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Wales online give us an insight into Church in Wales - 'I am here because it is real'
By Richard Youle Senior News Reporter for WalesOnline
When Tim Blanche went to the funeral of a 12-year-old relative, he felt sure he would see him again.
Tim had been to a few funerals over the past year or so, but those involving Christians, like this one, somehow felt different.
“Even when he was falling apart, you could see he was not worried,” said Tim.
“He was upset to leave people behind, and we were upset. But we knew we were going to see him again. He was trusting, and we were trusting.”
Tim is remarkably candid, given that we had only met around 15 minutes previously.
He and his friends, Anna Batsone and husband and wife, Nathan and Lauren Swain, are talking about their faith after a service at Heath Evangelical Church in Cardiff. It's a busy service that doesn't necessarily fit with figures that show declining rates of Christianity in Wales and across the UK.
Responding to a poll by YouGov in December 2016, 28% said they believe in "either God or a higher spiritual power". But 38% said they believed in neither and 20% said they only believed in "some kind of spiritual power".
The number of signed-up Church in Wales members has dropped from 91,247 in 1996 to 45,759 two decades later. Surveys have suggested for years that Christianity is on the decline in Wales, and religion is a subject that politicians often avoid.
Churches themselves have become stranded assets in many cases, with leaders grappling with new ways of reaching out to the masses to counter dwindling congregations.
A study last year showed that inner London is the most religious area of the UK, mainly because of its large Muslim and migrant communities. Wales was among the UK's least religious areas, alongside the south-east of England and Scotland.
The study was an analysis of data from the annual British Social Attitudes survey and the biennial European Social Survey carried out by Stephen Bullivant, professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.
“The rise of the non-religious is arguably the story of British religious history over the past half-century or so,” he said in the introduction to his report, The ‘No Religion’ Population of Britain.
But, speaking to Christians and church leaders across Wales (I went to Cardiff, Abergavenny, Swansea and Gower) there is a committed hardcore of faithful bucking the trend.
At Heath Evangelical Church, I ask Tim, Anna, Nathan and Lauren if they had ever felt something — an awakening, if you like — signifying their relationship with God.
“I think we might be a little distrustful of feelings like that as a guide,” said Tim, a 32-year-old business analyst. But he does recall a distinct moment when things became a bit different.
“I was 12 and on a children’s summer camp,” he said. “I had gone and sat in an area of a field by myself. There was a point sitting there when I was not a Christian, and a point after that I was. There was a just a certainty and a knowledge.”
Tim has had occasional doubts about his faith: “In my late teens and early 20s I knew I was saved in some way, but I felt a little further away from God than I do now. Luckily, God brought me back.”
He said Christianity was based on a real relationship. How did God give back in that relationship, I wondered. Tim said it was hard to explain, but it was genuine.
“I have had guidance which I think God has given me,” replied Tim, who studied philosophy at university. “There is also a confidence and a trust. Whatever happens in my life — good, bad, horrific — God is protecting me. My relationship with God is part of who I am.”
Anna speaks passionately about how she came back into the Christian fold after years of partying at university. Returning to her home city and taking up a teaching job aged 24, Anna was at a crossroads.