Wednesday, 3 August 2016

National Eisteddfod at Abergavenny

Yesterday was a day of catching up with Rachel and Clare, washing, updating computers after two months away. I also went into the office to catch up with Ashley, and be issued with a new Blackberry PRIV office mobile phone. It's another of these big Android phones, with the added bigness of a neat slide out keyboard. I'm not sure how I am going to get on with this. It goes with our BT business account package that we have upgrades every eighteen months whether or not this is really needed, and they don't do more of the same, so it means getting used to a new device whether you want to or not. 

Today, all tech stuff went on hold, as the three of us joined the Menter Iaith coach to go to the Welsh National Eisteddfod, held in Abergavenny for the first time in over a hundred years. The Maes was in the riverside meadow parkland, and was very busy indeed. Two hundred and fifty exhibitor spaces for business and charities were all taken up. Instead of the Pafilion Binc circus tent housing the main stage for concerts and competitions, a new simple aluminium boxy structure purpose built, accommodating an audience of two thousand, acoustically superior, and affording great views of the stage from every side.

I was passing by the churches' tent, just as Morning Prayer was about to start, so I stopped and joined in. Fr Mark Soady, the Vicar of St Mary's Priory church in the town shared in the service with two others I didn't recognise. Isaiah six was read and reflected upon in Welsh by a woman Minister, and I was able to follow most of what she said, about the love for stories, the Word of God and the calling to tell the Word. I was reminded of Welsh non-conformist preaching I occasionally heard in my youth. It's a key theme, in a culture with such a love for words. I used to think this was over emphasised, but the older I've got, and the more I've experienced the devaluation of of language as a dark negative force working against linguistic variety and creativity, the more I have entered into this side of my religious heritage. I don't think I was born to be a preacher or an orator, but life in ministry has made this a part of me and my calling to interpret the Gospel in whatever way opens up to share.

This year's other innovation was the introduction of bi-lingual signage and daily programme schedules. This has been met with misgivings by the 'Cymraeg yn unig' diehards, but it has meant that many more monoglot English speakers from both sides of Offa's dyke have come to visit, and, most imnportantly have been delighted by the experience. This must be one of the world's richest festivals of culture in terms of its variety of media and performances, and the age range of participants. There's no doubt that the Eisteddfod movement builds and nourishes a stronger sense of community and identity. 

The sense of place, and the value of each and every place in Wales, together with love for its many landscapes, encourages care for the environment. Waste management facilities across the site were well organised, and the litter picking team employed had almost no work to do. To be at an open air event with tens of thousands an hour eating takeaway food from disposable plates and drinking from paper cups or plastic bottles, and the ground is litter free, is a remarkable testimony to Eisteddfodwyr. Litter strewn streets after public events or beaches, or country picnic areas is symptomatic of the loss of shared values now plagues society, making life more insecure and less safe than it needs to be, for the health of all. 'Without a vision the people perish' said the writer of the Book of Proverbs. With a shared vision, people flourish. When will the world learn?

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