Pilgrimage is a spiritual exercise, an act of devotion.
I arrived in Wales on January 12, 2015, on an ancestral and spiritual pilgrimage: to be still in the land of my ancestors, to listen to the stories, to meet the people, and to spend Sundays with the Unitarians in Wales.
My sabbatical journey was intended to be a time to connect and grow, rest and replenish, contemplate and write. It was all that, and so very much more. What happened to me in those first five weeks was no less than transformational. Wales captured my heart, the people touched my spirit and the stories of the faithful changed me and opened my ministry to new possibilities.
Throughout my travels and in my conversations, I experienced the transformative power of being in relationship beyond comfort zones and cultural borders. I developed a greater appreciation for how bearing witness to another person’s story and a congregation’s history affirms one’s own fundamental worth and place in the global faith community.
I left Wales on February 14th, with one question, “How would I stay in relationship with the Welsh Unitarians?”
Turning toward Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council (UUPCC) to explore this question was the obvious next step. I quickly learned that partnership building opportunities had expanded to the United Kingdom but no connections had yet been made in Wales. Realizing I had already begun the work of partnership building, I worked with Cathy Cordes and the Welsh Unitarians to plan a second trip. By mid June, I was back in Wales promoting the mission and vision of UUPCC.
For eleven weeks I had the honor and privilege of walking alongside the Unitarians in Wales. Like so many others I was surprised to learn Wales has 22 Unitarian congregations 13 of which are Welsh speaking. In North Wales a new congregation is emerging. In the South and Southeast districts members recall stories of guarded gatherings with dissenter’s worshiping under the cover of darkness, hiding away on mountaintops and in hay barns. Until the signing of the Unitarian Toleration Act of 1813, non-Trinitarians in the United Kingdom lived in fear of persecution, loss of livelihood, fines and imprisonment. Unitarians were unable to hold public office or attend the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge. It was illegal to be a Unitarian.
For centuries Welsh Unitarians showed resilience and perseverance in the face of discrimination, harassment, violence and oppression. Through it all, they have remained steadfastly committed to free religious thought and practice.
I left Wales a second time on July 23rd, more passionate than ever in my belief that the Welsh Unitarians have amazing, powerful, transformative stories the world needs to hear. The people of Wales stopped hiding in barns two centuries ago. The time has come is time we shine the light on their bushel basket for it is overflowing with goodness, hospitality, compassion, wisdom and inspiration.
Several potential partnerships are presently emerging in Wales
- In the South District of Wales, Rev. Wyn Thomas is eager to partner with a congregation who is connected to the Jenkin Lloyd Jones and Frank Lloyd Wright. Rev. Wyn is a descendent of the same family tree. He serves the parish of Jenkin’s birth.
- At Highland Place Church in Aberdare, the Women’s League is excited about partnering with another women’s group in the United States.
- In the capital of Wales, the Cardiff congregation is looking for a partnership to provide opportunities for young people to communicate beyond borders.
Bringing the mission and vision of Partner Church to Wales was the highlight of my sabbatical pilgrimage. Continuing the work of connecting and strengthening people and congregations through partnerships will be an honor.
We have much to learn from our Welsh brothers and sisters. I invite you to be a part of the evolving conversations and future partnership development.
This article was published in the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council Fall 2015 newsletter.