Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Surveying Cardiff's churches

With a little extra time on my hands at the moment, I've been able to complete the task of building a database of religious groups and communities in the City Borough of Cardiff. Doing this is part of what the Spiritual Capital research project set out to achieve. It has involved sifting through the contact information I collected over a year ago to guide the research work to be done for us by the University Regeneration Institute, and then checking against entries on publicly accessible web sites. We don't want to publish anything that isn't already available in the public domain, but we do want to publish accurate information that will be easy to up-date in future, when we have the means to do so on the Spiritual Capital Cardiff website.

Unfortunately much of the information available on the web is outdated or otherwise inaccurate, and simply hasn't been amended. There's an amazing bi-lingual spelling error in the title of a student-land church on both the University Chaplaincy website. I suspect a lot of data is simply compiled by cut and paste replication. I know from my own experience just how tedious it is to verify information found. However, the task has proved more rewarding than expected, as I have been able to uncover more new information about religious groups I knew about, and also information about new groups I hadn't heard of before.

I've deliberately restricted information gathering to web-searching for the moment, as that an indication of any group's willingness to make its presence known. No doubt there are groups meeting out there in the city, which gather adherents by word of mouth, or very local publicity efforts. Religious groups often start meeting in houses and when they outgrow the place and want to move into a public hall, find the need to inform a wider circle, and go public. Larger historic church institutions can have a big public profile and a small active membership. Many new emerging church groups may have equally sized active membership, but quite a low public profile, if they are worshipping in borrowed public premesis. It's also interesting that the city has many small church buildings, founded by evangelical missions over a century ago. A glimpse at their history often reveals how they have remained places of worship, but the denominational affiliation of its members and leaders has changed several times.

I have the impression that there's been a considerable increase in the number of Christian groups with their own websites over the past year - this must be, in part due to the ease of use of new web page making tools now available. Having a current web presence is a useful indication of the current state of smaller churches, often accommodated in much older buildings. There's even a mission that meets in a pub, and has no building of its own, but a distinctive web-page of its own. All this makes it a lot easier to find contact details and information. I now have a list of 202 religious bodies, of which 185 are Christian and 27 of other faiths, and that's grown by ten percent during my latest revision efforts, with new discoveries, and may grow even further before the list is published.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Easter again

I must be slowing down and relaxing, as I didn't wake up early and get to the eight o'clock, nor even the nine o'clock at the Cathedral this morning. Clare and I went and paid Owain a visit, then she dropped me off in Callaghan Square to walk down to St Mary's for the Parish Mass, which is at eleven. The Greeks were all arriving too, as I did, since it's their Easter Sunday morning.

After Mass, Father Graham told me that he's been over to join the Vigil last night, and related how the priest, before reading the Resurrection Gospel had fished out his mobile phone, and dialled his dad in Cyprus, so that his proud father could hear his son proclaim Easter two thousand miles away over the phone. A bit like one of those Samsung ads on the telly.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Topping out day

One compensation for being off work this week is that I was today able to attend the topping out ceremony for the John Lewis department store building. I hadn't expected to be able to go because it clashed with the midday Eucharist.

We were invited at 10h30 to turn up at the Bovis/SD2 redevelopment offices in Harlech Court, in the lee of the Big Sleep Hotel, in order to register and obtain protective equipment - hi-viz vest, helmet, gloves and goggles, to comply with H&S site regulations. Then we were briefed and led across the road in squadrons of 20, to climb up the stair-well to what will be the fourth floor, in order to get a grandstand view of the whole site, and ten minutes to take photos. I was pleased to get a photo of St John's tower sandwiched in between lift shafts - never to be seen like that again, once it's all in-filled with apartments.

Then we climbed up on to the roof for a speech from the Chief Engineer and the MD charged with bringing the new store into being, about eighty of us. The ceremony consisted of a photo opportunity with the MD tightening the 'last nut' of the steel frame of the building, rather than cementing a brick into place. All very low key, but valued as a ritual by all those engineers present. Some of the photographs I took are posted here.

