Friday, September 29, 2006

Parting of the ways II

On the feast of St Michael and All Angels, the Patronal Festival of our newest Parish Church, the Parish said farewell to the Revd. Jenny Wigley, who has been my partner in the Gospel for the past three years, based at this church. She celebrated the Eucharist for the last time as Team Vicar. For better for worse, this was my sermon.

This feast of dedication of the church to Michael and Archangels is in many ways a pivotal moment. This is the building’s tenth anniversary year. We shall celebrate its consecration next April. We’re saying “Farewell God go with you” to Jenny after three years of ministry here. Although ministry is generally ‘more of the same’ given our need for a regular diet of worship and social activities, this tends to obscure the significant changes that take place as a result of a particular person being the pastor.

It came as a shock to all of us that Jenny’s departure should lead to the Bishop’s proposal to create from Central Cardiff Parish, a new Parish of Cathays with its own Vicar. It’s his response, as our leader to the changing needs of ministry in the city centre, and in Cathays.

With the arrival of new halls of residence, the face of studentland is soon about to change. As multi occupancy landlords find their profit margins slump, houses will start exchanging their ‘To Let’ signs for ‘For Sale’ signs, and the balance between domestic households and transient households will shift in favour of families again.

The kind of pastoral activity that has long been a feature of St Michael’s could become a feature of St Teilo’s again also. Albeit differently, St Teilo’s is equally as ready and open to varied community uses as St Michael’s is. Two mission minded congrsgations serving the same area deserve a new mission minded pastor to give them the support they need.

After so many years as a daughter church on the outskirts of the Parish, dependent on Curates coming and going every few years, there could have been great reluctance about the new demands of being a self supporting Parish, cutting the apron strings and moving on to independence, but this is not the case. The confidence is there, largely thanks to the energy and teaching which Jenny has offered. For this we must thank her.

St Teilo’s lost its independence becoming part of Central Cardiff, and its faithful few have striven to retain a sense of distinct identity and purpose, and to shape a new future for the church, despite discouraging setbacks. As a result it now serves Cardiff’s music education and performance needs in an unique way. It has a financial stability that enables the congregation, though small and seasonal to keep looking outwards, ready for welcome what unfolds in the future.

Thanks to the missionary vision of a previous pastor, and the few who responded and worked with him. These are two quite different ways of being church to combine in a new Parish – you might say chalk and cheese – it’s part of our cherished Anglicanism that we seek ways to live well together appreciating and benefiting from each others’ differences. Your new parish priest will, I hope and pray, be fit to rise to the challenge of leading both churches into a shared future.

We meet tonight to celebrate together, perhaps for the last time as the Benefice of Central Cardiff, before we set out on the paths appointed for us, by the Bishop’s call to mission, doing fully and freely what each congregation knows how best to do in our own settings, flourishing where we are planted. Of course there’ll be more meetings, to complete the necessary business of separation and re-establishment of our different parish structures. Coming together was for better or for worse, so too will separation. We can give thanks for many blessings over the past six years, and there will be many more blessings to celebrate in times to come, if we continue in trust to respond where our Bishop gives us the lead.

We don’t need to worry about set-backs, we’ll take them as they come, groan and struggle, adjust, compromise, reconcile, move on with our eyes, not even on the Bishop, but on Christ the Good Shepherd who goes before us. But what’s all this got to do with the feast of St Michael? Plenty to my mind.

Angels are spiritual beings with different missions from God to humankind, protecting, healing, announcing etc; just as we’re human beings with different missions from God to the world we live in. Michael, as the figure on the church’s east wall declares, symbolises the promise and hope of ultimate victory over evil - Christ’s victory over evil in human flesh, a victory Michael represents, in an order of reality above and beyond what we know. There could be no more safe or confident occasion on which to say farewells, not only to Jenny, but to start saying farewell each other, as we turn towards new tasks, not needing to look back, or regret anything except that this wonderful life is all too short to give God all the glory he deserves for the grace we’ve received in every step we take. Whichever way we go, we’ll meet again, in the workaday re-unions of life and witness in this city and then finally in the company of all the angels and saints, in the heavenly city, our true home and destination, where there will be no temples, no parishes, no diocese, no Representative Body of the Church in Wales, only God, only God, who will be all in all, the fulfilment of all our meaning and purpose.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Parting of the Ways

