Thursday, March 29, 2007

Different kinds of ground-breaking

Palm Sunday arrived early for us today at Tredegarville School, where Fr Roy Doxsey, Chris and I shared in an end of term Eucharist with distribution of palm branches in the school hall. Roy had already been up to St Teilo's Church Comprehensive school to do an assembly there, in the rush hour traffic, and dashed back to Adamsdown, joining us ten minutes behind schedule. It's a good three miles journey either way, and the driving is very stressful. Unfortunately, a sense of duty isn't always good for the health.

For Chris, this was her last service with us in the Parish, before moving on to Radyr. She was clearly moved by the children's cheery singing and shouting Hosannas. I'm sorry to see her go, and won't enjoy working solo as an ordained pastor in our setting. Being on the 'edge of the centre' is one thing, but being on the edge of the church is rather different. And that's what it feels like when your colleagues are all somewhere else ploughing their own furrows, too busy to down tools and catch up on life, or make plans together.

Anyway, I got back to St John's well before the midday Eucharist, as I had an appointment with Danny McGee, the site foreman for the southern churchyard work, to bury the bits and pieces of bone which had been carefully sifted out of the earth moved and set aside for re-burial. Apparently in one corner of the area excavated for the path, a concentration of disconnected bones had been unearthed, probably buried there last time work was done to create an entrance to the Old Library cellar. At that time headstones were all placed in a unnatural straight line in from of the boundary fence, and concreted in.

A small plastic sachet was unearthed with notes on it giving the reference numbers of the plots from which the bones had been gathered. This was re-buried in the metre square pit the men had dug to re-house the bones - about 15 kilos worth in all. This time they were re-buried in the middle of a bed containing shrubs, with a mark incised on the nearby path to record the spot. I said some appropriate prayers of thanksgiving and committal over them before the hole was filled in. It was really good to see that this small team of construction workers were conscientious about doing this, as a duty to our Cardiffian forebears. One sometimes gets the impression that very little is sacred any more, especially when you come into church to find one of the city centre's 'street people' puffing away at a cigarette in a side chapel.

Tonight I joined a small working group assembled by Fr Peter Collins, administrator of the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of St David, is preparing for a major development funding appeal, to enable their strategically sited building to be able to play a fuller role in the life of both the city and the Archdiocese of Cardiff. The Cathedral's congregation is growing significantly, not least because of the number of new foreign nationals, among the students and workers of the city. The Cathedral Council has started exploring how it may be possible to make more of the responses of the prime site building, right next to the new SDII development.

What I was able to share with them was some of the experience I've accumulated in the past three years of doing city centre mission, and learning about how much all our churches need to do in order to get the recognition they deserve and play a full part in shaping the future of the city. If was comforting to hear other people echoing my discoveries from their own experience ... at least we know what we have to work at together. Not least learning how to dialogue with people who belong to the foreign culture of local government and civil service.

Yesterday lunchtime I attended a ground breaking ceremony to inaugurate formally the construction work for the new city library on the site of the old Marriott hotel car park. My friend Denzil John, Pastor of Tabernacl Baptist church was there with his organist and a couple of deacons. I often find myself in this kind of 'social?' event the only cleric among the politicians and executive 'suits', so it was good to be able to share the moment with a colleague. I may be the lone Anglican in the city, centre, but I am consoled by having fine ecumenical colleagues.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Urban Mission - post script

I just received the minutes from Friday's meeting. I found the following points made about city centre mission worth sharing.

i). This is a dimension of ministry with its own distinctive, if not exclusive challenges and opportunities that has been grossly overlooked, under resourced and neglected by the churches. (A shared experience and gripe)

ii). The city centre is also at the hub of the urban complex and therefore integral to the notion of urban mission in its widest expression.

iii). There is need, therefore, to:
a). find ways of keeping it on the Church’s agenda.
b). support those who are engaged in this ministry.
c). seek ways to provide an induction for those who are asked to take up this ministry;
d). introduce into theological education the notion of city centre ministry alongside inner-city, rural and suburban ministries.