We were then entertained to a three course sit down lunch in the Western Studio down at the Millennium Centre, a mix of engineers, local government officers, and SD2 staff. One side of the studio was adorned with big SD2 banners, the other with John Lewis furnishings for a lounge and a dining room, tastefully laid out - a little goutée of the future. Splendid opportunism. The only 'outsiders' there were myself and Illtyd Lloyd representing Tabernacl. We sat together and talked with 'Lord' Eric Dutton, the founding father of city centre management in Cardiff, Paul Mannings, the City's redevelopment manager, Paul Thomas head of Highways and Warwick Armstrong of Planning.

I was interested to note, the service being a bit slow, that pudding wasn't served until after 1.45, and the working men at the table were starting to fidget. By 2.10, they'd upped and left. There were two bottles of wine on the table. Only half of one bottle was drunk - between seven people. The fact that it was Friday afternoon didn't seem to give anyone the idea that they should sit back and while away the time 'officially'. These were all bosses who take their jobs seriously. I'd like to think that they all get satisfaction from what they do, to be so keen to get back to work, rather than so scared that people would gossip if they didn't.

Although there was an official coach back to the centre, I took the Bay Car, which left earlier, with Illtyd, then made my way over to school to find out who got the job, and how everyone there feels about it. Well, more of that another day. As I was leaving school, I saw that there was a furniture van on the forecourt of St James' Church. It was the 'church clearance' people collecting pews, the lectern, altar, communion rails etc. I popped in, and found Allan in there locking up. Finally, with the clutter gone and the sanctuary completely empty, the majesty of the choir and apse is really striking. If anything it looks less inglorious than it did last week with everything still in disarray. Now is when I'd like to be able to take it over and use it as a place of prayer - prayer of simplicity, without all the pomp and pretension with which we clog our great places for worship.

Talk of 'topping out', I wonder what happened to the framed photo of the topping out of St James' spire by Mrs Canon Thompson, who ascended 150 in a rickety lift for the purpose. Well, that's what the caption beneath reports. You can't actually see who's who in the picture as it's taken from the other side of the crossroads.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Waiting upon decisions

Today the interviews were held for the post of Head Teacher at Tredegarville School. I could have gone along and been involved with meeting the candidates, either yesterday, or today. However there needed to be an odd number of governors for the interview panel, so I said I'd only take part if there was an even number on the day. I was grateful, in a way, not to be called - simply to stand back and be on the receiving end of the decision made by four excellent lay people, with Fr Roy as chair. Whoever the new Head is, I'll accept gladly to work with them, knowing they have the confidence of the others. Whoever accepts the job will find it a mid-career challenge of the highest order, to bring out the best in them. It's a special place to be.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bookshop challenge

I felt rather strange about today, being here 'on the sick' and not far off on holiday. A Saturday without preparations to make. Bed at a reasonable hour, nice and relaxed, but I still work up before the alarm would have sounded at 7.10am, so I got up and went to the Cathedral Eight O'clock Eucharist. I enjoyed the silence, and being on the receiving end.

After breakfast, I felt restless, so I went down to City URC for their morning service, which gave me the chance to be on the receiving end of a good half hour sermon from my friend Tom Arthur. Afterwards over coffee, he told me that the bookshop under the church tower had closed down three weeks ago. This was the first I'd heard of it. SPCK sold out to the American Orthodox Society of St Stephen, which simply didn't have the ability to make the shops any more viable, as well as having a knack of treating the staff in ways few appreciated. They'd simply decided to shut the place and terminate the lease without discussion, and that was that.

Tom and the City church elders are now looking for ways to re-open the shop, re-configuring its stock according to niche market demands. They are looking for other church partners to buy into the scheme. There's a lot of work to be done to survey the market, put together a business plan. I'd really like to be able to help on this. I can't believe I hadn't heard about the closure. That's what you get for not reading the 'Church Times' regularly I guess.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bed time surprise

Pleased with my efforts on Wednesday evening, but feeling a bit like I'd overdosed on coffee, I decided to check my blood presure, which I haven't done for a month or so, and was shocked to discover it was abnormally high - so much so, I checked several times, and on each arm, to rule out machine error. Puzzled and disturbed, I went up to bed, and after urinating blood, I was doubly astonished to start a heavy nose bleed from both nostrils. It was proving impossible to control, so I insisted that Clare take me up to the Heath hospital, since nose bleeding has been associated for me with other blood pressure surges in the past. No point in risking a stroke by doing nothing.

