples, let us commit to serve the Servant King. As we find a way to explore the desolation of the Cross, let us resolve, in the face of fear or of difficulty, to spend and to be spent in the name of God’s love for the world. In the darkness turned to light which is Easter, let us rise to new life and commitment as followers of the Lord. And let us know that we can do these things because he gives us such grace that this might be so: “For I am sure that he that began this good work in you will bring it to completion.” (Philippians 1.6)

My song is Love unknown,
My Saviour’s Love to me,
Love to the loveless shown,
that they might lovely be,
O, who am I, that for my sake,
My Lord should take frail flesh, and die.

The woman behind the counter of the shop said to me the other week (I haven’t been out much more recently): “What can I do for you, my lovely?” She said it so casually, and yet I am God’s lovely, and you are God’s lovely, and we are God’s lovely, not because of our own loveliness, which may be rather elusive, but because in Christ, our identity is a sure inheritance. “
With every blessing for the Triduum and Easter,
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him
also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8.32)
  
With every blessing for the Triduum and Easter,

"Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed, hallelujah!"

It is not quite time for this acclamation yet, and when we do proclaim it at the end of next week, it will probably have to be like the Italians, and proclaimed from our balconies (where we have them). What a joy filled acclamation it is!

I noticed a post on social media the other day which said something like: “I never expected my Lent to be as Lenten as my Lent has been.” Never mind giving up the alcohol, we’ve had milk and toilet paper to worry about, and we’ve all had to give up seeing friends, family and others. Who would have thought that we’d be giving up Church for Lent? As for buying chocolate Easter eggs, do they count as among the necessities for which we’re allowed to shop?

That first Easter Day, we’re told that an intrepid small huddle of disciples arrived at Jesus’ tomb while it was still dark, and discovered that the anointing of the body that they had come to do was impossible. Jesus was not there, “he is risen”.

That astounding claim is at the heart of our Christian message, that God in Christ was too strong to be held by the chains of death, and that new life, risen life, broke through.

The current circumstances, though very tough, are not as tough as the Influenza outbreak after the First World War, or the Black Death that took a third of British lives in the fourteenth century. The nation, and the Church, will come through it, although I cannot minimise the fear that some must feel at the possibility of huge risk to themselves.

In such circumstances, we must put our faith in the Lord. Whether we succumb to the virus, or whether we endure, we, who put our faith in Christ, are his, and his promise is that he will never let us go in life, in illness or, if it comes to that, in death –neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8.38,39)

And the guarantee of all this is given in Christ’s own resurrection, since he is the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1.18).

However, resurrection can come before the last day. God can grant us little resurrections of the spirit of love, of generosity, or co-operation, and of hope, as we walk with him through the valley of the shadow of death. These are not trivial, they are the warp and weft out of which fullness of life is woven.

I urge you all to renew your faith in the risen Lord. I urge you to take next week, Holy Week, seriously, and to travel with Jesus through Jerusalem to Gethsemane and beyond. I urge you to hold out your hand that the Lord may take it, whatever paths we have to walk, that he may impart hope and love and grace.

And let us pray like we’ve never prayed before. In the year 590AD, Rome was in the clutches of plague, and my namesake, Pope Gregory, led a procession through Rome praying for God to spare his people and bring an end to the disease. It is said that when he arrived as the foot of the tomb of the Emperor Hadrian, he was given a vision of the archangel Michael sheathing his sword, which Gregory interpreted at a sign of the end of the plague. So it came to pass, and the tomb was given a new name, so that you can visit the Castel Sant’Angelo, the Castle of the Angel, to this day.

If I organised a procession today, the police would nab me for breaking government regulations. They would be right, because the regulations have been made to keep us safe, and anyway, I’m not sure that I would see Michael, or any other angel, atop the Cathedral tower; but we can pray this prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, you suffered death and burial for our sakes, 
And rose again to save us.
We beseech you to hear us when we pray to you,
and in the midst of our tribulation, set us free.
Remove from us the threat of this virus, if it be your will, 
but in all things, give us love, give us hope, give us strength. 

My dear friends, brothers and sisters working for the Kingdom,
At difficult times especially, the psalms come into their own, and I find myself meditating today on Psalm 130.

I wait for the LORD; my soul does wait, and in His word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning— more than watchmen wait for the morning. (verses 5 and 6)

It is, I believe, a powerful image. Anyone who has waited up through the night time, for good news or for bad, will know the feeling. The darkness is intense and wraps around; we sit patiently, and at long last there comes the first glimmer of the dawn, then a steady and growing lightening, which becomes an unstoppable glow that bursts eventually into sunlight. Everyone who has participated in a true Easter vigil (early on Easter morning) will know as well how powerfully it aids our celebration of the Resurrection.

