Monday, September 29, 2008

Error of judgement

After God on Mondays this afternoon, I decided to pop up to the Heath Hospital before attending the school governors meeting to visit Hilda, who was admitted to hospital with a broken femur in the small hours of Sunday. It seemed a good use of the hour in between.

I didn't expect to take half an hour to make the two and a half mile journey to the Heath. I didn't anticipate finding no place to park within a mile of the place, and by the time I turned around and returned without making the visit, the traffic congestion was still so bad that missing the meeting altogether was inevitable. Even if I'd gone by 'bus to the hospital door, there wouldn't have been enought time for a brief visit and the round trip. Although the timing would make it feasible, that presumes buses aren't thrown off schedule by other traffic.

I don't use the car much in town, and generally if I do it's at off peak times. Going around by bike and taking short cuts, you don't always notice the traffic which everyone around you is patiently coping with. The University term has just begun and the influx of students and their cars makes something of an impact on peak period traffic, especially through Cathays. As the year goes on, I suspect many use a car around town less and less, because of fuel and parking costs. At the start of the autumn term, when 25-30,000 birds of passage land in town, as many of 10,000 of them new to the situation, there's a period of adjustment to endure. Queues in the supermarkets and banks, as well as on the road.

I'm just annoyed with myself that this didn't even cross my mind. I could have dozen in the staffroom for an hour, rather than fume behind the steering wheel.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Back to Church Sunday

Well, I exhorted the congregation a few weeks ago to take seriously this publicised opportunity to invite someone they know to come to Church with them, and I put up suitable posters in the church porches to encourage the passing trade (of which we have much). The result?

For the first time this year, nobody came to the 8.00am. All the regulars bar one had told me that they expected to be away, so I turned up, just in case. But not even a late reveller or a down and out showed up (as they sometimes do). At least it meant that I could say morning prayer quietly, and spend time rigging up and testing equipment I needed to show a short video after the Harvest Sung Eucharist.

I showed a short 'YouTube' video of children demonstrating the making of Keyhole gardens in Lesotho - my friend Valdo in Switzerland emailed me the link last week, and I was much taken with it. Not being able to take advantage of the flaw in Adobe's Flash player which makes it possible to download and save a video stream, I opted to position the wireless router on a chair by the sacristy door, so that it could connect to my laptop perched on a choir stall, with a 30ft cable from there to a video projector beaming on the north aisle sanctuary wall, kindly loaned by my friend Peter Swinbank. Everything worked perfectly 'out of the box', in reheasal and in practice, much to my astonishment.

It was good to welcome Ben Rabjohns, on his first Sunday of pastoral placement with us, especially as we were a healthy forty adults plus children at the Eucharist for a change - 20% more than usual. There were a few unfamiliar faces, passing visitors to the city as ever, but more regulars turining up at once, plus a few Evensong goers made the effort to come. So all in all the total numbers attending were the same as a normal Sunday. Vanessa organised a Harvest luncheon after the service, and showing the video filled a gap between the end of refreshments after the service and the start of lunch. The lunch was fully subscribed and people so pleased with the occasion, that a lunch during Advent has been proposed - cawl with bread and cheese to signify Advent restraint. Marvellous!

I had to slip away early from the lunch because there was another family birthday meal for Clare at home. Later on she and I went to the 'The Barber of Seville' at the Millennium Centre - another brilliant production by WNO, with an English libretto so well performed that the singing was frequently accompanied by gusts of laughter - shades of G&S! There was no Evensong at St John's, since today is also St Michael's Patronal Festival, so our evening congregation was invited to join theirs for 'Songs of Praise'. For once, I had half a Sunday off. I felt very strange about this. My Sunday is never a normal family day with ordinary leisure pursuits - for many years, four services have demanded all my attention. What it will be like to retire? How strange will that be?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Diocesan Conference

Up and out early this morning, to drive up to the Diocesan Conference at St John's School in Aberdare. An early start this year meant that the conference only ran up until lunchtime, instead of into the afternoon. Less to organise, and more chance that everyone would stay the course. The weather was good and I enjoyed the scenic drive up the Taff and Cynon valleys. It reminded me of just how much I dislike living in a place which is flat. Cardiff without surrounding mountains is way short of perfection in my mind.

Archbishop Barry spoke about the Lambeth Conference. I was particularly taken by his desire that post Lambeth, all the Bishops should refrain from action, and simply spend time reflecting upon all they had learned about each other and from each other, before considering whatever needs to be considered next in order to breathe new life and unity into the Anglican Communion.

We had a lively and entertaining presentation from Edwin Counsell about Church schooling in the diocese and a process of consultation being launched with the aim of improving and developing the Church's commitment in this realm. Given the ideological hostility towards faith based education among a certain section of the political and media classes in Britain today, it is very important not to be defensive by to prosecute the cause of faith schools more confidently. More people want faith based education than there are places available, and this is a reflection of the quality of care and ethos, as much as it is about high standards of learning. If only we could convert that kind of trust and good-will in to committed church membership!

It was good to be home early afternoon because, after all, it was Clare's birthday, and the family all arrived to go out for an early evening meal together. I was glad not to have any conflict of interests.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Contemplating Christmas already

We had a City Centre Church Together meeting yesteday evening, giving me an opportunity to report to members on the Spiritual Capital project and conference, and how we hope to take forward the proposals made. There was also an opportunity to publicise the Countdown 2009 publicity exercise which the Faith Focus Group has engaged with under the 'Celebrating the Season of Goodwill' heading, during December. Recently the Focus Group was offered the possibility of making use of the big screen on the front of St David's Hall to show video clips of interest about faith groups. I was musing over this talking to Abigail from the Quakers, walking back through the centre from Tabernacl on my way home after the meeting. It's no easy matter to produce lots of watchable short films of quality.

