The next two weeks are full of difficult memories in our family. The name Aberfan has scarred the whole nation of Wales but for my wife’s family there is a deeply personal resonance as the 50th anniversary of the tragedy is marked on October 21.
My father-in-law, the Revd Irving Penberthy (pictured below), was the Methodist minister in Aberfan when the disaster happened. Many of the 50-strong Sunday School died and he spent days comforting families as they discovered what had happened.
His immediate job was to go with them into the makeshift morgue and be with parents as they found their children. Then, as the village discovered how to live again, he rallied the community to build a community centre, to sing together, to learn how to laugh once more, to rediscover faith.
He now lives in Devon and is the only surviving minister from that day. He has been interviewed by a number of media outlets including the BBC and we will be taking him to Aberfan to speak at one of the 50thanniversary memorial services.
The following week, October 23, BBC TV’s Songs of Praise will be about Aberfan and will feature Dad reflecting on his experiences 50 years ago.
He has also been interviewed by a reporter for Wales Online, covering the Western Mail and South Wales Echo, so it’s likely there will be some coverage in those papers too.
On October 21 the BBC are also broadcasting a live Daily Service at 9.45-1000 on Radio 4 long wave. The Revd Roy Jenkins will be presenting.
As part of the reflecting on everything that happened, I have written the following hymn. It will be sung at the service where Dad will speak and is being sung at the start of the service on Radio 4 on October 16 and also will close the Songs of Praise broadcast on October 23. On that occasion it will be sung by Treorchy Male Choir.
The tune, as fits a Welsh reflection, is Dim ond Iesu (Here is love, vast as the ocean).
God who knows our darkest moments
meets us in our brokenness:
walks beside us as a whisper,
holds our pain in his caress.
God, who leads through shadowed valleys,
where death’s bleakness dims our sight,
speaks a peace beyond our knowing,
floods our anguish with his light.
Far beyond our grief’s horizon,
as Creation holds its breath:
Love Divine, revealed in Jesus,
tears apart the chains of death.
Servant son and humble healer,
by your cross and life laid down
you have carried all our suff’ring
and you wear the victor’s crown.
Lift us up, now, risen Saviour
to the place where mercy plays,
where our broken hopes and heartache
find their healing in your gaze.
This is love, that God has saved us!
This is love, that Christ has died!
We rejoice that love has conquered
and has drawn us to your side.