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Whoever your god is, you can worship here; Rev Geraint ap Iorwerth, the rector of Pennal talks to Ian Parri about the little chapel dedicated to peace.

Byline: Ian Parri

THE rectory, at first sight, seems like any other house of its type: a sizeable, rambling place with a colourful garden surrounding it. One could easily imagine the whitehaired ladies of the church gathering here to enjoy a chat with the rector over a cuppa and some ginger nuts.

The white-painted, wooden Celtic cross that stands in the garden near the road that leads from Machynlleth to Aberdyfi is the only real marker that here lives a man of God.

But look a little closer; this isn't just your usual rectory. Peeking out from its hide-out in a swathe of orange lobelias is a figurine of Buddha.

Casting its shadow on the lawn is a circle of standing stones, carefully laid out after a dowser was called in to seek out points of subterranean energy. It is a scaleddown model of the mysterious temples where it is believed the ancient druids worshipped their gods.

An old granary in the garden has been converted into a shrine to Sophia, the Celtic goddess of wisdom. This tiny chapel is set out very much in the fashion of an orthodox church, featuring screens, icons and lit candles, although it is meant to be inclusive of any religion, or none at all.

Medieval Welsh princes feature prominently on the icons, reflecting on an orthodox tradition of honouring national heroes and heroines in its shrines.

Those who use the chapel - to meditate, to chat, or to enjoy the soothingly peaceful, tallow-scented atmosphere it is shrouded in - are not asked what their beliefs are. Nor is a collection box rattled under their noses before they leave.

Rev Geraint ap Iorwerth, the rector of Pennal, near Machynlleth, has no difficulty in accommodating the credos of others who follow different religious paths, while remaining dedicated to his own rock-solid Christian beliefs.

He is a trained masseur who practices hands-on healing. And his parish church down the road resembles a living museum that pays reverence to religion in general.

``We have scriptures from every religion in the world in the parish church, as well as a Buddha and a Jewish menorah,'' he says.

``It's a part of our work in general, and the congregation is 100pc in favour of it. But as that work has developed over the last decade, whenever we had a day of retreat here, we felt we needed somewhere where people could go into without having to go to the church. That's why the chapel was developed, dedicated to Sophia, the Goddess of Holy Wisdom, which is the source of every religion in the world.

`T HE basis of our work is to attempt to bring about peace, both within ourselves and throughout the world; between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Hindus and the Muslims in Kashmir, or anywhere else affected by strife.

``It's not somethingwhich we can just leave to others. It's up to us as Welsh people to contribute from what our experiences have taught us, to insist that we also have our say.''

He sees no anomaly between his calling, indeed his paid employment, as a Christian priest, and his belief in the ancient Celtic worship of a Mother Goddess.

``Many have said that this doesn't square up with their idea of Christianity, and everybody is entitled to their opinion,'' he adds.

``But it is an inherent part of us as Welsh people and as Celts. People ask me if I'm being a `bit of a pagan', but where would we be without the energy of the Mother Earth? There'd be no water, no trees, no oxygen even.

``And if you're talking of `pagan Gods', if you turn to the Old Testament you'll find more than a thousand verses which tells of `our' God killing, or involved in massacres, raping, pillaging or stealing land from others. I tell people to re-assess the context in which they think of God.

``People talk of pagans worshipping statues of the Goddess, or whatever, but what of those churchand chapel-goers who worship the buildings they use, and put them above the gospel in their order of priorities?

``To me, Christ is the universal Christ, and not just of the Christian faith. He is above all religions. I see no problem in believing in the crucifixion and the resurrection at the same time as the Mother Goddess.

``If some churches are closing down because they are too narrow in their views, then that's their responsi-bility.''

The ancient Celts, like the Native Americans and other aboriginal people, held a profound respect for the environment. And it was a society where the male and female each had their role to play, unlike patriarchal societies where the females were very much subservient. It was natural for them to worship what they perceived as a benevolent, omnipotent female deity.

GERAINT ap Iorwerth feels at ease with that notion, and fails to see why the beliefs of his ancestors can't fuse neatly with the teachings of the Bible.

``Not many people realise, although it is more `underground' in the spiritual sense, that we as Christians also have a Goddess as part of our tradition, and that is Sophia,'' he says.

``If there is a Divine Father, then it's only natural that there is also a Divine Mother, and it's important that we also celebrate Her role.''

L Rev Geraint ap Iorwerth features on Thursday in Mountain: Return of the Goddess (BBC2 Wales, 7.30pm), the latest edition of the series which looks at life in the communities that surround Cadair Idris.


CONTEMPLATION: Reverend Geraint ap Iorwerth takes a moment to reflect on the important work of the chapel
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 2, 2002
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