Friday, August 31, 2007

Remembering Diana and Teresa

I was annoyed to see a publicity banner for the 'Echo' midweek, denouncing the lack of a tenth anniversary memorial service for Diana, Princess of Wales. Annoyed because I knew for certain, for the past week or longer, that the Cathedral would be having a special commemorative Evensong on this day, with a special choir and music for the occasion (since the regular choir was on holiday still). Pauline, our chief tea room activist was a member of this choir and having to juggle end of Friday tea room chores with getting her ninety year old mother's supper, with the six o'clock start time. Pauline has an impressively full schedule most of the time. She told me that the Lord Lieutenant had initiated the organisation of the service, and had invited the Mayor and other civic dignatories.

My conscience prodded by this knowledge, plus an enquiry from a passer-by about whether we had a service for Lady Di, a few days earlier (evidently mis-informed by the 'Echo'), so I made the Friday lunchtime Eucharist a Requiem for both Diana and Mother Teresa, whose tenth anniversary of death fell within the same week. Different though these two modern women were in every way, both were champions of poor and suffering suffering people, and both made the most of the opportunities that came their ways, to challenge others and set an example to the world. No better reason to give thanks for both their lives.

There were sixteen at the Eucharist rather than the general average of ten or twelve, and that was with no extra advertisment. It's good to think that people can just turn up and find in a routine worship event something that relates to their need to pray at that moment. Being there for people, attuned to life around us, and offering it up to God is both a responsibility and an immense privilege. I guess the Cathedral would say the same. But not even the Diocesan Press officer was informed that a commemorative service was being held there, so someone somewhere messed up from the Public Relations viewpoint, and the newspapers got a cheap jab at the church which could so easily have been avoided.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

On being left out of the debate

After the lunchtime Eucharist today, Ian my city centre mission co-worker handed me for perusal a copy of the Council's draft policy document on licensing premises for entertainment and alcohol consumption in the city. It's published for a two month consultation period before being adopted. It's a good and reasonable document, significant in that it's now proposed to cap the number of licenses to be issued for premises in St Mary Street - the epicentre of the capital's party culture playground. It's clear there is a strong intention to contain by legislation the problems public debauchery causes for the reputation and running of the city, and the welfare of its citizens. Although the welfare of its citizens frequently seems to come second in order of priorities.

What's significant about the document is that the list of fourteen 'consultation partners' does not include any religious organisation, nor any organisation concerned with the social and medical consequences of alcohol abuse. Admittedly, if you ask teetotal evangelicals or Muslims, you are going to get a pretty negative critique of the whole scenario, in which economic prosperity whether localy or nationally, seems dependent upon alcohol sales revenue (and its taxation), regardless of the damage this may inflict.

Even so, teetotallers for whatever reason, are also tax payers and citizens whose quality of life is impaired by the feeling that the city's streets aren't freely and safely accessible during weekend evenings, because of appalling behaviour, no matter how well policed (and it is well policed), of foul mouthed, lewdly dressed people acting in chaotic and unstable ways, to their own merriment if nobody else's, and to the detriment of the public realm. Yes, it's easy to forget and omit form the consultation process severe critics of the status quo, but this denies the possibility that there might be constructive innovative ideas out there among those who are unhappy with the way things are, which everyone can benefit from.

The way it is, religious organisations if informed, can read the policy document and submit responses to the policy makers right up until October 1st, if they know about it, if they can be bothered, if they aren't already convinced that they have both a right and a duty to make their voices heard. Really, the Council should see it as their moral if not legal duty to canvass all shades of opinion, however difficult. But they don't. And far too many religious communities seem to be so self-preoccupied, that they are equally responsible for allowing this 'democratic deficit' to increase.