Yes, it was a fruitful meeting. The remorable comment I recall went something this: "City Centre Mission involves being there where the business is done - looking, listening, waiting and learning for a long time in order to know when, where and how to contribute in a Christian way." No a popular discipline in this era of quick fixes 'spin' and makeovers.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Trip to Brum city centre

A journey to Birmingham today, to meet at Carr's Lane United Reform Church in the city centre with others active and interested in city centre mission. The second follow up meeting to the conference organised in Cardiff some 18 months ago.

The train journey was a real pleasure, in bright sunny weather, running up the Severn Estuary as far as Gloucester, then north to Cheltenham and on to Birmingham, with signs of early spring flowers in the embankments along the way.

Carr's Lane is only a five minute walk from New Street Station, on theother side of the new Bullring shopping centre, which I last visited with a bus load of Cardiff retailers shortly after it was opened over two and a half years ago.

There were seven of us at the meeting. Three of us from Cardiff, our host the Minister of Carr's Lane, a priest from Oxford, and a town planner from Sheffield who is a long standing member of the Urban Theology Unit. Also present was Eric Dunmow who is a national co-ordinator for an ecumenical Urban Mission research project.

It was a valuable and encouraging time of reflection and sharing. We heard about the further re-development of Birmingham's city centre, about to begin - well in a sense it's already begun. The famous cylindrical Rotunda tower, adjacent to New Street Station is being converted from offices to 300 apartments, as happened to Admiral House next to St James' on Newport Road. Heaven help those fitting furnishing and carpets there! More new apartment buildings are to follow in the new five years.

Carrs Lane Church is also due for a makeover, although only forty years old. It has a worship sanctuary, and hosts a large main congregation and several newer Christian worshipping communities as well. The church centre is large and active, hosting a wide range of social groups and activities, numbering in their hundreds across the year. The pastor doesn't have to run this, it's managed separately. The plan is now to adapt some of their church plant to residential use to provide free accomomdation to Christian community workers in the heart of the city.... things you can do when you have a budget of £400k, and relatively low maintenance buildings! For the most part we Anglicans have to learn to do more with less, with restricted ways in which we can use our buildings, and diminishing personnel and funds with which to work. Carrs Lane is an example of a successful gathered congregation with a clear sense of mission and radical Christian values. The present is the third, possible fourth building on this site in 200 years. All power to them.

Our meeting was only three hours, plus lunchtime, spent in the marvellous Arts Café restaurant of St Martin's in the Bullring, five minutes walk away, the other side of the Selfridge's end of the shopping centre. We had live piano music from an elderly gent who knew all the 20th century favourites. We could have finished the afternoon with thé dansant very nicely. St Martin's also had an makeover, as a result of the Bullring redevelopment. The west end of the church was remodelled to welcome visitors better, include a bookshop and a new 'sculptural' font with a living stream of water was installed.

The only thing that grates is the apparent permanent suspension of two screens for video projection either side of the arch at the tower crossing, cutting up the lines of an elegant Victorian gothic arch in a most intrusive way. They were there last time I visited, although they look as if they've become permanent. I wish their Archdeacon would insist they are taken down when not in use.

After the meeting, with two hours to wait for my reserved train seat, I wandered the crowded streets and shopping malls, observing how busy and thriving it all seemed to be for an average Monday. What will it be like when the centre is re-populated as well?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Smash and grab

Last night thirty members of St John's congregation gathered for a Requiem Eucharist, in thanksgiving and remembrance of our friend Vincent, whose funeral took so very long to arrange, because the hospital had somehow managed to have him as a patient for a fortnight without taking any details of next of kin from him, or if they did, they managed to conceal the fact from everyone, including themselves. Our choir robed up to meet Vincent's coffin beforehand at the south gate, and escorted into church for the service. It was a moving simple 'family' occasion with church members present who had known him for most of his life, or worked with him in the tea room. His own closest surviving relatives could not be present, living in Australia and America and unable to travel. His coffin remained there overnight, decked in flowers arranged by
church members.

