Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap year day

Friday lunchtime Eucharist is always the best attended of the week, generally around a dozen people. Today was no exception, but with the nave closed for scaffolding transfer, I had to put up notices again to re-direct worshippers into the chancel via the sacristy. It's eighteen months since we last had to hold a Eucharist in the sacristy itself, last time due to the nave closure occasioned by its use as a Doctor Who film set.

As most of those who attend Fridays are long standing regulars, I was somewhat surprised at the difficulty some of them had at finding their way across the churchyard from the south porch entrance to the sacristy door, a distance of no more than forty yards, with the one entrance visible from the other. It struck me how much we're creatures of habit. Unless part of our habit is looking and taking note of our environment as we pass through it, whether we need to or not, many things may escape us.

I remember Lady Crawford an Alexandrian Greek aristocrat who lived many years in Geneva taking the most extraordinary circuitous routes from the rive gauche to the rive droite, rather than the most direct, because the way she had first succeeded in finding her way across town by car, by trial and error, was still her preferred route, even though it was far from convenient to do so, in the eyes of anyone who'd studied the maps or the traffic signs. Maybe there's something about cities that encourage many citizens to inhabit social space in the most confining way possible, to shore up their confidence, or avoid the fear of being lost or out of control.

Adrian Berry's peacemaking workshop yesterday posed questions for me about how it's possible to make progress to resolve conflict in any culture of compliance that is over protective and anxiously limits peoples' freedom and discretion. I raised the issue, and he wisely responded by saying how important it is to get people to identify their fears - name their demons, I'd say, in order to help them overcome constraints in a reconciliation process.

Any peace-making enterprise depends upon people being able to discover that they share aspirations in common. In order to reach there, we have to overcome the barrier imposed by our fears in order to examine freely how we may succeed.

In a nutshell - What do we want? What are we afraid of? Two questions, phrased differently, but constantly present in the discourses of Jesus with those who came to him in need.

After the Eucharist, ten people for this week's Lent talk, despite the challenge of listeners having to find their ways into the chancel for the lecture via the sacristy door. And, it was raining.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

In training

For the first time today I managed to get to an event organised as part of the the Diocesan Continual Ministerial Education Scheme - what we used to call in-service training - INSET for teachers. Such events span the middle of the day, a time when I have a lunchtime Eucharist, and that means I can have problems freeing myself to attend.

Getting a priest to cover me, rather than cancel is one thing. Ensuring that both the church, chancel and sacristy are accessible is another, involving an extra set of keys. (Vicar's rule, never part with your own. Even if they come back safely soon, guaranteed you'll need them desperately just when you don't have them) You need someone to hold them, someone to collecte, use and return them. Sounds complicated? Churches used employ people just for things like that. No longer. We rely on volunteers and they are great are turning out when asked, if they can manage it. There's no guarantee you'll be certain to find one out of half a dozen or more keyholders available at the exact moment of need.

To add into the equation today, the team of builders and painters working on the church outer aisles have nearly finished the south and about to start sealing off the north aisles, to start work stripping off old paint, patching and applying a fresh coat of real limewash (ancient superior technology, a breathing skin for the plaster to replace a not-so-smart sixties coat of paint). So, they had started to dismantle and transfer scaffolding across the nave, a Health and Safety nightmare. So, access had to be arranged to the chancel via the sacristy with diversionary notices put up, and a phone call to brief Gwyn, who serves for me on Thursdays. This entailed an early visit to church to make the arrangements, and then a bus trip out to St Michael's College in Llandaff for the course. Mercifully, for once I was punctual. Thank you Cardiff Bus.

Oh yes, the course? On conflict resolution and the disciplines of peacemaking and mediation in church practice. It was given by CME organiser Canon Adrian Berry, and based on material produced by the Mennonite church for eleven of us. It was first-class - thought provoking and enjoyable - the sort of learning process which many people in leadership, inside and outside the church, professional and lay would benefit from. It made me reflect upon the situations of conflict to which I've been exposed, and probably contributed to unwittingly or otherwise during my ministry. It rang true to my experience. Thank you Adrian.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Global village heartache

It's been wonderful to have Rachel and Jasmine with us since the weekend, to see at first hand how Jasmine has developed over the past three months. She's walking confidently, curious about everything, and needs a great deal of watching. Yesterday, we went out to Peter and Sue's place in Wenvoe to see their donkeys. Back in St Martin, Jasmine is used to different looking creatures - she loves animals, and has already enjoyed her first pony ride at 15 months. Amazing to see her on the back of Rhiannon's rocking horse last Saturday, making clicking hooves noises and rocking back and forth with the movement, not at all nervous. Wonderful to see. Today, however was their last with us, as they fly to Canada tomorrow. It's not easy to say goodbye when they go so far away, web-cams and emails notwithstanding. The global village is still a big place, full of heartaches for those separated from their loved ones by work opportunities or marriages to foreigners.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Big time juggling

Already the work of redecorating the south aisle of the church is approaching completion. So there was a site meeting yesterday morning of contractors with architect and church officers, to prepare for the next stage - redecorating the north aisle. The scaffolding in the south aisle will have to be taken down in stages and stored while furnishings are removed into temporary storage from the north aisle in order to free up the room to erect scaffolding for the work to be done. It would be more effective and less expensive if all this can managed without needing to take the scaffolding kit out of the building. Working out how to do this was the purpose of the meeting. After an hour, a solution had been devised with which all were satisfied. The take down and set up work will happen next week.