God, it seems, has blessed us with some beautiful sunshine to accompany our coronavirus crisis, which comes as a welcome relief after all the gloom of clouds, rain and flooding which opened the year. However, there is a real sense of a shadow falling over us as we learn to cope with a new mode of living, maybe in isolation, and with the danger that people whom we know and love may be touched with illness and the threat of severe illness or death.

In such circumstances, we can hope for God’s help – not for escape – but the quiet internal witness of the Spirit, which gives cause for hope, for resilience and for strength. Whatever lies ahead also includes his grace and blessing and the gifts of the spirit to enable us to conquer.

This will be my prayer for all of us: that God’s grace will bless us as the sunrise. A priest friends of mine (aka St Nicholas, for those who have met him) shared the following aspirations:

We are not people of fear:
we are people of courage.
We are not people who protect our own safety: 
we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety. 
We are not people of greed:
we are people of generosity.
We are your people, God,
giving and loving,
wherever we are,
whatever it costs,
for as long as it takes
wherever you call us.

Thank you

The Bench will be meeting virtually tomorrow through the joys of Skype, and there may well be further guidance to offer even before then in the light of the governments’ announcements

last night, but in the meantime, thank you first of all for rising to the challenge of ministry so brilliantly in this last couple of weeks. Streamed services of worship, plans for caring for the most vulnerable in our congregations and communities, clever ideas and messages of hope – all these reveal a Church at work in the way that I hoped for when I wrote last. Such streamed services can continue. Please keep sending any good news stories in. We’d like to publicise these, for the encouragement of all.

What shall we do?

The Welsh and UK governments issued new and stricter guidance last night concerning quarantine regulations. All gathering other than essential one to one meetings are not to take place, and our Churches are to be closed (except for solitary prayer, the official guidance from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government says). Further details on how these and other regulations are to be applied will be forthcoming as soon as the bishops have consulted on them. For the present, clergy are asked to familiarise themselves with the guidance already issued, and to act accordingly.

In my last letter, I urged you to care for yourselves, and it is good to hear of those who have taken good note of advice, and self-isolated where appropriate. Notifications are coming through to the archdeacons, and being fed through to me, and I hold you in my prayers. If you are ill, nurse yourselves, and do not be shy to ask for help. Please let the archdeacon know if you are self-isolating, and notify him in the normal way if you are taken ill.

Self-isolation or not, if you are able, ministry does not end of course. I believe that we should all be measuring our time, and re-calibrating our ministry at this time. It seems to me that there are four blocks of time in the average day, and we need to give ourselves to these in equal proportion. The first is time given to God – waiting patiently for the Lord to speak to us in and through prayer, through our reading of the Scriptures, and in quietness and meditation in his presence. The second is in pastoral care: the telephone and email must replace conventional pastoral care, but I hope that all the members of our congregations can know the ministry of contact from our clergy. When nothing else demands our attention, we could perhaps simply go through the address lists and phone everyone. We will be trying to do just that as a team from Esgobty over coming weeks.

The third is running our Churches – preparing those streamed liturgies or other prayers in electronic or printed form, for distribution, so that the call to prayer, intercession and worship does not cease, and that people are aided in their spiritual journeys. This also includes communicating with your colleagues. We love to hear your news here in Esgobty. The fourth is caring for ourselves, and those nearest and dearest to us. Love heals, mends and strengthens in a profound way.

Days filled in this way are unlikely to be leisurely, but will demand energy and application. As someone once said to me in another context: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” That toughness in you is something for which to give thanks at this time – in isolation or not.

How shall we pray?

All streamed and recorded services that we know of are placed on the diocesan website on the coronavirus resources page (dioceseofstasaph.org.uk/coronavirus). Some brilliant ideas are coming through and you’re doing a great deal. I interpret the rules to say that they will necessitate the involvement of no more than two people (a worship leader and a producer) in any one location from now on, however.

I personally aim to get up more recordings of services “from Esgobty”, although the recorded clips are likely to be from people in their own spaces from now on. There should be short services for prayer for each Sunday, for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, as well as a generic Eucharist in the near future. I hope that you will all take this opportunity to deepen your own prayer life, as you seek to sustain others. I would like to thank Michael Balkwill and Karen Maurice for helping to get the show on the road.

