The former mining town of Maerdy, in what has been identified as one of the poorest parts of Wales,is home to the All Saints Church whose parishoners have held a 24 hour, 7 days a week, sit-in over closure. Wales. 25th July 2011
In Maerdy, in the Rhondda Valley of Wales, it looks like it is going to be a battle of David and Goliath all over again. In the blue corner we have the parishioners and supporters of All Saints Church and in the red corner we have the Archbishop of the Church in Wales, Dr Barry Morgan. The dispute between the parishioners and Dr Barry Morgan has become quite a cause célèbre for many of the inhabitants and visitors in the town of Maerdy.
This former mining town, located in what has been identified as one of the poorest parts of Wales, has parishioners of the All Saints Church who have held a 24 hour, 7 days a week, sit-in and sleep-in at the church over the last month. This round-the-clock presence in the church is designed to show the Archbishop of Wales that these are a group of people who believe strongly in the right to worship in, and keep open a church that has served the community for many generations. Built in 1885, the church has overseen many of the events both happy and tragic in the town. Not only has it been a central point for christenings, marriages and funerals, but in December 1885, a pit explosion at the Maerdy Colliery killed 81 men. Their bodies were taken to All Saints Church for identification to take place. In the church garden a memorial for the community still stands dedicated to the men who died that day.
The parishioners held a meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday night 25th July 2011, to discuss their next moves in their dispute with the Archbishop of Wales over the decision taken by the Parochial Church Council to close the church. Even with heavy hearts about the issue at hand, the meeting was opened with a compassionate prayer for the victims and families of the Oslo, Norway tragedy. The church was filled with parishioners and supportive members of the wider community who listened intently to the state of play as explained to them by Church Warden Barbara Daniels. Next to speak was Councillor Gerwyn Evans, followed by Justin Williams. The parishioners debated the decision by the Archbishop. It was pointed out that the Parochial Church Council, comprised of members for all the three local churches of Maerdy, Ferndale and Tylorstown, the benefice of Rhondda Fach Uchaf, had voted to close All Saints. The Maerdy members abstained for the vote.
The hasty decision to close the church without giving the parishoners time to plan, not to mention the funds, to make any necessary repairs, gives one the feeling that all the Bishop’s cards are not on the table in full view. The Parochial Church Council has refused the request of the parishioners to consider allowing the church to stay open for a further twelve months. The parishioners felt with such a breathing space they would be able to raise funds and support to give the church a much needed future. Archbishop Dr Barry Morgan insists that he cannot overrule the Parochial Church Council as he appears to feel that as they are a democratically elected body, their decision is irreversible.
The Archbishop, despite his stated views, has backed down over the issue of the cancellation of several weddings that were booked and contracted many months ago to take place in All Saints. It appears these will now go ahead. This decision refutes any claims by Dr Morgan that the decision to close the church immediately is irreversible, as by making the logical and morally ethical change, he has already overruled the Parochial Church Council on the matter.
It seems to be claimed by The Church in Wales that the church needs some £400,000 of repairs to make it safe for use. However, with the Archbishop giving the go ahead for the weddings, it appears it is safe for use. Walking inside and around the church, one can only think that such an enormous figure was plucked from thin air. The amount claimed does not appear to have come from a surveyor or contractor. The building certainly needs some basic repairs but one has to ask why the Archbishop and the Parochial Church Council allowed this lovely little church to become run down. Money should have been spent on it a long time ago but sadly none was forthcoming. Why was none spent? Was there an intention to run the church down by not repairing it?
Campaigners dedicated to saving All Saints in Maerdy, Rhondda, from closure, say the Church in Wales has made an offer to let them buy the building. The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, made the offer at a meeting on Tuesday night. Otherwise, the congregation may be reduced to having services in the local Recreation Center. Some 250 people have signed a book in the church condemning the decision to close the church
The people of Maerdy are proud of their heritage; many generations have suffered hardship and adversity and have united to overcome such situations. Those former generations had the one thing that was clearly abundant among the parishioners tonight, and that was the true grit and determination we have so often seen in a mining community to overcome decisions that the community are united in condemning as being grossly unjust.
The closure of such a lovely church as All Saints is clearly an issue that the Parochial Church Council and Dr Morgan need to rethink. Neither the Parochial Church Council nor Dr Morgan should be viewing any decision that affects parishioners over the closure of this historic church as being set in tablets of stone.
As I watched two elderly ladies bedding down for the night to continue their occupation of All Saints, I went away wondering what sort of people are running the Church in Wales these days. Where has all the compassion, respect for others’ views and giving to others gone?
The people of Maerdy clearly have a need and a passion for All Saints, and it is clear they are prepared to make many sacrifices and will be formidable in their total opposition to the Parochial Church Council and Dr Morgan. If there is no reconsideration of the decision to close All Saints, then it is obvious that the parishioners will "dig in” with a wartime spirit of togetherness. They are prepared for the long haul with their sit-in, and the reputation of the Parochial Church Council along with that of Dr Morgan will suffer in the end. As Francis Schaeffer said: Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world."