Then I had a brainwave. Why not have the utterly simple format of filming many different groups of people in different settings singing 'We wish you a Merry Christmas' and shouting out 'Happy Christmas/Nadolig Llawen' to camera? By midnight, I had emailed all my colleagues with this suggestion. The only response I received was most welcome - the offer of a loan of professional video equipment and a team of media students interested in making something of the raw idea. I wonder where this might take us? Hopefully it'll be fun to do.

This afternoon I went to St Michael's College up in Llandaff to meet with other clergy and students for a briefing about this year's ministerial placements. Ben Rabjohns is coming to St John's - an organ playing music graduate, whose father was until recently our Area Dean. I hope we can give him a memorable and influential experience in the two terms he'll be with us. Not least an interesting Christmas!

In the Churches Together meeting several colleagues voiced their feeling that Christmas has been completely hi-jacked by secular and commercial concerns and is no longer 'ours'. My question about how we might 'baptize' this culture, bring out its Christian meaning and vocation seemed to fall on deaf ears. Maybe I'm only making sense to myself. Sure too I become numbed by the constant repetition of Christmas carols and endless carol sevices and commercially enforced jollity in the six weeks beforehand. Nevertheless it's a real challenge to clear an inner space in which to rehearse the Advent scriptural themes, and to 'wait in hope'.

Perhaps I've learned in recent years how not to exhaust myself reacting towards all this external stimulus, but to ride along with it and mainitain a different agenda in my heart. When I reach Christmas Day nowadays, what I most like to do is to savour quietly the mystery of the moment in all its complexity. Amidst the family partying, and round of services if there's enough space for a time of quiet emptiness, in which to savour 'God with us', it's all worthwhile. In the past I often found that the festive season became unbearable, not so much because of busyness, but because I failed to make sufficient space in which to contemplate, to gaze at this crazy encounter between the human and the divine. Amazing that learning how to look should take so long.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Care in the city

Raymond, one of our regular street people was in church again the morning, and found asleep on the floor, unusual for him as normally he sits quietly at the back, and occasionally comes up and joins in the Eucharist for a while, and then leaves before the end. He is always quiet and well mannered, albeit that he emanates an air of forsaken sadness, and resignation that life has dealt him some pretty hard blows over the years.

Last Saturday he came into church and unusually I heard him shout aloud with annoyance at finding the toilet door locked. He was as grumpy as anyone deprived of sleep might be. He is one of the sixteen who sleep on the floor of the Tresillian House hostel, queuing for a space in one of the ten beds they have on offer to homeless people awaiting accommodation elsewhere. Progress can be very slow as people frequenting Tresillian House often have multiple problems (including addiction, substance abuse, and unpredictable behaviour), and are difficult to place. It's not an easy place to get a night's sleep, and it's hardly a secure place to rest, for fear of theft and sudden fights breaking out. The staff truly are a heroic bunch, and can't be everywhere all the time. So, a quiet vulnerable man in his sixtieth year has a really hard time there, but he puts up with it rather than sleep in a doorway. Poor men like him are always waiting for a break. Unlike many others, he usually carries a book to read, to while away the hours when he can't find anyone to talk to.

Anyway, someone saw fit to awaken him from a deep sleep (probably assisted by an early shot of vodka on an empty stomach), with the aim of turfing him out. He was quite disoriented and wobbly on his feet, though not behaving drunkenly, but rather as someone who is sick and tired. I chatted with him, and confirmed my impression that he was unwell, but having been woken, and feeling sick, he went outside, eventually collapsing outside the Market. An ambulance was called, and fortunately I was able to see him, and chat to the paramedics. I've been trying to persaude him (as several others have over this past month) to go and get his damaged knee fixed. Several times he's been taken to hospital and declined treatment because he fears being given an anaethetic, and won't be dissuaded from refusing treatment. Once in the ambulance, I urged him to accept that he was ill, and let the hospital give him some t.l.c. and a few days bed rest to recover from his nightly ordeal. It's no solution, but it's respite. He nodded in submission, and was taken off to the Heath.

After the Eucharist, I was glad to get to the area Deanery clergy Chapter meeting, as it seems I so often have diary conflicts, over midweek afternoon meetings. It's a good chance to catch up on the news, and for me to be able to share a little of what's been happening in and around the city centre. For once, however, I received some news about coming city centre activities from a couple of colleagues present. Several years ago a group of evangelical activites mootted the idea of having teams of Street Pastors out and about, ministering to consumers in the night time economy. It wasn't exactly clear at the time whether this was simply directed at ministering to the needs of the soul, or the body - as soup runs do. Now after a long period of quiet, it seems that a training programme is to start running next month, and it seems as if this will focus principally on pastoral listening, rather than material problem solving.

Sister Wendy's work over the past five years has shown how much need there is for listening people to be there in clubland for people with many life problems unaddressed in the normal run of daily existence. I wonder if it will be possible to interest its leadership in contributing to the soup run personnel discussion about empowering volunteers on the paracticalities of caring? We would benefit from as much input as possible to create a suitable Street Carer's scheme. One of these days we might even find an effective way to enable Raymond to move on.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

To rebuke a blessing - is that the question?