I hope our Spiritual Capital research project can make some sort of difference in this area.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Caught on camera

St Bartholemew's Day began, not only with sunshine, but the discovery of a bundle of fresh green beans on the doorstep, from a dear friend who's a genius with gardens. I went into church early to help out in the Tea Room, because several of the Friday team were going to be missing. However, several others had stepped into the gap, so I was able to get on with preparing the Sunday bulletin and a sermon. After Mass I popped up for a cup of tea to be greeted with quiet excitement by two of our volunteers. "He's here", they said. I knew whom they meant - a certain visitor who has been in and out of the building on several occasions uniquely within minutes either side of a handbag theft. I turned around and recognised him, as he had spoken to me several times - once to complain angrily when someone else recognised him as our suspect, and told him to shove off. He saw me looking, and got up and came over and started complaining loudly (the tea room was full) about the way he was being treated. The two women behind me were saying: "It's no good, we know who you are and what you're up to." One time had followed her surreptitiously into the Tea Room when it was empty, but then she'd immediately left, locking behind her, unaware that he'd locked him in. He'd made a big fuss about that, and she was shocked to realise that he could have attacked her in an empty room. (We've improved security quite a bit since then.) As they talked,he got angrier, so I asked him quietly to leave a couple of times, and eventually he went off down the stairs, cursing his ill-luck.

At this moment, I realised I had my trusty camera in my top pocket, fished it out and followed him. None of the CCTV images we had of him around at the time of thefts were high quality, so I thought I'd help myself. He tried to shut an inner door to stop me following him outside, but nevertheless I pursued him into the street calling out "Come on then, let's have a picture so that we can eliminate you from our enquiries, if you say you're innocent." As we left the gate, one of our female regulars saw me and crossed the street to accost me in hot pursuit, with my quarry turning round and hurling abuse at me. The another man appeared - it was of one of the fishmongers from Ashtons in the market, on his breaktime. He thought I was pursuing this guy because the female regular, who'd come from another direction, had had her handbag pinched (unusually, she never carries a bag of any kind, and so stands out in a crowd of women), and there would have been a fight if I hadn't been able to de-fuse the situation. Nevertheless, I got a perfect photo, and according to our crime prevention officer, the subject is for certain the man we thought he was. A drug addict, a skilled thief, well known to the police.

Now he knows we know him and have his picture, maybe he'll be just a little deterred from trying to sneak in and take some other vulnernable person by surprise, with his charming smile and relaxed attitude. As I returned to church, a guy who was begging by the gate (another of our regulars, also a druggie, though curiously he reads novels while there is a gap in pedestrian traffic), asked me what was going on. When I told him he said. "Oh him, yes, know him from prison. Always a loudmouth he is when there's trouble around." So he's been to gaol for theft and drugs - we learned it on the street, even before the police informed us.

Today, he made a couple of mistakes - though not enough to get caught red handed. Firstly, he came in just four weeks to the day after his last visit, and so was much easier to remember by workers on duty. Secondly, he made the first move denying that he was up to no good when all anyone had done was glance at him. Possibly, he was all tensed up because street drugs are currently in short supply, due to a spate of dealer arrests. Thus they are more expensive, and that means more risk required to steal enough cash to buy drugs with. What a life to lead. And so much misery caused to others as a result.

When I got home, I emailed the photo to the lady who rang me after seeing the 'Echo' article, a worshipper at St John's Canton where there has been a series of identical thefts by a man of his description, good at blending in and making himself inconspicuous, then striking when people are relaxed. If we can prevent further thefts, deter him from thinking we're such an easy target, all well and good.

In quieter moments, when I stop laughing to myself at my boldness in pulling out the camera and seeing him off, I think - what if he'd pulled a knife or a gun? What if he comes back for vengeance? It's also possible I guess that some legalist worm will crawl out and accuse me of some sophisticated crime against 'human rights', privacy violation, or aggression with a camera. Nothing is straightforward any longer. The police always advise: "Don't do anything, just call us." Well, that way, too many minor criminals get away with things, cause a lot of suffering, and huge expense to others. There's no such thing as life without risk. Becoming indifferent to lawlessness of a relatively minor kind, opens the way chaos and anarchy, and more suffering.