Today at ten, there were forty odd people in church for the funeral office - some of those who had attended the night before were there again, but not all, as some had to work. Others who couldn't attend last night made it for this morning's service or came to the Crematorium for the Farewell and Committal. There were a dozen members of Cathays Methodist church present. He attended their Tuesday lunch club regularly. They were his friends too. Vincent's poor sight and deafness made him seem more of a lonely person than he really was. He was content to live alone after his mother's death fifteen or more years ago, but remained constantly connected with two local Christian communities where his friendship was treasured.

As we left for Thornhill Crematorium after the funeral office, there was a bit of traffic chaos in the High Street outside. At the entrance to the Castle Arcade, I noticed police cordon tape strung across the battered front of the Clive Ranger jewellery shop, and a parked Panda car nearby - signs of a smash and grab raid. I learned later that it had happened just a short while before we'd left church. Two hundred thousand pounds worth of goods stolen, including two valuable Fabergé eggs on display. Balaclava'd men with a sledge hammer had got away with daylight robbery on a busy thoroughfare.

I spoke later in the day to the shop manager, to express my sympathies. He simply said how thankful he was that nobody was injured. He was philosophical about the assault on the shop, having seen much worse outcomes in his thirty years as a trader in precious things. And he graciously thanked me for 'my time'. I was amazed he had time to stop a minute to speak to me, a stranger in a dog collar, what with all the details of a big insurance claim to sort out, and a shop front to get repaired as soon as possible.

A strange event accompanying Vincent's final farewell.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Winners and losers

In the distance this evening, the sounds of celebration, as a result of Wales' Rugby victory this afternoon. The city centre was full of people of all ages, male and female in rugby supporters' shirts, a happy raucous sort of atmosphere, less nerve racking than when a football match is on at the stadium. Often there's tension in the air. Happily, the police have become very skilled at handling these big occasions, when an extra seventy thousand supporters turn up. Regrettably policing doesn't stretch to the insistence that all bus drivers switch off their motors, to reduce the level of noisome fumes polluting the air. I hope that one day this will be the case. If half of the hundred or so buses that turn up leave their motors running for many hours, this has a significant impact on air quality - even when there's a cold wind blowing like today.

With hundreds of extra police officers doing weekend duties on match days, leave has to be taken in lieu during the weeks that follow. This reduces patrolling officers on the streets to a bare minimum during the day, and it also slows down investigation of crimes. Since the car parks have been demolished, the addicts who haunt them, either to trade drugs, burgle vehicles to raise income to feed the habit, or simply take drugs therin have to find somewhere else to go. This past few weeks there have been signs of surreptitious drug taking going on in a secluded corner of the north aisle, despite the flow of people through the church much of the time. There have been several more purse thefts as well from unwitting people in the tea-room. We've been promised some CCTV cameras, but are awaiting their installation. It's keeping us on the alert, and we've decided to restrict opening hours to the time the tea-room is operating until they are installed.

Some days now, there are people out begging unhindered next to cash-points, on the main streets. Out on the pathway through the churchyard, in addition to the regular guy who sits there opposite the church gate, there's another one or two waiting just around the corner for him to net his quota for a fix (market rate, a fiver) and leave the pitch free. All because the regular police patrols are unlikely to happen due to the police needing to take leave. This is the ignored every day price (on top of the huge extra cost in police overtime) for all these prestigious events in the stadium. And let's not mention the litter mountain, on the streets, in the churchyard, piling up in the church entrance, to be cleared before I can get in for the eight o'clock service tomorrow morning. We all get to pay for things nobody asked us if really wanted them.

The County's budget is causing trouble due to the impact of a huge over-spend on social services. The details of this I'm not really aware of, but the result is cutbacks in schools, highways and other services. Social services has been a problem area for some time, not living up to expectations. It looks as if extra funding has not really sorted the problems. I wonder if this is anything to do with the rising scale of need? Extra care for the growing number of elderly people with health care problems, support workers for people with disabilities - all valid causes, but still likely to be under-provided for. What bothers me is the limited amount of provision to de-toxify addicts, and help them resolve their often complex problems that drive them to substance abuse in the first place. There are so many wounded and weak people around, and they are demanding. But, a society is only as good as its ability to care for its needy members. So much investment is made in either the pursuit of leisure or in defending our society and possessions from threat of violence, that would be much better spent on giving a better life to those broken by suffering. It's left to people's immense fund of good-will to raise money for charities to tackle issues which the moral poverty of our social policy fails to address. Thank heavens. I just wish a shift in state priorities that could make a difference was somewhere on the horizon. Will it figure in upcoming local elections? I doubt it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

