After a few late afternoon hours in the office, I walked over to Adamsdown to St German's Church to join the three hundred strong congregation celebrating the 43rd anniversary of Father Roy Doxsey's ordination to the priesthood, with a solemn Mass, followed by retirement speeches and a presentation, bringing his fifteen year ministry in the Parish to its conclusion. Roy looks and behaves somewhat younger than his seventy years, but seventy is the compulsory retirement age for Church in Wales clerics, and that's that. He's had a home of his own in the hamlet of Bethlehem near Myddfai in Carmarthenshire for more than a quarter of a century, but he won't be retreating from Cardiff, having taken a small apartment in the neighbouring Parish of Roath, so that he can continue to play a part in the church's life and witness in the city.
He preached with great humour, telling the story of his life in ministry and witnessing to the faith that has sustained him in a moving way. He began: "I'm fighting off a chest infection today, but I'm very glad this is my farewell we're celebrating, and not my funeral." The congregation came from all periods of his life in ministry - colleagues, parishioners, community leaders - I counted half a dozen Tredegarville teachers there, from the role we shared as school Governors. Most of Roy's ministry involved him one way or another with education: school chaplaincies, warden of a Zambian ministry training scheme, and latterly school governor and pastor. Yet, he left school with no qualifications. When his vocation emerged, he was sent to study at Ystradmeurig College, near Strata Florida in the wilds of Cardiganshire, a long gone institution where aspirants were helped through a catch-up educational process to prepare them for tertiary theological study.
The church lacks such institutions nowadays. Once they offered spiritual formation through life in a small community of prayer and study which brought out the best in students and built confidence in their ability to carry on learning at a higher level. Roy, a self confessed rebel, was among the last generation of ordination candidates to take that route. It made an admirable missionary pastor out of him, without ever quenching his challenging spirit or his sense of humour.
Preparation of this kind is now done through evening courses at F.E. colleges or seminaries. Aspirants don't have to uproot until they start a full time training course. It keeps them in the everyday world, and this can impose additional pressures on them as learners, as I have seen with a few of the part time theological students I've received on parish placement. I wonder if it gives such a substantial spiritual formation as can be gained by the close contact afforded in a residential community of prayer and study. Well, I guess I'll find out this autumn. I've accepted an invitation from Peter Sedgewick, Principal of St Mike's to explore becoming part of his team of personal tutors, working with a small group of students as they face the educational challenge of preparing for ordination today.