Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Building diplomacy


Met this afternoon with our church architect, Martin Killick and an officer from CADW, the Welsh conservation quango. The idea was to find out where the no-go areas might be in proposing changes to certain aspects of our grade one listed building.

We want to make the building more visitor friendly, as it is one of the place most visited by tourists to Cardiff - at least 15,000 a year. The west porch doesn't work. It is uninviting, difficult to negotiate with a pushchairs or laden with bags, and has an internal which step people trip over with worrying frequency due to poor sight lines rather than lighting deficiency. We want to remove the porch and have state of the art glass doors and glazed panels under the tower, to make it all lighter more open and inviting. We also dream of moving pews to side aisles from the back of the nave, then raise the floor to lose the dangerous step, and create a welcome area in which we can hold exhibitions, and greet people before services - maybe even an information desk, who knows what may work best for all, at this stage?

The south church entrance is paved with gravestones, and would benefit from being re-laid with a single consistent regular surface, as it becomes uneven in only a few years of wear and tear, as the stones are all of different thickness. How we haven't had a bad accident out there I don't know. Very soon now the passageway between the churchyards will be laid with new granite paving which eventually will cover streets on all sides of the church. I am hoping we will be able to replace the gravestones with the same paving. The surrounds would all look good then - a worthy setting for such a fine building.

Fortunately the CADW man didn't seem to think any of our ideas run contrary to the received conservation doctrine, so it's now a matter of drawing up plans and preparing more faculty applications to get permission to do the work. Knowing that support from CADW is possible to obtain for sensible plans easer the way to get a faculty approved. The number of such faculties I've applied for in the past four years runs into dozens. It's not a task I'll ever enjoy, only improve at doing well.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Change in view at 'God on Mondays'

Due to our holiday in Corsica, today was the first 'God on Mondays' during this half term, spent telling the story of St John the Baptist. This coming weekend I'm away and not back until Monday night, leaving just one more opportunity before the end of term school service, telling the story of St James the Great. Our parish 'heroes'.
Both were martyrs in the proper sense of the word, dying rather than killing others for the sake of God's truth. How I hate that perversion of language so commonplace in the Arab world. I am not persuaded by that semantic arguments on this. Martyrs witness at the cost of their own lives to the truth of God. If suicide bombers witness to anything it is to be demonic belief that might is right, that violence can redress injustice - this is the opposite of what has stood throughout twenty centuries of Gospel faith.

I hope that church school children at least will grow up with the right ideas.

Next term a significant number of our God on Mondays regulars will be moving on to secondary school. I'm going to need to rethink what we are doing and consult about how to attract the interest of a new wave of people to join in. Things change. It's been going two years now.

The faith communities research project moves forward slowly. The Steering Group appointed by the City Centre Churches Together met for a second time tonight. Our University sociology researchers start work in earnest on 1st July. I'm feeling less neurotic about it all now that more people are involved, even if progress is slow.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

St John's-tide

This year our Parish Patronal Festival of the Nativity of St John the Baptist falls on a Sunday. Not that this meant an increase of attendance for us today. We were just over thirty adults plus half a dozen children - few visitors for our main service. The ancient rhythm of celebration and prayer no longer figures as a significant feature in the lives of visitors to our city, any more than it does for people who inhabit the city, who for want of commitment to a particular community, float around from church to church, if they don't stay home. How do we win their loyalty?

It's marvellous that there are still devoted core communities of people, like ours wanting to continue worship in the traditional liturgical cycle, who come every week and not just as and when they feel like it. I'm grateful to have such people to continue in prayer with around the year. How I wish there were more of them !

I never fail to be struck by the fine quality of scripture reading during our services. When I sit and listen to the Word being read, often the very reading stimulates new insights into passages read - lectio divina, by any other name I know. I hope other congregation members feel as blessed as I do by simply listening to Scripture. It's one of those core activities of an Anglican congregation, something we almost take for granted. Every reader, by their intelligent rendering of the text takes part in the exposition of the Word. I wonder how many listeners appreciate something so simple and so powerful, rather than just take it for granted that things are simply done well.

St John Baptist preparing the coming of Christ - however our church goes about it, that's our role too. And it's more and more complex and challenging to accomplish in the face of the powerful secularist movements of our time.

How do we persuade people to be aware of, and relate to the source of their being?

How do we persuade people that there is more to human life than is determined by experience of material existence?

How do we persuade people that considering their origins and destiny as human creatures is important and ultimately unavoidable?

How do we persuade people to listen to and learn from the story of Jesus?

