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Ffald-Y-Brenin: The sheepfold of the King

Author: Kristina Cooper

Ffald-Y-Brenin: The sheepfold of the King

Kristina Cooper reports on the Welsh Retreat Centre where the Holy Spirit is moving in an amazing way.

I first heard about Ffald-y-Brenin a couple of years ago at the annual ecumenical Charismatic Leaders’ conference at High Leigh.

Roy Godwin, the director, a small smiling man, with a cheerful countenance, whose face shone like a light bulb, told us all about the remarkable things happening at this beautiful Christian retreat centre in Pembrokeshire, South Wales.

He told stories of finding walkers lying in the bracken giggling who had walked onto the land, of random strangers feeling drawn to come up the drive, and on being taken to the chapel, collapsing into tears, and of visitors having visions of Jesus, and all this in the middle of the silence and beauty of the Welsh hills.

This spring I visited myself. The first thing that struck me about Ffald-y-Brenin was how beautiful the location and the buildings were.

High on the hill, the view is magnificent. The Holy Spirit it seems has always been at work here. Brynach, an early Celtic monk from Ireland who evangelised the area, used to climb this very hill, which is known locally as Carn Ingli - the Hill of Angels, and commune with God.

Later on in 18th century the original farmhouse was registered as a place of worship and it was from here that local chapels were planted.

The retreat centre was the original vision of Phyllida Mould, who was inspired by the title of the book “How shall we live?” by Francis Schaeffer.

She prayed and felt the Lord gave her the vision of a beautiful place of refuge, a mountain top idyll where Christians could come and be refreshed and meet God in creation and in simplicity of life.

She waited years for this to be fulfilled and had almost given up hope of it happening when one day she and her husband, who were visiting in the area, came across the Ffald y Brenin site, and realised it had all the elements she was looking for.

How the original building and outhouses were then transformed with God’s providence, Phyllida recounts in her little book “From Vision to Reality”.

It was some years later that Roy and Daphne Godwin became part of the Ffald-y-Brenin story.

Neither he nor his wife wanted to come. Roy is an evangelist and had had a fruitful ministry as a leader in the New Churches network.

Through force of circumstance he had recently left the ministry and got a well paid secular job.

He comments, “I wasn’t even through the first morning at the job when I thought, ‘what are you doing here?’ I experienced this terrible sense of blackness and despair and the absence of God, which I had never felt before.

I rang Daphne and said, “I am in the wrong place.”

Casting themselves on God’s providence, Roy gave up the job.

At this moment the couple got a call, reminding them of an offer that had been made to them earlier, but which the couple had turned down, to come and run the Ffald-y-Brenin retreat centre. Part of Roy’s concern about taking up the appointment was that he had no background in retreat work.

He comments, “I had never even been on a retreat myself and knew nothing about them at all, so how was I expected to come up with a vision for the centre.”

As he meditated and shared his frustrations with God, he sensed the Lord saying to him, “It is because you know that you have nothing that I have brought you here - all you can do is look to me.”

Roy sought to listen to what God wanted. The Lord revealed that before Ffald-y-Brenin could become a house of prayer Roy himself had to become “ a house of prayer.”

Roy remembered how in his early years of ministry he had spent long hours with God, but he had become so busy working for the Lord that he had little time for this.

He wondered if he even knew how to pray any more and turned to the Lord in his brokenness.

As he drew closer to God and renewed his intimacy, the Holy Spirit taught him a new way of praying. This involved prayer walking round the 30 acre property and consecrating it to the Lord and his purposes.

He and his wife were led to go round the buildings praying the Name and Blood of Jesus into the fabric and atmosphere of every room.

Roy’s passion, however, was to reach unbelievers with the gospel message, not just Christians coming on retreat.

One day, frustrated, he challenged the Lord, “I cannot stay unless you do something!”

The Lord heard his prayer and responded in the most unexpected way, kick-starting what has become Ffald-y-Brenin’s unique ministry, of attracting people from all kinds of backgrounds many of whom were searching for God, without even being aware of it.

The first couple who arrived, shortly after his prayer, stumbled upon the place by chance.

Roy showed them around, offered them a cup of tea, and took them to the chapel. Here he asked if he could pray for them and prayed a simple prayer of blessing.

