On September 14, Brecon Cathedral will be celebrating its centenary. At 100 years, it's a time for reflection, but also a time to look ahead to the future, and how the next 100 years could bring change to the Cathedral.
The Very Reverend Dr Paul Shackerley, the Dean of Brecon, has been in the role for eight years. He's looking forward to putting on events to help celebrate the Cathedral, in the hopes that it will bring many people through the doors. Not only will there be a medieval fair on the 16th of September, but there will be the Swansea and Brecon Guild of Bell Ringers, ringing for three hours on the 14th of September. That same evening, Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, will be pulling in the crowds to talk about the history of Welsh Cathedrals, past and present. Other celebrations include choral music, as well as the celebration of the centenary of the diocese.
One of the events that the Dean is most excited about is the medieval fair. "We have a re-enactment coming, with the realism of kings and queens and jousting. It will be a great family day. It's a lovely contained place, with stalls and music from local musicians."
Every year, the Cathedral marks its birthday. "We mark the Cathedral becoming a Cathedral as an annual event. We focus on our strategy and vision. There are major projects going on here over the next few years." The Dean says. "It's a busy time for us in September."
The Dean contributes the events to his creative team and a strong working environment that has been created within the Cathedral. "There's good energy here now. There's a good team. We laugh a lot. It's a fantastic job to have. It's very challenging. But we are going in the right direction with fantastic things happening.
"We have good governance and good trustees. I've changed the constitution to create equality. Not everyone likes change, but it has been transformative. Change is here to stay." The Dean says. "We are custodians here, and we have to be good custodians for future generations to come."
It's this change that reflects a new role for the Cathedral in modern-day society. "We're the only walled close in Wales. We pride ourselves on that, but I said when I came that these walls need to be more porous. It needs to be easy for us to go out, and people to come in. It's worked, to allow us to look out and think of events that we can do. We have a new bookshop, a place for local charities to use for nothing, no cost. Working in partnership with others outside is important. I have a mind for justice and equality. I think that's really important for the church."
As the Cathedral celebrates 100 years, the Dean reflects on what the future may hold, and how each event offers an opportunity for people to ask questions. "Some churches are moving on. Others look at us and laugh. It's attractive to change. It surprises me how people open up about church and politics in a more relaxed environment, and ask why the church is a certain way. If you have a bible in one hand, you have to have a newspaper in the other, as one theologian said. I find those conversations refreshing. I think it has become a more open place than it was."
The Dean also believes the Church and Brecon Cathedral have a role to play in what is happening not only in the world but in the local area, too. "I will fly the Pride flag for Brecon Pride. I've flown the Ukrainian flag. There have always been parts of the church that engage with social issues. Particularly post-enlightenment, a lot of the churches in London brought colour to the churches. The sense of hospitality for the poorest, weakest and the most vulnerable is a vital part of the Gospel message. It's there in black and white in the scriptures. Politics, and the economy, impact on the poor. If we are helping to serve the poorest, then we are bound as part of that service to speak out about that poverty. I don't think the church should make an apology for that."
He doesn't believe that Brecon Cathedral is doing anything new in that regard. "I think the publicity of those who just want to remain church and convert people is very often a loud message. As important as that is, it's about having open doors. People flock to church for events like the Queen's death, the coronation. At Christmas and Easter, this place is packed. Those people only come twice a year, but they're my regulars, too. People get fed up with the quick, busy life beyond these walls. I never preach against those who don't come regularly. They're coming for a reason, and they keep coming back. Sometimes it's best just enjoyed."
Changing perceptions of the church has come with its own challenges. "It is hard because it's a big ship to move. To change a culture of a place, you have to be in the organisation for the long haul. I'd like to leave a legacy that there is a better base than the one I inherited. Hopefully, when the next person comes along, they won't have to deal with the challenges I've dealt with."
Since starting in 2014, The Very Reverend hasn't looked back, despite the challenges faced. "I wake up every day wanting to come to work. I say I have the best job in the Church of Wales. Other people would say the same thing, but I would disagree with them."
The Very Reverend Dr Paul Shackerley is keen for the Cathedral to get involved with the community, and be a place for anyone, regardless of beliefs or religion. "It's about working in partnership with others. Others who are generally not Christians, or don't go to church. That doesn't worry me at all. Together we are making a difference in the community. Let's remember we are not here for ourselves. We're here for the people who want the experience of Brecon, and the Beacons. We are a key heritage site of attraction to attract tourists, so we've got to get it right. The town has potential. How do we attract businesses to the town to flourish? I think the Cathedral has a part to play in that because we are attracting tourists, and they can use our space for stalls. Working together is important.
"The future is to build on the vision that the Cathedral is a place of purpose. We can't be giving more or the same of the past. It's got to be attractive, fresh, and modern." The Dean says. "There are exciting plans. The foundations are here. We have to keep hope alive and keep believing in our vision."
As each event is being prepared, The Dean doesn't allow apprehension to hold him back. "I tend not to panic on the day. Once all the planning is done, you can't do anything but enjoy it. If anything goes wrong, blame the Dean. "