These questions are ours. Working on them may help seekers to clear the ground for the Spirit to engage with them in searching out the truth of their own existence.

For the most part, we are working from ignorance or uncertainty.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Broadband blues

Finally I am able to post from the church office computer.

Last July we switched phone and ISP providor from BT to TalkTalk at the very time when the latter were inundated with demands for their free broadband offer, so we expected delays and resolved to be patient.

By December we started wondering if we'd been forgotten. Calls to customer service yielded nothing useful, until the day we were told TalkTalk didn't have our telehpone rental account, only line rental, so they could not switch us over to broadband. Only at this time did we notice that TalkTalk phone bills were for calls only, not rental. Nobody worries about small bills do they, even if they appear too small on scrutiny. Further investigation led to the church treasurer ringing BT and establishing that they no longer owned the line rental account. It had been ceded to Cable Direct in July 06, a company bought out by Talk Talk in September '06. Which cyber black hole had swallowed up the account, nobody could tell us.
Another six weeks passed, and then a member of the congregation came up with the personal email address of the CEO of TalkTalk, Charles Dunstall. I wrote and told him the story, and within hours received a sympathetic reply. Within the week, someone else from Customer services rung up, took details and set about unearthing the missing account. Several more weeks passed, occasioning another email to Mr Dunstall and another sympathetic response, followed by a further conversation with someone higher up the pecking order in Customer service.
Second time lucky - the line rental account details were hunted down (they were there all the time, tucked away in a screen behind the first account presentation screen,) and finally the process of activating the broadband supply began. Of course there was ten months unpaid line rental still to be dealt with, but this was speedily dealt with. By the time this was done by the church treasurer it was May.
Finally, just before going on leave, notification of the start date of our TalkTalk broadband service arrived at the church office - eighth of June - while I was away. I set up the office router with the designated password and left it for someone else to discover if it worked.
As it happened, nobody bothered. Just as well, since I'd made a mistake entering the account details into the router. Anyway, once corrected, on my return to work last week, it worked fine, eleven months from the switch of service to BT. Is this a record delay I wonder? But, it's not the end of the story.
A letter arrived telling us that a subscription to the excellent F-Secure anti-virus came with the broadband business service. A download address and initialisation key was provided in the letter, but the download address proved to be non-functional. Customer services kept me on hold for half an hour when I rang before dropping the line. I emailed and was told to ring Customer Services. Vicious circle.
Fortunately AVG Free has caught up with the office computer being eleven months off line and purrs along happily.
Now, shall I annoy Mr Dunstone about this one more time? Or has he changed his email address?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Pilgrimage and a Baptism

The day after our return from holiday was the Parish Pilgrimage - a traditional coach outing, beginning and ending with prayer. Three dozen of us gathered in Tredegarville School for the morning Office, before getting on a coach which took us to the border market town of Monmouth, a hour away in rural Gwent. There was time here to have lunch and a wander around the shops, and fortunately the rain that threatened to fall did so only half heartedly. We travelled on down the verdant Wye Valley to Tintern Abbey for a guided tour of the majestic ruins from a knowlegable local artist and historian who dressed as a thirteenth century Cistercian monk, to take us back into the period of the monastery's heyday. It was a most interesting and comprehensive account of mediaeval monastic life in its social setting, albeit a little prolonged for some older tired pairs of legs. At the moment, sculptor Philip Chatfied is at work in the Abbey, recreating with local stone and period tools a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus, based on the torso of a statue found at the site. You can read about it at

The final leg of our journey was to the village of Usk which we'd sped past on the motorway, en route for Monmouth. This has a fine Parish Church, also dedicated, like the Abbey, to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Until the reformation it was a Benedictine womens' Priory. It still has a fine mediaeval chancel screen, plus a rather exotic looking organ which used to be in Llandaff Cathedral in the 19th century. Here the choir sang Evensong, and the church ladies of Usk gave us a super High Tea to send us on our way rejoicing. It would have been a most wonderful day, if it were not for the necessity of returning to rush through preparations for Sunday, there being so little time to catch up since our return, routine tasks left undone, and a baptism to prepare for.