NSMs, LLMs and commissioned ministries, as well as active retireds:

I am conscious that none of you are full time, and are volunteers for the sake of the Kingdom. I want to say to you that I appreciate all that you give to the Church in the name of the Lord, and I know that you will be giving more than you should in all likelihood. I am grateful for what you give, but hope that you too will care for yourselves, and measure what you do by the working agreements you have.

Pastoral Care Tree:

In endeavouring to care for each other, I suggest that we each take responsibility for a corner of God’s vineyard. The archdeacons and I will be paying special attention to our communication with the Mission Area Leaders, and with the clergy. I should be grateful if Mission Area Leaders could take especial care for all the members of their Shared Ministry Teams in authorised ministries. I should also be grateful if all ministers, ordained, lay licensed and commissioned, could work out how they will maintain contact with parishioners.

A reminder

that all updates, information, resources and news in connection with our current circumstances is available at www.dioceseofstasaph.org.uk/coronavirus I also attach a pastoral letter for the people of God in St Asaph diocese, which I should be grateful if you would circulate to all members of your congregation.

All we have been baptised into one body and made to drink of the one Spirit. In the one body therefore let us pursue the things that make for peace.
Pax et bonum,

Gregory


We live in unprecedented times for most of us. Maybe some will remember the Second World War, and the demands made of society then, although none now will remember the outbreak of “Spanish Flu” which came a hundred years ago in the wake of the end of the First World War, and which is the nearest historical parallel. Our governments and the Church have had to make difficult decisions in the light of the crisis that we all face in society. The virus is no respecter of age, faith, gender or background, and, unless we take government guidelines extremely seriously, we are all at risk.

At times like this, what should be our response? The verse that I am drawn to is in 1Peter 5.7:

"Cast all your anxieties upon him, for he cares for you."

God does not offer us any special favours or exemption clauses as Christians, but he does make several promises. As Christians we believe that Christ shares in our every pain, sorrow and failing. “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” wrote the apostle in the Letter to the Hebrews (4.15), and Jesus’ life among us is God’s sign and proof that he is committed to this world, and willing to take on his shoulders all the grief and pain that we might have to face.

There is a strange story in the Old Testament, where the Israelites are afflicted by a plague. Moses is told by God to build a bronze statue of a serpent on a cross. Those afflicted who look at this statue are promised healing. I don’t entirely understand what was going on here, but Jesus said something very interesting. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” (John 3.14) In other words, Jesus is saying that his being lifted up on the cross makes him a sign of healing, just like the bronze serpent of Moses.

What is the healing we might expect from Him? I read a very special piece about prayer the other day. It went something like this: In my life I have prayed for many things, and God has given some, and not others; but I thank God, not only for what he has given, but for what he has taken away: guilt and sin, fear, anxiety, worry.” Scripture says: “You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed upon you.” (Isaiah 26.3)

Be assured today of God’s love for you. There may be bad news, and worse to follow, but I believe that God can be a source of strength, hope and resilience. I believe that we can bring our worries before God, and share them passionately and openly, and that he looks, not for polite behaviour, but for an open heart, on which he can work the miracle of his blessing.

“Come unto me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” says the Lord. (Matthew 11.28)

By now, you’ll have realised that I’m all over the place with my Scriptures: Peter, Hebrews, John, Isaiah, and Matthew. I don’t apologise for this, because wherever I look in the Scriptures, there is one consistent message. Like the prodigal son, we are called to return to our father, and throw ourselves into his care. Now that’s the Gospel according to St Luke (Chapter 15).

We may have had to pause public worship. We may have had to put strict parameters around our pastoral offices like baptisms, marriages and funerals. The vicar might not be able to call personally. However, while the Church tries to do its best, God is the still point that cannot be touched by this crisis, and he makes himself available to you, to me, to us all.

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We’re back now to the Letter to the Hebrews. (Hebrews 4.16)

Do visit our diocesan website with its dedicated information and resources at www.dioceseofstasaph.org.uk/coronavirus or contact any of the clergy by telephone. There are many resources made available that we can use to help us pray and approach God. And try to be generous, stockpiling not the toilet roll treasures of this world, but the treasure in heaven which is active love, “where neither moth or rust destroy, nor thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6.20), and one might add “and where the power of the coronavirus does not run.”

Peace be with you.
Gregory Llanelwy



Dear Friends,

I am always amazed by the ability of scripture to speak into our current realities. This morning, at Morning Prayer, the psalms included this verse:

“My friends and my companions stand apart from my affliction, My neighbours stand afar off.”

You see – social distancing has biblical sanction!