To bless someone or something means to give thanks to God for them or for it, to declare this person or that object or place to be special in some way. Anyone who blesses speaks well, wishes what is good for the other. The priest is authorised by church at ordination to declare God's blessing and pardon as a representative of others. Because the church is divided, no priest can represent each and every fragment of broken community, although in practice, to most believers, whether active in a church or estranged from it, any and every priest represents the whole Church of God, and they will seek a blessing, a pardon, a word of encouragement from them without discrimination or distinction. In this, the laity lead better than the leaders.

A priest authorised to bless by virtue of ordination still needs permission to exercise public ministry, and obtains this by holding a license from a Bishop. For this privilege a special oath of obedience to the Bishop, is made vowing to use in public worship only such orders of service as are legally authorised by the diocese. This undertaking is generally adhered to, though never strictly. There are few priests if any who do everything according to the book and its rules. Pastoral training encourages a degree of flexibility and adaptation to particular needs as an expression of Christian love and care.

Anglican Churches are now being exhorted by their leadership to refrain from authorising public services of blessing for use in gay civil partnerships, because some regard this as contentious and divisive. But to some of the faithful this 'restraint' is scandalous, particularly as priests are encouraged to engage in a positive and pastoral way with gay couples, and pray with them. By this is implied 'pray privately', also it means 'don't use the words authorised for public use exclusively for marriages'. If you use the marriage service on such occasions, one group is scandalised. If you refuse a public service in church, another group is scandalised. If you play around with the authorised texts, and adapt them for prayer 'in private', meaning 'in a service not advertised open to the public', those who strive to maintain good order and control the situation are scandalised.

People pray as individuals and in groups large and small in churches without feeling the need to use use publicly authorised forms of words. Some communities of the Reformation tried and failed to stop the faithful from doing this. There may be a lesson here. Organisations hold advertised public services in Parish Churches and Cathedrals whose content would not pass muster if scrutinised, and whose ceremonies and sentiments may embarrass officiating clergy. But for reasons of pastoral discretion (aka avoiding rows), little or nothing is said openly. Bishops could well rebuke many acts of public worship undertaken by licensed clergy for being unauthorised or a mockery, if not a violation of oaths taken. But they do not. In fact, the church's worship and pastoral outreach adapts to changing times by creatively going well beyond what is publicly authorised for use, for better and for worse.

How often are clergy asked to conduct services involving the renewal of marriage vows during a public on the occasion of a wedding anniversary. Is this authorised in church law? If you adapt the format of words to suit, is this authorised? Are officiating ministers rebuked for this? And if a gay couple want to pledge their lives to each other before God in prayer before their friends in the presence of a priest in a Parish Church, what difference would it make to put up a sign saying 'private ceremony' if members of the wider community also turn up and add their blessings to those of the priest, or if the PCC invites their event into their church to start with, either regardless of, or innocent about the offence/embarrassment this may cause to others? How is this more worthy of rebuke than some of the weird and wonderful funerals clergy preside over, dictated by 'pastoral need'? Or blessing nuclear submarines, or Tornadoes with cluster bombs? Or military or masonic services? Why single out gay Christians? Especially now.

The sooner the Church treats gay people and their pastoral needs the same as others, and blesses changes civil society has seen fit to make, in order to secure their position as social equals, the better it will be for bewildered observers as well as for the faithful faced with such equivocation. The scandalised and dissenters will be with us always. They can always be respectfully disagreed with. Inconsistency betrays us and betrays the inclusive Gospel of Jesus.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Who'd be a Bishop these days?

Today was the the 39th anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate. For my friend and mentor in early ministry Archdeacon David Lee, it was the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. His present home parish of Llanishen arranged him a party, preceded by a Eucharist at which he presided and Archbishop Barry preached. It was such a pleasure to be there with him, as often I'm away when he takes a service for me at St John's.

I can't remember when last I heard two sermons inside a week from a Bishop. At lunch we were chatting about this and he said that it's not unusual for him to preach eight different sermons in a week - a huge amount of preparation to do. No matter how much experience you may have, as one with oversight of all the different communities of the diocese and their needs, with relatively rare opportunities to visit them and 'speak to their condition', preparation is not to be skimped on.

Real episcopal care would be a lot more possible and less demanding in a diocese a quarter of the size of ours, given reduced expectation that a Bishop should be an international envoy of his church in overseas partnership arrangements. But we're stuck with what we have. If the Church in Wales shrinks much more we may end up like the Church of Ireland, with the prospect of contracting six dioceses into four or even three. The amount of travel and the range of demands would make oversight even harder.
If only we could re-appraise and recreate the episcopal role for these times. The world has changed so much since the Church in Wales constitution was so carefully formulated to sustain and protect the church as an episcopally directed community.

Travelling to and from Llanishen on the bus, I had the company of Fr. Graham Francis, my near neighbour at St Mary's down the Bay. A chance to catch up on Church in Wales Governing Body. news. I was interested in his take on the decision by the Bench of Bishops not to appoint another Provincial Episcopal Visitor (PEV or flying Bishop) to minister to those who still cannot accept the change (in their perception) to the catholic order of the Church due to Bishops ordaining women to the priesthood. He seemed resigned to it, confirming my view that cross border sorties from Wales into CofE Parishes enjoying flying Bishop support, on special occasions would be the outcome. England will make no more PEVs. When they come to retirement, PEVs can still expect to be called upon to exercise occasional episcopal ministry for another 15 years or so. This must be tough if you hate the modern hymns and liturgies you had to put up with in full time employment. Whenever do you get to 'make your soul'?