Even fewer people turned up for the Friday version of the Lent talk - three in fact. However, repeating the talks on a Sunday evening has meant that the combined live audience, so far, has been roughly the same, around twenty. If people are happier to turn up Sunday nights, then maybe that's the optimal time to put on talks. We just don't have a weekday 'market' for this kind of event any longer. It's not as if there have been any suggestions about alternative dates from anyone.

After the talk, I took the train up to the Midlands to stay with Kath and Anto overnight and join their daughter Rhiannon for her fourth birthday celebration, with the added pleasure of meeting up with our other grand-daughter Jasmine and her parents, over from St Martin for a couple of weeks. A lovely family re-union with a birthday party for kids in the local church hall in Kenilworth on Saturday afternoon. Pity about the drive home in the dark at the end of the day, to be back ready for an early Sunday morning start.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Disturbing times

Around lunch-time just by the fruit stall next to Wetherspoon's pub on Wood Street - the site of the ancient St Mary's Priory, long disappeared - a young man in a hoodie, seated on a stone cube that serves to restrict parking. He was slumped over on himself, inert in a way that suggested that he was stoned on drugs. It was hardly a comfortable posture for slumber or relaxation. Six feet away, oranges, bananas and apples were being sold to passers by. No attention was being paid to him. Should I take a picture and send it to the 'Post Card from Wales' feature in the Western Mail? Perhaps not. It's not a pretty sight. It speaks volumes about social indifference.

Yesterday a purse was stolen from a customer in the church tea room again, after a respite of several months. The first thought was simply - is our persistent purse thief from last year back in action again? Or does he have an imitator, an apprentice? Is he in prison or not? I'll have to find out and ensure the volunteer teams are alerted.

As I was waiting at the traffic lights on Newport Road, I observed another young man astride a bicycle, just by the lights. At first I thought he was talking into a phone or microphone down on the lapel of his coat inside his outer jacket. When he looked up, his coat swung open, to reveal that he was clutching a blue plastic bag, open at the neck, concealing goodness knows what inside but I'd guess it was something intoxicating from his strange countenance.

It amazes me that people live like these do. It's the poor neighbour of the binge drinking scene, part of the general tolerance of evil and dangerous behaviour in the name of thrills. Alcohol abuse is now beginning to attract serious public health concern, but not nearly enough attention is given to the drugs and solvent abuse problems - nor - to uncovering the deep spiritual and moral malaise that gives rise to such behaviour.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tricky story to tell

I took Tredegarville School assembly this morning around the story of the woman taken in adultery, as I wanted to talk about non-condemnation, and not ganging up on people who've made bad mistakes. I managed to do so without using the word 'adultery' or bringing sex into it, as one just can't for 5-11 year olds. They do however have some understanding (and some have experience of) family break up, and of a parent being stolen by an outsider. And that's what it's all about - far more than a sex act.

When the inspiration to tackle this story came to me at first I was a bit uncertain about how I could carry it off, but something made me press on with it.
There wasn't a nudge or a giggle. One staff member said she noticed the look of horror on a child's face when I mentioned stoning to death as a punishment. Sad to think they'll grow up into a world where such things do still occur, whether outside the law, or under it.

The assembly was followed by a class Eucharist, at St German's standing in again for Fr Roy Doxsey, who's still out of action. Then the usual lunchtime Eucharist, and David Lee's last lecture in the 'Radical Orthodoy' series at City Church after lunch.

I've published his texts on the
FutureFaith blog page for anyone interested to take a look.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I had Chris with me this afternoon for the Tuesday Group Lent service. He led the prayers and I gave the address. It was a pleasure to share this ministry with someone else. I enjoy the 'mentor' role, and the good conversations and thinking this sparks off.

Lately, there's been a lot of media attention given to the spate of young suicides in Bridged District over the past eighteen months. Is there something sinister behind it, an internet driven death cult? Or is it as the local AM Carwyn James seems to think, nothing more than a statistical average over the population area, to which the media have drawn undue attention?

Cardiff has a disproportionately higher population of young people, due to its Universities. With two and a half times the population of Bridgend and district, one would expect to hear of around fifty young suicides in Cardiff during the same period. But we haven't, to my knowledge. It's no wonder that many in the Bridgend area are troubled.

It strikes me that youngsters are now growing up with a poorer sense respect for life, and how to take care of it, when you think of fatal car accidents with young drivers, dangerous sports, violent behaviour, binge drinking, drug taking or substance abuse. Many risk their lives, whether for the thrill, or to impress others, or because they seek an antidote to the inner misery they experience, in an insecure world, where they're always having to prove who they are to someone, or watched, either as a security risk or for fashionable appearance and attractiveness, or for performance in exams, or employment.