We had to wait three quarters of an hour to be seen, but at least the bleeding had stopped by the time I was admitted to what turned out to be an intensive systematic medical examination, by a series of aimable and cheerful (considering it was three o'clock in the morning by this time) nurses, doctors and radiographers. Finally I was placed on a ward where I got a few hours sleep and breakfast before further x-rays and blood samples were taken. I couldn't have been more impressed with the considerate treatment I received, the stage by stage explanations, and the good humour. The outcome? Well, most likely a tiny stone moving, resulting in the unblocking of a vessel in my left kidney. By mid morning my blood pressure was nearly normal and urine clear. They'd run out of tests they could do without putting me in an appointment queue, and were happy to release me. I can expect to return within a few weeks for a CT scan, and an internal scan of the bladder - just to be on the safe side. But, at least it meant I was able to attend the legendary Buena Vista Social Club concert in St David's Hall, a birthday present to me, doubly enjoyable under the circumstances. Music to smile by.

I've not been sleeping well for several weeks due to neck and shoulder pains - the aftermath of my little skiing accident in January, though thankfully it's improved with therapy. I've been feeling ever so slightly under the weather, mildly poisoned is how I'd put it, but not enough to make me go to the doctors. Now I know why - one kidney less than usually efficient due to this small blockage, and hopefully nothing else. After the best night's sleep at home I've had for a while, I'm already feeling better than I have for a while. My GP doesn't care how well I feel, however. He's ordered me to take a fortnight off to recover properly, and not throw myself gratefully back into work as I am wont to do. He's right really. There are lots of other dangerous possible causes for this little incident that have to be ruled out by completion of the investigation. I just have to let go all my worries and relax, if I know how.

It's strange that I had so little pain or discomfort through the build up to this incident. Just lucky, I suppose. Although with hindsight, that dull ache in the lower left back area where he kidney is located, at the end of a long car journey can no longer be attributed to old age muscular discomfort caused by the seats in our trusty old jalopy.The seat merely pressed upon a soft place with an underlying vulnerability. The car now feels much more comfortable than it did a couple of days ago.

I'm not quite sure what I'll do with two weeks sick leave. I suppose I could now turn attention to regaining a decent measure of physical fitness, by running and swimming and losing weight. I've been putting it off for a good while, owing to this slight feeling of to being quite right, under par. As it turns out, probably an in-built inertia, defending a wonky kidney more strain. All things work together for good, I guess.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Condensing the draft

Assembly at Tredegarville this morning followed by a year six class Eucharist in St Germans'. As Fr Roy is on leave, I stood in for him, before going in to St John's for the lunchtime Eucharist. After lunch I took a copy of the now complete Spiritual Capital draft report up to the Archbishop's office for him to inspect, and possibly offer us a supporting endorsement. That felt like something of a milestone. Our planned steering group meeting couldn't take place as we'd not been able to get the full draft out for people to look at. We also have a summary report to write, and that's something really we should also have a draft to study as a Steering Group before too long. So, I spent the evening trying to distil the essence of seventy eight pages down to eight, to kick-start the task. I felt that I'd made some progress by the end of the evening, but we'll have to see what the others think. Checking assumptions and objectives step by step as we go.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Getting the message across

The City Centre Retail Partnership Board meeting today spent some time reflecting on how its role might develop in the light of the building redevelopment now in full swing - the topping out ceremony for the John Lewis department store is scheduled for the end of this month. It is due to open a few months ahead of the main shopping centre, and the possibility of a staged launch gives some cause for concern for all concerned with promotion and public relations. There is a strong determination to get it right and make the most of the opportunity to improve Cardiff's retail scene beyond recognition, despite the current preoccupation with recession, adding to worries about static or falling sales.

There are also concerns about there being enough suitable people to employ when there's a huge new department store and a hundred ordinary stores all bidding for the best people to be their public face. Lots of questions, not many answers. We also talked about the Countdown 2009 progress chasing exercise, and concern was expressed that two of the most important focus groups hadn't yet met - transport and communications.

The Retail Partnership serves in an excellent way to promote what goes on in the city, and the information sharing on a whole plethora of subjects is always up to date and useful. It has certainly transofrmed our life at St John's, knowing what goes on sufficiently in advance to be able to plan to do something about it if it concerns us. Countdown managers would do well to make better use of the expertise already available through the Partnership, as their own internal and external communications processes don't always work effectively for the better.

