‘Broadening Horizons’ is an English and abridged version of the original Welsh publication, Ehangu Gorwelion, by the Revd Wynn Vittle, in which the history of Christian Aid in Wales is told through personal impressions and reminiscences. Cambria Nostra will publish the version in instalments.
By Wynn Vittle
Chapter 8: The Department – the National Committee
Having related accounts of my overseas visits we now return to discuss the framework of Christian Aid in Wales, explaining the establishing of the National Committee, how it operated, and the business discussed at its meetings (twice a year).
One of the issues which occupied lengthy discussions at several meetings was the availability of Christian Aid publications in Welsh. Through the leadership of the Chairman and the support of staff, the Committee pressurised the Christian Aid Board and Heads of Departments in London for the Welsh language to have parity with English on all material distributed in Wales and also to produce educational material for use in bilingual schools and Welsh speaking churches. It was a long process, but eventually our colleagues in London accepted our case and it became a natural process, the Welsh staff being responsible for translating the required material with the design and printing departments in London fulfilling their obligations.
Occasionally the National committee meetings would be addressed by the Director or other senior officers, such occasions were opportunities to question them on various policy matters and current projects supported, whilst at other times, an overseas visitor being in Wales at the time of a meeting, would address the meeting and open a discussion on the type of support required in the person’s country.
Since the majority of the committee represented the main denominations in Wales there was a regular feed back concerning Christian Aid’s priorities at the time which helped to cement the relationship between the bodies.
Furthermore, as the committee was a Department of the Council of Churches of Wales, the National Secretary would present reports annually to meetings of the Council of Churches of Wales. There was also a similar structure operating in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Chapter 9: Denominational Appeals
Denominational Appeals have played a prominent role in fostering and encouraging support among church members of the main denominations in Wales. Apart from raising substantial sums over the years towards a number of development programmes, they have been instrumental in informing members in the individual churches of the plight and poverty of people, and how Christian Aid works with its overseas partners. Through such appeals there developed a better understanding of Christian Aid methods of operating, and the horizons of the lives of church members throughout the country were broadened.
The idea of having Denominational Appeals was first mooted by the United Nations. They were not directed towards Church denominations but rather towrads the richer countries of the western world. Such countries were invited by the United Nations to contribute 1% of their country’s annual Gross National Product (GNP) towards development programmes in Third World countries. Unfortunately these richer governments did not succeed in achieving this target, which resulted in lowering the expectation to .07%. Even this amount is still not being reached by a number of countries.
However, Christian Aid decided to take up the challenge and invite the denominations to ask members of their churches to contribute 1% of their personal annual income towards development projects supported by Christian Aid. Following discussions by denominational leaders and Christian Aid officers it was suggested that, in Wales and in other parts of the United Kingdom, a denomination would arrange an appeal within its churches, usually for a twelve month period, setting a target for such an appeal.
These appeals were warmly received at first by several denominations, when each in turn arranged an appeal, and over the years vasts sums were contributed towards a number of projects. Apart from raising funds churches were informed of the projects supported, and thus members learnt a great deal from the educational material produced. Some denominations arranged week-end courses with speakers from overseas countries addressing meetings.
Although large sums were collected through these appeals, with churches becoming more aware of the plight of the poor through the educational material published, it was not possible to have an assurance from every denomination in Wales that at least one of them would arrange an appeal every year. However it is gratifying to state that these appeals have continued thanks to the leadership of certain individuals within their denominations.
Chapter 10: Celebrating Christmas
Numerous fund-raising events were held throughout Wales during the Christmas period, with carol singing services and nativity plays being the most popular. But there were exceptions.
The main event, held for over fifteen years, occurred through the inspiration of the chaplain at Llandovery College, the Revd. Roy Doxsey. Father Roy, as he wished to be known. On the first occasion, the week before Christmas, he set out with a group of teenage students to walk the 70 mile journey from Cardiff to the village of Bethlehem in Carmarthenshire. This was not a sponsored walk, but money was collected en route and thereby a substantial sum was raised towards various projects. The same route and schedule were adhered to during the following years, with groups from other areas of Wales also participating in the annual ‘pilgrimage’ to the village of Bethlehem. On one occasion, a group of sixth form pupils from Dyffryn Nantlle Secondary school, north Wales, walked from the village of Nazareth, in Gwynedd, to Bethlehem, arriving at the village chapel at the same time as the other groups from south Wales.
The climax of this annual event was the year Roy and others walked literally in Palestine from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the journey taken by Joseph and Mary according to the New Testament narrative.
Through this annual walk, Roy and his students were responsible not only for raising funds but for giving much publicity to the needs of the poor through the media coverage of the events, for which Christian Aid staff in Wales were most grateful.
