Thursday, December 15, 2005

Faith and the city

Tale of two buildings
After our usual Sunday services, St John's welcomed members of the South Wales Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement for their fifth annual Carol service. For the past five years their regular and special meetings in Cardiff have been held in the Quaker Meeting House in Charles Street. This building, which currently hosts the fledgling Cardiff Steiner School my wife Clare has been involved in setting up, was until the late 1930s the second known Vicarage of the parish, replacing the Georgian edifice next to St John's church, demolished when the building was expanded. The Charles Street Vicarage is huge, and was evidently too huge even for an earlier 20th century clerical household, still with servants, and was used as a church community centre for decades before being sold to the Quakers, who continue to put it to varied good uses.
I'd love to have a building of that kind to work with in the city centre today, though I'd not like to find its annual running costs. Anyway, after four years of Christmas celebrations there with 80 people packing into what was once the Vicarage main lounge, I was approached with a request to host their service at St John's.

The difference commitment makes
Knowing how many Lesbian and Gay people have had unhappy experiences with the church, I guess we all wondered what the turn-out would be at St John's. Everyone was pleased. There were altogether 140 people present, and some of the heartiest enthusiastic singing heard at St John's for years. Assistant Bishop David Yeoman came and presided over the affair, and seemed to enjoy meeting and greeting people. I hope they'll decide to come back again next year.
Many of our Carol services are club social events, formalities that bond people together in their organisation, and it's apparent that not all who attend are used to worship or comfortable in a church. They come because others, to whom the service does matter, are keen and invite them along, and they come for the 'do' afterwards, or a few hours off work. That doesn't mean that such events have no value. Even the most formal of social rituals can be subverted by the Spirit, when people are listening quietly to the scriptures being read aloud with sincerity and intelligence.
The LGCM crowd felt like a group bonded together by the faith they celebrated, and that felt quite different. As did Tuesday's lunchtime Carol Service organised by an evangelical Christian group within the Welsh Development Agency. Unusually they invited a preacher to give a message at the end. There were only thirty of them, and they sang as if they meant it too.

God on Mondays, OK
Monday afternoon, Jenny and I led the third of our after-school family services at St James', and again welcomed 25 adults and thirty children. The consistency of attendance is hearteneing. We're wondering how many will respond to the invitation to come to the fourth event - a Sunday morning Christingle service next weekend. Nothing can be predicted, we're working in the dark when it comes motivating young parents and children in today's secular environment where so many other attractions compete for their time. We rely so much more on their free response, rather than any promotional afforts we may make.

Safer business
Wednesday morning I had an invitation to attend a ceremony at City Hall at 9.00am. The car was due in for repair at 8.30 over in Splott, an urban village a couple of miles from the centre, so I had to take the car with my bike in the back to the garage, then ride back into town. Thankfully there was no rain, and I arrived on time. The mayor was receiving an award on behalf of the City, from the Home Office for meeting the strategic criteria for creating a low-crime environment for businesses and traders. This is due to the the enterprise of the City Centre Management team working in collaboration with the police to keep track of persistent offenders, who steal from shops, or rob individuals usually to fund their drug habits. Sometimes the local papers seem to contain nothing but crime reports, and it can give a very grim impression of city life. Crime statistics aren't all that easy to interpret, or are they very newsworthy, but the fact is, crime is going down and detection rates are up, and this reduces business communtiy losses considerably.
Attendees at this ceremony were ushered in to a committe room, then fed coffee and mince pies while waiting the start. We were promised to be out in half an hour. Chief Inspector Bob Evans of Central division came along and made a speech. Local community beat police officers, fire and rescue service personnel were there, plus a few local government officers and councillors, plus the City centre management team. Why was I there? Well, I see it as part of my job to know and be known by people whose life and work is in the city centre, to understand all the things they value as important, and accompany them wherever that leads. The church often seems so obsessed with its own internal debates, that it has little real interest in ordinary life concerns. Yet our common enterprise as citizens relies heavily on a Christian understanding of human values, and how these are applied in ordinary life. The church that prays for the welfare of the city has also to take a practical interest in all that makes for peace and good living for all.

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