I also came across a tweet by the Bishop of Norwich last night, which said this:

"We continue to be the Church, just in a different way. We continue to be a people of hope.
We continue to be a people of prayer.
We continue to be a people of kindness.
We continue to be a people of loving service. Because we are the Church of God."

It expressed exactly my sentiments, and the view in which I want to encourage you at this present time. These unprecedented days, when we all feel that we are living through a plague situation, can be unsettling. However, it is precisely when God calls the Church to be most prominent in its witness, proclaiming his care and love for all people, and the invitation to place our trust and confidence in him.

At this time, therefore, I have a number of hopes for the way in which we will live out our priestly and diaconal vocations at this time. I want to address our colleagues in lay ministry as well, both those in authorised ministries, and those serving our common life through the specialisms and expertise of the Diocesan Office Team.

Caring for ourselves:

First, we need to take care of ourselves and our nearest and dearest. We can be no use to God if we do not ensure that we maintain the wisest and best ways of sustaining our energy, health and mental well-being, and to care for our families so that home may be a secure source of support and a strong foundation from which we may act in ministry. I cannot reiterate too strongly how important it is to heed government advice on such things as social distancing and self-isolation where and when these become important, especially if we fall under the heading of one of the risk factors identified by government advice.

Clergy should report their status to the relevant archdeacon and Mission Area Leader should it change, and lay ministers to their team leader or Mission Area Leader, if only for us to be able to hold you in prayer, and offer you support should you need it.

Be assured of my prayers and support for you, as you go about ministry. For although our public worship may have halted, the Church is more open for business than ever, and ministry may enter a different mode, but is even more precious at a time like this.

Caring for each another:

It is important that we keep up networks of support with each other. Gatherings for prayer may no longer be appropriate, but that does not prevent the frequent offering of encouragement and the sharing of prayer needs by emails, social media, What’s App groups and the like. I know that I personally need your prayers - for wisdom, stamina, and right judgement; and I hope that we’ll all be offering that sort of ministry to one another in our shared ministry teams. Who is taking responsibility for producing a prayer rota or prayer chain in your team?

There may also be small ministries that we can offer one another at a time like this. Small acts of love, generosity and support will count for a lot.

Caring for our congregations and communities

I have been heartened by the amazing initiatives that I have been hearing about in some Mission Areas, where teams are being co-ordinated to ensure that the potentially vulnerable are being looked after. The suspension of public worship does not mean the suspension of ministry. If exhibiting symptoms or vulnerability, we must protect ourselves, but that does not mean all interaction between people is being banned. Brief intentional visiting or a small gathering for a specific purpose, making pastoral telephone calls, and visiting by electronic means can come to the fore.

Our Churches and our Worship:

Our Churches as places of refuge, sanctuary and prayer are also more important now than ever. While we should be careful to observe best practice about interaction which minimises the risk of infection, I hope that every place of worship in the diocese is open to the public for private prayer at present. Locked doors are simply not sufficient as a witness to the love of God.

I should be grateful if ministers would ensure that not only are the Churches open for prayer, but that there is a specific and obvious zone near the entrance which presents a point of interaction with people seeking help in the current circumstances. It may take the form of a table signposted and carrying resources for prayer and reflection; there may be a place for lodging prayer requests – a prayer tree, or prayer box. There may be a contact list.

At the very least, please communicate with your congregations and faithful that prayer and worship in their own discipleship should not cease, but be redoubled. And please provide them with resources, or point them in the right direction. A form for an Act of Spiritual Communion would be very helpful, given that the Eucharist itself may be inaccessible, and there are many rich resources available, with some of them posted towards the bottom of our dedicated page on the diocesan website: https://dioceseofstasaph.org.uk/coronavirus/

I am personally exploring whether there might be the possibility of offering podcasts of worship from Esgobty chapel through the Easter season, to which our people might be invited to participate – as bishop inviting the teulu Asaph to join me virtually in my own chapel on a Sunday morning for a short act of devotion, reflection and prayer. I should be grateful for any volunteers to assist with this. I am conscious that I need to provide a safe environment, and I will have to think how it might work, but it would be better if there were more than one voice, and one participant seeking to provide this service. Please send me an email if you have any good ideas, or can offer some appropriate level of participation. If I’m able to sort something out, I will let you know.

In all of this, above all else, be bold and courageous. If God is on our side, who can be against us. 

“Be joyful, keep the faith and your creed, and do the little things.”

With my love, and concern; and with gratitude for our partnership in the Gospel. 

Gregory