John Henson was involved in the work for several of the sub-commissions whos labours culminated in the Gathering (see earlier blog). He writes:
What took place in the Great Hall at Aberystwyth on 13th October, high on Penglais Hill overlooking the sea, may not have been on such a grand scale as the Second Vatican Council, but for the small country of Wales may prove just as significant in terms of the history of religion. The ‘Gathering’ was well attended by the representatives of the five Christian denominations in Wales signed up for Covenanting for Unity, namely Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and United Reformed. The key events were the celebration of communion using a new order of service authorized to be used in all the above churches, and also a video setting out a scheme for the appointment by bishops, in such a way that all the churches might find them acceptable. Since I am a member of both committees that dealt with these matters I found myself with a reserved seat and even a place on the platform for one session. I also was invited to read the Gospel in the opening devotions from Good As New, Luke 14:14-21. I am loathe to comment on the success of the occasion, although undoubted was the bonhomie among the mostly ecumenically committed delegates, and the singing was good to the inevitable Blaenwern and Hyfrydol, to good new words. I disdained the headphones for English translation and followed the very clear Welsh throughout.
Reflecting on the liturgy now, I think even more than when I was working on the committee, that it is too wordy, a fault with nearly all liturgies. Each member’s favourite little bit had to be included. There is little of me there, though there is some. Especially I think I prevented some obscurantism, and for the sake of my Baptist consituency ensured as many ‘mays’ as possible. It is now up to the churches whether they use the rite or not.
As to the celebration of the rite itself, it was handled skilfully, with options for gluten free bread and non-alcoholic wine. Five doyens of the 5 denominations concelebrated at the same time – not quite necessary I felt at the stage we have reached, and all but one of them (my URC Moderator/friend) was in flowing robes, which gave an unfortunate impression of priestliness uncongenial to many of the free church folk present. The Archbishop of Wales, who was one of the ‘celebrants’ was the most modestly dressed!
A question and answer session led by Phil George, a well-known media figure sounded a cautionary note. The main point spontaneously to come out of this session was that the real problem to be tackled was our relationship with an alienated society rather than with one another.
Was it all worth it? Time will tell. Better get a move on otherwise there won’t be many Christians to unite.