Saturday, December 17, 2005

Times of extraordinary routine

Switch-on routine

Over the past fortnight my daily ritual has brought me to O'Neill's Irish pub in Trinity Street, to switch on the equipment that produces the Christmas image display on the south face of the church tower. It's not an arduous task, unless one is in a hurry, which is when things don't go routinely of course, but it is a bit fiddly, needs attention, to check that each item of the switch on routine is done in the right order. The Linux driven laptop is running two programs at the same time. One monitors the mobile phone for text messages, then inserts them into the slideshow routine, if it's running. It runs and runs tirelessly without glitches unless there is some anomaly with the phone, and then a little tinkering is required.

New pictures
During a couple of visits to St Monica's and Tredegarville church schools on Wednesday, I took photos of Christmas art work, converted them into the correct format and sent them to Chris Evans for incoporating into the slideshow, a task he performed in situ that evening. An additional fifteen images now make the whole routine 27 minutes long. It's great to see people stop and look up and comment with delight, especially when children recognise that it's mostly children's art that's being displayed.

On Friday there was an office party in the room where the equipment is housed. I met them the man organising it, on behalf of Chamber of Commerce colleagues, and he as tickled with the idea of putting up a welcome message for colleages on the church tower. At the appointed hour, he texted this to me and it was displayed throughout the party. Paul the pub manager told me later that the partygoers seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time staring out of the window fascinated by the display.

Stranger in a familiar place
The staff of O'Neill's are helpful and welcoming whenever I go in there. Drinkers often look a bit surprised. Clearly they think I'm out of place there. They don't expect to see a parson in a pub. I don't really think that this is any longer a cultural legacy of the era of puritan non-conformity, when drink and drinkers were the subject of almost ritual denunciation. All that stuff is long forgotten. Clergy are nowadays less visible in the public realm, except perhaps in small communities. Well, I guess the city centre is my small community in its way, athough I'm still much of a stranger to most who pass through.

Service or concert?
Thursday night St John's hosted a St John Ambulance Priory fundraising event for the Order's Eye Hospital in Eye Jerusalem ( With the musicians (a Welsh regiment band, and the choir of St David's Cathedral in Pembrokeshire), there were 250 people in church. Last year this event was a traditional carol service. This year it was more of a hybrid, a carol concert with prayers and some fine singing by Welsh operatic celebrity Dennis O'Neill and two friends. There was one token scripture and a variety of non-biblical readings, some of which were of doubtful relevance to the occasion. The sort of choice that would leave regular carol service attenders just a bit bemused.
Archbishop Barry was with us, as a Senior Prelate of the Order in Wales, and we grumbled together with Gethin Abrahams-Williams, the General Secretary of the Welsh ecumenical organisation CYTUN (a fellow Priory Chaplain) about the diet of inappropriate readings chosen by organisations wanting the church to host their special celebrations. It's a pet hate of mine (see my post of Dec 4).
Trouble is, clergy and pastors don't have enough time to give to help people plan their special events, to bring their liturgical expertise and critical common sense on the creative ideas of others who are not used to thinking in a disciplined way about giving full meaning to their act of celebration. So events that are not a credit to the good intentions of their organisers slip under the radar of those who are supposed to be there to help things go as well as they can. We're all far too much stretched by administration, fundraising and caretaking. There are too few of us for the demands made on us to be met properly. If only we could learn to to focus better on what we're good at!

The blessing of teamwork
With all these extra events over the past few weeks, I've been blessed by a small team of church lay-folk who have worked hard at the caretaking, cleaning and co-ordinating side of these extra events, which bring extra demands on the building. No matter how good the incoming organisation may be at clearing up its own mess, there are always things that get forgotten at the end of a long tiring evening, which somebody else has to pick up on in order to leave the building servicable for the next set of users, usually coming into church within twelve hours. It means that the 'home team' are shutting shop more than an hour after the last visitors leave on any evening there's a big event on.
We could do with a full-time caretaker, but the administration and cost of a full-time church employee is beyond reach of addordability. The fact that a team of four or five people working together can cover one person's caretaking job says something about the great value of such a post. On the other hand, that kind of teamwork helps to re-create church community in the service of the wider community in a way which can't be valued high enough. Would we had more volunteers willing to join the team. How much more could be achieved!

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