Sunday morning, Joshua, one of our regular children, who comes with his mum most Sundays, and is now two and a half, was baptized during the Parish Eucharist. It was a joyous occasion, with a congregation almost twice the usual size. Josh didn't seem to enjoy being in the limelight, and all this fuss being made of him, and when the time came he was very apprehensive and reluctant to have water poured over his head, though I did manage a sprinkle. This delightful little boy had quite a lot of early illness crises, and clearly hates people doing things to him, unless they happen to be mum and dad. Katie, his regular playmate, around the same age was also there, and several other family members brought children, so all in all almost a fifth of the congregation was of school age or under - a very special pleasure. After the baptism part of the service, some of the Sunday school children sang their own version of 'Thank you Lord for this new day', with 'Thank you Lord for Josh's baptism', as an extra verse. The after service refreshments were augmented with cake and wine, then Clare and I were invited to join the family for lunch, with others from the church congregation.

That was my second baptism of a child from a regular churchgoing family within a month - in both cases it had taken a long time to get around to doing it, because of the trials and tribulations of finding suitable godparents and agreeing a date when both family and godparents could make it to church. With families often scattered these days, it requires determination and sacrifice to make it happen, and the joy of the gathering is palpable.

On principle, I don't refuse baptism to anyone who asks. In the year before St James closed we had more baptisms than had been held in the other three churches of Central Cardiff Parish over a three year period - nothing to do with the threat of closure, just a surprising number of people in Adamsdown and Splott areas giving birth in the same period, who still looked to the church for a Christening. A small handful of these families had childen in Tredegarville school and although they never came on Sundays, they do come to 'God on Mondays'. The majority, however, turned up once and were not seen again. Perhaps a thousand people, mainly locals, passed though the church in baptismal parties in that year before its closure. The sad thing is that it wouldn't have occurred to many that their support (or lack of it) for the church they expected to be there for them, would make any difference. People's sense of Christian identity and belonging is so fragmented in this day and age, that little remains that has the power to make any difference. The persistent nagging question for me now, over the past twenty years has been - how do we evangelise in this generation, in order to regain a Christian sense of self, meaning, purpose and community in life? And still there are no answers that make a difference. It's no reason to stop trying or asking, especially as I still regard this as a matter of life or death. It's just hard to be running out of years to give to the task.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Cardiff to Corsica and back

Holiday !

Nearly two weeks without phone, TV, video, radio or computer,I had only my Clié Palmtop to keep daily notes of our holiday trip to Corsica, to jog the memory about the 400 plus photos I took (yes, I know mad obsessive). Spending so much of my work life in a city that welcomes visitors certainly shapes the perspective from which I tell the story these days. Like holiday snaps, for what it's worth, here they are.

Bus to train station, train then bus to Bristol Airport, plane from Bristol to Nice, all seamless, well co-ordinated, despite the Bristol traffic congregation. Arrived in Nice vieille ville area from airport bus as it was getting dark. Fortunately hotel was only ten minutes walk from there, and so at midnight we were strolling around the port checking out here the Corsica ferry terminal was. we were both quite hungry but few places remained open, and all, apart from a kebab stall, looked like they mght be pricey. In the end, we found a small halal grocery store still open , not far from the hotel, where we were able to buy some bread and a bottle of wine for a late feast. Quite a eucharistic start to our vacation.

We woke early to a noisy street below, and enjoyed a big breakfast before continuing our reconnaissance of the port, still unsure of where the ferry departed from. Eventually a helpful traffic marshal pointed us to the right quay resolving sign post ambiguities for us. We lazed around until after midday and then trundled our cases to the ferry terminal. Half way along the eastern quay we were offered a lift by a ferry shuttle bus driver. A free minibus circulates in the port, presumably to reduce the number of pedestrians mixing with cars, and to save the confused and the lost. There is a ferry office at both extremes of the port, but the signage doesn’t make it clear on the side which the ferry used to leave from, that it no longer does. So the shuttle bus is a multi functional response to the problem. The ferry’s departure was, due it seems to a problem with a passenger's vehicle, the driver of which could not be traced. He was paged for a good half hour,and we left twenty minutes late. We dozed comfortably in a lounge for much of the journey, as it rained and was cool out on deck. When Cap Corse came in sight, we were amazed to see twenty wind turbines atop high ridges overlooking the shore in an area that seemed remote from habitation. That's new since our last trip here five years ago. On disembarcation, we trundled our cases up through the town of Bastia to a small hotel close to the train station, booked on the internet by Clare to ease our early getaway. We found a small restaurant near the cathedral of St John the Baptist, for a supper of delicious couscous. Afterwards we walked back through the delightful old port area before turning in for the night.