Within the space of this past week, the Parish Churchwardens and sub-Wardens unusually met twice, first with Archdeacon Bill Thomas, the diocesan Registrar David Lambert (a church lawyer, in case you didn't know) and the Bishop's Chaplain, Chris Smith, and secondly with Archbishop Barry Morgan. On both occasions the subject was how to create two parishes out of one, and bring to an end the Rectorial Benefice of Central Cardiff, founded six years ago, in order to create a team ministry to serve the central area.

I've worked in teams most of my ministry. Many of those I work with in the service of the city act as part of one team or another. Partnership is the buzzword in city development strategy and planning. I would have preferred to see the church creating larger teams and more effective working partnerships in order to serve people whose work experience is not too dissimilar. But clerical leadership prefers to go against the grain - to be counter cultural, you might say. This is a church buzzword nowadays, used without reference to the past and almost no justification, when I reflect on what 'counter culture' meant thirty odd years ago.

Anyway, don't look back, just keep going forward or die ... I have to facilitate an episcopal initiative (viz: dividing a successful working team of four churches), which I don't agree with, even though it's intended to set me and my new colleague Chris free to explore all the emerging possibilities of city centre mission and ministry at a time of accelerating change. (By the way, the big time demolition work has started. The city centre Ice Rink has gone, Toys 'r Us is next for the giant bulldozers.)
Well, I'm free to say my piece, but I don't run the show. I'm only an actor, not the producer, so I have to make the most of whatever direction is given, or quit the set.

So, onwards and upwards ... which the home team did to their great credit, negotiating in the most constructive and collaborative way how to split the parochial area and organise the division of its assets. You can't quite call it an amicable divorce.
It was more their trustful response to episcopal leadership, which I find hard personally to emulate in these times of schism, knowing too well that all of us professional pastors have feet of clay, and fall short of our own visionary aspirations and potential. The driving force behind the initiative and the response to it remains a desire to see a new priest serving the area as soon as possible, by whatever means the Bishop believes opportune. Creating a new Parish of Cathays out of Central Cardiff Parish means sacrificing revenue from the sales of unsuitable houses, in order to provide a new Vicarage. Sale promised a modicum of financial security, but it's more important to ensure there's a priest in the community.

I don't share the official version of how we should be doing mission any more. I dpon't think that smaller pastoral units will necessarily survive the course. In bigger teams, working together in the spirit of the Gospel, other members compensate for the 'weakest links'. Pulling together, 'all for one and one for all' make survival possible. But nobody seems to see it that way in the church right now, so we'll learn what's right by doing. I think we've lost the plot, and are fast becoming a 'church centred mission' rather than a 'mission centred church'. But maybe congregational survivors all over the place just feel happier with the former concept than the latter. I'm just grateful that despite my misgivings I end up able to give more time to St John's, which somehow, by divine grace, manages to be a 'mission centred church' no matter what leadership it gets, and despite the fact that much of its mission centres around the church building and the affection it retains in the heart of Joe Public.

It's a funny paradox really, but our raison d'ĂȘtre comes from the fact that we are a sacred space in the commercial heart of the city, visited by a thousand people a week, looking, seeking, connecting or puzzling with the mystery of faith represented both in our beautiful building and in the equally beautiful smiles and welcomes of our members. People come and go, they take what they can, or what they will from what we offer. They canot be dragooned into membership. We cannot impose any conditions on them. What we can do is work together for them in the hope that God touches their hearts, either despite or because of us. We don't know which, we just trust.

I wish more congregations across the city could have a chance to meet the public to the extent that we do, and be educated by the experience, as we are. Maybe working together would be less of a challenge subsequently.