The decision of the Bench cuts the number of Bishops in the Province from eight to seven. The Bishops promise to ensure attention will be given to people's doctrinal and disciplinary sensitivities. They are honourable men, acting in the best interests of the unity of the church. But their undertaking wasn't backed by publication of an action plan to demonstrate how this undertaking will be fulfilled. This must be taken on trust. However, they are overworked already. Any local authority making minority services specialist staff cuts would have to be specific about such undertakings, or risk a bad reaction from unions and employees. It's a brave, honest decision, but those who made it are most likely to bear the consequences. The whole church may not be the better for this.

I'm glad to belong to a church that has opened its ordained ministry to women. I don't think it's being implemented nearly soon enough. But I'm aware that people I love and respect argue and feel differently. They need the support and encouragement of like minded spiritual leadership. on their journey. So I'm disappointed PEVs have been abolished. If we'd appointed one or two additional PEVs, the episcopal work-load across Wales would be lightened. More people would get access to the spiritual and pastoral leadership they have confidence in. Does this divide the church? Not if we know we're all one in the love of Christ, and respect those who disagree. They say it compromises the integrity of episcopal jurisdiction - but that's about power, authority and status in the sense 'the world' understands and misinterprets it. Is it only rules that keep us together?

I accept this makes me a heretic in a church of traditional structure and liberal sympathies. But then I don't start from believing that inherited ideas of a Bishop being the sole instrument and focus of unity in mission for a church in a diocese is any longer the way episcopé - oversight of confessing faith communities - is best exercised in support of mission in a setting that is (even in rural areas) subject to the powerful influences of urbanisation and globalisation.

Spiritual guardianship of a territory, set in legal terms, is a Latin colonial notion we've inherited. Do we really need it any longer? Beforehand our Celtic Fathers-in-God were (like flying Bishops) on the move between settlements, mission stations along trails and trade networks that came to bear their holy names. This is supposed to be the age of networks, isnt it? We're scared to revisit that vision in case it proves relevant to what we do or would like to do now. We're scared to upset the Representative Body, or their policemen, the Charity Commissioners. We have our Constitution, all approved, kosher, safe with the State. Who dares rock the boat?

Personally, I don't need the special provision this era of flying Bishops offer, but in my troubled heart of hearts, I wish all Bishops had the freedom to fly wherever their gifts and ministries were needed, properly supported for the task, without all the other stuff they are obliged to hold together under the umbrella of the Church. What are we, what would we be without all our structures and regulations? Are we no longer justified sola fide?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reiss ousted

I imagined this would only end badly. The Dawkins effect exalts dogmatism in scientific debate, and turns intelligent people temporarily into a hostile rabble. But then it's not without historical precedent in the history of science. At happened among the Nazis, the Soviets and in the world that likes to think it's Free. I quote from the BBC News website report.

"Prof Reiss, speaking at the British Association Festival of Science at the University of Liverpool, estimated that about one in 10 children was from a family which supported a creationist rather than evolutionary viewpoint.He said his experience had led him to believe it was more effective to include discussion about creationism alongside scientific theories such as the Big Bang and evolution - rather than simply giving the impression that such children were wrong.


Reacting to his stepping down, Lord Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London, said: "I fear that in this action the Royal Society may have only diminished itself. "This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists. "This individual was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science - something that the Royal Society should applaud." Roland Jackson, chief executive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, said Mr Reiss's departure was a "real loss". "I was at the actual discussion and what I heard him say , however it has been reported, was essentially the position advocated by the Royal Society," he said.Mr Jackson said the organisation "should have supported him and used this opportunity to further a reasoned debate".

It seems as if those powerful analysts of nature who clamoured for his departure didn't pause to analyse publicised reports, or quiz their agenda-setting media inquisitors. And now they are shown up to be foolish. Clever trickery, never fails, even on the clever. What a shame.

Seeing work in progress - redevelopment site visit

This morning's Retail Partnership Board meeting was preceded by an hour-long walk around the redevelopment construction site. A dozen or so of us were kitted out with safety gear in Southgate House, and walked around to the Barrack Lane entrance and site offices, where we were signed in to the site with electronic passes which we had to swipe in order to unlock a security portal to get in and out of the working area. Thorough and impressive. Except that my swipe card didn't work, the only one, and caused us a delay, which wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't been the last to arrive to be kitted out with security gear, having misjudged my arrival time to start the day. I also succeeded in dropping my helmet noisily as I tried to put it on. Not my morning, I hate early starts. They were all so good, putting up with a bumbling fool of a Vicar, these retail bosses. But then you don't get to be such a boss unless you're good with people I guess.

I was a bit hyper I guess, due to having an insider photo opportunity, and a chance to quench my technical curiosity on our minders. We were led around the site by a charming young Asian woman, who looked totally at home in safety gear - probably a young graduate in her first job. I wondered if engineering was in her blood. She led us around the ground floor at the Hills Street end before taking us up a scaffolding tower with steps, sharing a great hole right through the structure from roof to basement with one of the giant tower cranes.