Early breakfast, boarding the 08.40 from Basta to Ajaccio, a three coach diesel railcar of eighties vintage. It looked rather shabby, especially set against a newly rebuilt station. Only a dozen or so passengers aboard hen we left, bu at each stop for sixty of the ninety mile trip, it picked up more passengers than it dropped. They were predominantly holidamakers like us - walkers with packs. We arrived at lunchtime found ourselves a hotel, had lunch and booked a hire car, whilst exploring the older parts of Ajaccio. There's one long street, which is pedestrianised, with fine small shops and restaurants, a few churches, and the national library with the Bonaparte mausoleum next to it. We spent the evening resting in our quiet room , as I had the gripes from excess of white bread. The air of Ajaccio is thick with swifts food gathering and emitting their high pitch burst of twittering, like a tape run very fast. Blackbirds are also in evidence, and some other song birds which may be captive, I'm not sure. Despite the volume of car traffic, the beauty of birdsong is comfortingly audible.

After breakfast, we hired a diesel Opel Corsa, and headed south from Ajaccio, through thickly wooded mountains on the winding Route Nationale over two cols, rising from sea level to 750m or thereabouts, towards Propriano, then turning west along the north side of the Gulf of Valinco, to look for some accommodation to last us the week. This we found in a motel facing the beach at Abbartello, where we were warmly welcomed by an retired couple, former Moroccan colons, who were in charge of the place. After settling in we made our way to Ponti Pollu at the westernmost end of the bay, to have lunch -crepes provencales - and mooch around until the shops reopened, to buy food supplies. Then back for a swim, and a verre du vin before supper in the small restaurant opposite the motel. A nice quiet place to be, with a great sea view.

A good long night's sleep, breakfast on the balcony in the clear bright cool morning sun. Half an hour spent just trying to capture a photo of a lesser spotted Corsican flycatcher or two that use a tree close by as their hunting base for their midair food forays. Then a stroll up the road to the local campsite shop, as our supermarket next door has yet to awake from hibernation for the summer season. Saw a cormorant atop a rock as black as itself on the edge of the water - also saw it in flight patrolling last night. After checking out the beach, we returned for lunch of salad including a super Corsican sheep Tomme. After siesta, we drove towards Proprianu, inspecting beaches and taking pictures. We found one of the watch towers that characterise the region, which had been restored as a dwelling with nice gardens surrounding, and a wonderful view of the bay and Proprianu. Then we turned round and drove back past our lodgement and on to Porto Pollu for a swim and a shop visit, before returning for supper.

After another lazy breakfast, we drove up to Porto Pollo to visit the open air fruit and fresh fish stalls to buy for tonight. With a pair of Pageot a local variant on sea bream tucked in the fridge, we headed off up the Taravo valley to visit Filitosa, where there is an archaeological site which was occupied between five and one thousand years before Christ, and features a number of dwellings, walls, tombs, and a sacred site with sculpted granite menhirs with faces. A large site, rated as one of the best in Europe. Most impressive, well laid out for visitor interpretation. Much more varied than Stonehenge, but not quite so accessible. A marvellous find - and only discovered 50 years ago. Back for a late lunch and siesta, the a swim, then supper with those Pageot as honoured guests.

Croissants for breakfast today, as its Sunday, then a trip into Proprianu to find a church with Mass. There seemed only to be one church on a promontory in the middle of town, quite austere, built of granite blocks, unsurfaced. It was fairly plain inside with just a main altar. Mass was already over and we were directed to Olmetu, the prominent hill village to the north of the bay. We made it just in time. The church and large school building next to it were painted in a rich yellow (maybe a patriotic colour?), which looked good against the paler hues of the granite's almost flesh colour, with red highlights. The Mass was sung, choir of seven women and two men, one of whom played the electronic organ and acted as cantor. Two primary aged kids served the priest, and there were another four children in the congregation of around 50 in all, mostly over fifties. We had Benediction as a post-communion devotion, in honour of Corpus Christi, which fell this week. The priest read the Gospel as a story teller would, and preached simply with much hand-waving - very relaxed. We had a drink on the terrace of a main street bar overlooking the church forecourt, and Clare says she felt sure the guys at he nect table were talking in Corsican. Noticeably the signposts are all bi-lingual. Here and there the French was painted out in yellow - made us think of Wales. Bach for lunch, snooze then a swim at Porto Pollu, before supper. Lots more birds, two birds of prey, and a buzzard, and several small species to look up.

