Monday, September 09, 2013

Advice for rookie pastors: On being a Welsh Minister serving in England


It is said that the entry for Wales in an early edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was, 'For Wales see England'. However, the two nations are really quite different. So much so that any Welshman called to minister in England should regard himself as a cross-cultural missionary. If you were aspiring to minister in France, would you simply turn up in Paris and say to a Frenchman, "Hiya butt, wannoo be saved, like?' Of course not. You'd buy a beret, a bike, some onions and try to speak a bit of the lingo, 'Je m'appelle Guido' and all that. I've spent all my ministerial life serving in the South West of England so I can learn you a thing or two about ministering to the English with cultural sensitivity. So here goes:

1) The English spoken by the English isn't quite the same as you might be used to in Wales

They say, 'over there' rather than, 'over by there' and 'see you in a minute' not, 'see you now in a minute'. Even if you are a South Walian with not much Welsh, you'll still know that 'achavi' means, 'disgusting' and 'cwtch' means, 'cuddle'. But your people won't, unless you have some fellow Welsh exiles in the congregation. The other day I got a bit carried away when preaching on Matthew 5:40 and said that under the laws of the OT the poor were entitled to have their cloak given in pledge for a debt returned to them at night so they could, 'cwtch up warm'. The Welshies smiled knowingly, but everyone else looked rather baffled. So, if you want to preach to the English you'll have to talk tidy. Right?

2) Your English congregants will notice if you only used rugby-related sermon illustrations when Wales win

If, as often happens these days, Wales win the Six Nations Championship and you make reference to that fact in your preaching, but never say a word when Wales lose, your people will soon suss you out. I've never tried this, but you could always allay their suspicions of sporting bias by saying something nice when England beat France. You never know, might work.

3) English Christians will happily sing appropriately translated Welsh hymns, but that's not all they'll want to sing

Everybody with any sense knows that William Williams was the best hymn writer ever in the history of the church, bar none. That's beyond discussion. But if you only ever pick hymns by Williams or John Elias or Vernon Higham, that might be a bit much for your average English fellowship. Don't be too depressed at that thought though, as the natives have quite a strong indigenous hymn writing tradition of their own. What's more, many of their hymns go well with Welsh tunes. Charles Wesley's Jesu, lover of my soul shouldn't really be sung to anything other than Aberystwyth, Tis finished, the Messiah dies is inseparable from Merthyr Tydfil, Augustus Todplady's A debtor to mercy alone, is unsingable to  any other tune than Trewen, and you can even get away with matching Isaac Watts' When I survey with Llef.  If picking so many English authored hymns seems like cultural sensitivity gone mad, then just remember Paul's great missional imperative, 'to those who are without law [I became] as without law...that I might win those who are without law'. Just do it. 

4) True cross-cultural mission will mean eating the same food as the English

This might come as a shock to you, but there are certain foodstuffs that you won't be able to get in England. I still remember the crushing sense of disappointment I felt on shopping in Finchley Central Tesco when a student at the London Theological Seminary. They didn't sock Glengettie Tea. Like, what is this place? It was a sharp reminder that if the Severn Bidges collapsed into the muddy depths that England would be totally cut off from civilisation. Thayers ice cream is a bit scarce too. No kidding. It's not all bad, though. Some disceringly high class stores like Westbury's Aldi do sell genuine Welsh Cakes, so you needn't starve. Speaking personally, my cultural identification with the people of our area is complete when I eat Wiltshire ham sandwiches. Could be a lot worse. Missionaries to Bedouin tribesmen have to eat sheep's eyes, but you'll be relieved to hear that the English, on the whole, don't go in for that. At least not in the South. 

I know all this might sound a bit daunting if you're a wet behind the ears Welsh preacher to the English. But at least you will now be able to minister in a culturally appropriate manner. Glad to be of service. 

5 comments:

Richard Miles said...

Agree completely, although I personally prefer the new tune to Tis Finished the Messiah dies.

Jonathan Hunt said...

Go home

tony said...

I have found that south walian ministers who find themselves in north of England pastorates encounter more of a cultural identity crisis when introduced to the joys of rugby league

Ben said...

In my admittedly scanty acquaintance with Wales, good food and the Welsh seem to be strangers to each other. Whether the Welsh are any good at rugby, I really have no idea, but it struck me as a brutal game when I was forced to play at school, so maybe so.

Robert Strivens said...

I've just finished a biography of Henry II (Guy - he was king of England, and various other places, in the 12th century). The author is of the opinion that, had he put his mind to it, Henry could have made a better job of uniting the various nations of Britain (presumably by being a bit tougher on the Welsh and Scots, etc.) and we wouldn't be left with all these pesky cultural differences. Oh well, opportunity missed, I suppose.