The developers work very hard now at publicising what's happening behind the hoardings and what's planned for the future. It's effective and the colourful banners cheer up the centre area. Even so, there's been one amusing anomaly.

Half of St John Street has been dug up and sections of the new granite paving laid behind a cordon of Heras fences. There are two separate fenced off sections with a passage between them. I couldn't help noticing last week that one section set nearly six inches higher than the other, creating the possibility of quite a steep gradient from one section to the other across the width of the path between them. Why, I asked one of the project managers. "Oh, the northernmost section is only a test bed. It'll be torn up again soon and re-laid at the lower level." Really? Why not tell the public? I asked. "It's on the to-do list", was the answer.

Walking back from the retail partnership meeting, I observed that in the northernmost section a wooden notice board with a glazed from had been erected. In it was a site map on which was stencilled something like 'Trial paving laid, to be taken up and replaced'. Sort of informative, but not easy to read. Moreover, the map was unintelligible - well it might have been correct for an engineer looking at it, but for Joe Public, looking through the fence, the map was upside down and difficult to identify with the street area it represented.

Now that's the kind of communication we suffer from. A bit like that US/European space project which died embarrassingly because the Yanks did their sums in feet and inches and the Europeans did their metrically, so that when put together in the satellite launch, it led to their creation going way off course. And this from some of the most highly intelligent people on the planet. In exercises of collaboration between groups with different interests and competences, checking assumptions and objectives is one of the hardest tasks to keep on doing. No wonder communication can be so hard to achieve.

Monday, April 14, 2008

With a whimper

This evening we re-opened the adjourned 2006 AGM of the late Rectorial Benefice of Central Cardiff, to receive the audited annual report and accounts, a year late, and after much heartbreak to the Parish Wardens. Thankfully, there was some good news in addition to the reports about the sale of the curates' houses, from which revenue eventually, both Parishes will net a quarter of the total sum, to put away for a rainy day. Archdeacon Bill Thomas kindly returned to preside of the resumed meeting. There were just fourteen of us present with him out of the 120 odd 'faithful' registered on the last electoral roll of the benefice.

The Archdeacon asked me to open the meeting with prayer. For a while I felt quite dumbstruck, deprived of my usual eloquence, not knowing how to begin without saying something that might make members present laugh, if not our Heavenly Father. It's not as if I ever wanted this moment to come. This occasion for me was a bit like a cross between an inquest and the reading of a will - a sombre occasion, the final end of the collaborative team ministry project I'd come back to Cardiff to lead in 2002 and seen progressively stripped of members, until two positions remained, when the Benefice was divided, on the opinion that team ministry didn't work, and was no longer regarded as a career prospect, so could be done away with. Well, that wasn't my view. The Parish discussed it, and made the decision, although I don't think anyone really understood the implications, nor what problems might arise from dissolution.

Well, it's all over now. We're in our second year as separate Parishes, and will remain so until either fashion favours collaborative ministry once more, or more cut-backs necessitate some kind of merger. Meanwhile, I'm working on my own, and not at all happy about. The painful isolation of working alone and unsupported in hostile circumstances abroad is something that lately I realise I've not really recovered from. It's tough going when there's so much to be done, and less time and energy than ever to do it with. I'm just so grateful that I swim in an ocean of kindness and good-will among the faithful of St John's, St James' and the school. That makes my sense of loss just about bearable. All I need now is a programme for recovery from disillusionment.

A leisure journey

Sunday afternoon we set off for home and stayed overnight in the Royal Hotel at Ross on Wye, beautifully located adjacent to the Parish Church on the escarpment overlooking the river. It was good to have the extra day off, and not have to rush all the way back to South Wales, and work. After breakfast, we wandered around the town, looked at the town museum, located in the room above the ancient market building. We then went to Symonds Yat for a walk followed by lunch lunch al fresco in the nature reserve up on the promontory. There's a pair of peregrine falcons nesting in the cliffs overlooking the Wye, attracting a stream of bird watching enthusiasts, and the set up of an ad hoc RSPB interpretation centre at the observation point. It's a spectacularly beautiful place to visit at any time of year.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Good Shepherd Sunday

It was a pleasure to rise early and walk briskly in the cold bright air to St Nicholas Parish Church Kenilworth for the eight o'clock Eucharist this morning. A pleasure to be on the receiving end, to be welcomed, to relax, listen and participate in a modern language service, sufficiently familiar, but also sufficiently different to keep me on the alert. The building is thirteenth century in origin, much done up in Victorian times, and well cared for. To judge from the weekly notice sheet, the parish is a lively and active one. I'm glad my grand-daughter is signed up to start at the Parish Aided School in September.