We looked over Hills Street to where the link with SD1 is under construction, then ascended to the second level to view the construction of the Mall roof. About 150 yards from Hills Street south is now covered over and in the course of acquiring either its glazing or roofing materials. At the far south end of the Mall, the first 50 yards of Mall framework is visible. In between is a 200 yard gulf, with only the basic steel skeletal framework. Midway, a Grand Arcade is under construction. This is at right angles to the Mall, and the intersection will contain a huge glazed lantern, within a few months. The Grand Arcade will be a pedestrian route open from 6.00am to midnight, and lined with shops and bars. Its western opening is directly opposite the Royal Arcade. A neat homage to Cardiff architectural tradition, albeit bigger and better by nature.

The shopping centre flat roof surface serves as ground floor for the Hayes apartment blocks, arranged in an E shape (south to north) to create large courtyards for access. In two years from now these will be flourshing roof terrace gardens. A splendid use of space. Three sections enclosing one courtyard are already constructed up to fifth floor level. The others have hardly started, with the exception of the lift tower which stands majestically on its own, safe for the scaffolding tower of stairs which accompanies it to dizzy heights.

I felt very privileged to be there with my camera, and took 75 photographs, of which I had to discard 20%, out of focus or shaky, a high figure for me. I should have taken my posh new camera with its anti-shake device and superior automatic features, as my top pocket camera really struggled to work out exposures in high contrast interior settings, and produced many overexposed pictures which needed adjustment later. Never mind, I'll be going back in two weeks time for the 'topping out' ceremony. I'll need to get some handling practice in the meanwhile, to overcome clumsiness as it's too bulky to go in the top pocket, and needs a belt and pouch container.

The photos are in a file of their own on my redevelopment photo blog

Monday, September 15, 2008

A new priest for Eglwys Dewi Sant

This evening Clare and I attended the licensing and induction of Hywel Jones the new priest in charge of Eglwys Dewi Sant. People were there from far and wide to celebrate and welcome him, as Hywel has lived in Cwmbach, Gwynedd and Carmarthenshire. Archbishop Barry officiated and preached bi-lingually with much graciousness and good humour. There was a full house, over 200 people, and the singing was astounding - such good Welsh hymns deserved to be sung with such gusto. It was a real pleasure. We sat next to Gweinidog Denzil John from Tabernacl, lone tenor in our corner of bass baritones. Clare was singing out with such enthusiasm that Denzil jokingly asked her if she'd always been an Anglican.

Following and participating in a liturgical service in Welsh is no problem to me, but unlike Clare, I had to rely on the English summaries of the Welsh which Barry slotted in to his preaching effortlessly. At the end she was off chatting to fellow learners, in a crowded reception heaving with food and drink enough to feed 500, leaving me dumbstruck and nodding, feeling definitely lacking.

I still miss that feeling of being able to get on well in an Anglo-French environment, and I'm a little lacking in confidence when it comes to making an effort in what should be my mother tongue. Perhaps the shadow of parental awkwardness over Welsh speaking in the community hasn't yet left me. I guess the only thing that might change me would be immersion for a few years in a full Welsh language environment. I feel culturally Welsh in many ways, though much more of a hybrid spiritually speaking, with Oriental and European influences mixing in with the Celtic, for more than half a lifetime. Much as I love my native land, there are more places than Wales where I feel deeply at home. I wonder what my parents would have made of that?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The sound of clashing ideologies

I enjoyed preaching about the great CERN experiment this morning, celebrating its success, not just in scientific and technical terms, but as a huge enterprise in human collaboration and communication. I had to discipline myself not to be indulgent in reminiscing about the Pays de Gex, under which the LHC has been constructed - the bike rides across the border, the patisserie and baker's shop just across the frontier from Collex-Bossey, the outstanding village restaurant, the Auberge de Cessy where we went for special family celebrations when the children came over to visit, shopping at the giant hypermarket which kept changing name and ownership, the trips up the Col de la Faucille to ski, and escape the low winter cloud - which you just can't do in sea-level Cardiff. A wonderful part of the world to live. Too expensive to retire too unfortunately. How I still love and miss it.

I had difficulty initially linking the Sunday scripture readings to my enthusing about the CERN project, until I realised that the Epistle and the Gospel concerned Christian 'schooling' in human relationships, and how much the spread and acceptance of basic moral values and attitudes made it possible for people to live and work together with all their differences. This relied on the spread of Christian faith through education in so many part of the world, training people how to start overcoming their differences in order to work together for the common good, through respect, responsibility and the disciplined use of freedom. There are many paths to achievement, many techniques for ensuring the best possible outcome to collaboration. The depend upon a strong formation of moral and spiritual attitudes based upon honesty, trust, respect, forgiveness and compassion. The alternative is tyranny and force. I see the danger that this moral foundation can be eroded by evangelical' assertion of the superiority of post Enlightenment secular atheistic humanism, as the norm a this hi-tech scientific age.

The Revd Professor Martin Reiss is the Royal Society's Education Officer, currently under attack and called upon to resign because he dared to suggest that school teaching about science should not exclude study of creationism as representative of a non-scientific world view. See reports here and here. It's not that he is a creationist, but that he has recognised that some children from faith backgrounds arrive at science studies with a more or less fully formed creationistic beliefs. These need to be taken and examined seriously as part of enabling students to understand the objectivity and discipline of scientific method, on a different level to that of a religious world view. This is a pastoral approach to science education, starting from where students are, refusing to ignore or openly dismiss with contempt whatever ideas they have arrived with, as this can de-motivate them from venturing further in understanding science and the spirit of enquiry properly.

