The priory and the pottery
Canon Edwin Counsell and the Rt Rev June Osborne with a service from Ewenny Priory, with contributions from Alun and Caitlin Jenkins at nearby Ewenny Pottery.
Ewenny Priory in the Vale of Glamorgan is one of the UK's most remarkable Norman buildings, this year marking the 900th anniversary of its dedication. Nearby Ewenny Pottery has been worked in by the same family since at least the 1600s.
As we're shaped by our own turbulent times, the historic continuity of a place like Ewenny can be a source of strength and inspiration. In this service led by Canon Edwin Counsell, the Bishop of Llandaff the Rt Rev June Osborne reflects on the way our history and context shapes us, while father and daughter potters Alun and Caitlin Jenkins share their experiences of working with clay.
Music includes Bob Chilcott's 'Even Such Is Time', and Jonathan Dove's 'Into Thy Hands'.
Producer: Dominic Jewel
STARTS IN PRIORY
Good morning: bore da a croeso… welcome to our Sunday Worship. We’re in the village of Ewenny, in the Vale of Glamorgan, a mile or so from the town of Bridgend, with the practicality of the M4 in one direction and the beauty of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast, equidistant in another. Here, nestling behind the cottages and commuter housing lies a hidden gem: a 12th century priory church, built by the Benedictine order with military style defences, giving a clue to the turbulent times this place has witnessed.
And this month we’re celebrating 900 years since the dedication of the building. This landmark anniversary reaches back through the centuries, to within touching distance of the time of William the Conqueror; yet we also pay witness to an unbroken thread of Christian faith, which has been woven into this place ever since and which we maintain today in the life and witness of Ewenny Priory, in service of this parish and community.
Reading 1 (+June)One thing I have asked of the Lord, this is what I seek:that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;to behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in His temple.
Welcome part 2 (Edwin)
Today, the Bishop of Llandaff, June Osborne, reminds us that our history and context shapes us in countless ways.
We’ll also be visiting a local pottery, where successive generations of one family have themselves been shaped by this place, in their work and, also, in their faith, much as clay is formed and given new purpose in the skilled hands of a potter.
But first to our opening hymn, and a reminder that this church has always rejoiced in its dedication to ‘St Michael and All Angels’; the messengers and guardians at the right hand of God - ‘Ye holy angels bright’.
Hymn: ‘Ye holy angels bright’ St David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire (BBC Recording)
Opening Responses (+June, Edwin)
Call: Who is it that you seek?Response: We seek the Lord our God.Call: Do you seek Him with all your heart?Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.Call: Do you seek Him with all your soul?Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.Call: Do you seek Him with all your mind?Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.Call: Do you seek Him with all your strength?Response: Amen. Christ, have mercy.
The Story of Ewenny Priory (Edwin)
Ewenny Priory’s striking Norman architecture remains largely unchanged over its long history. The site was chosen carefully, hidden discretely from view, but built as a fortress, to be a safe place in troubled times. And the raw materials of everyday life are close by: a river… local limestone that’s ideal for building… rich farm land and durable red clay, that the rest of us know as earthenware, serving the practical need of builders, farmers and potters alike.
This is the life-story of a living place of prayer and worship of the God of the ages, with a timeless rhythm and pattern. And as the River Ewenny flows just a stone’s throw from the Priory, it still brings its own gentle soundtrack to the Autumn pasture, dotted with sheep, and the just-harvested maize fields that surround us… a timeless place where eternal truth has been spoken:
… He makes me lie to down in green pastures, he leads me forth, beside the waters of comfort… Goodness and mercy all my days will surely follow me...
Psalm 23 (Brother James’ Air)King’s College, Cambridge/ Sioned Williams, harp/Stephen Cleobury (Commercial recording)
Introduction to potters (Edwin)
A short walk from Ewenny Priory is Ewenny pottery. Father and daughter Alun and Caitlin Jenkins are 7th and 8th generation potters in a family thought to have been working in Ewenny since the 1600s or even further back. The life and livelihood of their family is interwoven with the story of this place.
Reading 2: Jeremiah 18: 1-6 (Edwin and Caitlin)
Edwin The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Come, go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words.
Caitlin So, I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel.
The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
Example 1 (Alun) “I’ve thrown the clay onto the wheel, and now having wetted my hands, I’m beginning to shape the clay.”
“You can make a batch of pots; first impressions are they’re all exactly the same, if you look closely sometimes you can think that one stands out, just a slight variation in the shape that’s pleasing to the eye. You can make something and in your mind you’ve got a particular shape but it’s not perfect; but it still can be a beautiful finish.”
