Yesterday, St Teilo's church hosted a Confirmation service foe Cardiff Deanery. When parishes were asked, a few months ago if anyone would be willing to do this, I volunteered our Parish, though there was no certainty of being able to present any candidates at the time. There was the possibility of the odd student seeking confirmation, but what I had my eye on was the possibility of making good use of this spacious church for a conventional liturgical celebration in an unusual way.
Five years ago St Teilo's was the subject of a development project which led to its daily use in term time by hundreds of music students attending rehearsals. The revenue from this and from a telecvommuications mast helps keep the church solvent, with its small, dedicated congregation. It's a beautiful building with huge potential for experiment as a place of worship - so I seized the opportunity, despite the work involved in preparing the service.
The church was in use for rehearsal up until four on the day. A handful of us turned up and set about re-arranging (humping) pews, chairs, altar and lectern, so that we could have the majority of the congregation along the north and south side lengths of the nave, with the Bishop's throne and candidates at the east end, the lectern at the west end, and the altar in the centre. This arrangement worked well, once the chuch filled up. There were about 130 people present, and 19 candidates.
Half a dozen members of the 'home team' supported the event. They worked hard and graciously to make the celebration thoughtful and dignified, something which Assistant Bishop David noted and made use of in his way of leading the celebration. I was pleased that our Deacon, Christine, and our theological student on placement, Andrew, were on hand, able to support the Bishop, which led me, after last minute anxious battles with photocopying the order of service, to help by leading a few of the musical elements of the service. That part was easy for me. Having to fuss over anxious colleagues or members would have been for me a nightmare. I'm lucky to be surrounded by mature aware and confident people who support me more than I support them.
I was glad that people in the Deanery enjoyed the event and the way it was carried out, thus able to see the potential for using a traditional Edwardian church building in a less than usual way. When I first came, the congregation were hostile to moving furniture into new arrangements, zealous about preserving the ancient status quo. Much has changed since then. The congregation has shrunk, but what is absent in numbers is made up for by the freedom and flexibility shown by members keen to find out how it is possible to make credible again the life of worship they long to see continue in this fine building.
It's a long hard struggle against the grain. The vision of a humble serving church that drove adaptation of the building for new puposes will, in the long run, be proved to be authentic - so long as this generation doesn't lose heart in the momentous struggle.