The major policy decisions have been taken and future plans are moving towards action. The new Parish of Cathays comes into being on the first of January 2007, and becomes someone else's responsibility. I just hope and pray someone will be appointed as the new Vicar and it won't just be left in the hands of a series of caretaker clergy. Someone other than me will have to organise these arrangments. It's a nightmare of a job, as available locum clergy get fewer and fewer on the ground. But I shall worry until I see that those I have led and cared for over the past four years are happy and settled, without regrets.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

First anniversary

It's a year to the day since I started this blog, on the anniversary of my ordination, except that I got it wrong last year. I was priested on 19th September 1970, Deaconed on 20th September 1969. Same place, same Bishop. That makes thirty seven years in public ministry, an amazing period of change. Even in those days there was a looming energy crisis and a looming environmental pollution crisis. Now more people know about the problems, which continue unabated, and don't yet have the whole world united in tackling them. In those days, the Cold War was being waged, and enough nukes to destroy the planet a thousand times over were still aimed at each other.
Nuclear stockpiles have been reduced, but the number of governments holding them has increased. Not exactly good for the future of the world, on top of the other concerns.

It was great to see a BBC web-page report of Archbishop Barry's criticism of the proposal to renew the British Trident submarine 'deterrent' programme. He's quite right. Trident is no longer justifiable in an era when threats to humanity arise without recourse to heavy engineering or high technology from people determined to blow themselves up to destroy others. Such hatred and contempt for life has its origins in deep fears about the worthlessness and meaninglessness of the lives people are compelled to endure through poverty, racism and injustice. It can't be put right by force, only by a paradigm shift in human relationships, by sharing more fairly our planetary resouces, freer exchanges, mutual consultations in decision making at every level of human existence. It's just that fear gets in the way.

One way or another there's been a pervasive climate of anxiety, real or imagined, throughout the world in the time my ministry has been exercised. Ever since the sixties, when I first read his books I've been sustained by Thomas Merton's analysis of the world. He was a leading advocate of contronting the folly of nuclear war. "The root of war is fear, fear of everything ..." he stated. The world into which Christ was born was also dominated by "the Great Fear", he wrote in his exposition of the nativity stories. Into the Great Fear comes the Great Joy of God's grace through the incarnate Word. Didn't Jesus say? "Do not be afraid ... I AM". St John summed it up. "There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear." That's what we all need to be working towards, by whatever means. That's how I've understood my life's work, so far.

There hasn't been much opportunity for me to reflect on the passage of time over these years. The present and the possibilities of the emerging future have always held my fascination. We are living in an era of uncertainty and confusion leading to more paradigm shifts, to changes in consciousness and the ways we interpret the world. But are we doing so in an age that has too much self-assurance and no longer enough humility and faith, I wonder?
In a way this moment resembles the early twentieth century when Relativity and Quantum Physics were born, and many millions died in war. Many more then, compared to wars today. The new theories soon had a huge influence on how science was done and technology developed. Today, the consequential evolution of computers and their use, speeding up year on year, is leading to new social inventions, ways of working together, inventing and shaping the future, involving more participants than any other social movement in human history. Also shaping how wars are made, fought and ended.

Yet, the Great Fear still stalks the world. More than ever the Great Joy needs to be shared, so that it can be the determining influence that leads us away from annihilation by Mutually Assured Destruction, whether by an exchange of nukes, out of control climate change or the deadly embrace of a zealot with an explosive belt.

Fanatics of all kind are frightened people, inside and outside of religion. The church like every other known religious institution has its share of them. Sometimes it seems as if their numbers are growing, to the extent that they could overwhelm the rest, spread the infection of their fear everywhere. The old framework of moral and religious authority in the churches is breaking up, and occupying too much of our leaders' time and creativity. Their efforts are well intended but misplaced. I feel lots happier when my boss is challenging the ethics of defence policy, than when he's defending forms of institutional church well past their use-by date. I just wish we could do more creative work together on new forms for the future of the church, that empower and include, build community, challenge pious illusion, and build confident faith in fearless people. The world needs this too.

In a time of paradigm shift one has to live with confusion and contention, rival models for analysis and decision making. When the new comes it will surprise everyone, and expose all our weaknesses. But I suspect we're all terrified of being found lacking when called to account.
The supreme example was, indeed, in the coming of Jesus, his teaching and his way of life, and the reaction to it. From him we learned openness to change, to be surprised by the new that embraces and transforms the old. From him we learn not to be afraid. How to face death and live to the full. He offered the paradigm shift in our way of self understanding, as human creatures, children of God. It's a pity not all of it has yet sunk in, and that much of our thought and reaction to life is still rooted in pre-Christian values.