The man began to weep.

Roy discreetly left the man with the Lord to finish the work. The following day something similar happened and Roy began to realise that it wasn’t necessary to have stirring worship and heartfelt preaching for people to get close to God.

Instead simple hospitality, a cup of tea, and God’s presence in the silence and natural beauty was touching people in a special way.

The only way we become the Church of God is to share our spiritual riches

Gradually the Lord showed Roy how he wanted the ministry at Ffald-y-Brenin to develop.

With his evangelical background, Roy did not have a tradition of liturgical prayer, but he had always been interested in Celtic spirituality, with its missionary communities of married, single and consecrated people living together.

This seemed to offer a useful model bringing together the stability of the monastery with the freedom of the Spirit.

Thus at the heart of Ffald-y-Brenin there developed a daily rhythm of communal prayer.

This has as its core the psalms, but prayed in a more informal and spontaneous style than that of a traditional Benedictine monastery.

Although Roy says that he was brought up in a protestant context with a mistrust of Catholics, through his own personal journey, he has come to appreciate the riches of Catholic spirituality.

Henri Nouwen whose books are in the Ffald-y-Brenin bookshop, in particular is a great favourite.

He comments, “He could be writing just for me.”

He adds, “This is why we need each other. None of us are it. We bring different gifts and the only way we become the Church of God is to share our spiritual riches.”

Key to Roy’s spirituality and strategy of evangelisation is the idea of blessing - not just people but the land too.

On Fridays blessings are prayed over the neighbourhood, the flocks and herds, the teachers and pupils and marriages.

The fruits of this prayer have been seen gradually.

The local church which had had no baptisms for years suddenly had seven.

Some of the farmers noticed that they were getting triplets and quads born to their ewes.

For Roy this was a revelation and a totally new understanding of the calling of the Christian and this idea of the priesthood of believers, ministering to God first and then releasing God’s blessing on others.

He has learned to accept the ebbs and flows of the Spirit

At times Roy says, the manifestations of the Holy Spirit at Ffald y Brenin have been spectacular, at others everything seems very quiet and ordinary.

Over the years he has learnt to accept these ebbs and flows of the Spirit, realising that when things seem fallow, it is often because the Lord is preparing for the next move of the Spirit.

In the beginning Roy was central to many of the healings that the Lord did at Ffald-y-Brenin but as he and his wife travel a lot now, many of the blessings, like Brigid’s story (see page 10), happen when he is not there, showing that it is the power of the Holy Spirit rather than just a personal anointing on a particular individual that is behind the extraordinary ministry there.

Many prayer initiatives have been birthed at Ffald-y-Brenin, including the Caleb prayer, which Roy was led to write, praying for the revival of the nation. This has spread not only all over Wales, but to other foreign nations too.

Without intending it Ffald-y-Brenin has become the hub of a whole network of little praying groups which have spread round the Mediterranean, and who see the place as their spiritual centre.

The prophetic words about Ffald-y- Brenin becoming a house of prayer for the nations have thus been fulfilled in an unexpected way. Roy believes that the miracles and healings and visions that have been happening over this past decade at Ffald-y-Brenin are the first murmurings of a greater outpouring that will be coming to Wales in the future.

Once a month on the first Tuesday of the month Ffald-y-Brenin hosts a special day of prayer for the nation in a church hall in the valley. The meetings are both homely and Spirit filled and one can imagine what it must have been like all those years ago when revival first came to the Welsh valleys at the turn of the 20th century.

On the day I attended in April, Roy not only prayed for the Welsh nation, but for other nations too and for the Catholic Church and for Pope Francis, which touched me a lot.

When that first revival swept Wales, the body of Christ was very divided, but I became very aware during my visit to Ffald-y-Brenin, how much things have changed for the better.

We are blessed that in our time there is a new freedom and unity among Christians, whereby we can recognise and appreciate the different gifts we all have and learn from each other.

Although I didn’t personally see anything extraordinary, I was touched by the sense of peace and joy at Ffald-y-Brenin and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the beauty of the place.

For info about prayer days and retreats at Ffald-y-Brenin contact: Ffald-y-Brenin, Pontfaen, Fishguard, Pembrokeshire SA65 9UA tel 01348 881 419 email admin@ffald-y-brenin.org

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