In previous generations when young people went to work earlier, there was less of a gap between adults and young people. Role models for growing up into society were accessible folk usually decent and reliable, who lived not far away, who were around every day. Menotring was an informal business not a professional requirement. Now we're in a time when role models are public heroes or stars, people at a distance marketed as 'personalities' like products rather than people. They're not always exemplars of life giving, life enhancing behaviour.

With the distancing from daily life of those who provide ordinary role models for the young, fantasy about life and what it's worth has dangerously contaminated reality. This, to my mind, contributes to making it possible for all sorts of nice ordinary youngsters to do unthinkable things. There are fewer people to tell them that they shouldn't even think of it, or that it's not worth the risk of doing.

In a world where we're urged 'live your dreams' (strapline on the side of a ride simulator machine often working in Queen Street on weekends and holidays), the dark side of us is entertained rather than mastered, with damaging consequences.

How does society pull back from sliding into the abyss?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Organising change

First meeting today with Tredegarville School's advisor, and governors for a briefing on the next head teacher's appointment process. The next couple of months will be extra busy, making sure that all the procedures are properly followed, and the timetable followed, to ensure that whoever is appointed can start in the autumn term. Once it's all sorted, there'll be time to give a proper 'thank you and farewell' to Glenys, who has worked in the school for the past thirty years, the past four as head. She's set such a high standard. It's a hard act to follow.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Croeso i Gaerdydd

At the Sung Eucharist today, we welcomed a lawyer from Michigan, on an exploratory visit to Cardiff, as her big company is thinking of posting her over here.

There was also a Nigerian student from Glamorgan University, who lives up in Treherbert, where I was yesterday afternoon. I guess if you're young, there's more to catch your attention down the line in Cardiff than up on the edge of the Brecon Beacons (or nearly).

Then at the evening service, there was a young Belgian seafarer, having a look around while his shop, in Alexandra dock was discharging its cargo of steel beams, from Ferrara in Sicily. Beams, no doubt for use on one or other of our city centre construction sites. If there's a surge of steel into the sky in the next week or so, we'll know why.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Day trip up the Valleys

With Clare up at a Welsh language day school in Bedwas, and a fee day before me, I decided to take my camera, and ride a train or two until she returned. A Valleys line rover ticket cost just £7.70, and set me free to range over the remains of the old coalfields rail network of mid Glamorganshire, as it was when I was a kid.

The first train took me up the Taff Vale to Pontypridd, quickly winding through Cardiff suburbia generally along the river Taff, a 'greener' ride than one might imagine taking the same trip by car. At Ponty, the line branches West into the Rhondda Fawr, and further north, to a junction at Abercynon, where one can go straight on towards Aberdare, or curve right across the valley following the Taff Vale to Merthyr Tydful. I stayed on the train which went up the Rhondda to Treherbert, where the train terminates in what is now a rural village, surrounded by woodland, and those barren hilltops that are typical of the coalfield plateau, through which the Valleys run, scored out by ancient rivers and glacial action.

The further you get from Ponypridd, the more of an impression you get of prosperity waning. There has been investment in healing the many scars of mining, but the level of wealth creation from industry of any kind remains well below the need of the population - like Ebbw Vale. It was good to see that the train was fairly busy in both directions, people moving between villages, as well as going up and down to Ponty, or on to Cardiff for shopping or football.

On the return trip, I got off at Ponty, took some photos, and then picked up the train bound for Merthyr Tydful. Notably, this train consisted of more modern rolling stock than the Treherbert bound train. I wonder why? It added to the sense of everything being jaded and faded. Can't possibly be good for citizen morale. However - credit where credit is due, damage by vandals and graffiti were minimal on all the trains, suggesting a perennial problem is being managed well.

The ride up to Merthyr, with its modern terminus station, next door to Tesco's in the southern part of the town, was very pleasant. The valley is less bleak, more rural in appearance than the Rhondda Fawr. The old collieries, tips and marshalling yards have been fairly well disguised. It was pleasing to ride past playing fields with local Saturday football games in progress in the bright afternoon sun.

In both valleys, seen from the railway, the churches and chapels stand out in many villages, prominent because of their positions or the substantial size. Huge wealth was generated here in the early twentieth century, and a goodly slice of it invested in places of worship for industrious industrial communities. Nowadays, with worshipping communities so much reduced, these are a nightmare legacy.

I got off the train and had a wander around Ponty on my return journey. It was pleasing to see that the open air market, which I remember my mother taking me to when I was a child, was still functioning. I also discovered the extensive covered market, which I don't recall at all from those visits over fifty years ago. It has quite an intimate feel, because its buildings aren't huge and imposing like Cardiff's, and the layout is just a bit higgledy-piggledy, oddly reminiscent of the old city soukh in Jerusalem, heaven knows why I should think of that in Ponty. Perhaps it was the mountains of Welsh cakes being batch baked on one stall. Clare would enjoy this, I thought. I must bring her back here.

Pontypridd has a certain air of modest prosperity about it, understandably with Glamorgan University the next stop down the line, bringing in students from all over the world. I had tea and a custard slice at 'The Princes' cafe-restaurant, a retro-styled Italian place, neatly presented black-uniformed waitress service with a maitre d' in charge, packed with customers. I chatted with the manager, and was delighted to learn that the place in its 60th year. (I suspect his father was the founding proprietor.) In all those years the style and 'look' of the place had been maintained immaculately and unchanged, not retro at all, just original. Why change something successful? Sitting there, I could have been in a back street patisserie in Vienna, Basel or Paris. I also noticed that the waitresses all had valleys acccents. No need to out-source personnel hereabouts!