I have some sympathy with his insight, realising how many of the faithful have difficulty in reconciling ideas of God creating the world with Big Bang and evolutionary theory. I have often spent time, perhaps unsuccessfully explaining that these views are complementary and not incompatible. But that is not how some simple believers experience it. They feel their beliefs are under assault from the Dawkinses of this world and cling to them defensively. None of this has ever been a problem for me, perhaps because of the way I discovered scripture, and the way I grew up confonted with a sense of God as utterly beyond nature, with the wonders of creation pointing beyond themselves into the unknowable. I don't know where that came from, though it may have been my mother with her sense of awe and wonder, and my father, always exclaiming 'look, look' - a habit I inherited from him when I became a parent.

No doubt the merchants of contention in the media have made a mountain out of a molehill in order to push 'scientific' anti-religionists into noisy frenzy. What fools they are to let themselves be wound up so, for they come out posturing like anti-clerical bullies from another age, ranting against the threat to scientific objectivity from religious ideological pressure, revealing how hard they find dealing decently with anyone whose approach implicitly questions their own absolutes, wanting to punish and exclude those with different views. It's reminiscent of the old soviet style 'progressive' mindset in dealing with those who disagree - eliminate them. It's a paradox - dogmatism and enforcement from the 'science' corner, and inductive education from the 'religious' corner. Intolerance is a symptom of poor or absent moral and spiritual 'schooling'. A worrying sign of the times.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Gower procession

A much needed day off today, and a visit to the Gower, to walk the length of Oxwich Bay to Three Cliffs Bay for a picnic in the sunshine. A perfect day, with hundreds of other walkers making the procession along the shoreline at low tide. We picked ripe blackberries on the return trip, enough for a couple of giant blackberry and apple crumbles, now that the Russet tree in the garden is shedding its crop from day to day. It was noticeable how little the leaves have turned in this part of the world, suggesting that despite all the rain, the temperatures have not been sufficiently extreme at any time to precipitate a change of colour or a fall of leaves. There were some wonderful flowers in and among the sand dunes, not to mention mushrooms. For once I forgot to take a camera, so it made a a change just to look and enjoy.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 seventh anniversary

There was no noticeable increase in the number of people coming into church to pray today, on the seventh anniversary of the WTC twin towers bombing in New York, although the commemorations Stateside were well covered in the news. There have been many morebombing outrages since then - here in UK too - and the uncovering of plots which reveal the willingness of young people to destroy themselves as well as others in the name of their cause. So many alienated people, in love with destruction and violence, placing so little real value on their lives. I find myself equally disturbed by the number of cases of domestic murder and suicide that are reported upon. Parents kill childen and / or spouses before taking their own lives, often because their lives are already in a mess, and can't continue the way they have done. And then there's the number of mainly young people knifed to death in street violence, people only prepared to communicate with each other violently, with the emotional maturity level of kids in an infant school playground.

We live in an age of technical marvels and superb human communications, as witnessed in the successful debut of CERN's Large Hardon Collider yesterday (must get a sermon out of that for this coming weekend), but we are far from successful in maintaining healthy human relationships in families and in community at all levels of society. 'Haves' and 'have nots' isn't only a matter of wealth of possessions and opportunities, it's about values, self respect, quality of relationships and above all, faith in God upon which these things rest. If the only things you believe in are material wealth and power, if you turn goods into gods (and you can do that whether you are poor or rich), they will become forces that consume your life and the lives of others.

Monday, September 08, 2008

God on Mondays - fourth year

This afternoon we re-started 'God on Mondays' in Tredegarville school. This is the start of our fourth year. One year in St James' and two in school, since the church closed. Much to my delight we were as many gathered as there had been at the end of the summer term, with eleven children and nineteen parents and teacher - the teachers are so supportive. It was good to see familiar faces again. I wonder what we need to do to make this venture grow a little more, and may be get back to the numbers we attracted when it was held in a 'real' church building? In this experience hungry culture the ambience of pointed arches and stained glass did count for something, and although we brought the font into school last year, and placed it in a prominent place where it ceerinaly gets used to affirm the schools Christian identity and ethos, we've only managed a mock baptism there as part of the year three teaching programme. No takers for real as yet. Being there partiently is all we can do for the time being.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Mobilising volunteers

Today, after the Parish Eucharist, St John's welcomed members of the United Services Mess for their annual service. Only a couple of dozen people came, reflecting the general downturn in support for the Mess, that has contributed to the crisis currently being faced by this venerable Cardiff institution. In its ninety-ninth year it has had to shed its sole remaining full time staff employee, and is now in the throes of reorganising itself using a rota of unpaid volunteers.

After the service I went over to the Mess for a drink before returning home for lunch. It was clear that members and their wives were enjoying rising to the new challenge of using the cash till and changing gas cylinders on the beer pumps. A couple of people were quietly stock-taking, getting the true measure of demand and supply, and planning a general revision and tidy up, to make it easier for the team of volunteers who would be offering hospitality in future.

The most encouraging thing I could do was to recount how St John's Tea Room volunteers had over seven years of work raised £100,000 to pay for the redecoration of the church, which offering a much valued service to people from far and wide. The total ownership of a community organisation by its membership can be very fruitful, when they take common cause. My best wish is that the present crisis management experience will revitalise the community of Mess members and help it find a direction appropriate for present times and needs.