The breakdown of the Anglican Communion seems imminent if we take seriously reports appearing on that eminently thoughtful blog Thinking Anglicans Should I be worried? No. I shall refuse to excommunicate anyone, and refuse to accept their excommunications. Welcome, acceptance of differences comes first every time, hard cases and all. For example, I'd rather the druggie didn't sit outside the church and beg for cash to buy a fix. I hate what he's doing to himself. But I won't engineer his removal, or punishment. We have to live uncomfortably with each other and the gulf between until we can learn how best to talk constructively, therapeutically with each other as human beings about things that really matter. Same with those 'orthodox' and the fundamentalist souls who can't accept gays. How can they re-learn what welcome and acceptance really means, when they seem to have forgotten? And how can I restrain my impatience and resentment for them?

Will conflicting opinions and beliefs lead to violence other than slander? That's my chief concern. Renouncing violence as a means to resolve disputes is far from universally accepted as a tenet of Christian faith. Theories of 'just war' soon degenerate into justifying just another war to stop violence, being cruel to be kind. And on it goes. We all have to go back to working on the fear, stop being afraid of disagreement and disunity. Stop being afraid of seeming like fools every time unbelievers play us off against each other in our differences, and make us look like childish idiots. Have we forgotten about being "...fools for Christ's sake."?

Is it that we can't accept others being different from us, because we can't really accept ourselves either?

There's so much work still needing to be done I resent having what seems like so little time left to do it in. Whole years rush by so quickly nowadays.

Monday, September 18, 2006

St James' passover

After a week of hasty final preparations, including mounting a history exhibition in both school and church, and the re-publication of a guide to the church building, we opened St James' doors for the first and last time for a European Heritage Open Day from ten till five, last Saturday, before celebrating the final Eucharist there, and closing doors first opened for worship in 1894.

In the news
On the Wednesday before, I fired off a few judiciously placed emails to the BBC and local press, announcing the event. Thankfully this drew a swift response, next day, including a front page article about further decline in church attendance, citing St James' closure as a case in point. We made the BBC TV Wales evening news, and I was invited to take part in a lunchtime BBC radio phone-in. All this media attention meant the news reached much further than a few posters on church and school notice boards. During the day over 200 visitors came into both church and school, to look at registers and school log books, as well as the exhibition.

The aisle of memory
Many visitors had either been baptized or married in St James'. Others had been 'regulars' in their youth before moving away. A few couples came with fity years of marriage behind them to walk the aisle together and count their blessings, as they put it. Two generations of one family came with their baptism certificates, looked up their register entries, then posed for a photograph. Many were pleased to have a new audience for their reminiscences of times past.

Questions, questions
Apart from mounting all the historic photo exhibits displayed (all the rest was history work from Tredegarville school children), my main contribution was to run the digital slide presentation I'd created from four dozen photos taken during the demolition of the church halls. It happened when most visitors were absent on holiday, and its passing also needed to be recognised because of its long past importance. The hall probably held as much memory as the church for those involved with music theatre presentations, the backbone of much social life of St James for decades before the seventies. Some reminisced at length about the old photographs of the assembled company on stage back in the heyday, and recalled the names of long gone companions for the record. When I wasn't listening to stories I was answering the same few questions about the future of the church and its furnishings time and time again over the course of six hours until I'd nearly lost my voice.

Those who came
The visitors were mainly over sixties, with a sprinkling of more recent church-leavers, present day school staff, parents and children. Over in the school hall, tea and biscuits were served most of the day, whilst visitors sat and leafed through the school log-books to see if they could find references to either themselves or schoolmates.
Chris had printed fifty revised church guides to sell, plus a souvenir colour edition for St James' church electoral members of thirty. IN the afternoon she had to rush over to the school photcopier and reprint another forty to meet unexpected demands. Nearly three hundred pounds was taken in sales and donations, an undetermined sum in collection at the service, plus an anonymous cheque for £150, received later. This financial bonus means we can renew attractively the content of the church notice boards to point enquirers to the school, and some money to put towards the cost of re-locating the font, the eagle lectern and the parclose screen from the Lady Chapel in coming months.