Having said that, even more than wanting to see this guy caught and punished, I would much rather see him confronted with a much more positive alternative - therapy, rehabilitation and worthwhile work that will turn him away from stealing in support of his addiction. It's just terrible to realise how limited are the resources to achieve this. And as we fail on the cure, we also fail in prevention - another bumper heroin crop will be harvested from the flowers that are farmed under the noses of our troops fighting the Taleban in Afghanistan this summer.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Farewell Wally

Wally Burns was given a great send-off at St Michael's church this afternoon. There were over 150 people present - family and friends, Cathays neighbours, church members, former Cardiff Bus Company colleagues, and Burma Star Association members, who formed a guard of honour with the Association's flag. All the circles of community life that were part of his life paying him tribute. The service concluded with the Kohima epitaph, Last Post and Reveille, played on a bugle. It was the kind of occasion he would have approved of for others, and in a way it was strange that he was not there to oversee the event, to make sure in his warm and easy going way, that all was being done decently and in order. I was happy just to sit at the back, there being no reason for me to take part in its conduct, with Burma Star Branch Chaplain, Bill Barlow on parade with Caroline Downs, Wally's Vicar, and fellow West Midlander - she used to tease him in her broadest Black Country accent (although she's from Coventry), and he loved it. Who will take over at caretaker of St Michael's? Who will take on the secretariat of the Burma Star Branch? Everyone is wondering. It's not longer quite to easy to find good people who will take on such tasks and give so much to them. May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Missionary hospitality

Archbishop Barry came into the Parish on Sunday night to visit to 'Pub-Church', the new evangelistic outreach venture run by Church Army Sister Wendy Sanderson and a young probationary Baptist pastor James Karran in an upstairs room of one or other pub venues in Castle Street - either Dempseys or Clwb Ifor Bach, depending on which week of the month itis. Barry faced an audience of several dozen young adults in discussion for several hours. The local media was full of it - a page article in the Western Mail yesterday, BBC weekend web pages, plus a Radio interview this morning. I hope it went well for him, talking to the subject : 'Is religion bad?'

Wendy and her co-worker Roberta were doing tea room duty at St John's this morning, so I had a chance to ask her how it went. Wendy commented that the audience was a little bigger than usual, keen and willing to listen to a real live Archbishop, and on the whole, respectful. Apparently, when it was time for him to leave, many people wanted the chance to speak to him personally, and it took him ages to get away. I imagine how tired he may have been, past ten on a Sunday night when I wouldn't mind betting this was his third public engagement of the day.

Shortly after they began the venture back in April this year, Wendy and James invited me in to share in an open discussion on the theme of the relevance or irrelevance of the church to life today. I found that people listened and discussed politely. I'd been ready for more robust debate, and found it a bit more churchy than I'd expected. It turned out that rather few were non-Christians. Most participants were young adults from suburban churches, so although there were more young adults there than I'm used to seeing in the normal course of a Sunday, it felt a bit like preaching to the choir.

I was pleased there was plenty of publicity for a relatively small event. It's needed, not only to attract new clientèle, but also Wendy's work is under scrutiny by the Church Army, which is expecting her to move towards self-funding, and wanting there to be more to show for what they invest in her. She raises a work team that spends a day a week earning funds for her project in the Tea Room, as part of the effort she makes towards paying her way. It'd be great if Barry came and joined a Tea Room team for a day, as a show of support - as good as a diocesan cash injection in a way. I'm sure Wendy and Roberta would make room for him, as a washer-upper. However, if he came on Friday or Wednesday when the older church stalwarts are on duty, he'd never get near the sink. They wouldn't allow him, any more than they'll let me - unless they're desperately short of help. They just prefer their clergy to chat up customers, something I'm always pleased to do.

The fact is, a great deal of primary evangelistic work is mundane, unspectacular, hidden learning, building trust, earning the right to be taken seriously in a context where Gospel values and church culture have become strangers to peoples' lives. Wendy will have done five years in post this autumn, having arrived around the same time as me. In another five years there may be something noticeable to show for her fieldwork. That's how long it takes. To her credit, she hasn't retired after three years to write up her anecdotes into a PhD, and become an instant mission expert. She's still there, at the grass-roots frontier. No better place to be.