My journey home as the sun was setting in blue skies brought my trip to a pleasant close. I got off the train at Cathays, close to home, and arrived just after Clare. To complete the day, we went out to supper at Jinglees, one of our favourite Cardiff Mediterranean home cooking restaurants, to talk through our respective days out.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Every one a suspect these days

My second Lent Lecture today, to an even smaller handful than last week. Is anyone downloading the talks? I haven't the courage to look at the web statistics.

Spent an hour in the bank, setting up a charitable giving account for CBS Ltd's Diverted Giving scheme, filling in a long questionnaire, checking identities, registering passwords. Twice, because the bank clerk got advised of the wrong form the first time.

The Financial Services Authorities anti-money laundering regulations are a straight-jacket of distrust. If you can't comply with their information criteria, they won't take your money and make a profit with it for themselves, (with a little bit of interest for you, maybe). How noble of them. How irritating.

We're all equally suspect under the regulations. It's supposed to be reasonable precaution, but it's really quite ridiculous - like the supermarket which refused to sell alcohol to a pensioner who refused to prove his age. Compliance gone mad.

Unless of course, you are very rich, when you can pay someone else to jump through the hoops prove who you are, and how worthy of the bank's attention you may be. Even then, amazingly, it seems banks can still get it wrong and fail to spot rich bad guys. The poorer of us just have to wait until we've been processed.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My DIY Lenten penance

Apart from celebrating the midday Eucharist, and being ferried to and from the BBC in Llandaff to record an interview for BBC Wales 'Mousemat' technology broadcast on Sunday afternoon, I spent the day re-vamping the church website. Having admitted openly to myself recently that it needs an overhaul and a few extra pages, I finally sat down late last night and looked for a decent template to work with, and began what is turning out to be a lengthy task, because of the need to attend carefully to the detail of every page, and ensure a consistency of design and presentation of information. I'm better at the concept than the implementation. Sitting down and doing it step by step is not beyond me. It just tries my patience, my self discipline and my will to succeed. A perfect job for Lent.

The inability of computer programs to read my mind or warn me of mistakes I haven't yet made is enough to guarantee that I am reduced to hysteria every now and then, destroying pages accidentally that I've just perfectly created, because of a moment of inattention. It's a tough as a spell of
zazen , and I sleep badly afterwards as well. I must be daft. But, the task has to be done. The website's been there nearly five years, and like Topsy, has just grown. It gets searched for information be people all over the world. The easier I make that the better. Or at least, if I can set a more decent standard for whomsover will eventually take over this task, that will be a small achievement. At the moment however, I see no queue of volunteers for the job, only of people selling their services.

This evening, my daughter rang to say that her husband's office computer had just died, and they were having trouble getting the backup to function, which I'd begged them t0 buy and keep updating, after I'd set it up for them. Fortunately it was something simple to fix. Tomorrow they will have to rescue the hard drive with all their current data on it. Their livelihood depends upon it. Thankfully mine doesn't. For me it's a way of exploring from the inside the world of work so many people inhabit in this hi-tech age. Far more penance than fun, it seems to me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On not presuming ....

There were several unfamiliar faces at the midday Eucharist today. After we'd started R.B. arrived, and joined us in the choir. At least since I've been here, probably longer he has come into church for a sit down and some peace and quiet. Whenever he comes in, although he is a regular, he signs the visitors' book, 'R.B., homeless', although it's not true any longer, because city centre social service has found him a bed-sit in a Riverside house with several other middle aged to elderly single men who've lost touch with their families as well as losing their home. But really it's not a home, just a place to stay, a place to watch and wait and see what life turns up.

Now that he can, he keeps himself clean, but lives in cast off clothes and always looks dishevelled. Only rarely does he get himself a haircut and shave, either because he has no mirror to remind himself of how he looks, or prefers not to afford the necessaries. To the casual glance he is just another ageing down and out male. He's no longer able to work due to his medical condition. He has shelter, and a pittance to live on, and is grateful for that.

When he talks, it's clear that he's intelligent, thoughtful, polite. He reads books and newspapers, and thinks a great deal, and enjoys conversing with people. He enjoys a flutter on the horses (50p each way), and a pint of beer if he has the money, but his big drinking days, if he ever had them, are over. We always exchange greetings, and if I'm not rushing, I chat with him. Since I've known him, he's been robbed of cash or possessions several times, or lost his allowance for the week. He rarely begs openly, but welcomes donations, and occasionally tells me how people have come up to him in the street spontaneously and given him money when he's been short. Also he tells of having been given money and passing it on to someone else in need. He sits lightly to the things of this world, even though he appreciates it when he has enough.