There was a congregation of about thirty, but it was the only Eucharist of the day. Their main service alternates between Eucharist and a Family service of the Word, so I guess there'll be some who make the effort to go early when there's no later opportunity. The Peace was exchanged in a relaxed and friendly way. I can recall times when eight o'clockers went to eight o'clock to avoid having the give anyone a greeting at that time of day. The Vicar came and greeted me and said "Welcome", noticing a first time visitor tells me that he knew all the other faces present.

Over breakfast I was quizzed about the church. Inevitably having a child in a church school means that parents will need to attend church functions from time to time. Like many of their generation, they are neither hostile nor committed to the church, but disquieted by 'happy clappy' fundamentalism, and enthusiasm verging on sectarian fanaticism. I felt able to reassure them that they'd find a warmth and breadth of welcome in their parish church that would give them enough space to be themselves, and maintain their integrity. That's what any good Parish church should be able to offer.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Birthday outing

As it was my birthday yesterday, we left Cardiff early evening to spend a weekend away celebrating my 63rd Kath, Anto and Rhiannon. Kath and Anto had a gig in Stourport on Severn, a canal-side town of the West Midlands, near Kidderminster. They were performing in the Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels, a superbly designed modern church building standing within the remnants of the walls of a giant Victorian building, demolished in the 1980s.

Apparently the huge Victorian building, always costly, hard to manage and never totally completed, had suffered the collapse of its east end wall, leading to the revelation that its timbers were riddled with dry rot, and the whole structure a potential danger to its users. Proposals were made for a new-build inside the walls of the old one, once demolished, and this met with fearsome opposition from local objectors, and a consistory court case before the project could be realised. The remains of the old building certainly make an impressive setting for the new. It's a strong image of resurrection.

The church also has an eight hectare historic churchyard, as unmanageable as its Victorian building might have been, if it were not for the brave decision to limit areas of management and let most of it run wild as a biodiversity conservation measure.

About fifty people were there for the concert, with three offerings from up and coming singer song writers, in the congenial atmosphere of a modern church, with the undistracted attention of a quiet audience - a lot easier than singing in a pub or a restaurant, that's for sure. Kath sweetly dedicated the penultimate song to her dad, which meant several people came up and wished my happy returns before we set off for Kenilworth and home in the pouring rain, tired but happy.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The poor you have with you always

At the end of the afternoon I joined the farewell party for Steve Hyde, until recently manager of the city centre social services homelessness team. After eleven years building up an outstandingly effective and innovative cross disciplinary team, Steve has parted company with the Council to go freelance as an expert consultant. Behind his decision lies a policy disagreement over reforming ideas now being implemented by the Council, proposing a shiny new scheme that is designed to be cost-effective, but is untested in practice. In the end, I guess you can't lead in an organisation that you don't any longer believe in, especially if you're a man of principle.

Before his recent acceptance of a 'redundancy' package, Steve won awards as Wales' Achiever of the Year, and the Council 'Best Employee of the Year' award. It's a measure of his success as a leader and innovator. He's a man who has kept faith with those he serves, and refused to embroil himself in the political background of life in local government. It remains to be seen whether the shiny new scheme turns out to be as effective in serving its clientele, as the scheme it replaces.

While we were chatting, Steve pointed out to me one of the team who is a nurse practitioner serving street people. "This afternoon", said Steve, "one of his clients had a cardiac arrest and died in his arms. That's the second for him in a fortnight." Apparently an average of four rough sleepers a year die on Cardiff streets - young druggies, old winos - people known and unknown to the street carer community. Looking back recently at eighteenth century St John's church records, it seems it was the same then. Anonymous destitute strangers found dead in an alley, or fished out of the Taff, drowned. Around two dozen people every year are 'buried on the rates' as I've heard older working class people describe a funeral paid for by the Council's Bereavement Services. What the Parish used to offer - the pauper's funeral.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Flying high day.