HMS Cardiff's bell welcomed home

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Elizabeth Anderson-Reed, receptionist at City Hall, who also happens to be one of Llandaff Cathedral's Church Wardens. The ship's bell of HMS Cardiff had turned up following de-commissioning at City Hall. Nobody was sure what to do with it and where to install it for safe keeping. Elizabeth was asked if the Cathedral might take it. "But the Cathedral already has the bell of HMS Llandaff." she said; "So why not ask St John's, the Parish Church of Cardiff, if they'd like to have it." "OK" said the keeper of City Hall's historical artifacts. Hence the phone call. An offer impossible to refuse, especially as St John's is a place many veterans' organisations regard as special to them. We have a couple of dozen voluntary organisation flags laid up in the north aisle. The bell of a ship bearning the City's name, laid up in this war memorial chapel would be an added distinction, and honour.

So, last Friday, I collected the bell from City Hall, and this morning it was installed by a team of no fewer than three council workmen, up above the door in the north aisle, just below one of the ranks of flags. One man to drill the holes, one to manage the tools and one to hold the ladder. Twenty minutes, no hassles, all done safely with huge six inch long screws and plugs, enough to take the bell and mounting, weighing around twenty pounds. I went straight over to the Market after the men had left, to buy a locking cable, such as you'd use to secure your bike, to wind around the neck of the bell and attach to its mounting, in case any thief had mean ambitions.

The Sunday after next Cardiff's United Services Mess will hold its annual service at St John's, a perfect occasion on which to conduct the formalities of a bell handover. The Mess chairman Tony Lewis (RN retired) was delighted with the news and has organised for Cardiff's last ship's captain, Mike Beardall, to make the hand-over in person. Members of HMS Cardiff Association and HMS Cambria are also invited to swell the numbers on this special occasion.

Inscribed on the exterior of the bell is HMS Cardiff, 1979 (when she was commissioned). Around the interior of the rim are inscribed the names of children baptized on board ship. Naval custom is for the ship's bell to be used, upturned and filled with water, as a baptismal font. We can only be proud to have custody of such an unusual sacred object. It's so much more meaningful than putting it in a museum.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sans frontières

Médecins and Reporters sans frontières are organisations with high public profiles - the former because of their presence in just about every natural disaster or war zone in the past quarter century, and the latter more recently evident during the kidnap of Alan Johnston in Gaza. Today's BBC News Technology page introduces another - Telecoms sans frontières - which organises international groups of volunteers who go into disaster areas at an early stage to work at providing emergency communications, then restoring as far as possible sufficient electronic infrastructure to make it possible for a stricken zone to maintain contact both internally and with the external world.

However good local army or rescue services may be, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, even huge avalanches can destroy power stations and exchanges, satellite earth stations, kill telephone lines or relay masts, and make it impossible for any modern means of communication to function. Rescue services can find the range of their radio equipment inadequate, and if an airport in a difficult location loses its radar, then organising, controlling and co-ordinating movements can be impossible, just at a time when speed is vital in saving lives.

Technicians willing to travel, face hardships, maybe take risks in order to do their everyday job in most challenging situations demonstrate an unusual face of good-will and compassion for those in need, as do doctors treating injuries, and journalists determined to tell the real story, no matter what the risk involved. Volunteers, offering their skills freely to help others in a suffering world, are one of the great signs of hope for the future of humanity.

This is a bit of good cheer, at a time when everyday life in our city church has us perpetually on the lookout for someone prepared to prey on the vulnerable and elderly. Indeed, for the first time, at a wedding this afternoon, we paid someone to be official doorkeeper, to prevent tourists and others apart from the wedding guests from entering during the service. It's the first time we've done that for a generation, as we're now determined not to get caught out again.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Untimely passing of a war veteran

I had a phone call this morning at 8.20am to tell me that Wally Burns died last night.