It's not as if South Wales is short of potential membership from both military and civilian uniformed organisations, especially with the development of the huge new military academy at St Athan, on top of the active service units based there. The real challenge is making the Mess a networking place for these people when their service activties have them so much on the move. I don't believe that few ever come into Cardiff, but that it's is a question of finding out when they do and how it is possible for the Mess to offer them what they need attractively. That's the big challenge for the Mess committee.

At tonight's PCC meeting we discussed the timing of the Sunday Eucharist, and agreed that we would move it to 10.00am when the clocks go back. The difficulty many have with the earlier time is a lack of public transport to get people into the city on time. To hear anyone mentioning public transport is enough to convince me that we should do this, although I am aware this will eventually bring us into conflcit with the pedestrianisation regulations. I don't suppose this will give us real grief until after the redevelopment plan is complete, another eighteen months from now. That's when consistent regulation enforcement will really be practicable.

Between now and then there's a certain amount of diplomacy needing to be done to ensure the problem of access for those who cannot avoid using cars to get to church does not slip off the agenda. If the city goes for automatic barriers which don't operate outside of pedestrian zone hours, it would be possible for people to get in by car. The question is would they fit barriers that would open automatically to let people out, rather than incarcerate them? I just hope it doesn't end up in litigation threats to wring concessions from the Council, as happened with Tabernacl down on the Hayes. The problem is that local government contains who are quite indifferent to history, traditon and respect for the belief and practices of others, who'd happily dismiss the concerns of others in a way that ends up being bullying - there's no other word for it. Let's just hope that putting the service half an hour later doesn't tip the delicate balance we've maintained over the past five years, with worshippers generally leaving the pedestrian zone just around the time the regulations come into force. The dialogue must start sooner rather than later.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Bookshop Blessing

After a lunchtime wedding interview in church, I made my way across to a crowded centre with many headed for the Wales Azerbaijan football match, to City URC for a brief meeting of a support groups being set up to help and advise the bookshop staff, before joining in the assembly gathered to celebrate the re-opening with a blessing. Three dozen turned up. I know the invite had gone out to hundreds, and was disappointed that only three Anglican clerics showed up. But we did have the secretary of the RB and his head of publications, which was good. Tom Arthur and Peter Noble, Moderator of URC Wales were there to welcome us to this flagship (or is lighthouse?) of a project. If felt very honoured to be asked offer the blessing prayer. It's so good to have the shop open, and I bought anther book to celebrate. That makes six I've bought there of late. Now I must make time for more reading. I've still got five to go.

On the way back to church to pick up my bike to go home, I had time to take in an event in an enclosure at the top of Churchill Way next to the Capital Shopping Centre. There was a stage sumounted by a giant TV screen, with a hundred yards of screened of area, and a few fairground rides. You had to pay to enter, and the place was bristling with security guards having to re-direct confused shoppers trying to get access to car parks or Jessups, beyond the enclosure. No signage, and staff whose idea of communication was to redirect by waving an arm in the air in an indeterminate circle - the noise was also very loud. It was billed as 'Pulse - street party' part of the Cardiff Gay Pride event, badly rained upon over in Cooper's Field and mostly cancelled as a result. We didn't pay to go to street parties when I was young. But then there was nothing as ambitious in organisation in those incredibly far off days ....

Friday, September 05, 2008

New projects ahead

My, did it rain this morning, and first call of the day was a site visit to do with the representative of British Geothermals, who'd driven down from Preston yesterday afternoon, to come and look at the possibilities of installing a geothermal borehole heating system at St John's. Martin our architect came as well, and all three of us got pretty wet circunavigating the permiter several times before we could finally sit down to a cup of tea.

It's going to be difficult, challenging, and, so far so good, not impossible. There are lots of technical issues connected with a daisy chain of twenty boreholes around the property, and we've get to see if the price range will fall without our expenditure possibilities. Executing the project will depend upon the good will of the City, the Diocesan Advisory Committee, the Representative Body of the Church in Wales, County Planning and CADW. But, as St John's is one of Cardiff's most important historic public buildings, with a marvellous living witness to its core purpose, it's going to be worth the effort, and won't inflate into a political football, either inside the church or outside (famous last words I think to myself as I write this). Given the unfolding complexity of the project, this one will last until my retirement, if not longer. It's going to take all the patience I have left with bureaucracy of all kinds.

After lunch I went over and talked with the city redevelopment project manager about what we are exploring, and received a considerate hearing. We'll need lots of goodwill to get a drilling rig in and out for a period, after all the work on poshing up the public realm has been completed. It couldn't be speeded up to fit in with work in progress, simply because we didn't know we'd have the possibility of money from the sale of St James to use on a new capital project until a couple of months ago. The next few months of feasibility studies and preparation to make plans and applications will need all the care I can muster.

During my visit to the city centre management office, I learned that the person responsible for bringing the Pennant sandstone from the quarry in Gwent will be in town next week. It looks as if the cost per slab will be affordable after all. We certainly need to get on and do it as soon as possible because the unsafe nature of the path to the south porch is a worry, especially in wet or frosty weather. We have a window of opportunity now while the slab laying is going on around the church exterior. In a month's time they'll be doing the path which crosses the churchyard from Queen's Arcade to the Market (aka 'dead man's alley'). How marvellous it would be if we could secure the permission to go ahead and hire the same team of masons to do the job while the 'alley' is closed for re-paving. For this we're in the thrall of the Diocesan Advisory Committee, who suggested Pennant to us a year ago, when we thought it too expensive. Let's hope they haven't forgotten. Foolishly, we resisted their advice for want of checking prices at the time - except that a year ago we didn't know there was a ready supply of this special local stone as close to us as the Wye Valley 30 miles away.

