Monday, July 16, 2007

A Christening rarity

Christenings have been few and far between as St John's for several decades since the destruction of the ancient residential community at the heart of the shopping centre. Up until the late sixties, there were scores of baptisms a year from streets around the heart of the city. In the seventies the slump came, addresses of Westgate Street flats, or St Mary Street apartments above shops and pubs appear in the registers from the eighties, plus baptisms from apartments of retainers at the Castle, before they were dispersed to more modern accommodation. Most baptism families lived in Cathays, or came from further afield in the city where former city residents had moved. Slowly and inexorably the flow reduced to a trickle, to the point that a couple of years would pass without a baptism at St John's.

By 2010 there'll probably be upwards of 5,000 people with city centre addresses - though these days ownership doesn't necessarily imply domicile. If two in a hundred had church connections, that would mean a hundred new worshippers, between nine churches if any of them were looking for a new place to worship. Of that hundred, singles would predominate. If a third of the potential worshippers were partnered or married, maybe only a third of those would possibly be in the process of having children, and maybe wanting to have them christened. Statistically speaking, if there were one or two children to baptize whose families live in the city centre parochial area in 2010, that would be a surprise, since people with that sort of conviction would be more likely to return to a church they grew up in for a Christening, and not bother with their new local parish church.

Most of the babies I have baptized have been of families with a link back in the past, with the exception of two children who are regular attenders with their parents, plus my own grand daughter, born in the Vicarage last November, now living abroad. Three or four baptisms a year is now getting more common - better than it was. A few months ago I was asked when a child was last born in the city centre. The register last gave addresses in the city centre for children baptized back in the early eighties, but that was a period when home births were out of fashion. So it could be 35-40 years since the last - with one exception.

Milly Floyd Evans was born in High Street, just opposite the Castle, just three years ago. Here parents own and run a small bar-restaurant, Bar Floyd, over the clothes shop they also run. It was the day Wales won their last Rugby Grand Slam. Sharon, heavily pregnant after several days of twinges, arranged a stand-in caterer, and went into the bar to brief her. It all happened so quick, Milly arrived in the loo before an ambulance could get there. In fact, a passing ambulance man stopped off and helped deliver her at the last minute. There were no complications, apart from a double celebration that day.

Running a pub which is not part of a brewery chain is a demanding business, so it took Sharon and Calvin three years to arrange a Christening. It's the second baptism of a publican's offspring I've done here. The last one they saved up and baptized both their children at the same time. The Christening was done during at Evensong tonight, although the singing part was not as usual. None of our three regular organists could be there, so it had to be a said service. I apologised for this to Milly's family in advance. To my surprise, Calvin arranged for a mate to turn up, play the guitar and sing - not Gospel choruses, but 'Fats' Waller style blues songs. Fortunately he was very good, delighted at being able to play and sing 'unplugged'. A bit of a challenge for him, really, as a quiet attentive audience made him feel rather exposed. Usually he plays in a noisy crowded bar and is treated as background music. As any good ex-choir-boy should (yes, honestly, he was ex-Llandaff Parish Choir), he rose to the occasion and enjoyed himself. So did I. It framed the spoken words and actions differently, made us all sit up and take notice. Milly was a little darling, and not over-troubled by being at the centre of attention.

At the party over in the bar afterwards, I chatted to two beautiful black Cardiffian women, daughters of the retired pastor of Shiloh Pentecostal Church, one of Cardiff's long standing Afro-Caribbean Churches. They were full of energy and confidence in the work they did together, teaching about black culture, encouraging people to find their musical and speaking voices. What a wonderful way to help banish mediocrity from our bland society. It took me back to my younger days of bridge-building in Bristol between the white religious establishment, the emerging afro-caribbean churches, Hindu and Sikh communities. The other day someone showed me a directory of Bristol's religious communities compiled by the NHS Trust. Flicking through it, I couldn't help notice how those same emerging churches and other faith communities are now successful enough to have more than one place for worship and meeting. Despite huge decline in religious association across the country, groups that haven't lost their spiritual or cultural identity are thriving and consolidating. I wonder what attitudes towards them are like on the part of the old religious establishment these days?

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