Back to our roots with style, and then quietly
The first school was built in 1871 and the first congregation grew from there through a 200 seater iron mission church to the present building. A missionary congregation in the educational milieu to start with. That's what 'StJames@TredegarvilleSchool' (our suggested new presentation style) will now become.
There were a hundred at the Eucharist. Many of the St James' people were in tears, and were comforted by other parishioners in a moving way. Archdeacon Bill Thomas preached with gentle strong resolve about following the risen Christ. Jenny and Chris led the Eucharist with serenity and radiance. I just sat there in the sanctuary, quite exhausted after my six hour P.R. marathon - so many questions, so few answers to offer, as yet. At the end we paraded with the lit Paschal Candle, across the newly cleared space where the church halls had been, into the school yard and then the hall, for the blessing of the new worship space and the dismissal of the congregation. It was a memorable occasion. Despite the sadness, the hope of resurrection was not extinguished. It was an end, but also a beginning, full of compassion and kindness.

Next day, Sunday afternoon, I welcomed eleven people into the school hall, and used the Lady Chapel Altar and candlesticks moved the night before from church. We sang as best we could, and smiled and hugged. Paul, the Parish Rector's Warden came and joined us for the occasion. A quiet tower of strength he is, filling his new leadership role very nicely indeed. I was keen to take this service myself and give my colleagues time to recover from the palpable emotions of yesterday. I shed my tears at the AGM when the decision to close had to be agreed, an open admission of the failure to find the financial support needed to achieve our development plans. Having let go at that point, refusing to give up entirely, the decision to offer worship in the school had to be mine to make. What if nobody came? Well, that would be a sign that my offer was declined. In the event there were three churchwardens, the Head Teacher, one visitor to the city, two children and four adults, one of whom played the piano. I indulged myself and played the guitar as well. I haven't done that at a Eucharist I celebrated for more than a decade.

The right time
Some argue St James has been so weak for at least the past twenty years that it should have closed a long time ago. But, with such powerful and tenacious glory-day memories surrounding this once prestigious building on a landmark city site, it had to wait until a moment when community memory itself was losing its grip. For me, that moment arrived two years ago when no member of the congregation remembered it was the 110th anniversary of opening, so there was no special celebration to mark the passing of another decade. Memory loss and identity loss walk together. The hundredth anniversary had been marked by a week of special events. One decade later, there was no energy from within the congregation to do this. The clergy are easy scapegoats. "Why didn't you remind us? Isn't it your job" is the usual reproach. The clergy's priority is to remind others of what Christ has done for them, to help them celebrate their festivals and remembrances and find their spritual meanings through the life of faith. If they have nothing to recall or celebrate, Christ is still to be remembered and celebrated, first and last.

Finally, it was time to move on. At least, I hope and pray this will become clearer with the passage of time and the travail of re-building an education based worshipping community.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The land of uncertainties

Waiting to see it all in print
Just three months ago, the proposition of creating a new Conventional District of Cathays out of Central Cardiff Parish was mooted. There have been a few discussions since then by church committees, but little new from the Bishop or Archdeacon apart from a modified proposal to constitute Cathays as a proper Parish. Nobody has really explained to any of us what sort of difference this makes in practice. Whether we would understand the difference or find it relevant, I don't know. All parishioners want is to know what date their new pastor will be welcomed and start work. That's even more important than who is appointed.

Two important meetings between Parish and Diocesan officers will happen soon. One with the diocesan Registrar and Archdeacon, to arrange the legal instruments by which one Parish will be turned into two and boundaries set. The other will be with the Archbishop - a Q&A session about his vision for the situation and what is involved in this new development, practically and pastorally. As this initiative is his, I have to take the back seat. Soon, I will be leading only the city centre mission initiative, and the new born Parish of Cathays will be emerging under different leadership, and hopefully with new ideas.