An unwelcome unforgettable day

When something terrible happens you don't expect, you tend to remember where you were when you heard. I was writing up Chemistry practical notes in my hostel room when another student listening to the radio knocked the door, announcing President Kennedy's assassination. I was sitting in the lounge in the Chaplaincy house in Monaco, overlooking the sea, when breaking news of 9/11 was flashed up on the TV screen. This is a day to remember because of the murder of Father Paul Bennett, the Vicar of Trecynon and a fellow priest of the diocese of Llandaff, a beloved community pastor and family man, grandfather like me, just three years younger. What a waste.

I'd just received the good news that the Parish of St Agnes, Port Talbot had shown an interest and been granted permission to take the beautiful reredos (by a follower of Sir Ninian Comper) from the now redundant St James' church and install it in their own church - one of the last pieces of unfinished business standing between our Parish and the final disposal of the building. I rang Iris the churchwarden to tell her, only to be told that her sister had rung from Trecynon to tell her of the killing of their local minister. The sister lives in the street by the church. Such a small world. Only when I checked the Beeb news website a little later, did I realise the victim was a colleague in the diocese.

Later, I thought, this could have been me. I was attacked during a carol service last December by a man enduring a psychotic episode, and my jacket shredded as a result of him clawing at me. When he went for my throat I had to resort to bending back his fingers sharply to extract myself from his grip. All this, while I was waiting at the back of the congregation to go forward and give the final blessing. (I had to ditch the jacket quietly and try to look casual.) It was a bit shocking. But what might have happened if he had been carrying a knife un-noticed? People who knew the man in question blamed his behaviour on wrong medication. But the real issue is the insufficient resources given to mental health care, drug addiction included. Many in prison should really be in hospital instead.

The fact is, too many sick people are receiving inadequate attention for their ailments of mind and spirit. Recently I have been accompanying someone living bravely with a severe emotional disorder which remains untreated, as nobody seems to understand why it doesn't yield to the usual treatments. The 'support worker' on the case has no knowledge and understanding of his client's disorder. Case management and the client's social needs is a long tale of lost dossiers and buck passed around with great earnestness. And we dare budget more cash to fund weapons of mass destruction, whilst society is subjected to increasing on-on-one acts of criminal violence that destroys innocent lives.

Even if it turns out that Fr Paul's killer is insane and not temporarily crazy on drugs, it's still an indictment on the values and priorities we allow to be imposed upon us. We fail to do our utmost to deal with suffering that drives people to insanity, murderous, suicidal or otherwise.

Paul, I pray the journey you have so abruptly started allows you to savour the blessings of the life you left today and that they will equip you for the embrace of the even greater joy into which you are welcomed. Trecynon and all your friends will surround, comfort and cherish Georgina and all your family. The rest of us have to strive a lot harder against this world's demonic addiction to violence let alone all the other things people crave.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Global family at prayer

At today's Sung Eucharist, a couple who've been attending St John's for several years occasionally, and of late more frequently brought with them their son and daughter in law, visiting from Ulster, with their first new grand-daughter, Eva three months old. They'd announced that they were all coming to church last week, with much delight, and asked if the baby could have a special blessing, which I was pleased to agree.

I offered a prayer of blessing and welcome for the family and their new arrival just before the Peace, so that everyone could go and greet them and have a look at the baby, proudly in Grandpa's hands. The family shared a super chocolate cake with us all afterwords, and Bethan - Andrew and Ceri's daughter also had a fifth birthday cake to share, and we all sang 'Happy Birthday'. Eva is just the same age as my grand daughter Jasmine, currently in the Canadian Rockies with her parents, much missed.

Andrew, our seminarian on parish placement from St Michael's this year, preached for the third Sunday in a row. He's nicely thoughtful and confident, and was willing enough to add the extra sermons into his workload - last week the Principal came to assess him. It's refreshing to listen to someone who is still in the process of learning how he can convey his convictions, and is putting in the necessary work of sounding his own thoughts off against the Christian writers he is studying. It means I get a glimpse of Andrew's ideas and the ideas of those he is finding stimulating. Second hand theology? Yes. Only ideas that are transmissible and intelligible are worthy of consideration.