“A pot becomes a beautiful piece of work when the lines of the pot look right: when it’s natural. I had an uncle and he used to, when he looked at a pot, he would say ‘A straight line is a line of beauty; a curved line is a line of beauty’: if a curve of the pot looks right to the eye, then you’ve created something beautiful, really”
Into thy hands (Jonathan Dove) Gabrieli Consort/Paul McCreesh (Commercial recording)
Reflection One (+June)
Not every church building could be described as beautiful but your first reaction when you step into Ewenny Priory is the awesome beauty of it. One of the UK’s Romanesque masterpieces it brings those who visit to stand in silence. The same is true in Alun’s pottery in the village. I love dropping in to visit Alun and his family at Ewenny Pottery because there’s so much beauty in the things they make there. Most of us are touched by beauty, it’s one of the most common ways we feel drawn to a sense of the divine or eternity. It’s all around us here because the natural world greets us with its abundance in this part of Wales. The sea is within walking distance so there are seascapes to draw us out of ourselves, and it’s farming land so we’re never short of natural beauties, trees, birds and wildlife, to widen our horizon.
Most of us have access in one way or another to serious beauty. It may not be a glorious landscape, but creative art like music and things of loveliness are available if only we give space to them. I grew up in a harsh urban environment, and as a teenager I was surrounded by slum clearance, but I remember buying an album of Chopin’s nocturnes to play on my little Dansette record player because of the beauty they offered me.And beauty isn’t about perfection or symmetry or tidiness. We often consider things beautiful that are misshaped, like the pot which doesn’t quite turn out as intended but becomes a much-loved favourite. The flaws are themselves part of the distinctive beauty. We can describe deeds as beautiful, not because they’re perfectly planned or executed but because they are suffused with humility and loving-kindness.
In his poem ‘Churchgoing’ Philip Larkin describes stepping into an empty church. It wasn’t an exceptional building like this Priory Church, and Larkin, who had no great sympathies for the Christian faith, starts by sounding rather bored and indifferent, unimpressed by his visit. And yet something begins to have impact on him. “It pleases me to stand in silence here” he says, and then goes on to describe the place as “a serious house on serious earth”. Standing in silence in the face of beauty is a way that many people connect with a sense of the divine in their lives and it allows a sense of God to penetrate our lethargies or anxieties. In the face of beauty, it’s possible to begin to see ourselves as vessels in the hands of the potter who made us and shaped us, to find in ourselves a surprising ‘hunger to be more serious’, as Larkin describes it.
It’s believed that the text of this anthem, ‘Even such is time’, by another poet, Sir Walter Raleigh, could have been written on the night before he died. Set to music by the contemporary composer, Bob Chilcott, it ends with the hope, ‘from this earth, this grave, this dust, my God shall raise me up I trust’. Serious beauty gives us serious hope.
Anthem: Even such is time (Bob Chilcott) Salisbury Cathedral (Commercial recording)
Example 2 (Alun)
“This jug, I’m going to put a decorative rim on the bottom. All the time I’m supporting the clay gently in my hands, so that it doesn’t lose its shape.”
“Faith to me is very important. I was born into a Christian family: many members of the family have a strong Christian faith. I think it’s the one thing that sort of keeps us going – and the priory has become a very important place to me. When you’re in the Priory, and I’m often in the priory, you can sit quietly and you absorb centuries of worship and prayer - of people who have come to the priory for all sorts of reasons, but have found peace, contentment – and happiness I suppose. Because being part of the priory community, the church community, is very important to me personally.”
Declaration of Faith (Caitlin)
To whom shall we go?You have the words of eternal life,and we have believed and have come to knowthat You are the Holy One of God.Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ,King of endless glory
Hymn: Come my Way, my Truth, my Life St Woolos Cathedral (BBC recording)
Reflection Two (+June)
Alun has spoken about his sense of the continuity of worship in Ewenny Priory Church despite many shifts in fortune over the centuries of Welsh and British history. From the monks of the Benedictine order, to the parish which worships here today, we all look back to the example of St Illtud who taught the faith in probably Britain’s earliest centre of learning, and encouraged sacred worship in this part of the world in the 6th century. If beauty draws us to a sense of God then so does seeking after truth, and Christians have sought truth in worship right down the ages.
We heard earlier how God instructed his prophet Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house, to watch someone like Alun Jenkins make and then remake a pot. It was to teach him a lesson he should pass on, that it mattered how his nation lived, and God cared about the choices they made. As the potter shapes the clay so we shape how we live, in the pursuit of truth. There’s behaviour we can name as virtuous and noble whereas there’s also ugly and untrue behaviour. We still today, by and large, live by that conviction that it’s worth living truthfully, for in it we’ll find our welfare and I believe that in it we’ll find God.