After breakfast we drove to Porto Pollu and hunted for the path around the coast to Cupabia the next sandy bay along to the north. After a couple of tries, we set out north through the olive groves on a rough gravelly path, from which we had some great views of unpopulated coastline. We didn't make it all the way to Cupabia but found a place close to the water's edge in the vicinity of a deserted modern house, which had collapsed in on itself - who knows why? We lingered there on a terrace close to the water's edge with only the sound of the sea and the sight of butterflies - few birds out here. Then, back to Porto Pollu for a swim and a drink before driving home for a shower and supper.

After breakfast, we set out to find the section of coastal path running along the ridge above our motel , walking about 2km along the road to Porto Pollu and trying various tracks uphill without success. In the end we came home and had lunch and a snooze before going by car on the narrow twisting road to discover Cupabia beach - a mile long, fringed by dunes, beneath we wooded hills of the enclosing bay. There was no shade and quite a wind, so we cut short our visit, preferring to swim instead at Porto Pollu where it's more sheltered. On the way down we stopped to look at the small hill village of Serra di Ferron, with its delightful well cared for simple church, containing two Virgins , two St Anthonys, a St Julie, and a well clad male saint with a pig for a companion. Glorious views of the Golfe de Valinco from up there. After our swim, we returned for an apero with the gardiens of the motel and a few other guests, mountain walkers before returning to Porto Pollu for supper at a beach restaurant.

We decided to explore further up the Taravu river valley today,our last full Corsican day. we found a delightful hotel restaurant in an old mill building next to an ancient stone bridge crossing the river, at Calzola. There was a spacious campsite and a winery in the vicinity. After a drink on the terrace overlooking the river - saw a kingfisher, heard another cuckoo, twice this week, and could see trout and eel clearly in the water below. We went on up the mountain road, towards the col d'Aja Bastiano, visiting the hill villages of Cogliocpli-Monticci, and Pila Canale, with their houses constructed of granite blocks - all different - with exquisite mountain views. Then we descended to take lunch at the old mill restaurant, a most enjoyable affair,ending with local cheese and fig jam, accompanied by a pichet of excellent cheap local red wine, probably from the surrounding land. Then a stroll in the heat before heading to our favourite beach at Porto Pollu for a last swim. Then home to clean up and pack, ready for an early start.

And yes indeed, we were breakfasted and saying farewell by eight o’clock and taking the Route Nationale north to Ajaccio. The roads were hardly busy, thankfully, for the narrower sections must a nightmare when there are dozens of summer coaches, and work lorries, not just an early morning handful. Ajaccio seems to be perpetually traffic congested, however, but checking in the car was easier than feared, as the small service team was expecting us and pleased when we arrived to time. We sat on the main street and had a drink and a croissant in a pavement café. Then Clare went for a last minute Christmas present hunt (as is her wont on summer holiday), and I sat and people watched for an hour. Just a short walk down the hill took us to the air conditioned modern ferry terminal, and just an hour to wait before the ferry arrived.
The crossing was fine, apart from an awful American baseball romance movie on the ubiquitous overhead monitors. By tea time we were checked into a spacious (for Nice) hotel room, in the hotel next door to the one we’d stayed in on arrival. We had time for a stroll around old shopping haunts before eating out at a pasticceria in the vieille ville, which looks a lot less tatty than when we were last here five years ago. I spent time during the meal watching a young man begging, and observed that of the hundred or so passers by, while I watched, two young men offered him cigarettes, a third gave him money. The four women who gave him money were all old enough to be his mother, shall we say. The body language of lots of the younger passers by was fascinating – neither aggressive, nor indifferent, but clearly dissociative.

Despite a night in a comfortable room, neither of us slept well, and we were up and about by six, readying ourselves for the airport bus at seven forty. Which left on time, despite the generally surly atmosphere that seems to typify Nice bus station at all hours of day and night. We were ahead of time at check-in, and thus had a good two hours of indolence, plane and people watching before the flight back to Bristol. Bus and train transfers were seamless, so we were home within two hours of landing. After ten days of perfect weather, however, the heavens opened was we arrived in Cardiff Central station, and so we arrived home from the local ‘bus dripping wet, with a not too huge pile of mail to greet us – not to mention a thunder storm!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Meeting of minds

A small group of grant recipients from the Community Development Foundation met today with FCCBF project manager Anna Allen at the Norwegian Church. It was so noisy inside the building we moved out on to the grass in the sunshine, which was quite pleasant and surprisingly, much quieter.

Gwyn Williams, director of the Llangollen International Eisteddfod company and a grant recipient made the four hour journey to attend the meeting. He has a project which aims to forge appropriate links between the Eisteddfod and the 38 linguistic and cultural communities so far identified in Denbighshire.