The other nice thing is that Ceri and their three under-five children accompany him to church. Along with our two regular under twos, and three older children, twenty percent of the congregation were under thirteen. When I think of the young adults who are also coming regularly as well, our main act of worship for the week is truly all-age representative, even if there are only four dozen of us. And with us always, there are people from different parts of the world, either regulars like Chieje from Nigeria or the Chinese woman visiting from Hong Kong, part of whose graduate study programme is here. There's a constancy and consistency about this encounter in worship that is healthy and encouraging, no matter how traditional some may regard it. Yes, it's quality rather than numbers. It's a small congregation that somehow always succeeds in visibly reflecting the church universal when it meets.

You just can't beat it.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Swings and roundabouts

At the end of today's midday Eucharist, noticed a government brown envelope addressed to me on the sacristy table. It informed me that I was being offered a grant of £30,000 to appoint a research worker to investigate and build a database on every kind of religious community to be found in the City and Borough of Cardiff. For some time I have been pestering local government policy-makers to revise their own ideas about how to involve all kinds religious communities in democratic consultative processes. There are no longer obviously strong institutions and structures through which religious bodies, whether non-Christian or Christian, can be solicited for their views. As a result, religious voices have long been absent from debate about what kind of city we want and how its future should be shaped. If things are as good as they are, it's because there are private individuals who practice Christian values in their work, but this doesn't amount to a coherent or collective voice.

I'm being offered this grant, as a representative of City Centre Churches Together the Parish, and the diocese, who found himself, back in November being put on the spot by a couple of LGOs who had learned about the government making funding available for 'capacity building' with a 'social inclusion' remit. The process was very rushed and made the deadline only by courier. I wasn't confident that the application was strong enough or sufficiently well presented to succeed, so when I opened the envelope, I couldn't believe my eyes.

I was about to take off with Clare for twenty four hours, visiting two different friends who had suffered bereavements, and the discovery couldn't have come at a less convenient time, since it meant having to make a series of phone calls to share the good news, and start a collaborative process that will bring together others who share an interest in developing inter-religious networks around the city, and involve them in shaping the job brief, and application process. But after an hour of excited ringing around, we were able to get away.

This is a bit of a break through, since the interested stakeholders don't usually have much of a pretext to work together on a common project. This funding, albeit only for a year, has the potential to be a real catalyst to partnership among religious communities, and hopefully the outcome will be beneficial to those in the local government scene who are genuinley keen to cast the net wider for fresh ideas and inspirations in the complex task of running a heterogeneous modern city.

So, I may not have a future working with other ministerial colleagues at the grass roots in the city centre, but the future holds new possiblities of collaboration on the wider municipal scene. All this in twenty four hours !

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Unwelcome news

This evening, I visited Calvary Baptist church in Canton for the first time, to give a talk to over thirty people, in an ecumenical Lent course on prayer. I arrived three quarters of an hour early, which gave me time to relax and enjoy the building before people arrived. It's interesting in being one of the few 1930s church buildings in Cardiff, a plain, well proportioned oblong box with some high level clerestory windows - long slits. Not at all a 'churchy' building. It could have been a cinema or an auditorium. The orginal raked pews and pulpit had been removed and replaced by chairs, carpet and two low movable platforms. With its simple décor, a few large plants, and a cross on the 'east' wall, it worked very well as a flexible worship space and was thus being used to good effect. An enjoyable contrast to the majesty of St John's.

My address, on Christ's anointing at Bethany seemed to result in a fair amount of small group discussion, but in the plenary session afterwards only a few people contributed. The atmosphere was quiet, and maybe people were already gearing themselves up for prayer, I don't know, as there was almost no feedback after the session. I wonder if they'd made any sense of what I said? Most people who stopped for a cuppa in the church hall spoke with people they already knew, and no longer seemed interested in me. As I'd promised to return by 9.30pm to take a phone call, I slipped away, only to discover when I reached the car (in the rain) that I'd left my bible behind, so I had to return annoyed and embarrassed to fetch it. The awaited phone call didn't materialise either.

