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.

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