The worship which is part of this place is an offering of thanks to God for his goodness, but it’s also a week by week habit. It helps us find our magnetic north of what is true, of what lasts, in what we can trust. We cannot find our compass in life, our true direction as solitary agents, choosing only what suits us. We’ve realised again the truth in that as we’re feeling the impact of social isolation. And at the heart of our usual worship is also the memory of a sacrifice of love. ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.’
Who can doubt that the sacrifices we make – or see made on our behalf – if made for love, are true and virtuous and noble? So we worship that we might live truthfully with one another as a way of life.
We find God in beauty. We find God in the truth we live by. Yet Graham Kendrick’s hymn ‘God of the Poor’ reminds us that there’s a third way we find God present with us, and that’s in the compassion we show to one another.
Hymn: Beauty for Brokenness Ardwyn Singers (BBC recording)
Example 3 (Alun)
“This is preparing the clay ready for throwing on the potter’s wheel. We locally call it ‘benching’, but the technical term used in the trade is ‘wedging’. It’s to mix the clay evenly, and to remove any air that is in the clay.”
“We have a reading in the pottery over the wheel, over the potter’s wheel, which has been over the potter’s wheel for at least 100 years. Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 9, verse 21.”
Reading 3 (Caitlin)
Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
“Clay has certain qualities, but if you push the clay too far, it’ll break down, it’ll collapse on you. So, still keeping in mind what you wanted, you can take the clay back to the beginning and start again. Sometimes, something that goes wrong turns out to be quite good, and from that another idea may come. That does happen quite a lot.”
Anthem: Into thy hands (Jonathan Dove) Gabrieli Consort/Paul McCreesh (Commercial recording)
Reflection Three (+June)
The monks who once lived here in Ewenny Priory would have served the poor of the Vale of Glamorgan in ways we now take for granted will be provided for us by the State. Without any health service they would have offered basic medicinal help. Without an education system they would have maintained some opportunities for learning. Without a welfare or social system, they would have been alert to basic needs for food and work. They did such things because they believed that in serving their neighbours, they served Christ, that in their neighbours they were indeed meeting Christ.
We so often find that when we determine to do something for those in need, we ourselves are enriched. Not far from this still place of prayer there are activities motivated by compassion and run by people of faith – food banks, debt clinics, women’s refuges, dementia cafes, refugee resettlement projects and bereavement support – and when people get involved in such service they will find God. In showing compassion to those most vulnerable they will be blessed.
Potters know that the vessels they make often contain flaws, or in the course of their use they get broken and need tender loving repair. Our own lives are easily damaged and all of us know what it is to live with our flaws and sometimes with harsh circumstances we cannot avoid.
What difference it makes when we’re met with kindness and when things are allowed to come to the surface of our lives for healing. Like a master potter, the Lord who first made us goes on shaping our life, sometimes with the aid of those who meet our needs, tend to our wounds or simply treat us with dignity, and sometimes with the help of those we serve.
Anthem: Into thy hands (Jonathan Dove) Gabrieli Consort/Paul McCreesh (Commercial recording)
As we stand by the river, between the pottery and the priory, we find both can speak of life and purpose; of craft and skill, of faith and faithfulness that has been sustained through generations… and so we pray…
Living and loving God, we praise you,and through times of peril we lean into you,for in Jesus Christ you have trodden paths as difficult as ours,revealing a love that nothing defeats, a love that bears us through.We pray for our family and friends, our loved ones and those departed. We pray for those areas of our land that are experiencing a new lockdown, as they deal with the challenges that it brings to the community and the Church.Even as we strive to behave responsibly, and to care reliably,we ask, that in these uncertain times we might trust that you are with us, our refuge and strength, and that our faith, hope and love might be renewed,through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord God, our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you; pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself as we pray…
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;Thy kingdom come;Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,as we forgive those who trespass against us,and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,for ever and ever. Amen.
Our worship draws to a close with Isaac Watts’ powerful hymn, written more than 200 years ago. It proclaims the constant, timeless presence of God, which upholds us in this life and in the life to come: ‘O God our help in ages past’.
Hymn: O God our help in ages past BBC National Chorus of Wales (BBC Recording)
BY RIVEREdwin: Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you,All things are passing away: God never changes.
IN POTTERYCaitlinPatience obtains all things.AlunWhoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices,
IN PRIORY+Juneand so may the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit remain with you all this day and for evermore. Amen.
PLAYOUT: Anthem: Into thy hands (Jonathan Dove) Gabrieli Consort/Paul McCreesh (Commercial recording)
- Sun 11 Oct 2020 08:10