Monday, September 12, 2005

Quite a weekend

Heritage Open Day
Indeed, that was quite a busy weekend. Saturday was designated a European Heritage Day, so that translated into a Heritage Open Day at St John's, with people from the Glamorgan Family History society promoting genealogical research and the church's own record archives open to view. The City Council's conservation team mounted an exhibition on the St Mary street urban conservation area, which just embraces the church - this runs every day for a week, a bit of an experiment, to solicit public views about area development. SPCK bookshop, and the University Hospital Chaplaincy did stalls, and the South Wales Artists Society displayed material from its nearly 150 years of archived records. Many rich and famous Victorians found time to be patrons and participants. The Society does a summer and a winter exhibition at St John's, and a prodigious amount of work by talented amateurs and semi-professionals goes on show and gets sold. There was a full rehearsal for the Duruflé Requiem, to be performed in church on Monday night - a nice showcase for the Organ and choir. We take our encouragement of the creative arts pretty seriously. The church tower was open for guided tours to the top. I took the last of the day with my camera, for once, and it poured down, so I got one picture only through a dirty pane of glass in a stairway lancet window. Cardiff drowned.

Family silver on show

The piece de resistance of the day, was having a small selection of our best church's plate on display for artists to draw - a 1574 paten and chalice, a 1662 plate, a flagon, cup and plate of 1820, plus Virger's wand and churchwardens' staves of office (modern pieces). These were set up in a side chapel with a security guard and an artist in residence. It's a modest commuunity arts project sponsored by funding from the City centenary celebrations. Those involved are taking great delight in the opportunity. They are repeating it on Monday and Tuesday also.
I think we have a moral and spiritual duty to encourage people to understand the church as a place where artistic creativity of all kinds is welcomed. In centuries past rich patrons funded the adornment of religious buildings. Today we don't have that knd of support, but it's no reason to be welcoming of those whose imagination is inspired by the peace and beauty of the place.
There were certainly more people passing through the church than usual for this special event, but we need to make it better known, more widely - and more accessible to the young.

Foresters en fĂȘte
Sunday services, we were our usual number, three dozen and a handful of visitors, but then we had an extra service for a convention of the Ancient Order of Foresters, a friendly society, with its own arcane rituals and vesture (a bit like the church) which provides mutual financial support, insurance and savings support for its members. There was a congregation of over three hundred, plus their own chaplain for us to welcome. Their service borrowed many familiar CofE common prayers, and most of the hymns were to Welsh tunes, befitting the occasion.
I had planned to welcome them publically, but in their eagerness to get their processional formalities right (the deputy Lord Mayor was there), they left me no space to intervene, so I shook lots of hands at the end instead. For much of the service, I stationed myself at the main entrance on the look-out for a frequent visitor to church these days, whom I needed to divert away from the building at least for the hour and a quarter celebration, lest a slight element of farce insinuate itself distractingly inot their celebration.

Oriental enigma
Over the past six weeks a silent wraith-like young man of Chinese or possibly North Vietnamese origin has been haunting the church. He speaks hardly any English, says his name is 'Ming', (we think), and comes from China. He behaves autistically, quickly becoming absorbed in some tiny detail only he is aware of, and ritually circumnavigating the church, stopping at certain points to sit or kneel with contemplative composure. When addressed, he struggles to speak the few words of English he knows, or struggles to comprehend. It's as if his attention span is not big enough to cope with more than a few sentences. He takes his shoes off, pads around barefoot, and sometimes leaves the church barefoot, returning later to pick them up. He is always clean, decently dressed and has a change of clothes. We think he says that he is staying with someone a little way out of town, and has to walk in. He visits our tearoom and the restuarant opposite, asks for tea, drinks it and walks calmly out without paying, and returns other days for a repeat performance. Like a child, at the mercy of the world and its ways. We are concerned about his mental health and personal security. The city can be an abusive environment at night, and on big match days. But he moves around, silently, unobtrusively, conveying almost no sense of presence. He can walk up to you, silent as a cat. You don't hear his approach, but he emanates no threat and means no mischief. He does like to inspect things very closely however, and touch things where normally people would restrain themselves. He goes and sits in the Bishop's chair, if allowed - during and after services, in full public view, unselfconsciously, silently for a few minutes, and then moves somewhere else to sit or pray. I wasn't sure how 0ver 300 middle aged to elderly guests would have handled the distraction, let alone the preacher, whom I had no time to brief. Ming, if that's his name made half a dozen attempts to slip past me during the service time, but retreated when noticed.
Later in the afternoon, when I had attended a service for Racial Justice Sunday at neighboring Tabernacl Baptist church, I returned to St John's to get ready for Evensong, and he was still hanging around. Alex, the Chinese speaking restauranteur of Piazza Italia opposite was there thankfully just at the right time, to address him, and obtain a surprised timid response that indicated he understood Chinese. He is so elusive that it has taken six weeks to get these two into conversation. I look forward to hearing later in the week if Alex got any further, since after their first exchange, 'Ming' fled, and then slowly re-traced his steps and hung around, as Iwas going back into church. Very cat-like behaviour. Very strange. Who is he, let alone who does he think he is?

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