Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Michaelmas Muddles

A festive first
An extra Eucharist for me to celebrate at St Michael's Church on the morning of Michaelmas day (29th Sept), because Jenny, my colleague had been invited to celebrate at one of the two local church high schools in Cardiff. This was a small ground-breaking event. She's the first female priest to do this ever ! And it's ten years or more since women were first ordained priest in the Church in Wales. The Archbishop had to start making demands that quiet exclusion of women priests from ministering in schools ceases. The inertia against inclusion is strong because the traditional 'catholic' presence among clergy and congregations in the region is influential - there are many good and holy people who cannot come to terms with this change in the church. Nobody wants to give offence or take it, but the division is there, and we have to learn to live with these differences and not avoid them, and that means living with painful divergence, without resentment or recrimination. A test for all of us. I was very pleased Jenny had been invited, as she has two sons in the school, and is well known as a parental participant in the social environment of the school. I just keep hoping that the penny will drop eventually, that people will realise that the catholic tradition is enhanced and strengthened by being more inclusive, and by recognising God's call to women to develop the priestly ministry in fresh ways. Some say 'impossible'. I say with God nothing is impossible.

Tenby Trip
Saturday, I had to drive to the lovely seaside town on Tenby in Pembrokeshire - 200 miles round trip, to take part in a large gathering of the Order of St John Ambulance. Tenby Parish Church is, like St John's Cardiff, a large, ancient and beautiful building. The Vicar greeted me warmly - we had met a year ago when I christened the son of a couple I'd married in Monaco in another of his ancient churches, birthplace of St Illtyd. There must have been more than 300 people at the service - marked by its solemn military-religious ceremonial, investitures and promotions of members and co-workers. Many find such occasions very meaningful. I wonder what outsiders make of such goings on. Afterwards, I decided I'd take time to wander around the town and re-discover the place, last properly visited when the children were small 30 years ago. The rain came and the wind blew, however, the moment we stepped out of church, so I drove straight home disappointed.

Death shakes routine

Working in a parish in the heart of the city, without a large domestic population means fewer than average numbers of baptisms, weddings and funerals. Only three weddings and two baptisms so far this year at St John's, and only a quarter of the number of funerals my colleagues have in neighbouring parishes. It means I have extra time to spend on church ministry to visitors and city centre workers, also for developing church activities in relation to the creative arts, all of which are important in serving the life of the city centre. Over this past month, after a break of six months from funerals, I've had one a week, and then this week two funerals to prepare for. The time out needed for this in turn puts pressure on the rest of the working week and makes life uncomfortably busy. As a result of this I didn't get chance to check details of Sunday services in advance with the organist and others, so we ended up Sunday morning with me expecting to celebrate the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, and everyone else expecting to celebrate Harvest, which I was expecting to celebrate next week. I had to think on my feet in adapting what I had to say, and somehow it all came out right. If only I had a secretary to organise me and keep me straight on details!

A piece of coal at harvest
Our handful of kids turned up at the Sung Eucharist with their offerings of vegetables (fresh and canned), and there was a small display at the foot of the cross by the chancel arch with grapes, bread, salt and water, and a piece of coal, which reflects the past history of our region in which the harvest of coal from underground put bread into the mouths of hundreds of thousands of people. Almost no coal goes out of South Wales nowadays, but people have long memories. Now whilst there's an element of ancient habit in producing a piece of coal as part of the Harvest offering, when it no longer seems relevant, perhaps there's also an element of foresight. Since Maggie Thatcher closed the pits down because they were un-economic in the face of competition from cheap Chinese coal, the world has changed. China's industrial expansion is leading to greatly increased home energy consumption. With less for export coal prices are rising on world markets. South Wales is sitting on huge high quality reserves of coal, and maybe in a few decades it'll be profitable once more to extract it. Hopefully, second time around, advances in technology will severely limit the environmental impact of the mining industry of a landscape still in recovery from the last coal boom.

A Monday of meetings
It seems I haven't had a proper day off for the past three weeks, so no wonder the past weekend left me feeling exhausted. Monday is often quiet enough for a lie-in and some time to myself, but today I had three meetings.
One with the Royal British Legion Chairman to plan the Remembrance Garden blessing and inaguration ceremony at St John's - this year we'll be having the eisteddfod prize-winning RAF St Athan voluntary band accompanying the service, plus a pipe band - we are keen to get it right and honour all our war veterans properly, particularly as the world situation keeps on producing more war veterans, not to mention victims.
Then a metting with the chief officers of the Order of St John to discuss the future of their grand ceremonial occasions. For decades almost all of these were held at St John's, but in recent years these events have been distributed around the regions of Wales, to encourage local members and publicity exposure. St John's folks are quite sad to lose these events - several people are members of the Order of St John - but a bowing to he inevitable. The Order is going for more publicity to recuit and retain members, and this means grander events with more invited guests from among public officials. These are difficult to stage in a church with no auxiliary buildings like ours, in the middle of a parking restricted zone, so there is no argument for retaining things the way they used to be. However, it looks as if we'll get the annual Christmas Carol service regularly instead.
The thirs meeting of the day was with three staff of the Marketing, Tourism and Hospitality department of UWIC, Cardiff's second University, to discuss our attempts to make St John's more visitor friendly and how to promite the church as a place of tourism. From this useful meeting we hope to get some students doing project work that will enable us to get a better picture of what other people see as our potential, and then to know if that accords with our vision. I could have done without such a tough working day, straight after the weekend, but all in all it was quite refreshing.

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