Before the noon Eucharist today, an hour and a half meeting of focus group leaders engaged as part of the Countdown 2009 process, which seeks to hold together the complexities of ensuring necessary changes happen in the running of the city, to accompany its amazingly organised commercial redevelopment.

The identified Focus Group areas are:- Public Safety, Access, Clean City Centre, Communications, Events, Public Realm, Transport, Wayfinding, and altogether surprisingly Faith !!!

Well, not really, I've been nagging for the past five years about the way the whole redevelopment process over the previous decade has failed to take into account the existence of faith communities in the city centre before, during and after this massive economic investment in raising the stature of Cardiff as a world class city. The Faith focus group has been brought into existence with the aim of inviting feedback from the dozen churches, two mosques, one Gurdwara and one Hindu Mandal identified in the city centre and Bay Area (probably an under-estimate) about the impact of any and every aspect of the city centre development on faith community life and activity.

Even communities a long way from the hard hat, flourescent jacket zone, can be affected by displacement of traffic, caused by construction activities, or Big Event days when road closure can sow chaos for the unprepared. This is on top of access problems, caused by restricted parking, and pedestrianisation for faith communities within the 'square mile' of the city centre. Moreover, faith communities were there before the big changes - in time slices that vary from 25 years to nine centuries in the case of St John's, with a preponderance of communities in the 100-150 year bracket. So, taking into account, giving a voice to the 1-2,000 people altogether, attending worship in all those places week by week, is a decent honourable initiative on the part of the Council. And, it doesn't stop at feedback about the impact of redevelopment.

There is, as yet, an unrefined understanding that faith groups after all may have a contribution to make to debate about values, aspirations and quality of life, that needs taking into account in creating the city we want. This consideration really puts believers on the spot, challenges us to make both critical, constructive offerings to the overall Proud Capital Vision consultation process.

I was able to report on the small start we've made and the positive contribution to advance the city's vision faith communities can make given the opportunity. I was also able to give advance notice of our soon to be published Spiritual Capital report and conference. The first mention of this in the wild, and not the last.

The meeting was held in the new interpretation suite at Cardiff Castle, with its stylish and spectacular panoramic view of the Castle grounds. This was my first visit there. It's yet to be opened to the public, as work on the terrace in front of the new building (at the back of the south west outer wall) is not yet complete. Nor have any bike racks been installed yet, as I discovered when I arrived - it's just five minutes cycle ride from home.

There were some useful progress reports, but the Communication Focus group notably has still not met. Most Focus Group reportings mentioned the need for better communication. It's hugely frustrating but understandable nevertheless that delivery on this front should be problematic.

Not for a century has Cardiff embraced such complex measures of development. Indeed it's more complex now, because finance cannot rely, as Victorian City Fathers could, on the immense primary wealth created by coal and iron industries, much in demand globally (the first ever cheque for a million pounds was written in Cardiff back in those days). Nowadays, Cardiff has to attract investment, to 'speculate in order to accumulate' as gamblers say. There's a big measure of risk to be calculated in decision making. Nothing is assured. There are pressures for open governance and levels of educated criticism from those on the receiving end of development which would have been unintelligible to our visionary forefathers.

In order to have everyone working together towards common goals a much more demanding system of collaboration and accountability is needed for everyone in the public as well as private sectors (not to mention the voluntary and faith sectors which often seem stuck in the past). Such a system doesn't yet exist. It is evolving by trial and error and occasional innovation. It's tantalising and frustrating. Nobody will be satisfied until it works for everyone - well almost everyone ....

After Eucharist and lunch I went to the Proud Capital Vision Forum meeting, which gathers together quarterly all the heads of organisations and agencies which could be regarded as big 'stakeholders'. This aims to produce high level accountability between big organisations and agencies in the public sector. More overview stuff. We had a good presentation from Bill Savage, Chair of Cardiff & Co, the city's new marketing and tourism organisation. He ran a slide show of city images behind him as he spoke, and for the first time the the past five years I've been noticing, I saw an official piece of publicity which included a shot of one of Cardiff's 200 religious buildings.... St John's tower, two seconds, seen from a helicopter, tanatalising, gorgeous to look at from above, as below (God how blessed we are!). It was a great excuse for me to raise the issue of the lack of representation the city's religious heritage in self-presentation to the world. The Council officials are getting used to my nag. Maybe this year will be the year of breakthrough ... ? Maybe?

