Christmas in Cymru

(Photo: Rosenhamer)

Cash flow, debt and loneliness: this is the dodgy trinity of Christmas. It is of course the season to be jolly when good Christian men rejoice; it's also a financial nightmare for more or less the same group of people.

And in one of the poorest parts of the UK, money is tight. Many are predicting that food banks will experience the greatest ever demand on their services - even Santa's belly is looking a little less plump this year. In a nation as small and perfectly formed as Wales you can see light and shade everywhere.

But a light is shining in this darkness.

Faced with colossal social need, churches across the land are demonstrating practical generosity in their communities. One striking example is that of New Life Community Church in the west Wales town of Cardigan.

This is no flash in the pan reaction to current trends; they have been doing this for 13 years. After the banquet comes a film. And if all this isn't enough, this community church is offering to provide transport for their guests. Cardigan is not a small town and this is a big offer.

No doubt many of its residents will be in the happy embrace of kith and kin, but I bet my virtual bottom dollar that this charming town is also plagued by loneliness. People with nowhere to go and no one to share it with. I've heard of no other church or indeed any kind of institution throwing its doors open so widely and outrageously. New Life Community Church we salute you.

Over a hundred miles further east in Cardiff and a group of Christians will be hosting a Christmas meal and night shelter in the city's Rhiwbina Baptist Church.

Minibuses will transport some of the capital's homeless citizens to the Christmas day service, followed by lunch and a night's bed and board.

This is only one example of church managed night shelter projects that have sprung up across Wales. Cardiff, as with the other projects, is a collaboration of all denominational flavours. I would wager that when it comes to addressing acute, local, social need, churches are leading the charge. Secular humanism may be shouting the loudest at present, but if you're looking for a hot meal and a roof for the night it will be the faith groups who put their money where their often ignored mouth is.

So far so good, but the Christmas soundtrack is not sounding so good. Fewer voices, a thinner sound and less choristers all round. Especially in the nation's flagship Llandaff Cathedral. New arrangements for funding music at Llandaff Cathedral is how the story has been spun - also known as job cuts. "Adult choristers will in future be contracted on a flexible occasional basis," says the official announcement. All seven adult singers will lose their jobs. It will be hard to sing a new song to the Lord from now on, maybe a few more repeats like the equally cash strapped BBC.

The changes will save £45,000, and will help cut down the Cathedral's estimated deficit for 2014 of £81,000. Action to address the deficit has to be taken by the Cathedral Chapter before January in order for it to fulfil its responsibilities as the Cathedral trustees. Prudence is of course commendable but this is merely the tip of the iceberg for the Church in Wales. Faced with ageing congregations, a dwindling priesthood and empty collection plates, axing the choir is probably the least of its worries.

The Christmas experience in Wales is probably the same one shared across the UK. Excellent, terrible, wonderful and deeply isolating. A mixed blessing.

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