He'd been unwell for ages with broncho-emphysemia, but that didn't stop him playing his usual role of organising the Burma Star veterans' annual get-together. I sat next to him at lunch on Sunday, and he was so disconsolate at the loss of his wife Phyllis's handbag, that he hardly ate a thing. Apparently, his condition deteriorated despite medical intervention over the two following days, although he did not take to his bed, but carried on, taking his time, getting around the house as best he could. He even gave an interview about the theft to the Echo the day of his death. In the end he struggled from the bathroom at bed-time, got into bed and simply died there. He wasn't the kind of person to give up. He just carried on to his last breath, a true old soldier, and mainstay of St Michael's Church and the old Cathays community. Maybe the shock hastened his end. Maybe it was sheer shame and sorrow at the defilement of a church by conscienceless thieves.

When I visited Phyl, she was obviously sad, still waiting for the impact of his death to hit her, but also expressing her gratitude for the sixty one years of their marriage. Many of her contemporaries have been widowed for a decade or so. Many more were widowed in the same war from which Wally emerged as a survivor from one of its harshest campaigns. That's something his offspring, down to his great grandchildren, will not forget.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

On not getting the message

Today's Gospel at the Eucharist contained the phrase : "You can be sure that if the owner of the house knew the time when the thief would come, he would not let the thief break in and steal. And you too must be ready.." (Luke 12:39-40). At Evensong St Peter reminded us that "The day of the Lord will come like a thief." Sure enough, we had a thief. The scriptural hint was lost on us.

Just as we were about the start the special Burma Star veteran's annual service, following the Eucharist, someone posing as a tourist talked off with the handbag of event organiser Wally Burn's wife, containing several hundred pounds. The thief went un-noticed in the traffic of people coming and going, mostly connected with the service. We haven't so far discouraged visitors from coming in when there's a service on, hoping they will stay with us and join in, but now we'll have to review our security policy completely.

We wait to see if the recently installed CCTV cameras yeild any indications as to the identity of the culprit. The incident cast a cloud of outrage over the service. Most of those present were over 75, used to feeling safe and at home in church. Evidently for some people, nothing is sacred. It's not just theft, it's desecration of a holy place. If the person was caught, would they be charged for this as well as stealing? It's very hard resist the temptation to seek vengeance on those who so dishonour and prey upon the elderly of a generation owed so much by the world we live in. The freedom they fought for can be used well or abused. How can we any longer make wrongdoing so unworthwhile that choosing to do good is the only satisfactory option?

Anglican atheism

On this morning's Sunday programme Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, and Master of Trinity spoke interestingly about being an Anglican atheist.

He said he was largely sympathetic with the views of Richard Dawkins, but still held in high regard the culture, tradition and values represented by the CofE. In this respect, he said he felt he was like some Jews, who are content to practice the domestic and social rituals, even the prayers of their cultural and spiritual background, for their expression of the highest human values, but without any need to acknowledge a transcendent divine source to all that exists.

Come to think of it, a recent Sunday programme featured an article about an American Jewish atheist of poetic bent who has re-translated the Jewish manual of prayers as collection of humanist meditations which dispose of references to God.)

I guess the same may be true for many occupying academic Oxbridge positions, where the appointee has traditionally been drawn from among Anglican church members - probably since Enlightenment influence really took hold. No doubt they are excellent at their job and jolly decent fellows. It's better that Anglicanism is a community which (a bit like Hinduism) embraces wide ranging beliefs and convictions, than it is to be exclusive and persecute people of integrity and good will, as some 'orthodox' seem to relish. Even so it's a bit of a puzzle.

How can institutions settle for leadership from good chaps who are so comfortable with humane endeavour and achievement that peering into the beyond unknowable, in search of the ultimate truth and value that embraces us, seems for them to be a discarded option? Has the power of today's intellectuals totally disposed of the spiritual power of holy people? Are there any left?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Creation in the midst of desolation

I'm posting some new links tonight, representing the outcome of discussions and bits and pieces of work I've done in recent weeks. These relate to the CDF funded research project, for which we now have a small team of University Research workers in place, preparing for the fieldwork to be done between September and December. In order to publicise what we're doing, I've created two simple website, a blog that chronicles the stages of project development, and another blog that will be the collecting point for stories and raw case study material to feed in to the researchers.

