Saturday, February 11, 2006

Making the future our business

It's ten days since Archbishop Barry came to the Deanery Clergy chapter to explain how the reduction of clergy numbers across the Church in Wales is being tackled, and how this affects Cardiff. In several years time there will only be 13 full time posts for twenty odd parishes. Nobody is happy about this, but we don’t see to be able to agree thow we might transform this problem into an opportunity to renew the churches’ mission across the eastern half of the city. So few clergy seemed to have anything fresh to contribute to the discussion. Jenny was outspoken in expressing her frustration at being stuck with things that divide us – chiefly ministry of women, but also clerical territorialism. Thinking seems inhibited by expectations based on how things were rather than how they are. If good things happen it is despite the past not because of it, and that makes me sad, because the wonderful missionary enterprise of our forebears in no less difficult circumstances than ours, is like a reproach to us.
Maybe if clerics were all voluntary and unpaid, like the laity, we’d look at things differently. But as it is, clergy have vested interests to preserve - tied houses, salaries, pensions. Yet it’s clear these things are coming to an end, because in the long run the present economy of the church is unsustainable. Our parish is only able to meet its financial obligations towards clergy pay (it nearly failed last year) if it disposes of two houses it part owns and maintains for assistant clergy we can no longer afford. We’ve been warned that this seriously compromises future provision for full-time ministry, but for us, the future is already with us.
We are fortunate that Jenny lives in her Minister husband’s Manse, so that her accommodation needs don’t add to the current financial worries of the parish. We are a year overdue in receiving a response to my urgent request for a diocesan review of the role of St John’s in the life of the city and diocese, having already warned that it has turned from being a financial power house for the parish into a needy creature, struggling to pay its way, because of the sheer size of its running costs, and the demands of being such a public building. Without the work of oue tea-room volunteers the churhc would have had to close years ago. But it remains open and exercising a vital ministry of hospitality and care in town, enjoyed by people from all over the diocese. We have development plans, but nobody really seems interested is listening to what we have to say. Which is sad, because we need the challenge, we need a critique of our vision to strengthen it.
Regardless of this, we won’t stop looking to the future. How we manage in seven years time with much less clergy is not nearly as interesting to consider as the question of how
St John’s will fare as a place of Christian mission in 2020, or 2050. We’re going to start planning an investment in geothermal energy to heat churches, given that solar panels will be rejected as unaesthetic by building conservationists. It’s hugely expensive now, but the Welsh Assembly’s new building down the Bay has set a good example by going geothermal. I’d like to see our big churches go the same way. The capital outlay is frighteningly huge, but the soaring costs of other forms of energy could become a decisive factor in whether or not keeping such a large public building open is sustainable for use, whether run by the Church in Wales or surrendered to others.
Our Tea-Room facilities are inadequate for their purpose, and it’s a triumph of popular demand over inconvenience that it is such a success. We’d like to remove the vestry block entirely, and re-partition the South aisle, retaining the
St John chapel and using glazing with toilets, kitchens and restaurant facilities on the ground floor, topped by an upper storey containing vestry and storage areas. It would cost millions, no doubt, because of the problems of demolition, and protecting all the older features of the building. Yet, if that were to be undertaken, it would transform the building, enhancing it and making it more functional as a place of hospitality and worship.
Looking back over the past few years, it’s clear there are an abundance of ways in which the building can serve the people of
Cardiff, and retain a role as the warm prayerful heart of the city where all are welcomed. It’s a huge amount of work though, and those with the vision and the heart cannot do this on their own. Nothing will prevent them from making the first steps, alone if necessary. There’s no standing still when our hearts are fixed on ensuring St John's remains a key asset to city centre mission for generations to come, and we believe this is what God challenges us to do.

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