Twenty years ago, this month, a much younger looking Evans family moved into the Vicarage at Oystermouth, just fifteen days before Christmas. One of the last things to be carried into our new home was a magnificent Christmas tree which had been given as a housewarming gift from good friends in our former parish.
My Induction was held on the 15th December and the next few days were something of a baptism of fire as I led the many services over the festive season and tried to get to know as many people as I could. It’s hard to believe that two decades have now passed and that this Christmas will actually be my twenty first at Oystermouth. Time certainly does fly when you’re enjoying yourself!
Though twenty years may not count for very much in the very long history of All Saints it is, nonetheless, something of a milestone for my ministry in your midst. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on the past and to look to the future.
As I look back, it’s good to celebrate how our Church family remains numerically strong and active in the community we are called to serve. People continue to come to our Sunday and weekday services in very good numbers. Our Eucharistic centred liturgy and fine choral tradition continue to draw people in.
In a very busy twenty years two things stand out as major highlights for me.
In 2010 the PCC voted unanimously to gift the historic ‘Bells of Santiago’ to the people of Chile, as part of their bicentennial independence celebrations that year. The bells were among a few objects to survive a devastating fire in the Jesuit Church in Santiago on December 8th 1863, which claimed over two and a half thousand lives. They were bought by copper ore importers from Swansea and were presented to All Saints’ by the Vivian family in the late nineteenth century. Their melancholy ring called the faithful of Mumbles to worship for almost a hundred years. The homecoming to Santiago was hugely celebrated and, a year later, the Chilean Ambassador visited All Saints’ to thank the people of Oystermouth for their generosity to his homeland.
The campaign to restore our ancient and modern parish Church took up much of our energy over the last six years. The appeal was launched at the end of 2012 and successfully raised over £850,000 to completely restore All Saints’. The building was made sound and re-roofed; a new porch was built [including much needed toilet and kitchen facilities]; we installed new lighting and heating systems; repaired the historic village clock; bought comfortable upholstered chairs and restored the magnificent rood screen. I am so grateful for the way in which our Church community shared the vision for the future of All Saints’ and supported the campaign so generously.
I could write about the visit of Dr Rowan Williams shortly after he was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury; the night shelter for the homeless; our outreach to schools, children and young families; the popular annual music festival; crib exhibitions; charity concerts; chaplaincy to the Mumbles Lifeboat; our ecumenical work with other local Churches and so much more. I look back on the hundreds I’ve baptised and prepared for Confirmation; the many couples I’ve married; the funeral services I’ve led; and the thousands of sermons I’ve preached through the years.
Twenty years on, it’s good to reflect on how our Church continues to be faithful in worship, active in service and remains very much the spiritual heart of the community we serve. I still feel that it’s an immense privilege to be a co-worker with you here. It continues to be a joy to work with my dear friends and colleagues, Fr David and Canon Robert.
When I recall December 1998, moving into a new parish just days before Christmas was probably not the best of ideas! In the end, all I could do was to go with the flow! But in a very real sense Christmas was the best time to begin my ministry with you. For at my first Christmas here, and at every one since, we have celebrated our ‘God-is-with-us faith’. This incarnational faith is at the heart of everything we do as a Church family. It’s also what we celebrate in the familiar words of the Gospel we hear at the Vigil Mass of Christmas, ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, and we beheld his glory’ [John 1.14].
My family and I look forward to sharing Christmas with you once again.
With every blessing,