Working with Roy, who is managing the project on behalf of the Steering Group, is proving very stimulating because he sees many more angles than I do of the whole picture, and at the same time is as keen to prosecute the cause of getting the contribution of all religious communities to civil society taken much more seriously than it is locally.

Between our efforts and those of the Gweini research project, now in full swing, I hope that a proper appraisal of the 'social and spiritual capital' generated by faith-communities will lead to some changes of attitude on the part of civil society. Too many seem stuck in a mindset that belongs to the past, where it is presumed religious people all stick to the kind of beliefs and behaviour that Richard Dawkins so devoutly and enthusiastically labours to discredit.

Actually, the work I've been doing on the side gives great cheer on a day like today, when I had to play caretaker at St James' for a couple of hours, to give access to the contractors who are going to be removing the font to the school and the reredos down to St Theodore's Port Talbot, now that all the permissions are in place. One of my tasks was to shift half a dozen large display panels from church over to school. They were taken down last September and used to mount the exhibition of school and church history we prepared for the closing weekend of the church. I took them down ready for removal, and they've stood propped up by the door, still covered with exhibition material, ever since. Nobody bothered to come and fetch them. The church still has lots of old hymn and prayer books, altar frontals, and stacks of dismantled pews which we failed to re-cycle. There simply hasn't been enough people, or enough interest to clear the place properly. It's been too painful.

I'm just hoping and praying that someone with the vision and energy will come along and see the potential of the building as a community arts centre. Over the past year, several different groups have taken a look at the place with interest, but have been non-committal, perhaps because it wasn't yet definitely up for grabs', so to speak.

I wait to be surprised.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Big Weekend of chaos

Edward VII and Museum Avenue started filling up with huge pieces of fairground equipment from Wednesday onwards, some so big that they seemed to dwarf the elegant civic buildings lining the roads. Then came the Heras fencing, linked to make a complete enclosure of the area, obliging pedestrians and cyclists alike to make detours, and forcing hundreds of cars to find somewhere else to park.Thne during the Friday morning rush hour the road line painting crews were out, blocking traffic lanes and adding to the chaos, as they installed new signs adjusted traffic lights and painted sections of the inside lane along the Kngsway in British Racing Green to designate it as a bus and taxi lane. Nowhere set aside for cyclists, as usual. When later I crossed into Church Street going to St John's, I noticed a 'no cycling' sign had gone up. Is this another piece of inspired thinking to avoid having to pay for the installation of the cycle racks we've been asking for over the past three years, I wonder?

Preparation for the Big Weekend festivities managed to co-incide with the weekend on which St Mary Street was to be come 'experimentally' a private exclusion zone - buses and taxis excepted. Hence the fervent activity by the line painting brigade at the least agreeable time of the week. Nobody really seems sure how the plans, showcased in a recent brief 'consultation' on the part of the city transport planning section in the Old Library. It's unclear what diverted traffic will do to reach its destination, especially if it's bound for Cardiff Central Station, access to which has also been drastically limited. All week church members have been ringing each other up and worry about how they are going to get into the church for services, and to deliver goods for the Tea Room and Church Mission Fayre next Saturday. Despite the reassurances received that it will be possible, it's hard to work out exactly how. Not exactly easy for people to plan around.

In the midst of all this on Saturday lunchtime, the annual Carnival procession danced its way up Bute Street, along St Mary Street and the Kingsway up to the Big Weekend site. Scores of costumed dancers, several sound systems on pullable cards made of scaffolding, and bands of drummers beating out salsa rhythms for the dancers, as well as three Banghra drummers. People of all ages took place, and it was just warm enough for the scantily clad to be able to enjoy (as opposed to endure) the stately procession over the two mile course. A couple masked and in costume consisted of one in a wheelchair, pushed by another. I was taken by the huge diversity of people involved, having a good time, smiling, waving, pausing for the hordes of photographers. One tall grey haired lady dressed in yellow and orange had also partly coloured her hair in those colours, not thereby disguising her age, but, well celebrating it, I guess. It gave much food for thought for my Transfiguration sermon. For once I had something different to reflect about on this theme, which now appears twice yearly in the church's lectionary. The sixth of August is also our wedding anniversary as well the anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. Not to be forgotten in our family's world.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