Among the papers for the meeting was a couple of pages by way of a progress report on the various development projects currently under way in the city. These vary in size and scale, but I counted nearly sixty projects being pursued in fulfilment of the total corporate action plan. No wonder holding together all this and communicating about it to relevant parties is such a nightmare, especially when too much information causes overload and switch off.

Straight after this meeting, I had to go to Tredegarville school for a candidate shortlisting session with the rest of the school governors. This was also quite a complex and demanding task, which I approached somewhat grumpily. However I was pleased that my assessment of the most likley candidates for interview was not at variance with the consensus. And was I glad to get home, in time to eat, and do a wedding interview, before going down to see my friend and colleague Father Graham, to see what might be done about raising St Mary's Parish website from the dead.

At the end of a day in the stratosphere I can report that the trench on the north side of St John's is no longer full of water. Just next to the north west buttress of the tower sits a discarded four foot section of 22 inch broken cast iron water pipe. Pressure and vibration from the excavator cracked it. The main water pipe itself has been repaired with a section coloured bright blue - material of undetermined compostion - I must enquire - the colour of a plaster cast Excavation has resumed, though the soil shifted is noticeably claggier than before. All's well that ends well.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Water water everywhere

Monday is always a day of recovery from Sunday, when all the tiredness seeps out. School re-starts today, but 'God on Mondays' doesn't start until next week, so I could take a little down time, have a proper lunch at home with Clare and Owain, fix myself an oesteo-myology appointment to get my shoulder sorted, still causing sleepless nights, following my piste crash in January. Then the phone rings. It's Steve from City Centre Management to tell me that this time, the mechanical digger breaking up all the road surfaces outside St John's has hit a water main, so there's a flood panic. Could I check the crypt?

We have only a small boiler house. No crypt was ever built, either in the eleventh or fifteen century re-build. Most of the early Victorian buildings adjacent have old cellars, a network said to reach over to St Mary Street and the Castle. All flooded, apparently. Fortunately, Philip was in church early afternoon, and the builder's contractors were in working as usual, and there was no church disaster to report, thankfully. But after lunch, on the way to my appointment, I popped in to the centre to see the damage. Water was still flowing and the trenches just north of the church flowed with water, making it look like ... Venice, or a Cotswold village with a stream down its main street, depending upon the flavour of your imagination.

Apparently a water engineering team will have to come in and excavate in order to repair this evening. Such excitement - and I didn't have my camera with me!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

If only ...

Following this afternoon's Eucharist at Tredegarville school, I popped into St. James' church - just sold to a property developer that's developing a speciality in turning large old buildings into residential accommodation - to take photos of remaining church furnishings, to send to a company which specialises in the clearance of redundant churches, and re-selling articles to other churches looking for lecterns, pews etc, to see if they're interested in what's there. I keep on being asked by the powers that be if we've cleared everything out that the parish needs. We have, but there's still a lot that we cannot use that we might be able to dispose of to a good home and maybe earn some cash for a future project. So, one last effort.

The Church in Wales seems not to have a system for dealing with practicalities of redundancy, apart from bare advice about what should and shouldn't be done to comply with laid-down rules. With church redundancies starting to be more common-place, there really should be some support service to hand-hold the parish officers and clergy through the process of letting go of a much loved building - not an advice manual or a smart website, nor a clever flow chart, but a real human being whose job it is to enable people to make the best they can of what is going to be a painful bereavement process, to help them practically through the task, as a funeral director or a solicitor appointed as executor might. Given the potential cash tied up in physical assets, there's no reason why this shouldn't be self-funding. Regrettably our once established church doesn't do downsizing all that well at the moment however.

Where disposing of St James' is concerned, this task has fallen on the Parish Wardens of the old benefice, and myself. It's been a strain on all of us. It is every bit as demoralising and destructive a process as the fight I waged for three years without being able to save the place. I wish I had the option of honourable retirement soon. I could do with turning my back on all this for the sake of my emotional if not my physical health. Going in to take photographs this evening, after several months away stirred up memories from which I have walked away, hidden from, in the effort to maintain morale and lead onwards in a positive direction. If only ....

