Wednesday, January 25, 2006


It wasn't my intention to offend esteemed colleagues with comments made in a previous posting (now removed). Nothing personal intended. As pastors, we are living in tough times, and I try to express some of the pain and frustration that goes with this, in search of the truth that sets us free.
I remain convinced that God is out there somewhere. Even if I fail to comprehend where and how, the search for God through all the messiness of life goes on. The trouble with therapeutic writing is - what you feel does you good to state isn't necessarily good in the eyes of others. When you fail to communicate, you have two options - you shut up and say nothing, or think hard and try again.

Either way, there's going to be a pause for while, while I make up my mind what to do.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


More restrictions declared

In my post of December 11th, I reported how a decision to impose traffic restrictions on the streets close to St John’s was communicated by the attaching of a single A4 sheet announcement to the church railings. Well, things have improved. Six single sheet A4 announcements have now been affixed to that number of lamp posts – three on the north side of the church between it and the Owain Glyndwr pub, and three the other side of the old library, a hundred and fifty yards away. This declares the intention of closing the adjacent streets to traffic from ten in the morning until midnight, a measure that could have a serious impact on evening activities at church, and on the trade done by local restaurants and pubs. So, I took down one of the notices and showed it to Kieran, who runs the excellent print shop in Church Street. He ran off some copies of the legal notice, and we devised a message to go on the back of it that could then be circulated to business most affected by this proposal, and I took copies around to a dozen or so local establishments. Needless to say, only two of a dozen businesses were aware of what was to happen in any detail. We’re going to try and organise a local traders meeting to consider a critical response to the Council in the next few days.

Protest, but probably in vain
When I talked later to Paul, the city centre manager, he seemed to think that implementation of the order was inevitable as this would bring it into line with nearby Queen Street, which is mostly shops, with few pubs and restaurants open evenings. They cope with restrictions, why not our small side-streets? Well, our little quarter of town has more small businesses, more to lose by access restrictions for their clientele. Our little quarter gives out on to St Mary Street, one of the town’s busiest thoroughfares. Traffic congestion from delivery vehicles in the streets is bad enough already with a road closure time of 11.00am. Move that to 10.00am and deliveries all have to enter and leave the centre earlier, adding to morning rush hour chaos, with large lorries entering and leaving the main traffic stream. Existing cramped conditions of access are about to become a stranglehold. It will not do our little quarter any good. And it will mean that those who have to manage traffic will have to work harder coping with all the special case permissions from people who need to come and go within the restricted times. Will it actually be enforceable? We’ll see. I’ve just finished writing, and have emailed objections to the scheme to the Chief Legal Officer of the County’s office, knowing that the protest will most likely fall on deaf ears.

Dependable evolution or risky revolution?

The Grand Plan for the re-ordering and development of the city centre, of which these traffic rearrangements are part, has been put into place more by determined promotion than by adequate consultation, whatever efforts politicians and local government officers think they have made. It’s not easy to ensure everyone is in the picture and shares in the debate. It’s the biggest challenge of any society, not to alienate citizens, but to succeed in hearing and responding to their concerns. Our church neighbours at Tabernacl Baptist will suffer badly when the SDII centre is up and running and they can’t get proper access to their building. I suppose those in power think of what they impose on others as ‘leadership’. They’ll be praised and thanked if such massive costly initiatives finally work, but with the changing economic climate, the risks taken in such a huge project may not be justifiable. We could end up with an under-used and under performing shopping centre, oversized for what it can achieve in the light of competition from the out of town shopping centres springing up everywhere across the region. Nobody wants that. It’s such a pity that a more evolutionary and adaptative approach to redeveloping the city centre wasn’t taken, as opposed to a vastly ambitious ‘quantum leap’ project, affecting so many people – as did the SDI development thirty years ago which emptied the city centre of its ‘urban village’ population. It’s a pity so little attention has been paid to improving the road system to handle the flows of traffic for big events, and for shopping access. No matter how wonderful the imposed future of shopping in Cardiff is likely to be, it’ll be bleak if people can’t get in to where they need to be to shop, eat, drink, be entertained. The poverty of road infrastructure is a kind of symbol of the poverty of communications at many levels in this situation.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Time out

Change of scene
I’ve been on holiday for ten days, and before that, spent a week using the computer sparingly. I’m sitting writing this on a Mac, which is different for a start, looking out on a snowy landscape in a suburb near Geneva airport, where I’ll catch the ‘plane home in the morning. It’s been a time of catching up with old friends, and doing some cross-country ski-ing with Valdo, my Swiss pastor friend up in the Jura, in near perfect weather and snow conditions.

One of my adult confirmands of ten years ago in the time when I worked as a pastor in Geneva is going to be made Deacon this coming Summer, a cause of great delight to me. It’s a pity both the Bishops of the diocese do not ordain women, and will probably get an outsider in to ordain. Whether this is out of deference to the majority Catholic and Orthodox church communities, or personal conviction, I don’t know. It’s an extraordinary situation when all of the five candidates to be presented on this occasion are women. Maybe God is trying to tell them something.