St James Church - the last gasp

In this morning's post I found the Deed of Deconsecration issued by the Bishop that marks a formal end to the life of St James' Church building in relation to the Parish. It was closed for worship 16th September last year. Legal responsibility now passes to the Representative Body of the Church in Wales, which as trustee of all church properties, is able to lease or sell it on the open market. It means the end of (albeit minor) bill payments, and maintenance obligations. Not that we've been able to afford to do anything to maintain it, apart from pay someone to mow the can and bottle strewn prairie which was once the church lawn. If anything had happened to the place that could cause danger to the public, the Parish would have been obliged to pay up to make it safe. Thankfully that now becomes someone else's responsibility.

Just the day before receiving the Deed, I was showing around the church a couple of people looking for performance space to hire, possibly for a year, while Chapter Arts centre undergoes a major renovation. The building will now be handed over to an estate agent, and who knows, maybe it will be possible for Chapter to do a deal that suits their needs. I imagine that even a year's lease would be regarded favourably, given that the building standing empty is still going to need some expenditure to keep it safe and secure.

When I went in there last week to show someone around, I discovered that a door had been left unlocked by its last visitor. Fortunately none of the area's rough sleepers had discovered this and taken advantage of it, even if a few do use the side alley for a toilet from time to time. In former times, it was used by druggies as a 'shooting gallery', but things have improved - one of those stand-alone automatic pay toilets near Roath Library is now their favoured place. Hundreds of needles a week a fished out of the wire mesh grid under the floor which serves to filter out blocking materials from the automatic sanitation system that keeps the floor clean.

I just want to see some good use made of the huge empty building, as soon as possible. It's a scandal it's stood empty and unusued for nearly a year, and only partly used for a lot longer. It might have been more 'ethical' to invite all of Cardiff's down and outs to hang out there and use it to sleep in. But with no toilet or washing facilities, and nobody to look after the building or exercise any care over the poor folk compelled to fall back upon it, it would have quickly have become a neighbour from hell to Tredegarville school, which backs on to the church. A church that stands empty and unused for any reason is a symptom, not only of the collapse of religious community, but in fact the collapse of community in the wider sense, and the inability of local government, statutory and voluntary agencies to rise to the challenge of meeting the need of those who are, in a sense, the 'collateral damage' resulting from social fragmentation.

'Deed of de-consecration' - what a non-sequitor, what an inelegant phrase! You cannot undo the fact that this great building was consecrated - from the first ideas of the Vicar and patrons who wanted it, to the first designs of the architect who built it, to the solemn prayers uttered by the Bishop when it was opened as a place of worship. The fact that it has been abandoned for sacred purposes (and it was erected by public subscription), is an everlasting reproach, and a stain on the history of the church in the twentieth century.

Part of the weakness of the church, perhaps since its earliest time, is that it permits the mystery of the sacred to have legal substance and definition, so that it can have social status in civil society.
The one minor practical difference a 'deed of deconsecration' makes is that a building that has been state registered for marriages since its earliest days, thereby entitling residents of the Parish to be married therein, can now officially be un-registered with the civil authorities.

Any time in the past year, it would have been theoretically possible for someone to demand a marriage or a funeral in the church, and have the legal right to do so. If a church is only 'closed' and there is another church open and available in the Parish, there is sufficient provision as law requires, from the viewpoint of both the Bishop and the state registrar. But just imagine the hassles if someone awkward had wanted to insist on their 'rights' and sought a legal ruling, or maybe compensation claim for the lack of availability of St James'. Yes, it's silly, but we live in silly times where hungry lawyers are concerned. Well, nobody asked, and it's finally no more a worry to me.

Well, not quite - only last week did we get legal permission to remove the font and reredos, side chapel screen and bronze war memorials. We have the building contractors lined up to do the work, but it's August, and they've not committed themselves to a removal date yet. It's not over until it's over, as they say in the movies.