Stratton Methodist Church

From the Minister - Deacon Stephen Roe

 A few weeks ago, we had a week’s holiday in North Wales.  It was the area we lived in before moving to Swindon, so it was lovely to see Welsh

Stephen Roe

road signs again, to have a cottage up a little narrow lane with no passing places, and to have chance to meet some old friends.  We also took the chance, as we usually do when we are on holiday in Britain, to use our National Trust membership, and one of the places we visited was Penrhyn Castle, just outside Bangor.

Penrhyn Castle was built in the first half of the nineteenth century, so despite its name it was never intended to be a defensive fortification, but as a home for Lord Penrhyn and his family to live in.  In its time, it was a luxurious home, set on a large estate with views over Snowdonia and the North Wales coast.  It’s a fascinating and lovely place to visit for a day out, but as is true of many properties now in the care of the National Trust, it has a somewhat murky history.  The funds to purchase the estate came from the vast profits from sugar plantations in Jamaica, based of course on the exploitation of slaves captured and transported from Africa.  When the slave trade, and then slavery itself, were abolished throughout the British Empire in the early nineteenth century, the owners turned their attention to developing the slate mining industry, and at its height the Penrhyn quarry was the largest in the world, employing more than 2,500 people.  The castle was built and funded largely on the profits from this, again based on the exploitation of the workers, with poor conditions and terms of employment, including the sacking of eighty workers in 1868 for failing to vote for the right candidate in an election.   

At the heart of the castle is a chapel, where the owners and staff, well separated of course, each in their appointed place, would gather to worship.  It struck me as being rather incongruous that the worship of God was taking place surrounded by a magnificent building and estate paid for by the cruel exploitation of slaves and workers.  To us today, of course, it seems inconceivable that people ever thought that slavery and the way that workers were often treated in the Victorian era were acceptable, let alone approved of by God.  Yet that is just the way society was ordered, and so it was mostly accepted as simply ‘the way things are’.  It set me thinking though about what of our attitudes today will seem incomprehensible to people in the future?  Which of ‘the way things are’ today will future generations be unable to comprehend how we could ever have them as normal, let alone justified them.  That’s an almost impossible question to answer, as we are living in these times now, and none of us can live with the knowledge of how today will appear when people look back on us in two or three centuries.  However, if I had to guess, one thing that springs to mind is our attitude to the environment, and our careless, selfish use of the earth’s resources.  Of course, there have always been people who have stood up bravely, sometimes at great cost to themselves, against injustice and inequality, many of them motivated by faith, and by what is often called the ‘Golden Rule’, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’  Jesus himself said, when asked which was the greatest of all the commandments, ‘Love God, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.’  What a difference it would have made to the lives of slaves and slate workers if the owners of Penrhyn Castle had lived motivated by that commandment.  What a difference it would make to the world today

 if we all lived motivated by that commandment.

Autumn Thoughts - 2022

I’m writing this at what is both one of my favourite and least favourite times of the year.  I love the autumn colours as the leaves on the trees change colour, and we recently spent a day at Westonbirt Arboretum amid the reds, oranges and yellows, which was a delight.  The light on a sunny day in late autumn, perhaps because the sun is not so high in the sky, has a lovely, clear quality, which I love.  However, the leaves are not only on the trees, they are covering the ground too, and I am not particularly fond of clearing them up in the garden.  We also know that one major storm and the rest will come down, leaving the trees bare, a reminder of the approaching winter.  And we have just put the clocks back, meaning it is now dark by five o’clock in the evening, and even earlier than that on a dull, rainy day.

It seems appropriate somehow that the festivals of Hallowe’en, which has its origins in an ancient Celtic ritual commemorating the onset of winter, coming as it does about half-way between the autumn and spring equinoxes, and of All Saints’ Day on 1 November, when we remember all those, in this world and the next, who are part of God’s faithful people, fall at this time of the year.  They are a reminder that summer and winter, light and darkness, life and death, are all a natural and ongoing part of God’s creation.  This time of year also reminds me of something of the nature and character of God.

God is faithful and reliable, just like the changing seasons.  We can be sure that, however little we like it, the hours of daylight will continue to decrease until 21 December, when the sun will rise in Swindon at 08:11am, and set at 4:00pm.  The days will then begin to lengthen, imperceptibly at first, and then more noticeably as we get in the New Year.  We can be sure that the spring flowers will begin to bloom, we will have a wonderful display of daffodils on the roadside outside our house, and fresh green leaves will appear on the trees.  Our lives too are a mixture of light and dark, good times and difficult times, but may we draw comfort from the reliability of the changing seasons that God’s faithful presence and love is still with us, and that even if life’s problems seem to be increasing at present, in the same way as the winter is drawing on, spring will come.   

September 2021

Hello to you all, as I have recently moved to Swindon here is some background to who I am.  I am married to Angela and it will be our Pearl Wedding Anniversary next year.  

We met in March, Cambridgeshire where Angela’s family is from and where I was a teacher of German and French.  Our two children, Chris and Emily, were born while we were there, Chris now works with the L’Arche Community in Preston, and Emily works with a church in Sheffield.

After leaving teaching, I was a Lay Worker in Suffolk for four years, and during that time candidated for ordained ministry.  I trained two years part-time, and one year full-time at Wesley House in Cambridge, travelling from and to Suffolk each week.  My first appointment was on Anglesey, off the north-west coast of Wales, I think the Church felt that with my background in languages I would have a chance of being successful in learning Welsh.  I loved doing that, and if you ever have a couple of hours to spare you are welcome to quiz me on the oddities of Welsh, which exist in all languages of course, we just don’t notice them in our native tongue.  After six years on the north coast of Anglesey, we moved to Menai Bridge, just on the Anglesey side of Thomas Telford’s famous suspension bridge.  We had six more years there, where I worked with the Welsh-language churches on Anglesey and also as the Methodist Chaplain at Bangor University, before we moved to Dolgellau in 2016.  Dolgellau is a small town about thirty miles north of Aberystwyth, ten miles inland from Barmouth, and on the southern edge of the Snowdonia National Park.

We are now enjoying getting to know Swindon, and look forward to exploring more of the area.  Having not had a dual carriageway within fifty miles of Dolgellau, the roads and roundabouts are a challenge to get used to, but as I have often said since we moved ‘What did we do before Google Maps?’  We are also looking forward to getting to know you all better, please feel welcome to contact me through the website.

As you know, I am a Methodist deacon, and one of the frequent questions I am asked is ‘What is a deacon?’  More of that another time!

Stephen reads the story of the feeding of the 5,000 in Welsh.

Ever wondered what it is like to be a minister? Hear Stephen answer this question when he worked in his previous Methodist Circuit Cylchdaith Cymru, Wales.