Our new ‘street urchin’ Rector!

The Rev’d John Davis

( Team Rector, Rectorial Benefice of Whitchurch, Cardiff )

 The Rev’d John was born on 14th January, 1965, the middle child between sisters Sharon and Julie.  He attended St Paul’s C in W Primary School in Grangetown, known locally at that time as ‘ the Nash’ ( official title: the ‘ National’ School. )  When he was eight years old the school moved premises to a brand new building in its present location. In due course John attended St Teilo’s C in W School for his secondary education.

He was not born into a church-going family:  ‘ I drifted into the church as a street urchin, really!’ he says.  How that came about is remarkable story of God moving in a mysterious way!

Eleven year-old John was walking home from school one day when he came upon a working party painting the railings around the church hall. After watching them for some time, he asked if he might join in.  So he did – after school every evening that week.  At the end of the week a member of the working party suggested he might like to try Sunday School and see whether he liked it.  He tried it, liked it, and stayed!  He joined the church choir, initially as a treble and then, when his voice broke, as a tenor.

Two years later, aged thirteen, he started a senior Youth Club in St Paul’s Church; and after a further two years, founded the Junior Youth Club which recently celebrated its 40th Anniversary!  Thus began his lifelong dedication to youth work, mission and outreach.  He ran the two youth clubs for fifteen years, and organised summer camps for urban children.  It was perhaps inevitable, therefore, that his first career choice was teaching, though he says that already by the age of fourteen or fifteen he had an instinctive awareness that he would eventually enter the ministry – he didn’t know when, but the calling grew stronger and stronger as time went by.

On leaving school, John entered Whitelands C of E College, one of the four constituent colleges of the Roehampton Institute  – one C of E, one Roman Catholic, one Methodist, and one non-denominational – affiliated to Surrey University.  He read for a joint Honours degree in Maths, Computing, and Education, then returned to Cyncoed in his native Wales for his teacher training, gaining a PGCE ( Post-Graduate Certificate of Education ) and  a PGDE ( Post-Graduate Diploma in Education ).

Now a qualified teacher, John’s first post was in St Andrew’s Major C in W Primary School, Dinas Powys, where he taught for two and a half years.  Then he was invited for interview in Palmerston Primary School, Barry. He describes the fellowship and support from his teaching colleagues there as ‘phenomenal ‘.  He remained there for three years.

He was now twenty-nine years old, and the call to the priesthood had become irresistible. He entered St Stephen’s House in Oxford to study for three years for his B.Theol.  St Stephen’s is famously known to be on the High Church wing of the Anglican Communion, but John describes himself as a ‘sane catholic’!  What precisely he means by that you’ll have to ask him!

At the end of his first year at ‘Staggers’ he married Sallyann, and they lived in the College’s married quarters for John’s final two years.  Sallyann is also from Grangetown, and they met when her parents drafted her in to help with the make-up for a production of ‘ Cinderella ’ by the church’s Pantomime Group, the St Paul’s Players, in which  John took the part of an Ugly Sister!  ‘ She fell in love with my red dress! ’ says John.

Sallann’s degree is in Bio-Chemistry, which led her into a number of science-related jobs with organisations such as ICI ( later to become part of  the research-based bio-pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca )  and the Atomic Energy Agency at Harwell.  Then she, too, felt called to the teaching profession and embarked on a training course as a Special Needs teacher, dealing specifically with autism.  She currently teaches in Tŷ  Gwyn Special School.

On leaving St Stephen’s House, John was ordained deacon in 1996, and was priested in the following year.  His curacy was in the Parish of Newton Nottage which later became part of the Benefice of Porthcawl.  At the same time he was appointed Children’s Officer for the Llandaff Diocese, which had sponsored his training, a post which lasted for three years.

On 8th February, 2000, John was licensed to serve in the Monmouth Diocese, inducted as Vicar of St George’s, Tredegar, and appointed Assistant Children’s Officer to the Monmouth Diocese.  In 2006, St James’s Church was added to the Tredegar group of churches and thus came under John’s ægis.  The Diocese invited him to be a training incumbent for newly-ordained curates, and to date he has been responsible for the training of four stipendiary and two non-stipendiary curates.  John boasts that all ‘his’ curates are still serving in full-time ministry. ( To this tally John is now able to add Nicholas Gill, our new curate, who is to be ordained deacon in Llandaff Cathedral on 30th June this year. )

I asked John what had attracted him to apply for the vacant incumbency of the Whitchurch Benefice, and what would be the focus of his ministry among us.  He replied that it was ‘ clearly a leadership rôle  which called for a model of collaboration ’, and he was primarily concerned with encouraging collaborative ministry – both ordained and lay – and in building teams.  He is an ecumenist, and means to foster community connections – with local churches and schools, MPs, and AMs – ‘ connecting people to Christ and to each other. ‘  He aims to encourage communication and collaboration between the four churches of our Benefice, and connections with the wider Deanery and Diocese.