For a while, a couple of years ago a brought a friend into church to sit quietly, a man with a serious illness who was hastening his own demise with more than enough alcohol. He was in a terrible state, but R.B. had respect for him because he's been a teacher once and was very intelligent, but had had a breakdown and ended up on the streets. R.B. kept a respectful eye on him until he was taken into care for the last time. R.B. himself has had a life of much suffering, rejection and loneliness, to add to a long spell of sickness and destitution. He has acquired the survival strategies and cunning of a man on the streets. But, he still has composure and a kind of dignity in his 'poor estate'. He still has self respect.

One day he was there in church when a woman tripped over and broke her wrist. He made her sit and rest and got her a cup of tea, and made sure she reported her fall in the visitors book, so that I was later able to contact her. She had nothing but praise for his attentiveness and respect, and well as his assistance. Being helpful, when he can be, is how his self respect is shown.

He's a man who knows God exists, because he's survived so much and always found help in times of need. I think he was confirmed when he was young. He only occasionally sits in on services. Usually he doesn't come up to the communion rail. On the occasions when he has, he's asked for a blessing sometimes and held his hand out for communion on others. I let my actions be guided by his. Which brings me to today.

He came up to the communion rail. It seemed to be a bit of an effort, as if he was stiff and tired. He had a rattling cough. I noticed people noticing him and moving uneasily as he approached. As most of them weren't regulars they would not have understood that he was in a place familiar to him. He stood at the communion rail however, his gestures uncertain, so I asked quietly: "What do you want, a blessing, or communion?" He looked at me shyly : "I don't mind" he replied, "Whatever you like", and laughed lightly, self-effacingly in the way he sometimes does. I gave him communion, to which he responded "Thank you, thank you" before gingerly descending the steps and returning to his place. He slipped out of church before I could exhort him to see a doctor over that cough of his. His response made me ponder long after he'd gone.

It made me think of "We do not presume to come to this thy table O merciful Lord..." Here he was, presenting himself to receive whatever there was on offer from beyond, maybe uncertain of what that was, after all these years, maybe just used to not being asked, or used to asking and being refused. I recall an African Bishop saying : "There's one thing the poor know, and that's how to wait for things." The poor always have to wait, reliant on what's handed down, and with little choice about it. There was something of that in R.B.'s response to me. Yet it wasn't grudging or resentful. It was the dignity of humility refined by suffering.

If anyone had time to notice, this is quite a lesson for an age which excels in fostering illusions of self-importance.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Practice makes perfect

Ian, Chris and I joined the Retail Partnership Board bus trip this morning out to the Wentloog Industrial estate where the SD2 developers have their off-site storage facility, and the design test bed for the shopping mall, whose foundations and basement level are currently in the throes of completion. The test-bed is a 90 foot tall 120 foot long life size replica of a section of the mall, with shop fronts on two levels. Here computer designs are forged into physical realities and materials tested in situ, to find out how well the dream fits the reality.

The architect who took us all over the test-bed spoke eloquently and confidently about a process which, when designs are realised, turns into a 'trial and error' - they have to prove that what's proposed will work, so there's a patient process of evaluation, discussion of aesthetics, durability of materials, safety of design detail, practicability of concealing services and supplies in ways that are non intrusive, right down to working out the safest and most effective way to clean roofing windows, and ensuring that pavement grouting enhances the floor's appearance rather than making it look seedy.

"We ask you not to take photographs", he said, "Because nothing you see, as you see it now, can be guaranteed to be exactly the same when the job is complete. We're changing things all the time, in an effort to come up with the best looking, most durable and practical design - something that will last." £1.2 million is being spent on the test-bed, a fraction of a percent of the total cost. It will save many times more that amount, preventing costly errors during or after construction. In the end, I hope that commitment to excellence regardless of expense will prove more cost effective and lasting a monument to twenty-first century ambition than the usual 'competitive' building practices.

By way of refreshing contract, after lunch a Lent devotional hour with half a dozen ladies of the Tuesday Group, reflecting upon Isaiah's Suffering Servant songs. Then home, to have another go at setting up the RSS site feed for the podcasts. I need someone else to tell me if I've been successful now, using a computer that isn't mine.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Many faces of mission

My technology obsession takes me into some interesting places - boldly going where not many Vicars have gone before. I had a phone call today from Mark Crook the editor of the website Podcast Nation a database of British podcasts, asking me if I'd like to have the Lent Talks listed there. Apparently I one of only six or seven clerics in the UK doing this at the moment. He also gently pointed out that it wasn't a proper podcast, only a downloadable audio file unless it was available via an RSS feed, and promised to send me instructions about how to set that up.

Also there was an email from the editorial team of BBC Wales' Mousemat 'tech programme, asking if I'd do an interview on Thursday. I thought to myself, I'd better get hooked up to this RSS mularkey pretty quick, or else expose myself for being the bumbling amateur I really am. Mind you, when people look at the church website, they can tell (if they're under 35), because it's so information rich and style poor. Like a ramshackle house with character, or a Greek villageI like to think. It does what it's meant to do, except that some of the pages don't display prettily in every browser. Apart from that, it works. It just needs a massive overhaul. I need to learn some of the new publishing technologies, but I never have the time. In fact, failing to set up an RSS feed kept my glued to the computer till well after midnight. How stupid can you get?

