Monday, July 31, 2006

What if the Pope came to Minny Street?

Friday to Saturday evening I spent with a bible study group from Pontyclun Parish, who invited me to lead their annual retreat focussing on the Acts of the Apostles. This took place at Trefeca out in the Powys countryside, an hour and a half north of Cardiff. This was once the home of Hywel Harris, one of the great Welsh language preachers of the 18th century Methodist movement in Wales. Trefeca now houses the well apppointed conference centre of the Presbyterian Church of Wales. I had been there for ecumenical missionary meetings twenty years ago. It was pleasing to find the place as tranquil and beautiful as it ever was, and to be there with mission as the centre of attention once more.

While waiting for the others to arrive, I browsed the Western Mail, and found in an article measuring one square inch at the top of a column an announcement that the Arcbishop of Canterbury was due to speak in Minny Street Welsh Independent Chapel, Cathays at 10h30 on Sunday morning. Minny Street is just around the corner from St Teilo's in Flora Street, one of the four churches of Central Cardiff Parish. This was the first I had heard of it. Elsewhere in the news I learned that +Rowan was being honoured by his former secondary school on Saturday, so it was unlikley to have been an error. One of the retreatants, a lay preacher of that denomination, confirmed that he knew +Rowan was under invitation to speak there, but couldn't confirm the date. What a surprise!

Well, actually a bit of an embarrasment if the truth is to be told. Had I missed out on an important circular, or a memo or an invitation? The leader of the Anglican Communion coming to a church in the next street to the place I would, at the same time, be leading one of my four Sunday services of the day. Did everybody else know? Would the congregation be there when I arrived for the service or would they have gone around the corner to hear the Archbishop, or maybe just to wave a flag or two?

I didn't let these discomforting ponderings intefere with a glorious evening journey home, but on arrival I hastily opened my post and went through my inbox in search of signs that I had overlooked a vital message. But there was nothing there.

Next morning, the faithful dozen were at St Teilo's as usual. Nobody had seen that square inch of newsprint I'd read, but someone said it had been harder to park than usual - extra cars in Flora Street, people speaking Welsh emerging from them, headed away from our church. After the Eucharist a handful ventured around to Minny Street to see if anything was going on there, but all was shut. The congregation had dispersed by that time.
Madonna performed to 59,000 in the Millennium Stadium that same evening. Several full pages of text and photos covered the event in advance. The streets filled with provocatively dressed fans from lunchtime until way past Evensong - a nicely festive atmosphere, quite different from football match days, when the centre feels more like a war zone.

The contrast between the visits of these two media celebrities couldn't have been more stark. But I daresay that if Pope Benedict had come to Minny Street Cathays, he'd have got as much coverage as Madonna, if not more. AND the church's media machine would have made sure we knew well in advance.

Quite apart from the discourteous lack of regard for local Christian communities, who might just welcome an opportunity to support and encourage such a distinguished visitor to their locality (even at a distance), the poverty of communication exposes here the virtual absence of meaningful ecumenical relationships between local urban churches in Cardiff, and across the language and cultural divide.

The need to encourage networking by simply letting people know what's going on is hardly covered by issuing a few press releases that get so little attention. Our Anglican leaders fret publicly about the threat of forthcoming international schism, while their media teams unwittingly help perpetuate, rather than challege the isolation of local church communities and the divisions between them, acting as if they didn't matter. A funny way to maintain a 'household of faith'. However, I musn't forget that in the real world 'oversight' means omission, not pastoral supervision as it does in the church.

Not everyone headed for Madonna on Sunday night. After such an intense and busy weekend I opted to renounce the opportunity to join the St John's Ambulance duty first aid team at the Millennium stadium. That's a pleasant duty regardless of what's on in the arena - game or concert. But it required more stamina than I felt I had, so I went home for some peace and quiet rest.

On my way past City Hall after Evensong, I heard the exuberant sound of live Banghra drumming coming from within, and saw women dressed in festive sarees making their way in - presumably for a reception after a wedding - it's a popular venue for Cardiff Asian community celebrations. I hope they all had a good evening - Madonna fans, wedding guests, and ponderers upon the words of
+Rowan, our long-suffering local boy made good.

No comments: