St Paul's United Church Penmaenmawr

Agricultural Chaplaincy

Royce Warner serves the whole of North Wales, working half-time. God called him from circuit ministry to become a full-time Agricultural Chaplain in June 2000, during his sabbatical. Within weeks of Foot-and-Mouth Disease breaking out in 2001, he moved to work across North Wales from his own home at Penmaenmawr.                                                                                                

DAILY POST September 20, 2012
                                    THE VITAL HEART BEAT OF OUR RURAL LIFE    

Royce Warner, Agricultural Chaplain for North Wales, reflects on the importance of 'farming shows' to our N.Wales communities:-

ONE of the heartbeats of the local rural community is the agricultural show. From May to September they
break out on the rural scene on the edge of village communities, in valleys or on windswept, sun-baked
(yes, please) or rain-drenched (oh no!) hillsides. Mostly held on a Saturday they are a day’s relaxation from the working week. Many of the village population turn out; others come from further afield, some returning “back home” to their roots – where life began and where, typically of Wales, so many are related to almost everyone else. Others come from further away for a day out – plenty of fresh air and exercise to go round the showground as often as you like. You are generally welcome. People talk. At the sales stands holders will readily engage in conversation – as well as selling something: Where are
you from? Do you come here every year? Seen you before – you were at Eglwysbach last month. How are the plants doing? What did you think of the cakes?Those with livestock are glad to answer questions about the animals but you must choose the right moment: not when they’re hosing down, soaping, brushing and combing before going into the ring with cattle, or lining up with sheep
between the rows of pens. You may be left wondering how the judge came to his choice of 1st, 2nd and 3rd: get fairly close, follow the judge and ask the question. You’ll find that it wasn’t “pot luck”. So “well done” to the judge in a black suit at Llanrwst Show who, having presented the rosettes, announced
to all around the finer points and how he came to his decisions. I congratulated him. Amidst those selling their flowers, vegetables and bulbs are many with home-developed crafts and skills. If “home-made” is what you enjoy, then spend a few enriching moments tasting and learning how: I tasted half of the vinegars on Amanda Jane’s stall at the larger Anglesey show, learning how to make some very reasonable dressings (horseradish, blackberry, pineapple – just a few of the range) but without the secret added formula. In the craft hall was the shepherd/ farmer/wife from Penygroes, with her realistic paintings mostly done during long nights in the lambing shed. But life is not all roses. There is a recession, the evidence of which can be seen in people’s home-made picnic lunches, rather than always from the food stands. It’s also there are more people engaging with food products stalls than with craft and service products. Then there is the weather. That is another planning exercise. It was so obvious at Anglesey; people read the forecast, went as a crowd on the very fine Tuesday and did something different on a wet Wednesday. The worst is for shows such as Caerwys and Caernarfon that were cancelled. True, there’s always another show to go to. But what does it do for the local community? One farmer and wife said to me: “A local show unites communities, and for those competing or organising it is as important to them as the Olympics. They have been preparing for months and their life revolves around that date. When it is cancelled they feel devastated. With the difficulty of harvesting grass for silage and hay, against the weather – the longer it stands, the poorer the quality – and the (blood) pressure rises. The heart (even with some misses) still beats, the community lives on. Then we look to the next one, ever grateful for what we have.

Report on Agricultural Chaplaincy in North Wales for 2011-2012

Royce covers all of North Wales, north of Bangor-on-Dee, Llangollen, Bala, Dogellau and Barmouth.

Working half-time in semi-retirement, Royce covers all seven livestock markets (Mold, Rhuthin, St. Asaph, Llanrwst, Gaerwen, Bryncir and Dolgellau) at least once a month. St Asaph is a busy market so this is usually covered twice in a month. There are special occasions in the farming year, by which numbers of farmers present are increased, so Royce pulls some of those in as extras, namely:-

the Christmas and Easter shows (stock are paraded, judged and auctioned as prize-winners)

the June sales of ‘couples’ (sheep and their lambs)

the September sales of breeding ewes

the October sales of rams

the sales of various pedigree cattle breeds (again, stock are paraded, judged and auctioned as prize-winners)

the local and regional annual summer/winter shows 

Having been the Chaplain in this area through the Foot-and-Mouth Crisis of 2001, and covering the markets since they re-opened in February/March of 2002, Royce is well-known and has many contacts.

Apart from visiting the markets as the farmers’ workplace, Royce focuses his time on responding to ‘Crisis’ calls. These come from farmers who know him and what he has ‘been’ for others, those who see the contact details on his car, The Farmers Union of Wales’ officers, The National Assembly’s veterinary officers, Solicitors, Trading Standards, neighbouring farmers and farmers themselves.

During the past year Royce has responded to calls to illness (cancer, crones disease, fractures), hospital and home visits, supporting farmers through financial difficulties and through court cases, liaising with bank managers, ADAS officials, RABI officers, farmers’ union officials, trading standards, solicitors, county planning departments and  builders, and the Welsh Assembly officers at Caernarfon and Llandudno.

Finance is currently an issue. Sale and income by auction is by nature unpredictable and has an effect on financial forward planning. Prices have been good in the Spring and early Summer of 2012 but farmers tell me that the bills coming in have risen to match any increased income. From the beginning of June we are seeing prices of lamb and sheep going down with the lowering of the Euro to the Pound (whilst the bills remain the same). The uncertainty of the euro in Greece and other European countries is causing many of their businesses to be badly affected; we are seeing some of their financial institutions collapse and export sales/payments failing. One dealer near Wrecsam has lost up to £3m on deals to Greece that have failed before payment came through, with the knock-on effect of bills/expenses not being paid in this country. Fraud is on the increase. Two haulage dealers have ‘gone down’ through payments not being forthcoming. Buyers are coming to markets and buying-and-paying for stock once, twice, three times, then at the fourth or so occasion, buying stock and away without paying. This is putting pressure on at least two Auctioneering companies.

The telephone rang at ten-to-eight this September morning.

“Royce, do you remember me?”   –   from eleven years ago!

“Yes, I do”, and mentioned his brother and mother by name, and the road to their two farms – from as long as six years ago.

“I’m in difficulty. Will you come and see me?”

“Yes, I will.”

The work goes on.

Royce is the only Agricultural Chaplain to have written a book about his call and chaplaincy work. If you want to know more, the book is available (see the 'Contacts' page) at the price of £4-50 inc. postage.