It's such a beautiful, building so much more beautiful potentially de-cluttered of all its furnishings, to reveal fully the lines of a finely crafted building in the 12th century French style. Let's hope the development architects will be inspired creatively by its form to make something worthy for its future. A 'former' place of worship. What a statement about modern society! If only .....

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Bi-lingualism and St John's

I had the pleasurable challenge of a properly bi-lingual wedding today. It's something that was habitual when I worked in Switzerland and France - usually either with French or German as the other language, sometimes with another cleric accompanying, often not. St John's has been mostly an English language church in the past, with Welsh language services catered for by Eglwys Dewi Sant, just across the other side of the city centre, in a building which was one of six built during the incumbency of the mighty Canon Thompson during the last quarter century of Victoria's reign. This has begun to change, however, perhaps due to the influx of more native Welsh speakers into the city.

It's not unusual for wedding couples, or even grieving families to ask for Welsh language hymns, but over the past couple of years, the request to some Welsh in the service has started to grow. Both families, one from Anglesey and one from Llanelli supporting bride and groom at today's wedding were Welsh speaking, so I did the greater part of the service in Welsh. I invited all to say the Lord's Prayer in their mother tongue (in English, as there were some English-only speakers present), but the predominant language voiced was indeed Welsh - a special moment.

Moreover, it suggests that we need to think a little more creatively about liturgical bi-lingualism as a pastoral policy that needs to find appropriate expression in our church's life - starting with new signage. We are obliged to do something about this, not least because one of our sign boards has blown down. The wind of the Spirit seems to be prodding us as well as urban demographics.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Why so few women leaders in 'Yr hen fam' ?

Yesterday, the Church in Wales' Governing Body voted narrowly against ordaining women to the episcopate. The houses of Laity and the Bishops voted in favour but the House of Clergy fell just a couple of votes short of passing the measure. I seem to recall there was a similar reluctance on the part of the clergy in voting through the original measure ordaining women to the priesthood.

The measure voted upon seems to have aroused anxiety among both the pro and anti lobby, that dissenters would not be certain of the pastoral provision they seek to maintain their integrity, as believers in an all male apostolic succession. Maybe there's not yet quite enough trust and good will to inspire confidence that pastoral provision needed will be there once there is no longer the 'flying bishop', introduced as a stop gap measure eleven years ago. The clergy vote indicates that the 'problem' of all male succession belongs to some of them (though not all), but also to those who sympathise (though without agreeing with them) and do not want to see them alienated. Muddling along in living with differences is what most seem to want.

If I was a woman priest in this situation, I'd be frustrated and disappointed by the rejection of the proposal, on the point of its principal intent, as well as on the fear of practical difficulties. But I would feel a lot more frustrated hearing talk about 'glass ceilings' to womens' ministry imposed by refusal of episcopate to them, when there is no woman Archdeacon or Cathedral Dean in the Province after eleven years of ordaining women to priesthood. England has done it. Even fictional Borsetshire on 'The Archers' has a woman archdeacon.

Our church usually elects its Bishops from among its deans or Archdeacons - those who have proved, professionally speaking, that they can cope with and manage our system and its archaic constitution. It's certain to my mind that woman can and should be doing these jobs, and should have already been doing them, so that anyone wondering if the time was now right to have women bishop might be in able to look at women in senior roles, and judge on merit as well as principle whether or not the time is right to ordain one of them to the episcopate.

What difference would it make, appointing women priests to senior roles? Would that refreshing change of leadership style which women bring to pastoral ministry issue in a change of substance? Would a more 'feminine' collaborative approach to leadership influence the rest of the clergy to exercise a more collaborative approach to ministerial team work? Would it lead to changes that would facilitate a move away from the model of incumbency as proprietor of a parish and its buildings? (This may not be what's intended, but it's often what happens in fact). I wish I could believe that it would, but revolutions don't come from the top down.

Not only is our church male dominated in its leadership, it is a male hierarchical institution designed by men for men to exercise power and authority over. It is more likely to shape the woman ordained into it, than the woman will be able shape the institution. I doubt if gender and feminine pastoral style will lead to change in the way episcopé is exercised - well, not until we've lived for several generations with complete equality at all levels of role and responsibility throughout the church. And that means a lot more patience and persistence is needed, by leaders and led alike.