Among the day's correspondence was a letter confirming the departure of Chris, my deacon colleague, at the end of this month. This is a great disappointment because she has been so well received in the community, and was showing promise as a valuable contributor to city centre mission, as well as the pastoral life of school and parish. No doubt she'll be valued even more in the busy demanding suburban parish to which she'll be sent. I listen to the arguments put forward by the bosses in defence of their decision. They make no sense to me.

Working on my own is not what I want, nor what I signed up for here. I came to lead a team, to encourage collaborative ministry and do mission in the urban context. Those I was given at the outset to work with were taken away and not replaced, the formal team was broken up in January, with good intention - although I didn't agree with it. I don't seem to have the same vision or perspective as my superiors. Perhaps there's something wrong with me. Whether there is or isn't, I'll just have to get used to working on my own as a priest again. If I didn't have such a wonderful core community working with me, and belonging together, I'd be sore tempted to pack up and move on.

Nevertheless, for the moment, there's plenty of movement going on all around the centre, as the pace of both demolition and construction work picks up. Plenty to contemplate, reflect upon and interpret to the wider church, for better or for worse.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Progress at last

It's been a busy day, but the one notable thing is that while I was out the Police Inspector in charge of the Cathays station got in touch to say that Vincent's house had been accessed and relevant phone numbers retrieved to start with. Now he has to get Interpol to contact the Police in Australia to go around and tell Vince's sister in law that he's died. "As she's likely to be pretty old and we don't know what state of health she's in, it would be better to do this than for me, a stranger, to ring up long distance and tell her." I thought that was very considerate. Let's just hope that the local aussie cops are are humane and sensitive in relaying the sad news.

The astonishing thing is that his house keys weren't held by the police, but held on the ward where he died, after an ambulance man handed them over. Somehow nobody on the ward remembered this, or if they knew, thought fit to act upon it. They simply got stuck at the point of embarrassment caused by realising what when he died the still had no record of who his next of kin was. Normal procedure seems to have collapsed in ruins. And it's not surprising, since every other person I spoke to about this matter on the ward, in the social work office, seemed only to be working part-time. Whilst people were aware of the case and its concerns, there seemed to be no coherent way of working together and sharing information and making decisions. Failure to remember the keys has had a lot of people running around fruitlessly for a whole week.

Hopefully now it won't be too long before we can arrange a decent funeral for him.

One more piece of progress to note. The building site hoardings around town are finally beginning to get decorated with information about who's doing what to the city centre and why. It's the best part of two months late. Hoardings on both sides of the churchyard site are now decorated with childrens' art work. Tomorrow there's a photo opportunity for SD2 bigwigs with a couple of councillors to publicise the effort in aid of 'Keep Cardiff Tidy'. I'm doing assembly at school first thing, then celebrating the school's 'class mass' at St German's straight after, which means I won't get to take part in this. Just as well, I'd only embarrass them by saying "Too little, too late."

Monday, March 05, 2007

Notes of disquiet

Our guests got off to an early start to get their Easyjet flight back to Geneva from Bristol, which robbed me of the vital Monday morning lie-in which I find essential to enable to recover from my four service Sunday. It was just as well, however since had to rendezvous with a couple of teachers and sixty year ten youngsters from Corsham Comprehensive school near Bath at St John's.

This GCSE year group does a visit to our city centre church, a mosque and the Millennium stadium in a quest to wrap some experience around the RE curriculum items that are concerned with the social functions of different religious gathering places - sport here is regarded as a kind of alternate religious activity I guess. Heaven knows what the kids make of this. I gave them a ten minute introduction to the history and contemporary function of the building including as many curricular buzzwords as I could muster, then allows them to wander around and take photos for another ten minutes before they left to get on a bus to go to one of the two mosques in Bute Street.

Notably, this group was comprised almost entirely of white English students. Credit to their teachers for trying to open up their students' eyes to how others live and socialise. Another group of the same size will visit at the same time tomorrow.