John is a firm supporter of women’s ministry, ordained and lay.  ‘ Gender doesn’t come into it,’ he says; ‘ I long for the day when we stop talking about ‘ women priests ’ and instead call all ordained clergy ‘priests ’.

I asked him what would be his style of worship in his new incumbency.  His response was that his is a simple faith.  In his private devotions he values silence and solitude, and uses icons to focus his worship.  In public worship, he says, ‘  If things are to be done, we must do them to the glory of God.  I like any form of liturgy that is done well.  I’ll work with anyone who will work with me. We all have different talents and vocations, and the important thing is to identify God in every individual  person.’

He likes Taizé and Messy Church:  in fact, during his incumbency in Tredegar, he held a weekly Messy Church event which, in St George’s, rejoiced under the title of ‘Funky Dragons’.  He also ran JAM, ( ‘ Jesus and Me ’ ) a weekly after-school club.
‘ We fed them, ’ John says, ‘ and our activities were entirely focused on Jesus. ’
He boasts that he has a four-year cycle of resources for JAM Club, and a year’s-worth of resources for weekly Messy Church.  During the summer camps at Trecco Bay, worship took the form of ‘ sing-along-a-Trecco ’, a loosely-flowing service of praise.

What had he been doing during his recent year’s sabbatical? I asked.  ‘ An external MA with the University of Durham,’ he said, ‘ entitled ‘ Mission and Ministry ’.
‘ It’s supposed to be 15,000 words,’ he added, ‘ but already I’m up to 16,500! ’
He has also been painting . . . . . in acrylics.  He says he uses painting as a form of prayer.

Other fascinating things you should know about our new Rector include the fact that he’s an archer – with a small A!  In fact, he’s an instructor in the North Gwent Archery Club, having been a member of the club for fifteen years.  Before that, Sallyann and he belonged to Margam Archers ( I had no idea there were so many archery clubs around! – Editor )
. . . . . . . . . . ‘ back in the days’, he adds casually,’ when Sallyann was Welsh Longbow Champion.’  ( Wow! – Editor )

He also trains archers in Merthyr, and he intends continuing to do so ‘ for a while ’.

He rides a motorbike!  How cool is that?

From 2006 to the current time he has been Chaplain to the ATC and the British Legion.

The family has two ‘ rescue’ dogs – one of them, Billy, a Jack Rusell crossed with a Dachshund: ‘ the wierdest-looking dog you ever saw ’, says John; and the other named Pip, a Jack Russell/Yorkshire Terrier  cross . . . . . ‘ we think! ‘ he says.

His preferred tipple is beer – he doesn’t like wine.

His Facebook address is @rector.

He doesn’t like sport!  Yeay!  Though he does admit to watching the occasional rugby international.

His favoured reading material is fantasy or science fiction.

He has already won the heart of at least one of his new parishioners by mending the dishwasher in St Mary’s Church Hall!

His email address is stgandj@gmail.com.

John and Sallyann have three children:

Grace is currently doing her A Levels and has a place in Cleveland College of Arts in September to study Film, Television, and Theatre Production.

Emily is to begin her A Levels in September – following in her parents’ scientific bent and studying Maths, Physics, Computer Science and Music Engineering.

Logan, the youngest, has already moved to Whitchurch High School where he begins his GCSEs in September.  Asked how he is settling in to his new school – ‘ It’s brilliant!’ he enthuses.  He thinks he, too may follow the sciences when he eventually reaches A Levels.  At the moment he thinks he may opt for Computer Science, Maths, and Engineering Design – but he’s also considering Photography.  He plays the Bb Euphonium.

The sixth member of the family is Sallyann’s widowed father, Graham Morgan.

We hope they will all be very happy here in Whitchurch and will do our level best to help them settle in as part of  our community as they make their home with us.