Friday, October 12, 2007

Never a dull moment

St John's had a visit from the diocesan Chancellor to inspect sites for the mounting of war memorials now taken out of St James' church. Thankfully he is willing to agree that we do this, although he is not keen on such things, on the grounds that few living now recall the names of the dead thereon. This came on the day when the Queen and Archbishop Rowan attended and dedicated a memorial to the 16,000 men and women killed in the service of their country since World War Two. The Chancellor seems dimly aware of how much people in the military as well as civilians regard it as a perennial duty to remember the names of comrades they never knew, as a point of honourable citizenship. "My great grandpa's name is on this war memorial." I can hear members of my extended family saying just this, ninety years after his body wasn't found at Paschendale.

Thomas Trotter gave today's lunchtime organ recital with his usual brilliance, delighting an audience of over 280 people. Perhaps because of the concert there were more people at the noon Friday Eucharist than I can ever recall. The average of a dozen has crept up to fifteen recently, but today there were twenty one people there, and another half a dozen sitting scattered around the church.

Before the concert finished I had to ride off down to County Hall for a meeting of the Capital Vision Board, which brings together people from the most senior management levels to consult on an overview of the plans and policies that bind together every aspect of life in the city and county borough. It was hard work for the first hour. Too abstract and technical for me to take in. In fact I was quite absorbed by the occasional glimpses I got from my seat of the expanse of water beyond the ground level conference room, with five cormorants all roosting atop concrete pillars jutting from the former dock now converted into a lake.

Things livened up in the second hour with a presentation on Eastern European migration into Cardiff over the past three years - this is the largest group of recent incomers. Having so many people from a language group not normally catered for is quite a challenge for all public services. The strategic development plan for the next couple of decades, involving land use policy was also introduced in outline. A lot of hard homework reading there, but important long term stuff for the common good. One small fact that impressed itself upon me - despite all the building and conversion work that has raise lots of new apartment dwellings in the city over the past few years, the actual proportion of apartments to houses is now the same as it was twenty years ago. Housing has increased, but there's still a shortage, and up to 20% more new housing will be needed in the Borough in the coming decades to cope, not only with the influx of new people, but also with the tendency of more and more people to live longer and/or live on their own. Headaches for someone in power!

While I was out at the meeting, preparation had started in church for a second important event of the day. For the first time anyone can recall, a non-Christian religious speaker given the platform at St John's. This was Lama Yeshe Losal Rimpoche, the Tibetan Buddhist Abbot of Samye Ling monastery in Scotland, whom I met two years ago when he last visited Cardiff and spoke at the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre. This time I was in a position to invite the local Buddhist community to hold their lecture chez nous. They were very pleased, and the Abbot spoke delightfully, with great wisdom and simplicity.

After the lecture had started, four young lads came in, already drunk at 7.30pm. One was evidently more curious than his mates, and signed the visitors' book. When told that there was a charge of £7.00 to attend the lecture (to cover the expense of the occasion), the lad piped up. "Jesus wouldn't charge seven quid." "Yes", said the doorkeeper, "But this is Lama Yeshe." Not knowing who Lama Yeshe was put him at something of a disadvantage, and he allowed his mates to pull him back out of the church on to the street.

Anyone listening to Lama Yeshe would have found a great deal of the attitude and teaching of Jesus alive and well in his down to earth joyous simplicity. He'd lost both his parents when the Chinese annexed Tibet, compelling him to flee the country, but harboured no bitterness or anger for the invaders. He told us, with gusts of laughter how cave dwelling hermits were sought out, arrested and accused of idleness. In prison, when they were given their meagre daily ration of food, the hermits responded with huge appreciation at the luxury of being fed - there being nobody around to treat them like this in their mountain solitude. One person's punishment is another person's feast. He also told how Buddhist monsteries (whether in Tibet or North India, I'm not sure) now found they had wealthy Chinese benefactors supporting them, which they never had before. He mused on how things might turn out differently from what might be expected in the longer term in Tibet.

I wonder what he might have to say about the demise of institutional Christianity in Britain?

What a great day.

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