After lunch, God on Mondays re-started at Tredegarville school. Numbers of people attending are perhaps half those when we moved over from church. It's not the sort of commitment that many find easy to sustain. Still, it was pleasing to hear from several parents of their delight that the older of their offspring have been offered places at St Teilo's church high school, to which they had hopefully applied. Having to respond on their behalf to the school admissions officer's enquiry forms was just a bit different this year, since the closure of St James which some parents would have conscientiously attended with their kids (albeit in support of their high school applications), introduced a measure of uncertainty. It meant that I had to explain in each form what 'God on Mondays' was. I don't know what the admissions officer made of it, but the kids have their places, where their parents and peers want them to be for next September.

Glenys, the Head Teacher is worrying over budget cuts which have come swiftly due to crisis management of the County Council budget on the one hand, exacerbated by the sudden departure of eleven Czech Roma children, whose accommodation was condemned. Instead of keeping them together, so that the children and parents can get language support, and properly managed social inclusion, the families have been dispersed in small groups between three different local authorities outside Cardiff. Nobody is happy about this, even if their new accommodation is superior. The school's very caring community of teachers of support workers are distressed because they are aware of the impact of this disruption and dispersion upon the children's education and social acceptance in new communities far apart from each other - and they've all been here in Adamsdown because they are from the same area, and belonged to the same social network, which led to the migration of these families in the first place.

It's now nearly a week since Vincent died. Still, nobody has managed to find out any information about next of kin or will executors, even though its quite likely that all the information is locked up in the house from which he was taken by ambulance, two weeks before he died in hospital. Whoever locked his front door behind them when he was stretchered out must know where the keys are, but that information has not yet been obtained by the hospital social workers. People ring me to ask when the funeral is to be and I have to explain to them that nobody seems to be willing to take the authority to go back to his house and find out. If no information is forthcoming by Wednesday, the hospital social services will hand the case to hospital bereavement, who in the absence of any information will proceed to arrange a paupers' funeral for him - something that none of his friends would want to see happen. It's as if nobody is willing to take responsibility for the simple procedure that will resolve this case. Still his surviving next of kin, a sister in law in Australia has not been informed of his death. It's very difficult not to be able to do anything about this other than nag the people involved to get on with sorting it all out.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Eclipse night at the Opera

After a day of modest sightseeing with our two guests, we attended a fine production of Puccini's Madame Butterfly in the Millennium Centre Opera House. It's great melodrama with a tear-jerking sad end - although I get the sad end confused with that of La Boheme, so was expecting the tragic heroine to die of consumption, not to commit hari-kiri. But then it's ages since I last saw it - probably before liberetto surtitles became commonplace. With opera, it helps to know something of the plot beforehand, if you want to avoid having to read the programme synopsis - generally rendered in small print that's hard to read, even if you have remembered your specs under the gloom of the auditorium lights.

Perhaps it was the way it was produced and acted that made me notice how starkly this opera's portrayed a little piece of the human impact of American colonialism. True, it's a plot that could have emerged from the life of any maritime nation, but given that it was written in the first decade of the twentieth century, by an Italian at a time when Italians were emigrating in their tens of thousands to the USA, I wondered what the impact this opera had on italo-american relations at the time.

Manel asked if I was going to wear evening dress, as she planned to wear a suitable sari to grace the occasion. Which I agreed to do. I was quite surprised to find that I was the only person out of at least a thousand other males who was thus attired. Most guys did smart casual attire without tie. Even the front of house staff were uniformed in casual black tee shirts with logos. I felt more conspicuous than I would have done if I had gone in a clerical collar, as I have done on other occasions when arriving straight from a work appointment to go out for the evening. Normally it's not the sort of thing that would cross my mind to observe, except that I really thought I was suitably dressed for the occasion. But as Clare said - nowadays, anything goes.

We came out at the end of the performance to a clear sky with an already ninety percent eclipsed moon over our heads. Shortly after we arrived home the hour long total eclipse was beginning. Observing it using my father's binoculars (US World War Two Navy surplus bargain from 1955, I remember his pleasure in buying them) was a moment of awe and wonder to share with our guests. The muddy blue brown veil covering the moon's shape made its actual spheroid shape much more distinct. Often the bright blue white light reflecting from a full moon makes it appear as a flat disk, even under low power magnification.

