Saturday, May 19, 2007

Churchyard Path and Gates blessed

This weekend, I have a rare sense of achievement.

Yesterday, the Friday after Ascension Day, Assistant Bishop David Yeoman came to St John's to celebrate the lunchtime Eucharist, and later to dedicate the new gates and path in the south churchyard 'garden'. The churchyard closed to burials in between the World Wars. It was handed over to the Council to look after and made into a 'garden' open to the public in 1983. This didn't work very well because there was only one entrance gate. When substance abusers adopted it, the shopping public become too afraid to enter for fear of getting trapped inside, so it wasn't long before the garden was left locked. Although some flower beds were still tended, parts of it became overgrown and rubbish strewn. There was a strange incongruity between the regular appearance of fresh bin bags in the few litter bins adorning the locked garden, and the bottles, fast food wrappers, plastic and cardboard boxes thrown over or stuffed through the railings. A sad site indeed. An icon of communal slovenliness.

Part of the deal made by the City with developers Land Securities, involved money spent on works in the public realm. Newer smarter street furniture, lighting and granite paving, also a makeover for the churchyard 'garden' that involved putting a new path through from East to West and giving it gates which could be closed at night. The church council was very happy with this proposal and agreed to ask for a Faculty to cover the work over three years ago. Long delays ensued, not least because of the slowness of city lawyers negotiating with the Representative Body of the Church in Wales a new lease for the new path, plus a settlement of monies outstanding on other portions of land being used by the city to provide a basement entrance to the Old Library next door. It's a long saga, too boring to tell, and it started within a couple of weeks of my taking officer in November 2002. It was finally secured and back rent paid up in January 2007. Then in March, work began on the 'garden' make-over, and the construction site shutters only came down at the beginning of this week.

It rained for the ceremony. Nevertheless we had a brass trio to play fanfares and accompany the blessing. Four children from Gabalfa Primary school, which had produced some winning poster designs to adorn the construction site fence for the duration, helped the Bishop to pull open the gates and break the red ribbon which was threaded through the railings around the entire site. It looked great. Council Leader Rodney Berman and local SD2 project manager Simon Armstrong made short speeches, and then the assembly withdrew into church for tea and sandwiches with more brass music. Despite the weather it was a satisfying occasion. Most of the guests were City officials, SD2 staff or church members. Most I had met, worked with and know by name, because of my role as City Centre Missioner. I had a certain sense of satisfaction in being able to welcome people to the ceremony and into church, knowing that almost all of the non-St.John's people have only ever seen me out and about in my workaday dress. NO doubt I'll get teased about that as time goes on. We're all working for the good of the city in our different ways, and share the same sense of pride and adventure in these changing times.

On a sad note - when I went to visit Nia Wyn-Jones manufacturing the gates in her workshop, her mother Gwen was working on them with her, welding pieces together, a woman of my age. A few weeks after the gate work was finished, she died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage. Her husband attended the ceremony and told me the story. Nia was off somewhere filming for S4C TV and sent him to represent her. The gates are a credit to Nia's craftsmanship. But now they're also a memorial to her mother.

One other sign of the times. At the City Centre Retail Partnerhship Board meeting on Tuesday I was presented with a Safenet shortwave radio for use in the Tea Room. We've had a series of thefts and other small incidents which have resulted in us acquiring second hand CCTV cameras (old ones links to Video recorders rather than hard disk recorders), courtesy of the city centre management. There's been genuine concern at some of the local rogues preying upon mothers with kids and old ladies who think they are safe and sound in church. The radio link keeps us in contact with the community safety network in the city centre, and forewarns us of trouble. The CCTV deters the opportunist thieves. But once again people aren't quite so tense and unsure of themselves in their usual familiar safe place. We are fortunate that there's such good will towards the Parish Church by fellow workers in the City.

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