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St Benet's Today

This article appeared recently in The Times

The appointment of a new incumbent will breathe fresh life into the historic church of St Benet’s Paul’s Wharf.

The Rev Aneirin Glyn is relishing the prospect of revitalising St Benet Paul’s Wharf, the only Welsh church attached to the Church of England in London, when he is installed as priest in charge next month. He wants to make the Gospel known to all Welsh people in London, not just Welsh speakers (of which there are estimated to be as many as 50,000 in London), by teaching the Bible in a relevant and engaging way. He adds, with a smile: “For people who are learning Welsh in London, if there are ways to minister to them then we will look at doing that. I am also able to speak English.”
Demand to learn Welsh in London is certainly on the rise. There were 60 places available on the most recent course at the London Welsh Centre in King’s Cross; it was oversubscribed and the number of places on the next course has been expanded to 75.
“London has a large Welsh community and I would love St Benet’s to be the place where they can hear the great news about Jesus in the language in which they are comfortable,” says Glyn, 35, who comes from Cardiff and whose mother tongue is Welsh.
Glyn is married with three children and describes himself as “bilingual”. He was born in Cardiff to Welsh parents, both doctors; the family moved to Flintshire when he was 10 and he was educated “through the medium of Welsh” until 16. He was keen on rugby at school, playing in the second row (he is 6ft 3in) and supporting both Cardiff Blues and Llanelli Scarlets, his father’s team. At 18 he read mathematics at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, later gaining a D.Phil in pure mathematics at the same college. He then spent three years as an international student worker at St Ebbe’s in Oxford. A master’s degree in theology at Oak Hill College followed before he joined St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, as a curate in 2009. His role at St Benet Paul’s Wharf will be in addition to his position at St Helen’s, one of the biggest Evangelical Anglican churches in the City, where he helps to lead the well-attended Sunday afternoon service.
Glyn says that attending either of the two Sunday services at St Benet’s “is a great way to learn the language — it’s a great place to hear Welsh spoken and lived out”. Hymns are sung in Welsh, although worshippers can use a sheet with the words in English. The Church in Wales prayerbook is used (it has Welsh on the left-hand page and English on the right), and readings are in Welsh (but can be followed in an English Bible).
Glyn himself reads the Bible in English and in Welsh, using the English Standard Version and Y Beibl Cymraeg Newydd (The New Welsh Bible), and is equally happy in both. But he says: “I think for some people in London, Welsh is the language in which they think and speak. We want to meet people where they are. Some people ‘feel’ Welsh, so if that happens then we will gladly welcome them and share the Gospel in Welsh.”
He wants to breathe new life into the Grade I listed City church, which was founded in 1111 and rebuilt by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire. The church oozes history: it has been the church of the College of Arms since 1555; Shakespeare mentions it in Twelth Night (Act V, Scene I); Inigo Jones was buried there in 1652; Henry Fielding married his second wife there in 1747; and it became one of the City Guild Churches in 1954.
Services in Welsh have been held at St Benet’s — also known as the Metropolitan Welsh Church — since 1879, when Queen Victoria signed an Order in Council removing it from a list of churches to be demolished and granting its use to Welsh Anglicans for the conduct of services “according to the Rites of the Church of England” in perpetuity. Latterly, however, the church has had a rather chequered history. In 2008 it was closed briefly after the congregation had dwindled to only a handful of people. The Ven David Meara, the Archdeacon of London, who was appointed in 2009, draws a line under the episode and talks of a brighter future: “It is a new chapter in the life of St Benet’s. You can talk about a revival of ministry — it is quite clear that things have been in the doldrums.
“The church has been without a permanent priest in charge for a number of years and it has been the wish of the Bishop of London to appoint a priest not just fluent in the Welsh language but one who will help grow the church and reach out to the large Welsh-speaking community in London and beyond. The London Welsh Centre is obviously one potential source of partnership, although there are many others. I think for the first time, with a young and lively chap in Aneirin Glyn, who is a fluent Welsh speaker, there is a real chance St Benet’s will flourish.”
The central location of St Benet’s clearly makes possible a large “gathered community”, Meara believes. He adds: “The Bishop is keen for Aneirin and his team to take advantage of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook as a way of building a network within the Welsh-speaking London-based community and to host evenings where we can show Welsh films and hold Welsh social functions. Its website could be hugely developed to build up St Benet’s as a worshipping community and as a centre for Welsh life in London.”
St Benet’s already holds events such as the celebration of St Dwynen’s Day (essentially, a Welsh equivalent of St Valentine’s Day) in January. Glyn hopes to run more of such events and to tap into the heart of the Welsh community in London, which includes London Welsh RFC, London Welsh FC, London Welsh Cricket Club, London Welsh Chorale, London Welsh Male Voice Choir, Ysgol Gymraeg Lludain (a primary school based in Harlesden, North London), the networking forum Wales in London and even an independent Welsh dairy in Fulham, Morgan’s.
Glyn will take up his post at St Benet’s on October 2 in a service conducted by the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres. Members of the congregation could potentially include Huw Edwards, the BBC News presenter, who is a fluent Welsh speaker and writer (he is the author of a book on Llanelli chapels; 12 of its 33 chapters are in Welsh) and is the president of the London Welsh Trust, which runs the London Welsh Centre. “He said he had heard about my appointment and in passing said he might be interested in coming along,” Glyn says.
St Benet’s, as noted, is well connected. Earlier this week the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who was previously Bishop of Monmouth and Archbishop of Wales and occasionally takes services at St Benet’s, dedicated a memorial at the church. Needless to say, the bulk of the service was conducted in Welsh.