Back on parochial ground, I had the pleasure this evening of attending the AGM of St Teilo Arts Trust, which, after six years of operation can finally see an end to the adaptation and renovation work on St Teilo's church, to make it suitable as a concert and rehearsal venue. When I think back to my early involvement with the church, to the time when the architect did a 'runner' in mid-project - all the problems with contractors, and funding sponsors chasing progress that was, at that moment, un-achievable. Yet, the place kept being used for concerts, earning good revenue, that finally enabled all the work to be done, and the building to be compliant with regulations for public use. It's a huge achievement for a few dedicated, patient people, and especially Chris Berry and his wife Rosie. Now that the original first year redevelopment phase is over, the trustees are looking forward to making their own plans to optimise a superb local community asset.

If this project had been in the hands of anyone other than a handful of committed Christians, it would have died the death, probably with ensuing scandal and lawsuits four years ago. But the applied vision and determination of those committed to giving the church a relevant opportunity to serve the city and the student community has actually produced an exemplary piece of missionary enterprise. I feel very proud to have accompanied their journey over the past five years.

Short and to the point

There was an invitation in my in-box over the weekend from the Cardiff grass-roots community education organisation called 'Women Connect First', which works with black and ethnic minority women. It's also been the recipient of CDF funding this past year, and I've met Soad Hamdi, its dynamic Egyptian director, on several occasions. The invitation, to speak at an inter-faith women's conference in City Hall next month, and give a 20 minute introduction to the Christian faith to people who are unlikely to know much about Christianity at all, given their diverse backgrounds. What a challenge!

When I worked with U.S.P.G. back in the eighties I recall someone in some conference or other posing the challenging question: 'Imagine you're in a life-threatening situation, on a sinking ship or a plane that has 5 minutes to flying time before it crashes. Somebody turns to you and asks what you faith has to offer you in this moment of terminal crisis. What do you say to them? How do you sum up the whole of the Gospel for them in the time you have left?' Well, that's an extreme scenario. It reminds us to ask ourselves, what are the essentials of the faith I profess? Does reciting, even briefly explaining a Creed do it justice?

BBC Radio Four's Today programme at the moment is asking listeners to contribute a six word autobiographical summary. It's the same kind of thought provoking challenge to be concise. My offering so far is "Miner's son, city Vicar, proud grandfather."

Twenty minutes to present Christianity afresh to a new audience is a luxury by comparison. I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Match day

I don't know where the week went really, but whatever filled it, I was still left with a documents to prepare and photocopy for a church council meeting tomorrow. It meant that I wasn't able to go and wander around the first aid posts in the Millennium Stadium on a Match Day - one of my New Year's resolutions broken. I was pretty fed up about it, especially as Wales won. It was eerily quiet on the streets during the match, as I machine minded in the church office. Then, when it was all over there was a slowly rising bubble of excitement, and when I emerged, lots of smiling facts in red shirts out on the streets. I cheered myself up by going around the SD2 site perimeter and taking photos to post on the photo-blog.

During the evening Clare and I watched a DVD of a Welsh filmic masterpiece about life in Russia at the end of the soviet era, entitled 'Gadael Lenin', using Russian, Welsh and English. Beautiful craftsmanship. It's so rare I watch a film or TV nowadays, it's great to have such a treat.

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Lenten afternoon traveller's tale

Cardiff's student radio channel interviewed me about the Lent course before I'd get done to breakfast this morning. The diocesan webmaster emailed appreciation of the news article, and this alerted me to the fact that the Beeb had run up a web page item overnight. Best of all, this page gave the church website address. The question then was if this would have any impact on the attendance at the lecture, after the Midday Eucharist.

Well, there were fifteen people there, five of whom I didn't recognise. All the others were St John's regulars. I managed to put a page counter on the church website, so I must resist the temptation of visiting the site to look at the number of hits - after all, I may be the only visitor!

After the lecture Clare and I took ourselves out of town on the newly re-opened rail link from Cardiff to Ebbw Vale. No passenger trains have run there since 1968, but the line has been re-opened just this week to assist in economic regeneration. The train was full, and there was a happy buzz of conversation, appreciative of this new amenity.

The town centre station has yet to be opened, so the train stopped in Victoria, the next post-industrial hamlet, a mile and a half down the valley. A free shuttle bus waited to transport passengers up to the town centre. However, the driver could not get the bus to move, due to a fault in the automatic door closure mechanism, which locked the drive mechanism of the bus. So after several abortive start attempts, we got off and began walking.

At the first roundabout, 300 yards further on, the bus overtook us, beeping, then stopped to pick us up. The cheery face of the gentleman gesticulating to us from the open door of the bus urging us to hurry up and jump on turned out to be that of Richard Fenwick, the Dean of Monmouth! Neither of us had recognised each other out of context, getting off the train, nor on the bus - we were ordained the same days in 1969 and 1970. He too was talking time out to explore the new rail service.

He told us that when he'd gone to the front to enquire of the bus driver, the bus had started, and stayed started as long as he stood there. A check revealed there was a sensor underneath the wheelchair ramp which closed the circuit to allow the bus to run only when correctly shut. However, the ramp had taken too much weight and its frame slightly distorted, sufficient to close correctly, but insufficient to activate the sensor. So, thanks to the Dean, we ascended to Ebbw Vale, rocking with laughter about this new 'missionary' door-keeping role for the clergy.