Lot cast in a fair ground
In a way it would be better for both entities to have new leadership, and both start afresh, but I've only just got started after four years, finding openings to do useful things as an unofficial ambassador for the Church in Wales, as well as the Gospel of Christ in the world of government and commerce. The Archbishop is keen to encourage me to respond in whatever way I can. While I still worry about 'burn-out', and whether or not my health will cope, it's an honour to be entrusted (at my age) with such an irrresistible challenge. Yes, I wish I was forty five again, to have sufficient energy for what could be achievable.

Long-suffering laity
Our urban church communities have for the most part been accustomed for decades to welcoming new clergy as assistant curates, chaplains, priests-in-charge, with little or no choice about who comes, or how long they stay, ranging from two to five years. Turnover of clergy is proving more rapid in these times of contraction in church membershp. For many in the early years of ministry their first few jobs are stepping stones to greater responsibility, usually meaning out in the suburbs, or in a commuter town or village. Parishioners usually welcome them without wearying, accept patiently being part of the process. For that I take my hat off to them. Incumbents of multi-church or large city parishes tend to stay the longest and provide the continuity. They also tend to be of rising seniority, more reluctant to move, once reaching the age of eligibility for possession of a free bus pass.

Restlessness assuaged
I've always been restless, yet have managed to stay on average seven years in places I've worked, long enough to see through a complete phase in community life. I'm still eager for things new, and for once I have met my match in the heart of Cardiff. It's been four years on non-stop change for me. Never a dull moment in the Parish, in the city centre. Enough to assuage my fiercest hunger. In the remaining years before I retire, I'll be an observer participant in the redevelopment of the capital's commercial heart, challenged to find and keep a nice quiet dull stable background routine at the heart of relentless movement and change - not to mention the comings and goings of fellow pastors and re-shapings of the insitutions of the church as a result of down-sizing. The challenge is getting my pace right, knowing that not every stimulus requires instant response.

Owning up to our sufferings
It concerns me greatly to observe the on-going procession of clergy struggling with ill-health, taking early retirement, breaking down, even dying prematurely, and know how at the root of the health issue is people not noticing themselves being ground down by their burden of pastoral concerns, driven to despair by indifference, or the flight into trivia or conflict by people they deal with. It's even difficult to enter into open debate about these matters, because it's deemed as being too 'personal', or doing one's laundry in public. The church is called by baptism into solidarity with Christ in a suffering world. We're not good at owning our sufferings, for fear of being regarded as self-pitying, maybe. Denial carries the risk of not being open to receive the healing we need.

Monday, September 04, 2006

This summer of change

Where did August go?

A month already since my last post. Was I busy or something? I'm not really sure. Everyday life has been pretty routine one way or another, except that both my colleagues were on leave in the first two weeks, which meant there was nobody around to discuss things with. There's been a few special events, concerts, and a mission fayre raising nearly £1,100 one busy sunny Saturday at St John's, but nothing too frantic, apart from in the Tea Room, where valiant volunteers have been coping somedays with long queues of expectant customers.
This summer there has been a significant rise in the number of visitors to St John's. This must be partly due to the publication of the Centenary Town Trail booklet, which guide visitors to places worth visiting, marking the pavement outside each with a special plaque to identify it. Early in July, we received a box with a couple of hundred English copies and a couple of dozen translation copies in French, German and Welsh. These disappeared off our literature rack in a month, and we had to ask for more. They vanish at the rate of half a dozen a day, and our church guide leaflets vanish sometimes so quickly that the racks need replenishing two, three times a week. Happily we bought a new photocopier for the church and can now replenish in situ.
From these small telltale signs, I'd guesstimate that we're getting over a thousand visitors a week this summer. That's what we normally get in the run up to Christmas when there's a charity card shop operating, and it's double what we were getting last summer. This year our first serious efforts to make the church better known in the realm of tourism publicity (i.e. we invested money in the coty's marketing programme for the first time). It has certainly shown pleasing results. It's not just about culture or history either. We offer in our literature rack four Christian enquiry leaflets which I wrote several years ago, the beginning of a series I have yet to complete. These have been taken up in double the numbers per week usually expected, in line with the overall visitor increase, rather than a sudden upsurge of interest in Christian questions. Come to think of it, I've not posted these leaflets on the parish website. I must do this now......
Here's the link

