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In the Spotlight

In this month’s edition of The New Times the spotlight has fallen on a leader of the ministry area. But how well do we really know Julian Gray who many of you will have met either in our churches or in Llantilio Pertholey Church where he is the vicar? TNT tried to find out more by putting him ‘In the Spotlight’.

What is your role as the leader of the North Monmouthshire Ministry Area?

My role as Rector of the North Monmouthshire Ministry Area is to provide oversight for the clergy and congregations of our seventeen churches and five Pastoral Districts. It’s early days and there is much to do but in the years that lie ahead. My aim is to work alongside our clergy and the people of our congregations to help build a strong community of faith, fellowship and mutual support across our churches and communities in north eastern Monmouthshire.

What is on your to do list for today?

First, there are several emails and a couple of letters that need a response. Then I have three home Communion visits and, finally, this article to finish!

What is your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is of being bathed by my Mum in the kitchen sink whilst she chatted to our next-door neighbour, through the open kitchen window! We’re talking mid-1960s here, so I would have been about two or two and a half years old. Apparently, it was once widespread practice for small South Walian children to be bathed in kitchen sinks – a kind of local tradition!

What was your first school and where were you brought up?

My first school was Griffithstown Infants, and my first teacher was the lovely Mrs. Stone. However, she was more like a much-loved favourite aunt than a teacher! She drove a grey and cream Austin Cambridge, which impressed me greatly! One of my primary school teachers, a lady now in her late nineties, lives in Abergavenny and I take home Communion to her every month. I was brought up in the village of Griffithstown which, for the first ten years of my life, was in the ancient county of Monmouthshire and, if I ruled the world, it would become part of Monmouthshire again!

When were you ordained?

I was ordained deacon at St. Woolos Cathedral on 2nd July 1988 by Bishop Clifford Wright. The following year I was ordained priest. The Revd Heidi Prince and I lived next door to each other when we both served as Chaplains at St Woolos. It is so good to have Heidi as a neighbour again!

What can you see outside your kitchen window?

I can see the summit of Ysgyryd Fach – the Little Skirrid. I can also see some beautiful Scots Pines, which gives the cul-de-sac where I live its name ‘The Pines.’ These formed part of the once extensive gardens of Mardy Park.

Do you enjoy gardening?

Yes – but only when my wife tells me that I should!!!
What is your favourite food and why? I’m a vegetarian and my favourite food is Burger King’s Plant-Based Whopper. I particularly like the way the Ross-on-Wye Burger King team make them – they don’t taste quite the same anywhere else!

What is your biggest fear?

Failing to turn up to officiate at a baptism, a wedding or a funeral. It’s never happened, but there have been a few occasions during the past thirty-five years when I’ve come pretty close to doing so!

Do you play any musical instruments?

Unfortunately, no. I did have violin lessons as a child, but that didn’t last long. I would like to be able to play piano and the organ as a way of unwinding and to accompany the hymns at church services when there isn’t an organist. I greatly enjoy singing and, I suppose, the human voice is an instrument.

Do you have any pets?

Until two days ago I had the most beautiful black Labrador called Crispin. He was incredibly handsome with a lovely, gentle nature. My wife and I have never been without a dog, and we will definitely get another. For the moment, however, we are mourning the absence of our faithful friend and sharing the many treasured memories that we have of him.

Have you ever met anyone famous?

I once sat opposite Terry Jones, one of the Monty Python comedy team, on a train journey from Newport to Pontypool. He chatted away to me as if I were an old friend and he was very funny! I knew who he was but, as an extremely shy eighteen-year-old, I didn’t have the courage to say so! If mobile phones had existed back then, and had I not been such a painfully shy young man, I may well have had a selfie with Terry Jones to share with you in this article!

If you were offered a drink in a pub what would you choose?

I’m quite partial to Orval, a Belgian Trappist beer, so would ask for a glass of that! If the kind soul offering the drink was feeling particularly generous, I would ask for a glass of Laphroaig ten-year-old single malt!

What is your favourite place to eat?

Burger King, Ross-on-Wye!

What is your favourite place to go on holiday?

Luskentyre in the Outer Hebrides. It’s a place of indescribable beauty – white sand, turquoise sea and the wild mountains of the Isle of Harris as a backdrop. The last time I visited Luskentyre with my family we managed to get a boat out to the remote archipelago of St. Kilda.

Are you a fan of any sport?

Do you have a favourite sporting moment? If I were being tortured and had to confess to having a favourite sport, I would probably say rugby. I should qualify that by saying that the closest I’ve ever come to being involved in that particular sport in any meaningful way was when my cousin, Alun Carter, played rugby for Wales and Pontypool in the 1990s. My favourite sporting moment was watching Alun run onto the pitch at Cardiff Arms Park when Wales played (and were defeated by) England in 1991. It was a massive family occasion with lots of beer and junk food on hand.

Do you have any DIY skills?

Umm, err, no, not really, other than changing the occasional light bulb or, perhaps, a fuse in a plug. I once attempted to fit a new plastic seat to a friend’s loo, but almost ended up smashing the pedestal to smithereens with a hammer!

Do you have a favourite piece of music, and/or a favourite hymn?

My favourite piece of music is the Adagio from Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony in E Minor. I’m a huge fan of the 70s / 80s rock group ELO with their catchy tunes and great lyrics. My favourite hymn is Christ Triumphant, ever reigning written by Michael Saward.

Do you have any amusing stories from times when you were taking a church service?

Midnight Mass at St. Woolos Cathedral when a very inebriated gentleman came up for Communion and consumed the entire contents of the chalice that I offered him. On another occasion the Vicar of Hay-on-Wye, Fr. Richard Williams, invited me to preach in his church one Sunday morning and insisted that I should bring my dog, Crispin, with me. There were several other dogs in the congregation that morning and, on hearing my voice from the pulpit, Crispin began to bark – setting off the other dogs that were present. It was all very chaotic!! I should have taken some meaty treats with me to throw at them from the pulpit!

What is the secret of a good sermon?

Don’t preach with your dog present in the congregation! Keep it brief, keep on message, don’t patronise the people in front of you and preach to yourself as much as to anyone else. Some humour always helps.

If you were Archbishop or Bishop what changes, if any, would you make?

I would stop making changes! I would say ‘This is the plan for the next ten years. Let’s stick with this plan – tweak it if necessary – but stick with the plan and make it work. I would encourage clergy to visit, to be seen in and be part of the community outside the church building. I would point to my friend and colleague, The Revd. Heidi Prince and say, that’s how it should be done! Follow her example, learn from her, and you won’t go far wrong!

If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

I would tell my younger myself that the priesthood isn’t going to be easy. However, it’s not the path that you have chosen but, rather, the path that God has chosen for you. He will, therefore, always be with you, even in the most trying and difficult circumstances. I would tell myself to take the priesthood seriously but myself much less so.

Will you be climbing the Skirrid on Good Friday?

Yes but, sadly, without my lovely dog Crispin.