Coventry Cathedral in Romania

Jane Williams is a child of Coventry Cathedral.

As a member of the Cathedral Sunday School that met in the undercroft before the Consecration she recalls being carried by Provost Bill Williams at the end of the service as he spoke to and encouraged the children after their classes.

It was the international vision of Bill Williams that inspired Jane to take direct action in the years that followed.

After the Romanian Revolution of Christmas 1989 horrific conditions were revealed when the borders opened. In 1994 Jane and Martin Williams travelled the 1500 miles from Coventry to Sibiu, Transylvania to see what help they could offer themselves. That was the start of a long-term commitment.

At first the need for direct practical aid was paramount. Ordinary Romanians were starved of food and lacked what we would consider daily necessities.

Jane and Martin launched appeals for aid. Clothing, medical supplies, food and building materials arrived in response. Royal Mail donated mail lorries to take the aid across Europe. The Cathedral nave was cleared of chairs and hundreds of people paid to take part in aerobic sessions organised by Centre AT7. Volunteers from the congregation helped to sort out the aid that arrived.

After two years the need for practical aid became less important than the need to help the Romanian people to help themselves. An education aid project began with the aim of improving living conditions for ordinary Romanians - so that children would no longer be abandoned to “orphanages”.

Jane Williams still visits regularly. She developed training courses for nurses and devised the first course of ante-natal classes to be held in Romania – classes that were later adopted for use by the Association of Romanian Midwives.

Jane took with her to Romania a professor from Newman College, Birmingham to start links between his university college and the University of Sibiu, and the first Romanian Early Years programme has now started.

The senior staff of the Hospital acknowledge that the health education programmes of the last ten years for staff, mothers and mothers-to-be have played a major part in updating hospital practices and patient attitudes with the effect of reducing abandonment.

The project’s vision includes building better interdenominational relationships within the Christian community – a community scarred by the “divide and rule” policies of Ceausescu. An Anglican presence causes no offence to any other denomination because it is not aligned with any of them!

The Coventry Cross of Nails was presented to the project in 1996. Ten members of the Cathedral congregation travelled to Romania that year with Jane and Martin to help complete the building where the Cross of Nails was kept. The dedication ceremony was attended by priests and ministers – fellow Christians who had never before stood together in the same room, let alone prayed together! It was a special occasion.

Later the Revs Geoff and Gill Kimber were recruited by the Church Mission Society, and left Coventry diocese for Romania in 2002 to develop the work of reconciliation. The Centre for Ecumenical Research brought together the Orthodox and Lutheran theological faculties in Sibiu to help build better relationships between denominations through higher education. The Centre was dedicated on 23rd September 2006 and Rt Rev Colin Bennetts, the Bishop of Coventry travelled with Jane to Sibiu for the occasion.

In 2009 the UK charity SHARE, that funds the Romanian work, linked with German volunteers at the Cross of Nails Centre in Dacia, about 60 miles from Sibiu. They are working to improve the schooling of the village children and the living conditions of the older residents.

More recently members of the Cathedral congregation have sponsored local final year University students to spend their summer working at a Centre for Disabled Children in Sibiu where deprived children with complex health and behavioural problems reside. The volunteers (Occupational Therapists and Speech and Language Therapists) report life-changing experiences. The centre Director values not only the benefits to the children, but also the sharing of the therapists’ skills with the untrained staff carers.

The work continues.