Grouping is seen as bridge not barrier between parishes.
Three groups of parishes taking in seven churches make up the successful East Vale Group.
The model, which has been developing over the last decade, is going from strength to strength as it retains independence for individual parishes whilst allowing the pooling of resources and the development of lay ministry across the group.
Historically the seven small rural parishes of Bonvilston, Pendoylan, Peterson-super-Ely, St Brides-super-Ely, St Nicholas, St George-super-Ely and Welsh St Donats on the eastern side of the Vale of Glamorgan have been held in three groups – none of which justified a cleric of its own.
However, all of the parishes were keen to retain parochial independence, which the setting up of the East Vale Group facilitated, along with the encouragement of lay ministry as hoped. The grouping is seen as a bridge rather than a barrier between parishes.
Each of the seven parishes has its own PCC, all chaired by a lay person. These feed into the East Vale Group Council which is chaired by the rector, Father Martyn Davies.
The parishes of Peterson-super-Ely with St Brides-super-Ely and the parishes of St Nicholas with Bonvilston and St George-super-Ely are the responsibility of Father Martyn.
While the vicar, Father Edwin Counsell is responsible for the third group of parishes of Pendoylan with Welsh St Donats on a half-time basis, as he is also the diocesan director of statutory education and provincial advisor on education.
Both the Rector and the vicar are also licensed for each other’s parishes and there are two lay readers, who lead morning and evening prayers in churches in the group.
On the fourth Sunday of every month, there is a Eucharist in each of the seven churches, thanks to help from retired clergy. When there is a fifth Sunday in the month a Eucharist is held in just one of the churches for all to attend.
“It brings everyone together as everyone goes to that one service on that day. This group set up also encourages lay people to take the lead as readers in church and by chairing the PCCs,” said Father Martyn.
“We are already doing a lot of things recommended by the Church in Wales review and the structure is working very well by developing and growing the gifts of local people. I can only live in one parish so the challenge is to involve myself in the community in the other areas and this set up certainly helps as it gives more of a sense of ownership to everyone.
“As opposed to a rectorial benefice, no one major church dominates and yet everyone is able to share gifts, skills and experience.”
One shining example of the East Vale Group in action was a “ride and stride” event which took place in not only all seven churches, but also three local chapels and a further three neighbouring churches.
People were invited to walk, cycle, jog or even horse ride up to 25 miles between 13 churches which were throwing open their doors to the public. The event was being organised as part of the Civic Trust for Wales’ Open Doors programme, which sees heritage sites throughout Wales opening for free during September.
“This event was a great example of people within the different parishes in the East Vale Group working together and getting to know each other to pool resources for a joint event,” said Father Martyn.
Other initiatives planned are parish food bank and the celebration of various saints’ days throughout the family of churches and other special occasions.
“The underlying principle of the group is that each parish can stand on its own two feet, while developing supportive relationships across the group,” said Father Martyn.