Dave Berryman a fieldworker for Rhondda Cynon Taff based Christian community based social inclusion project was there. He's part funded by FCCBF to research and engage with emerging other-faith groups in the Local Authority Area, where these seems to be a huge information void at present. It's real 'missionary' stuff, quite suitable for English Baptist minister in secular employement - well, not really, as his project is church-initiated.

Soad Hamdi and Samar Wafa were there from Women Connect First a Cardiff project that works with ethnic minority community women, teaching technology and organisational skills. Soad is CEO - Egyptian Muslim with a load of hands on experience of wheeling and dealing with the Council. All that I've been saying recently about the kind of frustrations experienced by Christians in relation to the Local Authority she confirmed were also true for Muslim communities. Samar is employed on the FCCBF grant as a part time volunteer co-ordinator for the year. They now have a new HQ in Neville Street, Riverside, after a long battle to obtain funding once Communities First Funding was withdrawn from Wales.

John Martin Evans was there, he's an ex OECD statistician, researching on behalf on the Evangelical Alliance into the social and economic contribution made by faith communities in Wales. He's been at it for over a year, and has only just obtain FCCBF funding alongside three other grants to run his project. In some aspects his data gathering resembles ours, but his remit is national, not confined to this city and relationships between its government of religious communities. The two projects together should complement each other, and could have quite an impact, hopefully to get those in power to take religious communities more seriously.

It was a useful and positive meeting, with quite a bit of shared awareness of the way religion and religiously based enterprises have been pushed out of the public domain. There's a strong desire to make a case for changing this, but I'm not sure how much people realise this is a deep political and ideological issue this is in the society we've allowed to develop. I was glad of this opportunity to see our project in this context.

It's been quite an intense time, this past month or so. Glad to be signing off for a break, away from work and computers. Well it's one way of finding out if I'm really a cyber-addict !

Saturday, June 02, 2007

An unusual funeral

For only the second time this year, I had a funeral to do this week. It was of a man, born a Catholic, who spent much of his life as a seafarer, and in his old age, he'd started reading the Qu'ran and practising prayer Muslim style. A few days before his death he was visited by two local Mosque officials, and he made his submission to Allah, all of which left his family a bit bewildered about what to do, since he's stipulated in his will that he wanted to be cremated - not a very Muslim thing to do.

When I was in Geneva, the Welsh friend of an Iranian woman got in touch and asked if I would do her friend's funeral. She still believed and practised Muslim prayer at home but had an abhorrence of Iranian religious personnel. Her three daughters were content for a Christian priest to do their mother's service. We included some CD tracks of the call to prayer, and a reading of texts from the burial ritual in Arabic and English. On this occasion there was no Arabic speaker around and no CD, so I had to use the English versions of the prayers, and readings from the Old Testament and Psalm, with a brief Gospel passage about the compassion and unconditional acceptance received by all who turn to God.

In several areas of common human experience Christian, Jewish and Muslims each want to express the same things to God, and prayers are adaptable or interchangable. It seemed right to reassure the forty mourners of this, and to say that conversion even if it seems hard for us to think of it as anything other than a rejection, if it leads a fuller deeper relationship with God, is a work of grace, by the One who moves in mysterious ways through our lives. I'm not quite sure what the three daughters (again, co-incidentally) made of my explanations, but then they had plenty to deal with coping with their children and other family members.

They'd agreed to the visit of two Mosque officials who arrived ahead of the ceremony to wash the dead man's body and clothe him in a shroud. Was this OK? They wanted to be reassured. I had to explain that putting someone in ordinary clothes was something of a recent innovation, at one time working class families couldn't have afforded to see the late beloved's clothes go with them. When I started out in ministry, the shroud was still accepted convention for people of all religions. How quickly this has changed to the point where the custom has all but been forgotten - except in horror films.

When we traipsed out of the Roath Court Funeral Chapel, several old guys, probably ex-mariners or workmates, expressed their appreciation for what I'd said, or maybe it was for not glossing over things and pretending this was a Christian man's funeral when it was something different.

Just a believing man trying to work out what it was right for him to be and to do, and not letting himself be carried along by the flow.

It strikes me how often in the life of a pastor, the response one is called to make to a real situation isn't matched by the options available in the book of rules or the variety of liturgical texts. Having them is more of a safety net (or trampoline for take-off?). They give a basis in values and attitudes towards caring for people and accompanying them in the messy realities of real life and death situations. Starting from a dialogue with ones own tradition reveals what is relevant and what is not is always educative and creative. It makes the job worthwhile.