Monday, July 10, 2006

Tredegarville triumphs and trials

'God on Mondays' revisited
Remember 'God on Mondays' ? It's our school term-time venture, over in St James' church, to bring together children from Tredegarville church school with their parents for a time of Christian worship and storytelling. Started last year before Christmas, now in its fifth series of themed teaching services. The school teachers are marvellous. Generally around half a dozen of them turn up in support. Another fifteen or so parents and relatives, plus children from six months to eleven years old, so we are usually 35-50 people. I lead singing with the guitar and Jenny my colleague tells stories, usually out of the Gospel, only this summer half-term series is based on the lives of the Saints. The church War Memorial chancel screen is decorated with strings of paper people figures of church heroes, and even more strings of figures with the names on them of the adults and children who turn up with delightful regularity. It feels like we are slowly, carefully making community happen, building relationships of trust and affection, or rather, to be honest, building upon the existing bonds of trust and affection well established by the school with its parents and children. Chris, my new colleague has joined us, leading worship and enjoying a new experience - three clergy working together at the same time, right on the edge (sic.) of the conventional frame of parochial religion.

Unexpected blessings
Given that 'God on Mondays' gathers parents and children, it's not surprising that the spin-off has been several families asking for Christenings. St James' , although by far the weakest of the four churches of the Parish, has seen four times as many baptisms as the rest of the Parish put together over the past few years. Most people who ask have family roots in the area. Christening their kids is an affirmation of their identity and their sense of belonging in a shifting world. They don't come to worship apart from this special occasion. We try to make it as special as possible, but have to admit that far too much of our worship makes no connections with their longings, their spiritual search. But 'God on Mondays' services and the social interaction produced bridges the gap to some extent. Our biggest surpise came when Julie, one of our Mums asked if she could be christened. She'd missed out as a kid, and mentioned it awkwardly, with embarrassment to some previous clergy, but never been taken seriously. After we'd recovered from astonishment, Jenny and I agreed that we should act decisively. At the first Monday service after Easter, Julie was baptized in St James, and on Trinity Sunday, she was confirmed at a Deanery service in the Parish of Canton. She now comes on Sundays as well as Mondays with her kids. It's been a marvellous experience accompanying her on her journey.

In the midst of life we are in death
Back in April, the Parish recognised that we couldn't afford to keep St James' open any longer despite 'God on Mondays'. In May the University property department officers came and gave the building the once-over to see if it might meet their pressing need for space. Silence since then. After six months of silence, the London-based Historic Churches Building Trust officer got in touch to ask if a joint site visit to St James' with CADW, the Welsh building conservation agency, would be possible, to evaluate the Parish's application for £25,000 to repair a seriously leaky roof - one of the issues that has defeated the church council over the past five years. I wrote back to say that we had been forced to seek redundancy for the church, and received by return a rejection of our application. The building remains one of Cardiff's landmarks, no matter who can afford to maintain it. But we are no longer eligible to be funded, or even part funded.
If we were to take all the salaries paid out to administer and monitor these funds so conscientously I wonder how many more buildings might be saved from ruin. Aspiration to save our heritage is a worthy thing, like aid to the Third World, but the way funding is organised to preserve jobs and channel energy away from the purpose never cease to amaze me.

Meanwhile, St James will close on September 16th, with a European Heritage Open Day event. We'll keep open house and run a local history exhibition in conjunction with Tredegarville school next door - the church was founded from a local pastoral mission which started with schooling in the area back in 1850. Sunday and Monday services will continue in the school hall, saving us a huge amount of money in costs of heating, lighting, insurance and repairs.
We're all sad to lose the building, but heavens, how much has sentiment been costing us, both in money and worry? Nevertheless, losing this building is hard blow for both church and school.

The gift horse cometh. However ....
Admiral House, next door to St James, is a tower of a building, which has lately been converted from being an empty office block to small desirable, profitable residential apartments. In fact, the portacabins of the site office move out next Sunday, blocking us from using the church car park once again. The building work has given both church and school much trouble with noise, dust, rubbish, vibration from pile drivers and demolition work, as well as parking blockages.
After negotiation, City Lofts the developers, agreed an 'everybody wins' compensation package. The church hall, pretentiously known as 'the Guildhall', with its derelict annexe, plus boundary walls between church and school, are to be demolished, and the space created re-used, fenced in as school playground - the school's space allocation is well below standard, so it wiill benefit. The church will be more accessible, (an asset when it comes to sale), and Admiral House will look a lot more attractive to prospective buyers. I can't imagine that the £30,000 expenditure on this project would effectively buy as effective advertising promotion for the new apartments.
Work begins Monday 24th. At the moment church officers are having trouble communicating with the providors of water, gas and electricity to request termination of services, and final billing. Each facet of these services is managed by different companies using different telephone services (automated and otherwise), so that it's impossible to be sure one has reached the right person with authority to call out workers on the ground to achieve the desired objective. The deadline day could prove to be fun, dangerous fun if they don't get their act together. There's even a 'phone line into the premesis, from a letting that finished seven years ago, which was nothing to do with the church, so there is no information in the church record that will allow us to call someone and ask if they want to come and take away their line.
The final nightmare, having received formal approval by way of a Faculty from the diocesan Chancellor to proceed with all these works, was advice from the Representative Body of the Church in Wales to ensure that city Planning Permission was granted for the re-defining of the school site by fencing and demolition - something we thought was covered by the granting of a Faculty. If this is not received, the work is held up sine die, work which must be finished between 24th July and 31st August, or could end up not being done. Without any guidance of offer of support, the resolution of this issue was dumped back on me as representative of the Parish - a move which is hard not to regard as petty and spiteful. Suffice it to say that those who think they are generous and conscientous in the exercise their duties need to get their vision tested. It's no wonder my blood pressure is reluctant to subside, and my doctor wants to give me sick leave. We're all prisoners of modern legal systems, and their logic that so often defies common sense.

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