Sunday, November 20, 2005

Meetings and meetings


Apart from the funerals, it was a week of meetings. A wedding interview on a Monday morning, then an evening getting to know Andrew, a quiet young man asking for confirmation, who's been on a pilgrimage of faith for many years. He knows Orthodoxy well, but is finding in St John's a place where he can feel at home.
Another evening meeting Wednesday with a Geoffrey, a young French Law student who wants to be baptized. He's been visiting me regularly now for two months and worships with St Teilo's congregation on Sundays, and at the Chaplaincy on Wednesdays. He brought a girl friend with him this week, who is also seeking baptism. Whatever next!
Andrew is deeply thoughtful, artistic. In a way he has done his investigation and is ready to make a commitment. Geoffrey wants to make a commitment, but feels he has much to learn having come from a secular background. He is passionately enthusiastic, and inquisitive. He wants to be a lawyer who fights evil on a Christian moral and spiritual basis. Influenced by the spiritual tradition of French Pentecostalism, he still has a lot of questions about how to read and understand scripture, so our sessions are lively.
Although they are so different, they have one thing in common. Both have discovered the English Book of Common Prayer, and treasure it as a source that can shape their devotion. Neither of them would be regarded conservative, but they look at this spiritual and literary unencumbered by decades of debate about liturgical reform and theological discussion between catholic and protestant influences on Anglicanism. Fascinating.

Economic auguries
The City Centre Retail Partnership board met on Tuesday in the training room at Marks and Spencers. Everything is geared up for Christmas. One of M&S shop floor workers, Frank, a lad from the Valleys, comes to St John's Sunday Evensong, when work permits. He was promoting Port and mince pies, with his usual engaging flair when I greeted him. Getting to know the retail work force would be a full-time job in itself. The meeting received a complex statistical presentation from a company which monitors economic data. Sobering stuff.
With there being so many retail developments in South Wales and the West competition for market share is already having an impact on Cardiff - but managers felt that before they saw the statistics. The Saint David's II development will increase the cente's retail outlet capacity by a third, but it's being predicted this will not improve Cardiff's standing in the national league table of trading centres.
Currently 13th, not long ago re-development was promoted as a way that Cardiff could improve its trading position up to fifth in the country. Rhetoric and statistics don't match. Already in everyone's bones is the chill wind of economic recession, with fall in numbers shopping in Cardiff and a fall in the total spend. It looks fine on the surface, but traders are getting the shivers. Everyone is agreed that the only way Cardiff can improve its trading position is to improve road access and parking drastically. Successive city regimes have been in denial over the urgency of this. It's not so attractive to funding, but its vital. Sports attractions in Cardiff are bringing many more visitors, blocking roads, and relatively few of them come for shopping. Pubs and fast food outlets benefit, but city centres don't thrive just on selling food 'n drink.
In the afternoon, a small meeting of the Churches Tourism Network Wales local group, just to report back on outcomes of a promotional leaflet produced on the five Beacon Churches of South East Wales (of which St John's is one). It was good to hear about tourism initiatives around the region's churches and to start considering how next we might expand our interest in visitors.

Cultural divergence at work again
A meeting with our architect and Paul Rees of the R.B. on Wednesday morning, trying to sort out exactly what needs doing at St James', to improve access to the church car park, since a permanent right of way through next door's drive has been negotiated. What I thought was a simply issue of demolishing a wall proves a lot more complex and daunting. But, yet again I didn't get hold of the complete picture. There are real communication problems, because people with technical expertise assume everyone follows the inferences in their explanations. And sometimes information doesn't get shared. The developers next door to St James sought permission to erect scaffolding. A deal was negotiated, dates were announced for this to be done, blocking the car park. I duly relayed this information to car park users, to alert them to the need to find an alternative parking for three days. However, the lawyers failed to sign the deal, permission was withheld for work to begin, and I wasn't informed in time to cancel the alert. All of which means that our parking clients are put out un-necessarily, and we have to compensate them for someone else's inability to stay on top of their job in the chain of events. There's such a gulf between the technicians who maintain the 'barque of Peter' and its sailors and passengers, and sometimes that worrying and frustrating.

Church travellers filmed?
Later in the day I had a meeting with a young art student called Dafydd who wanted to interview me as part of his art installation project. He has been filming interviews with people whose life journeys taken them through particular places for some reason or another, and then showing the interviews in the place in question. Last year he did interviews with train travellers and showed them in the vestible of Cardiff Central station. This year, St John's is where he will show his interviews of people in relation to the church. It'll be shown all day on 30th November in the Herbert Chapel, and assessed by his supervisors. A quiet shy young man, bit at sea in relating to people outside his peer group, I suspect. But, he seems to know what he's doing. His show will be interesting to see.

More art to end the week
It was good to escape to London for 24 hours with Clare on Friday afternoon, overnighting in Rachel's partner's apartment in Chelsea Harbour with its atmospheric Thames view. The pretext was the last day of a friend's art exhibition in a small Notting Hall Gallery. Greg Tricker's kids were in the Bristol Steiner school at the same time as ours, so we got to know him and his prodigious output of paintings. Only recently have we discovered that he is also a notable sculptor as well.
For a brief introduction visit , although the work in the exhibition we went to see is his most recent, a project on the life of St Francis of Assisi. Sixty five of his paintings and sculptures were on show at Piano Nobile gallery, and last month an exquisite coffee-table book of photographs of the exhibition and narratives was published. We bought two - one to keep and one to give away. The book was reviewed in 'Resurgence'. Look at to get the measure of the man.
The sun shone upon us from cold blue skies. After Cardiff, London is overwhelming, with noise and crowds. Everyone looks miserable and nobody talks to you. Somehow many people manage to be polite nevertheless. Leaving Victoria coach station it takes three quarters of an hour to get out and into free flowing motorway traffic, an hour to begin to see non-built-up areas in the landscape. From the centre of Cardiff, it's fifteen minutes to the sea, and to a hilltop view of the bay, the river Severn and the Valleys. If I didn't have a specific reason for visiting London, I don't think I'd ever go for sight-seeing or shopping. Give me a small city any time.

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