Saturday, January 20, 2007

Back to the future

The journey home to Cardiff from Geneva was thankfully smooth, despite reports of savage weather in many parts of Britain. My host dropped me off at the airport, ten minutes away from his place on his way out to Versoix where he teaches music at the College du Leman, and so I had plenty of time to check in, go to the Migros to buy some chocolate, and send my sister a belated birthday card, before making the long walk out underground on motorised walkways to the island departure lounge. Each of these, and there are, I think four, are circular and can welcome four aircraft. Being made largely of glass, there's a marvellously entertaining view of traffic comings and goings, so time passes quickly. In just six hours from leaving the house I was making myself a late lunch at home, and sifting through the pile of post awaiting my return.

It's good to be back, to feel refreshed, and to wonder what the weeks ahead will bring.

I started slowly to think about Sunday, and the Extraordinary General Meeting we're having at St John's to re-appoint officers, as required by the Bishop's decree creating two Parishes out of one. It occurred to me that the last time St John's was on its own as the only church in a much larger Parish, was when the new Bute-Town Parish created from it in 1846 after the building (on a new site in 1843) of a new St Mary's church to replace the one destroyed by floods in the seventeenth century.

In the next sixty years half a dozen churches and schools would be built. Three of those churches remain open and two of the schools. It was a time of immense social change, population expansion and economic development. A hundred and sixty years down the line St John's is on its own with an entirely different pattern of population, with far more people on the move and passing through than ever settle in the area. It's also a time of economic development, with new businesses and technologies imposing a very different lifestyle on people, and a different kind of response to their needs from the church.

It's great to be a church in learning mode, bringing generations of experience to bear on the situation, but also having to acquire new social skills and disciplines to enable us to understand people's lives and share with them Christ's Gospel. A brief walk around the city centre this afternoon revealed that work on creating a new path across the south churchyard, and re-fashioning of the gardens therein has finally begun, albeit a year late. Finally, over five years of unpaid rent on small portions of church land leased by the city, has been paid. It's sufficient to enable us to commission work on relaying paths that have become unstable, around the south entrance of the church.

We've also been promised CCTV cameras to install within, and RadioNet equipment linking the Tea Room with other shops around town - handy for lost people and for spreading warnings about problems on street, purse snatchers and the suchlike. It sounds pretty awful, surveillance in church? Well, for some people nothing is sacred, and although mischief in church is pretty rare, the danger is that people can be caught off guard at their prayers or sharing hospitality, and above all we want people to feel safe in the house of God.

Making pathways safe, creating new ones to enable people to approach the church and relax there. It's a nice crop of images to play with, to apply to our approaches to people and their needs as well.

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