Growth in the midst of decline
Church life thrives among Anglophone ex-patriates, not only in the ecumincal and international city of Geneva, but around the whole of Lac Léman. There have been Anglican churches in this areas for over 150 years, not to mention churches of other denominations, at least a dozen. Anglophone expatriates in the region number over 50,000. There’s something about being far from home that gets people thinking about their cultural and spiritual roots, and many of those who make the journey of faith show a hgh level of commitment.
A small church plant before my time in the countryside village protestant church of Gingins 25 miles from Geneva has now grown into a self supporting congregation with its own priest, and has itself spawned a new church plant in a French reformed church over the border in neighbouring Divonne-les-Bains.
At the same time, the Vaudois Protestant Church is struggling with tiny congregations, budget crises and reduction of pastors. Church closures are being contemplated, a terrible blow for these agricultural communities, invaded by large numbers of foreigners working for international organisations and businesses.
My friend Valdo has four agricultural villages with churches in his country pastorate, and works alone. In many town churches, regular congregations are 20 or less, except for big weddings and funerals. It’s very similar to the situation we are facing in Britain, except that in protestant Europe it’s been like this for decades. Decline towards virtual extinction has taken place slowly, because in many regions the churches receive some state finance. This is now dwindling, and churches are increasingly obliged to move towards self funding, and are not succeeding. Just like us. Across Europe Christian communities are wondering what the future holds – apart from the flourishing expatriate congregations.

Monday, January 02, 2006

New Year questions

Festive aftermath
No public transport, and many regulars away meant that this Sunday, New Year's Day, there was no public transport, and many regulars were away, so regular congregations were half the usual numbers. The streets were quieter than usual, and unusually still unswept after last night's revels. In St John Street two alarms were sounding when I arrived for the eight o'clock Eucharist. They were still sounding, unattended, eleven hours later, after Evensong, my fourth service of the day. It's hardly an advertisement for the security companies responsible for their maintenance. I wonder if the Council's enforcement troops will take them to task for such a prolonged assault on noise abatement laws, as they did for the silly singing Santas. The selectivity with which enforcement is applied is amazing. Thankfully, such alarms serve only to protect commercial merchandise and not some product whose theft would be capable of inflicting serious social damage. The fun fair continues tonight, but is more muted than last night. I got the impression yesterday that evening numbers were down on previous years, though there was a rush of vehicles into town and people gathering around the stage between City Hall and the Police Station, around 11h45, just to see the New Year in. Apparently there was also a New Year party at the Millennium Stadium as well. It'll be interesting to see if both together did as well as in previous years.

Devil's Advocate
There have been lots of large popular events on-street or in the Stadium this year, for one cause or another. Does there reach a stage at which the hassle of getting to such a happening outweighs the significance and excitement they generate? Are their audiences destined steadily to whittle down to those who like formulaic events, booze and food, precision marketed, wrapped in suitably bland sentiments. Wales can't win the Grand Slam or host a major Tom Jones birthday celebration all that often. The next acid test is the Millennium Stadium One Earth Concert to mobilise action against global warming on 28th January. A pop star studded event is promised with contributions from the Manic Street Preachers, the Darkness, the Strokes and the Super Furry Animals. Fan loyalties will ensure a substantial crowd and considerable media coverage, but how will it touch those with their hands on the levers of power or those who influence them? In what sense will it be a Green concert, given the guaranteed volume of disposable food consumption devices. And given the New Year's Eve experience, how many emission producing kilowatts of electricity will be consumed on making the sound of all these bands unbearably, ear damagingly loud? Aren't there other ways of promoting such a good life-saving cause?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A noisy year's end

The year end fun fair is up and running in Museum Avenue. There's a stage up once more outside the central police station to accommodate the entertainment. Scores or portable toilets have been erected to welcome the output of the temporary bars set up in the street near the stage. Generators hum and sound systems compete to deafen the punters wherever you go. Our Rectory is set back behind the Civic Centre turned into a public playground on occasions like this. Usually we get no more than the background rumble from all this festive activity, but not so on this day.
In the playing field the other side of North Road, close to the Ambulance station, a huge sound system has been set up as part of the evening's family fireworks display. When it was being tested, right after lunch, it was so loud that the windows buzzed and my entrails vibrated. It's a quarter of a mile away, and the high fidelity digital sound is so loud that it drowned traffic noise, and would have obscured the sound of a passing helicopter had one flown by at that moment. If I'd been playing my guitar or listening to the radio at that moment, I would not have been able to hear either. I couldn't believe how clear the sound was or how loud, close to being paiful on the eardrum, and utterly offensive, not least because of the public imposition of music or should I say muzak on a considerably sized residential area.
I wondered how the elderly infirm people resident in neighbouring Nazareth house, even nearer to the source, were coping. It didn't last very long. I wondered if this was because of complaints. It came on again loudly before and after the fireworks display, snatches of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, soul sounds, pop beats, some ambient sound, including wind in the trees - how irritating when you live in a place filled with trees, where that natural sound is a familiar consolation.
All this was delivered with no warning, no consultation with residents. The local papers carried the story of a man who was threatened with a large fine under noise abatement laws because his Christmassy decorated house had singing Santas activated in the front garden whenever people passed by, and the neighbours complained. I wonder where the Council's enforcement officers were working on New Year's Eve?
My last job on the last night of the year? A trip to St John's to re-set the central heating themostat for tomorrow morning's Sunday Eucharist, having turned it down last Monday, since nobody remembered, and the building was as warm as our living room, benefitting nobody and costing ....., well this was what I was on about yesterday.
On my way home I shall call in the St John's Ambulance station to wish the volunteers Happy New Year. They're on duty for the funfair, and providing a field hospital front line service for binge drinkers to ease the nightmare at the city' casualty units. They're a great bunch.

If anyone out there is reading this, Happy New Year to you too.