Demolition days
Now, where was I? August has seen more city centre building closures in preparation for the three year redevelopment programme. The Public Library, barely 25 years old, yet due to vanish soon, stands empty. It has been re-located just the other side of the main railway line in quite a smartly done up collection of large yellow portakabins arranged as temporary housing for stock, plus a lending facility, all destined to last until the new 'iconic' building is constructed (four years or so?). This will open next week. The Ice Rink, to be re-located in the Sports Village to be constructed down in Cardiff Bay, will get temporary housing until the Sports Village project gets fully under way, in a pupose built arena imported from Finland. Within days of final closure the old rink was being stripped, them demolished from the back, out towards the main street. Soon there'll be no more than a hole, and lots of modern memories. It too was built only 25 years ago.
The 29th August, when the church commemorated the Martyrdom of our parish patron, St John the Baptist, was also the date when, for the first time since 1932, you could look past the west front of St James’ Parish Church, from Newport Road, and see Tredegarville church school, on the south side of the building, behind a pile of rubble following the demolition of the church hall. It’s a different school you see today, as the Victorian buildings were demolished and rebuilt in the 1960s. The poshly named 'Guildhall' was built in 1933, and used in various ways as a both Parish hall and school building, until the new school was erected.

Forgotten history quest
Nobody seems to recall when the dingy looking Guildhall Annex was added. Also an eyesore. It's gone too. I'd like to find out more, as we’re gathering information to enable the whole story of School and Parish Church at Tredegarville to be told when we have a European Heritage Open Day at St James’ on 16th September. Church records, will be available for inspection in church, and school log books in school. I've been researching these for points of interest over the past 145 years to mount an exhibition chronicling the journey since the early 1860s when a Parish educational mission started on the site which then became a proper school. It later developed into a ‘church planting’ project. St James was built and opened in 1894.
Mission through education was the means to building a church of ‘living stones’, a thriving community of faith. Nowadays there’s no more than a handful of ‘living stones’ left. We haven’t yet discovered how to rise to the missionary challenge of the 21st century. But we do have a great model from our own parish history to guide us, and two outstanding Parish schools that are a vital sign of Christian new life. Multi-racial, multi-cultural, including children of many gifts, abilities and disabilities as equals who learn together and build together with their teachers a community of learning with faith at its heart – faith in God, faith in others. Bricks and mortar, the space occupied, are means to this end.
In their neglected dilapidated state, the Guildhall and Annex had become an eyesore wedged between a dignified Victorian monument, and the shiny new surfaces of Admiral House, transformed from unused office space, to apartments for 140 people. Their demolition relieves the Parish of a burden. It makes space to enlarge the school’s playground, and provides extra vehicle access and parking for the church. How much more pleasing to the eye it all will be once the job is finished. The relief at this step is immense.
Chris, my new curate, working with speed and enthusiasm has edited and updated the St James' history guide with new pictures and extra text bringing it all up to date. She's desk-top published an edition to make souvenir copies for people when they gather to mourn the closure of St James' and mark the move into the school for worship, on Heritage day. It's a bit ironic. Some might say it's rubbing salt into the wound to show off a glorious building and its history, then shut the doors on it. But nobody wants to pay to keep it open, either for worship or for socail purposes, as I have found out painfully this past two years. But, in moving back worship into the school, we are returning to where the church community in West Adamsdown first began.

Mighty incompetence
Part of the answer to where August went is the intense worrying produced by the necessity of getting the gas supply cut off from the mains to allow the demolition team to work. For four weeks, British Gas held us to ransom from mid-July, promising on four separate occasions to show up and do the job, which we'd promptly paid £250 for, (in advance, before they would even consider scheduling the job), involving taking out the gas meter and terminating the supply at the main pipe. On three occasions success was sabotaged by the inability of the three companies involved in managing aspects of the gas supply to pass accurate information between them. It held up progress on demolition for the best part of three weeks. At last, it’s over, and new boundary fencing has been erected. The re-surfacing of the playground will now have to happen in the first week of term. The city centre re-development team have all my sympathy!