A stroll down the wide main street, took us through the remains of an open air market, which was nice. There were several inviting teashops and cafes, and we settled for Sidoli's - famous for ice cream in South Wales. Richard came in and we all had tea together. He told us that after we descended, the bus was persuaded to continue its way by placing a twopenny piece on top of the sensor before lowering the ramp. Then we returned and waited for the shuttle to reappear and connect us with the train, hoping not to have to miss one and walk, as dark began to fall.

I'm glad we made the effort. We've resolved to travel on all the other valley lines in the coming weeks. We're looking at the possibility of places to settle when we retire, raising the question of living outside the capital on a good communications route where we don't need a car. It has to be beautful, and I long for a place with a view of mountains or forests. But where that will be, we don't know.

House prices in the upper reaches of the Ebbw valley, indeed, in all the Valleys are a fraction of city prices. There's some beautiful scenery, but apart from landscaping old colliery sites and demolishing the steel works, the process of renewal is in early stages with a huge amount to do. Ebbw Vale, despite such modern building as has been achieved, still looks in places as if it has stood still for fifty years. The Garden Festival nearly twenty years ago improved roads and brought some new business, but not enough to have a major impact. The difference between here and Cardiff is very noticeable. It's not fair.

After the descent to Cardiff, an evening visit to St Teilo's church for their Patronal Festival Eucharist, at which I preached to a congregation of about twenty people. Afterwards we ate cake and drank Bucks Fizz or plain water, and toasted the memory of our Celtic ancestor in faith. In his day, Ebbw Vale would have been dense oak forest with few if any inhabitants apart from wild animals, a great place for a hermitage. It has a slightly deserted feel now, despite its population. I guess that's like many other industrial towns from which the heart has been ripped out, by other people's economic strategies.

What would Teilo have made of all this, I wonder? Silly question. He wasn't a townie. Apart from Christ and the Gospel, all we have in common with him is that we do a fair bit of travelling, and don't confine ourselves permanently to one place.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Communication, every which way

I had a meeting this morning with Paul Mannings, the City Council's project liaison manager, charged with getting the fragmented operations which make the city hold together during this time of redevelopment to communicate with each other, and work together to improve services and enhance the appearance of the city. Under the fancy umbrella title of Countdown 2009, he is working on putting task oriented focus groups together on communication, transport, signage and other related matters, in the run up to the opening of the new shopping centre.

He's asked me to be part of the Communications group, and to chair a faith communities group of city centre churches, temples, mosques, gurdwaras etc. I've asked for terms of reference. I'd like it to be clear what representatives are invited to come together to do. It has to be clear there's something worth meeting for, some palpable desired result. Well, if his bosses think religious communities should be included in consultations, then four years of nagging on my part won't have been wasted.

The switch-over to the new security radio system in the city centre seems to have passed without crisis, and now it looks as if the firm of accountants who have taken charge of the audit will be more successful at delivering what Companies' House want than the lawyers we last resorted to. Cardiff Business Safe operations are now moving out, and taking up residence in the site office of Bovis Construction, a little closer to the action in the city centre. It's a move that will diminish the tensions that have grown up around an organisation which the mandarins would prefer to take over for their own purposes rather than help to flourish on its own feet. Cardiff needs a key element in the public security plan to be secure, independent and business-like, not subject to the whims and misfortunes of politicians and bureaucrats. Getting there is not proving to be easy, but I'm confident that it will happen, with a few more steady and experienced business hands at the helm.

After the noon Eucharist, I spent the afternoon on the last podcast. I had a phone call from BBC Radio Wales to be interviewed for the tea time news programme today, and another from the University's student radio channel to be interviewed tomorrow morning, all on the basis of the Echo news item published today. ITV were chasing me too, but the reported only had the church phone number, so I found an email much later, too late to respond to. Anyway, editing finished, I started to last sound file upload, jumped in the car and weaved through the rush hour traffic to get to the BBC studio in Llandaff, just in time. That's the second day running I've been out in peak traffic. I'm grateful that I'm spared this ordeal , by being able to bike to work most of the time.

It's obvious that the media are mainly interested in my wanting to use broadcasting media. I wonder if any will download and read or listen? The person who rang from student radio said that she'd been reading this blog. She said she wished her Vicar would do something similar that she could read, to keep in touch with life back in her Parish. More than anything, I was touched that she'd so freely owned up to being a Christian. Something that made my day.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Lost, on Ash Wednesday

There was a lot to pack in today, starting with an ashing ceremony for children at Tredegarville school. I must have 'ashed' about 150 people. I decided to interpret the sign of ashes as one of lostness, and started from the week long dissapearance last Autumn of Father Roy's dog Thomas, familiar to the children, and everyone else who lives in Adamsdown. I was leased wiht how it worked and developed that into a grown-up sermon for the noon and Evening Eucharists of the day. There was no time to write it down, but somehow it developed in the telling in a way that gave me pleasure to relate.

Chris Seaton was with me for the morning. It was good to share two services with him. I wasn't looking forward to performing on my own something I've so often been able to share with other clergy. I'm pleased that he's preaching on Sunday too. I feel as If I could do with a break.

