Thursday, October 13, 2005

Crises and Opportunities

Autumn and a birthday celebration
How quickly the week goes by. Afternoon seems to turn very quickly now into evening, yet there's another two weeks before the clocks go back. Days of warm sunshine, days of torrential rain, and the quiet chill of autumn air, out of the sun. Many trees are still quite green, but others turning orange or pale gold all over, so that avenues, and hillsides on the edges of town are a wondrous patchwork of warm colours.
A week after the actual birthday Clare had a party last Saturday, organised by the kids, so she didn't really know who would be coming. Several lots of friends of long standing showed up, some we hadn't seen for a good while. Baby Rhiannon was tottering around in a red velvet dress and new shoes. The Rectory was busy from three till nearly midnight. A happy but tiring day, especially with a busy Sunday to follow.

Buildings in crisis
More worries over St James' this week, the church's gas boiler has sub standard ventilation and will cost £1,400 to get repaired to the standard required for safety certification. On top of this there's the sum of £300 which is the cost of the tests and certification of the church hall gas appliances. That's more than we have available to spend, yet it must be done. I shared the problem with Pastor Rae Galloway, whose 100 strong Pentecostal congregation uses the church Sunday and Monday evenings. After a few days, I received a message to say that they would be willing to give us an advance on the contribution they make towards the cost of their usage of the order of £1,000 to help us out. That means nothing more from them until next Easter, and no additional money coming in, but it does mean we can commission the work and avoid having to shut down. A non-certificated boiler would compromise our insruarge covereage, and that's not a good idea for any public building, let alone a church. Our ageing buildings with their huge repair costs are a real liability, which we need to turn into a social asset once more, having effectively lost the plot of how to serve the community, witness and proclaim to the faith that gives life meaning.

Tail wags dog yet again, or woe unto you lawyers
More nasty surprises too with an email from the property department of the Representative Body (RB) of the Church in Wales - the trustee organisation for all our buildings and land - concerning St Teilo's Church. This has been successfully adapted for use as a music rehearsal and concerts venue. Our biggest client is the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, who use the place at least five days a week during term time. The income from the College has enabled the church to do renovation work, and tackle all sorts of expensive problems created by builders and a rogue architect in the early days of the church's transformation, and to upgrade the disabled toilets to the latest set of standards demanded by public legislation. During the first three years of the project, 2001-2004, the RB granted a user licence, and during that period failed to negotiate a proper lease. I'm not even sure if anything proper was ever signed, but a gentleman's agreement between the College, and St Teilo Arts Trust, (registered as a charity and a company), set up by the Church Council to act on its behalf an agent for the development work, ensured that rent was paid and work on the church got done.
Everybody agreed that a proper lease was needed, and this time last year, I met with College representatives, and RB appointed surveyors to agree terms for rental. RB and College solicitors haggled for a year over minutae, and were so inefficient that we had two major crises of communication during the year when the RB started making threats lock the College out of the Church if it didn't comply with its demands, and the Parish formally refusing to take this action, tantamount to killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
Monday last, I woke up to the third crisis, with the RB issuing an injunction against the College, obliging it to recover the three years previously paid up rent from St Teilo's Arts Trust (all spent on building works and running costs already), simply because, in the view of its officers the RB should insist on all the rental going through its books before being passed to the parish. As no agreement had reached the stage of signature this seemed to me rather a quixotic position to adopt. As one of the four Church Trustees personally liable for this rent backlog (£20,000), I was not amused. After two tense and panic stricken days of email exchanges between worried Trustees, and between the RB and myself, the threat was withdrawn, on the promise that from the date of lease signing, rent would be transferred in compliance with their demands.
In fact I still don't know if the lease (which should have run from this time last year) has yet been signed. The RB have a habit of not communicating adequately (until there's a crisis) to the very people its officers are meant to be working on behalf of and serving. I often hear complaints from colleagues about the inadquate way in which this central administrative body of the Church in Wales works slowly and inefficiently, in ways that create problems for those they are meant to serve. They run as if they belong to another century, despite their computers and semblances of modern office procedure. The administrative model enshrined in the Church in Wales consistution is one that was written in mid-nineteenth century for the Church of Ireland when it was disestablished, and was considered good enough for the Church in Wales when it disastablished more than half a century later. Will it be possible to reform it before it all falls apart because of the drift away from the churches of so many people? It'll cause a lot more headaches before anything much happens

Churches city centenary celebration
The City Centre Churches together group decided it would observe the centenary of Cardiff in its own way. Not with a giant banquet for the Mayor and other officials - we are too poor and weak a body to lay on a big civic function nowadays. It's ironic that six weeks ago the Muslim communities of Cardiff were able to take the City Hall and fill it with 500 people for a public inter-faith event to which politicians and others in public life were invited, also an open invitation was made to the public in the press. Muslims are strong enough in committed numbers and wealth to be able to do something like that. Churches can no longer afford to. Anyway, forty of us came together at St Peter's RC Church in Roath for a short ecumenical service, ably led by Fr Peter Collins administrator of St David's Cathedral, followed by a supper together at Spiro's, the restaurant in thei next-door church hall, renowned for its excellent traditional meals. No speches, no guests of honour, no publicity, just a low key meeting of friends and associates. The glory days are well past, but, the few of us there are left in Christian witness, at least we have each other, and we feel we still belong and are part of this city.

Missionary Investment in Tourism
After our recent meeting with the tourism people at UWIC,
Ian Thomas, St John's Church tourism officer came to me with a new promotional idea. Cardiff Initiative, the city's marketing arm puts out an annual brochure which gets circulated around the world, and given out at tourism fayres internationally, promiting visits to Cardiff. A sixth of an inside page advertisment, with a few words about visiting St John's, a picture and contact details would cost nearly £600, but would make the church known globally, and potentially increase our visitor numbers greatly. Was it worth doing? I thought yes. For not only would it make us known and atrractive to people far away, it would also send a message out close to home, that we take ourselves seriously as a place that welcomes visitors to Cardiff, as a place that has much to offer, historical cultural, artistic, spiritual. No other church advertises therein, not even the Cathedral. We complain that Cardiff ignores the contribution made by its churches, and takes them for granted. But in this economically driven society, the church now has to 'buy into' the business of making itself know. The church is no longer an institution that advertises itself by its existence. People have to be given a reason, an incentive to discover our rich treasures. This much I realise. We are fortunate in that the Tea Room is so popular a place to visit, and that its revenue has been able to afford a publicity budget for the first time.

Cards for Good Causes here again
St John's hosts a charity card shop from mid October until Christmas, and this week the supervisors have been setting up in the St John Priory chapel and bringing in stock. This week too there have been more enquiries about organising charity concerts in the run-up to Christmas, on top of the usual Carol services. St John Ambulance is returing for a second time, the Welsh Baroque Ensemble (fundraising for Rwanda street kids), are coming back for the third time. For the first time the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movements Carol concert is moving over from the Quaker Meeting House in Charles Street (used to be the Victorian Vicarage), as numbers have outstripped the size of the venue. Also for the first time a student group - many medics - are wanting to do a fund-raiser for Medcins sans Frontieres. It all mekes sense of the 'season of goodwill'.

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