Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Time for creativity

It's over a month since I last posted. Life has been full, with lots to recount but not enough time to do it. After the first week's lapse, I decided it would better to keep my thoughts to myself for a time and then try to summarise the important things. I didn't know how much there'd be to tell when it was time to catch up again.
Lent is generally fairly busy, with a Friday lunchtime lecture series to run, and a Wednesday lunchtime biblical meditation series to write and lead over and above usual activities. Then there were the extras.

Lent in a multi-cultural context
God on Mondays for Tredegarville school-kids, staff and parents carried on, with a Lenten theme, and culminated in an end of term 'Palm Thursday' celebration with all the school, at which over 200 Palm Crosses were distributed as a reminder of the forthcoming Holy Week celebrations. It's a lovely thing to be able to do, but we need to find a way to discuss this with Muslim parents, to reassure them it's not an attempt to proselytise, but simply a gesture of good will and a reminder of the love of Allah for all his children. Some children were at ease refusing to take a cross, others just felt left out, one little boy even cried, and was given a cross surreptitiously. "Don't worry"said his teacher, "I'll explain to his mum later."

Confirmation experiment
This year my colleague Jenny and I decided to take the junior confirmation candidates away for a weekend preparation course, rather than struggle to keep them together for ten weekly sessions, doing battle with candidates' domestic and schooling schedules, not to mention sickness and other arbitrary forms of leave-taking interrupting the flow of the learning programme. Planning and preparation were quite hard to insert into the regular schedule, but somehow we managed it, and found ourselves excited at the prospects of a new opportunity.
On the first weekend of April, we escaped a Cardiff overrun by football fans for a big game and head for Mid Wales, to Cefn Lea Holiday centre near Newtown, a place with accommodation and conference space for hundreds, run successfully by a Christian farming family for the past 25 years.
It was good for our group of a dozen to mix with larger church groups also there for the weekend, for the children to see themselves as part of something Christian much bigger that they are used to and country wide. Our programme worked well. Everyone joined in and enjoyed themselves, in spite of the heavy rain which fell in between sunny breaks. It was a weekend in which we saw several wonderful rainbows spanning from hillside to hillside, when we succeeded in getting out and about. Now that's something worth remembering, to associate with Confirmation.
On the way home we stopped at Brecon Cathedral for long enough to have a look around and attend Evensong. I wonder what the youngsters made of that, it being so different from their usual experience of worship. They were quite respectful, it struck me - and the staff and stewards were very welcoming to this group who invaded without warning and filled the place with their curiosity.

Lay ministry in action
Being a football weekend, with road closures in place, the parish gathered at St Michael's for just one Eucharist in the absence of the clergy, presided over by the Assistant Bishop, who had the rare pleasure of baptizing an infant during the service. St Teilo's church was occupied by Riding Lights Theatre Company, setting up and rehearsing to perform the 2006 Passion Play 'Calvary'. We arrived home with just enough time to wash, eat and get to St Teilo's to be part of this. 220 people came to witness this powerful piece of drama, set in an act of worship. With clergy away for the weekend, everything had to be left to the good people of St Teilo's to organise. The way it turned out was a credit to them, an example of lay ministry in action. Matt, the new People's sub-warden at St Teilo's conducted the liturgical elements. It was the first time he'd ever done such a thing and he certainly rose to the occasion. Marvellously donations received covered the cost of the event in full, it was a vindication of the faith of Pete, the Peoples' sub warden, who was convinced the church should host the play and risk losing money on it.

Holy Week
We had evening Eucharists at which Jenny and I shared the preaching and the presidency, moving around the four churches on different evenings. We got about a dozen each night, twice that on Maundy Thursday. I preached the first two hours of the Good Friday Vigil, the first time to do so for three years. I made myself prepare the requisite set of six addresses from scratch, as a Lenten discipline to get myself thinking afresh on familiar stories. That way it did me good. For the event itself, an average of thirty people stayed for each of the first two hours, and sixty for the final hour of the Liturgy of the Passion. About thirty passed through for part of each hour, quietly and reverently, but quite a distraction when standing in the pulpit preaching, and wondering if your words are driving them out or simply the clock, or the appetite.
We made something different of the Paschal Vigil the following night. Ten of us came to church at seven thirty in the evening, and waited silently in prayer without liturgical intervention, simply waiting and listening and watching the dusk arrive at the heart of the city. When it was dark we lit and blessed the paschal candle in the porch, accompanied by a loud female folk singer, busking outside the shut pasty shop opposite. I sang the Paschal Proclamation, Jenny read the Resurrection Gospel, and we each acclaimed in turn : "Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!" Orthodox style, then renewed our baptismal vows, and went home, quite refreshed by seventy five minutes of total silence together. After that, Easter Day was a joy and delight to share, although the attendance reflected that many people were taking their Easter vacation away from Cardiff this year.

Altogether, a satisfying time for doing priestly things.

How marvellous, if this were the only story in need of telling.

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