Just as I was leaving for the noon Eucharist, Ben Glaze rang me for an interview, expressing enough interest in the Lenten podcast story to want a fresh picture of me to publish. The photographer turned up at the end of the Eucharist, and we had an amusing twenty minutes clowning about getting something he was happy to offer up for print - all in a day's work. The only bad publicity is no publicity, I tell myself - preahc the Word in season and out of season. I'm not sure how St Paul would take to this.

Then ,I had a quick errand to deliver mail to the City Centre Manager's office, and at that point I got distracted, and completely forgot to go to City Church for David Lee's lecture, which I'd been looking forward to. I went home and continued editing sound files, as the pod-cast preparation was only half complete. My efficiency seemed to drop somewhat and I only managed to get one more done and uploaded during the afternoon. Then I had to go out and take Holy Communion to two housebound people, and offer them a copy of the Lenten addresses, before it was time to go down to church and celebrate the third service of the day. After a late supper, another couple of hours of editing and another file was uploaded before bed. Nearly there!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Bread casting to podcasting

I was glad of a day with no fixed appointments today. It gave me an opportunity to work hard on completing my Lent talk preparation. The texts have been written and re-worked now for several days, and I've posted the downloadable text files on the parish website. Not many people find it easy to commit to attending a lecture series, no matter what time you arrange it. That's partly why I've abandoned trying to do the high profile series with lots of outside speakers. I've been asked for texts before. So maybe that's unavoidably necessary if I do a series - I argued with myself.

This year, my creative burst on holiday made me confident that I had enough to say for a full series, on things I'm really interested in. The question is: does anyone else think interesting what I think is interesting? You can only cast your bread on the waters...

On Sunday, I asked if anyone in church wanted advance hard-copies, ( a way of stimulating people to think of questions and discuss) and I had about a dozen people interested. One man I asked replied : "No, there's no need to bother, I've already downloaded them and made a copy for me and one for my father." His dad is ancient and housebound, but still taking an interest in life. His response made my Sunday - the effort of having done it is already justified in my mad mind.

It spurred me to think I should get on with my other little plan to record the talks and upload pod-castable files (a new word Google's spell checker doesn't recognise) to the church website as well. So I bought a microphone from Maplins, and spent most of my day recording and editing sound files, apart from the odd hour when I popped down the church to print off Ash Wednesday liturgy sheets and copies of the booklets of the six talks to hand out tomorrow.

I should have recorded the sound files before printing the booklets. The point nine percent of errors you miss when diligently reading in silence really show up when you're reading a script aloud ... ah well. You live and learn. Anyway, I'm nearly there.

During the day I decided to cast a bit more bread on the waters, and emailed a promotional flyer to Ben Glaze, an 'Echo' reporter who takes an interest in church and community affairs. Really there's no way of knowing if anyone's interested in Vicar's critique of modernity, and progress in science and technology. We'll see .... it's all in a day's evangelisation.

Oh yes, if you've read this far, you can check out the site for yourself

Monday, February 04, 2008

More changes on the way

This year's Lent starting so early, we kept Candlemass yesterday rather than the Sunday before Lent, with its Transfiguration readings. I wasn't difficult to talk about both and link the themes, however.

I heard about a school (not one that I'm connected with), where a note sent to parents informed them of the school's forthcoming assembly of the Candlemass theme, explaining that it commemorated "the arrest of Jesus in the Temple".

I wonder which version of the Liturgy or Bible that comes from?

Already in God on Mondays, we're facing Lent, I told the story of the temptations today. Quite a challenge to work with directly for a bunch of children under ten.

This was followed by a Governors' meeting, at which a letter from Glenys the head teacher was read out, announcing her retirement at the end of summer term. Everyone was a bit stunned. She's built a superb teaching team working tightly together in the most difficult, and ever changing circumstances in an area of the city which has been a portal for migrant workers for more than a century. So now for the second time in two years, I'm involved in another Head Teacher's appointment process.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Change at school

Apparently, the news last week of the retirement of Tredegarville School's caretaker, who lives on site, was leaked to the local miscreant factions before its was made known to the world. Her appearance in the Council's Housing application office was duly noted by locals.

The result was that over the weekend several thousand pounds of infant playground equipment was stolen, and staff working late threatened by local gang members turning up to stake a claim, or whatever else they do, before forces of law and order were summoned from form filling to reassert community ownership of school property.

Nothing like this has happened in thirty years of local school life, in contrast to what happens in other poor areas of the city. Worrying indeed.

The Diocesan Director of Education and the Diocesan Secretary came to school this afternoon to review the situtation, and work out with the acting Head Teacher - the Head is on leave - where to go from here.

The next step is a full review of security, bearing in mind that the next caretaker appointed may not want to live in the isolated house on the school site which goes with the job. The house and the school have to be secured to ensure they can remain fully in use. There may be troubled times ahead, and they will be expensive, that's for sure. Thankfully those responsible within the Diocese for managing school affairs are more than capable of making progress on this.

After the meeting I was glad to escape to Kenilworth for 24 hours to spend time with my lovely grand-daughter, nearly four already!