Chapter 11: At National Festivals in Wales
We now focus on Christian Aid’s involvement at National events, especially at the National Eisteddfod, an annual Welsh language festival held every year during the first full week in August, alternately in north and south Wales.
Since 1973 Christian Aid has had a presence at the event, attracting visitors by having an exhibition of Third World situations and occasionally inviting local junior and secondary schools to participate by exhibiting some of their pupils’ artistic material depicting Third World scenes. Coffee and tea have been available for visitors through the help of volunteers from the local churches. Publications and Traidcraft goods were also on sale, as purchasing such material would benefit Christian Aid partners in their struggles to have fairer prices for their commodities.
Being at the Eisteddfod was an opportunity to meet supporters from all parts of the country, and it also enabled a number of local Christian Aid organisers attending the festival to view the latest educational and fund-raising publications available.
Christian Aid also had a presence at the Urdd National Eisteddfod, which focuses on children and young people’s competitions. It is held annually throughout the May bank holiday half-term. By attending this event we gave an opportunity for teachers at junior and secondary schools to view the material produced on Third World countries and involving issues, such as health, environment and religion. Attending the event also enabled Christian Aid staff to plan visits to schools and discuss topics with the teachers who visited our stand.
Christian Aid shared a stand with the local Council of Churches at the annual Royal Welsh Show, in Llanelwedd. This agricultural gathering attracts visitors from all parts of the United Kingdom and beyond. At this event our exhibition, naturally, focused on various aspects of farming and gave information on the problems confronting peasant farmers in Third World countries.
On May 24th 1986 the Show Ground at Llanelwedd was taken over by the Council of Churches of Wales to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary, and around 18,000 attended. Naturally Christian Aid, being a Department of the Council, played a prominent part in the activities. “God’s Family Festival”, the title given to the event, was an outstanding success with the Most Revd Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa, preaching at the closing service. As staff at the time, we were pleased with the response generated and our input to the festival was honourable and gratifying.
Chapter 12: Additional members of staff changes and retirements
The eighties was a period of change in members of staff. With emergency needs in several countries and the new development projects calling for support, Christian Aid increased its staff throughout Britain and Ireland, and Wales was no exception. Alongside the increase in the staff members was the increase in income, which was naturally most encouraging as the money was sorely needed and well spent on various development programmes.
With the sudden passing in 1982 of our north Wales colleague, Owen, Christian Aid lost a devoted and loyal servant. However, after a few months, a replacement was sought but it was not until the beginning of 1983 that Dewi, the first National Secretary in Wales, returned to the Welsh staff and became Area Secretary for north Wales, having been an Area Secretary for a period in Oxfordshire.
Three years later a new appointment was made, when the Rev T. Jeffrey Williams became Area Secretary for mid Wales and Monmouthshire, with Tom Evans, who formerly served that area, being relieved of that commitment in order to concentrate on our emphasis on education. He later became Education Secretary, and was in the post for two years until he moved to the Religious Department with the BBC in Cardiff.
There were also changes in the administrative staff, as Mrs. Beryl ap Robert retired after serving Christian Aid at the National Office with remarkable efficiency for eighteen years. New appointments were made, not only at the Cardiff office, but also in Bangor and Brecon, the offices for north and mid Wales respectively.
Apart from changes in the staff there were also changes among our Honorary Officers. Dr. Roderic Bowen, Chairman of the National Committee retired and he was succeeded by the Principal of Trinity College, Carmarthen, Mr Clive Jones Davies. Mr. Alun Rowlands took over the responsibility of Honorary Treasurer from Mr. Lyn Howell.
Later it was realised that with all income from Wales being received, recorded and receipted at the National Office it would not be necessary for the organisation to require the services of an Honorary Treasurer. Throughout the years, Christian Aid was fortunate in having had the efficient services of its two dedicated Honorary Treasurers.
Wynn is a Welsh speaking ”Pembrokeshire boy” but adopted by Carmarthenshire having lived most of his working life in different parts of the county as a Baptist minister, apart from an eighteen year period in Cardiff when he was Christian Aid’s National Secretary for Wales. Sadly, his wife, Nia, passed away in 2008, but he is fortunate in having a daughter and a son and their families, and a variety of projects to keep him occupied.
“Ehangu Gorwelion” (original Welsh publications available)
Price: £11.50 (inc.postage) from UK – cheques payable to ‘Christian Aid’
For overseas delivery please add £2.50 (total £14)
Swyddfa Cymorth Cristnogol/ Christian Aid Office
75 Heol Dŵr
Rhif ffon/telephone no: 01267 237257