I suspect we shall remember this eclipse long after we've forgotten what we went to see at the opera tonight.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Dydd Gwyl Dewi

It's St David's Day. We celebrated at St John's this morning by hosting the annual Lord Mayor's service, to which the Lord Mayor of Cardiff invites his counterparts from all over the Principality, plus other civic and military dignitories. Last night a small crew decorated the church with a hundred bunches of daffodils, obtained from the Riverside Farmers' Market on Sunday morning, so the church smelt fragrant and looked beautiful with bright sunlight pouring in. There were over four hundred people there. Aled Edwards the new General Secretary of Churches Together in Wales preached a thoughtful sermon, and we sang all the expected traditional Welsh Hymns. There were so many bright eyes and smiling faces to greet at the door afterwards.

We were pleased to have shared in such a prestigious event, and given it that homely welcoming touch. We were especially delighted that the Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff turned up. He was pleased to conclude the service with a blessing. Our home team plus the people from the City protocol office were all so well organised that all I had to do was make sure the microphone system was on and properly adjusted beforehand, and receive the collection at the altar at the end. Most enjoyable.

The occasion generated such a lot of extrovert energy in me, that it wasn't quite so easy re-focussing inwardly for the Eucharist with half a dozen people which followed on once all our guests had departed. It's part of the challenge of living with great diversity in everyday ministerial life to be able to make the switch and do it well. It's a lot easier when well rested - and that's not always the case.

Afterwards, on my way over to Tredegarville on foot to be present for the afternoon session of the school eisteddfod, I took a walk around the demolition site with my camera and found some new picture angles. I arrived in good time to share the Head Teacher's worries about budgetary cuts that will be hitting the school in the year ahead, then it was into the assembly hall, giving out competition certificates, listening to delightful winning performances of song and poetry recitations by eisteddfod participants, and then praying a blessing before we all sang 'Mae hen wlad fyn hadau' - Land of my Fathers, the Welsh National Anthem. School is such a delight.

On the way back to St John's to pick up my bicycle, it was pleasing to hear the band of the Queen's Dragoon Guards (aka, 'The Welsh Cavalry'), some musicians in their scarlet uniforms, wearing their fine plumed helmets in style, performing outside of Marks and Spencers. They had one of their light armoured vehicles on display (two more outside the church was well), and young soldiers helping up mums and kids to climb inside or have a photo taken. Someone gave me a leaflet, reminding me that the regiment is marching through the city on parade tomorrow, the 21st anniversary of them being granted the Freedom of the City. There were lots of soldiers in fatigues scattered among the shoppers, evidently off duty, clutching shopping bags from the big stores, and wandering around with their mates. All very peaceful and easy on a sunny afternoon.

They've not long returned from duty the Gulf, where will they go next? Their list of active service duties all over the world's trouble spots is long and impressive. I bet they like being able to dress up and parade in a welcoming place. But having said that their very presence as a highly visible group of service men and women makes them a potential target for terrorists determined to make a public statement. So, a public high profile occasion of this kind is a nightmare for policing and security services. As many as a third of our neighbours around Queen Anne Square are service families. There's quite a turnover, as is common with military personnel, but I confess I'm still not entirely sure who is military and who isn't, as it's quite rare to see anyone going to and from work in uniform. Soldiers off-duty don't want to draw attention to themselves these days.

This evening, Gill and Manel arrived from Geneva to spend a few days with us and attend the opera at the Millennium Centre on Saturday night. So good to see two old friends. Quite troubling to hear them speak of the insecurities they experience from opportunistic street crime of their home city, so long considered safe and well policed, but suffering from new waves of criminal activities that sadly seem to accompany movements of people from abroad, whether displaced by war or economic ambition. To judge by headlines in the local papers, one would be tempted to think that Cardiff is similarly afflicted. However, fear of crime in any context is not the same as actual crime and crime detected or reported. One way or another the world seems to be as fearful as it ever was. Our material securities seem to have made no difference whatsoever to our anxiety levels. What would Dewi Sant have made of it?