I have a small son who loves to help me cook. He stands tip-toed, already precariously balanced on his little kitchen step, to help me chop and scrape and stir. He loves steam and anything that lets him get precariously close to hot pans. He’s usually wild and increasingly independent, and so I have come to treasure the times when we stand, hip to hip, for a few minutes of relative peace, where we learn to work together, and how to be together, in those strange shifting years of the end of babyhood.
In the depths of lockdown, when we are all cooped up together, I find myself reaching for our old, slightly rusted heavy griddle. Its weight is a comfort, substantial, almost dangerous; as I half hurl it onto the hob I know that something important is about to happen. Today we are going to make Welsh cakes.
I’m not Welsh. My own mother isn’t Welsh. It’s debatable whether her mother is, although she spent some of her childhood there and can say ‘please clean the blackboard’ in the language. She’d tell you she is. But in fact, you have to stretch back three generations (four for him) before you find a genuine Welsh woman in my family. My great-nan, Mary Booth, a short woman from the valleys with many sisters, with a house that smelt of smoke and a wonderful dresser shelf of knick-knacks. Who answered the door with a ‘hello my beauties’. Every time, no matter who you were.
So I’m not Welsh by a long stretch. Yet when I make Welsh cakes, I pull on that thread within me that is. The thread that links me to generations past, the thread that leads me back to my own childhood kitchen, and my mum’s griddle pan, and a bowl of sugar and the smell of butter and spice. I feel that sometimes, we are never just a fragment of anything. And so, in the times when we all need comfort the most, and home, and anchoring, I reach for the rusty griddle and I teach a new little link in the chain how to make Welsh cakes.
As I think of this, I think too of that other strange childhood anchor, the similarly evocative scent of wood, and dust, and too-old wine. The damp of flagstones and the strange warmth of pews, and I remember the church of my youth, the tiny customs and little rituals that link me to generations of Christians, practising and latent—people of a place and a way of life that sometimes feels like it’s slipping away. And yet, perhaps there is a thread that still links.
I’ve come to value the little things about ministry. Not the big confessions of faith or the grand symbols, but the little things. The family who come in after school to light a candle, the way the children play, almost oblivious, at the back of church, and yet receive with wonder. The toddler group who baptise dolls with awe. The fact that we have a tree outside where people tie ribbons of prayer. The way that our town centre Church is packed for Christingles, and the way that our garden of remembrance is littered with oranges, left for generations past. I worry that the threshold to faith and religion and church is becoming steeper, that we are losing the little ways, the tiny pieces of identity, the griddle pan kept down the dusty side of the fridge.
Of course, faith isn’t Welshness, thankfully. The people of Wales would never claim me as their own, rightfully, but God claims each one of us, regardless of how worn our thread is, regardless of whether we notice it’s there. Perhaps I’m naïve, but I more and more believe in the little things, the tiny signs which wait, and years later remind someone of the existence of this strange world of faith, which they will always be a part of, as long as we are still here to welcome them home.