This evening I gathered together some of my photographs and a text I've devised for a leaflet I've been working on to promote the 'Castle Quarter' the area in front of the Castle from St John Street across to Westgate Street, embracing Church, Market, Howells department store and more than a hundred other retail outlets, restaurants cafés and bars, as well as two fine Victorian arcades. A similar initiative by arcade retailers nearly ten years ago failed to flourish. Now that the Castle is re-launched and on the map as one of UK's top ten paid tourist destinations, and St John's is seeing tens of thousands of visitors annually, there's every reason to revisit this - except that nobody much seems to want to bother. So, St John's is taking the first steps supported by Keiran, Oner Signs owner and graphic designer who does signs and banners for us and works just down the street from the church. I've assembled the raw material and hopefuly he'll be able to turn out a visually acceptable draft leaflet which we can pass around in order to see which of the traders would be interested in having their details on it and contributing to printing expenses. What's good for city centre business will be good for the church. We want people to know that we care in a practical sort of way about encouraging visitors to come and spend time and money with us in our special historic Quarter locale.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Showcasing the city centre's faith communities

This afternoon we had another meeting of the Countdown 2009 Faith Focus Group, at which I was able to report on the positive outcome of Tuesday's meeting about Soup Runs, and run past the group the first step in creating a City Centre Faith Trail resource for local visitors and tourists.

Cathays Park, the Centre and the Bay have between them two dozen active places of worship - English, Welsh, Greek and Afro-Caribbean Churches, a Cathedral, four Mosques, a Mandal and a Gurdwara, the kind of diversity that needs to be celebrated vigorously in a modern city, rather than treated as a kind of secret treasure.

The Countdown public relation process has given us December as a publicity showcase under the title 'Celebrating the Season of Goodwill'. We shall actually start by gathering material from the Diwali and Eid ul Fitr celebrations at the end of October, and incorpoate those together with stuff from previous Christmases. All our December programmes will get publicised together, and we're thinking exhibition, webspace, open air nativity outside StJohn's, and as many positive publicity slots as we can obtain from local media.

If we're successful it'll some kind of 'first', and be a rehearsal for doing more next year when the new shopping centre opens for business.

Go and interfere somewhere else.

I returned home yesterday evening to a call from BBC asking if I had any positive comment I'd be prepared to make in an interview on the possibility of Dean Jeffrey John becoming the next Bishop of Bangor. I've not met the man, and only know how well thought of he is. So I couldn't really comment honourably, and didn't respond to the call. All I could say is that he is a Welsh speaker and that's of paramount pastoral importance to anyone leading a diocese in 'Welsh' Wales.

What annoys me is that no English media journalists seem interested in that concern. They act as busy bodies, stirring things up by suggesting that he's a candidate. It's like they are trying to influence the electoral process, to set an agenda which may have little to do with the diocese. They failed to influence the Lambeth conference process and will fail here too. Their lack of a proper mention of the candidate's language capability, reveals deep disregard for the pastoral reality of the situation. Media Wales editors either don't speak English properly or they don't understand an electoral process in which candidates are approached and asked if they'd be interested in being nominated. A process that is yet to begin. It's not the other way around. How this amounts to 'bidding' to become a candidate, when the word 'bid' means 'ask' escapes me.

Yes of course Jeffery John could jump up and down and say 'Please notice me' but if he has, where's the evidence? I thought he was busy being Dean of St Albans, with yards more clout than he might have up in Gwynedd. I'd be surprised if he had the energy for more exposure after that awful cruel debacle over the Reading job. It made me temporarily very ashamed to be an Anglican. For the media to play around with him like this is as abusive of him, as it is disrespectful of a diocese that has its own mind and pastoral concerns to follow.

The controversy made out of Archbishop Barry's statement that if a partnered gay man was the electoral college's (there are over forty electoral delegates in all) firmly preferred candidate, it would be his pastoral duty to remind them of the impact of their decision on the wider church as well as the needs of their diocese, and if they still agree to proceed, he'd have no problem about performing the ordination.

He has a key role in a self governing church, guaranteeing its constitution, elections included. He is the servant leader, voice of the church. He has with great courage stated that he's not prepared to abdicate this role. He is not going to wave his executive wand, and wield power like an episcopal monarch, a secular politician or a tycoon, as many of his episcopal fellow travellers are wont to do. There seems no respect for that, because, like Rowan's Lambeth conference process, it doesn't fit journalistic ways of thinking of life as all power games and confrontations.

Dredging people's intimate lives into the public domain for scrutiny and moral approbation offends me greatly, when they are steadily, quietly going about the business of being faithful and true to God, themselves, their partners and families. So many ordinary people don't care, don't want to know, but are happy to find hope and encouragement when they see them happy and successful in good personal relationships. It says so much about the lives and obsessions of those wannabe movers and shakers of opinion (including church leaders) who insist on forcing these issues into our faces.

Would that the media hounds would take as detailed an interest in those peddling drugs, running supply networks and peddling the opiates that are slowly debilitating and poisoning our nation, rather than messing with the lives of those dedicated to putting some serious meaning into our existence.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Another excavator emergncy

A visit to County Hall this morning for the Countdown 2009 Executive. I was not surprised and not a little gratified to hear Dick Geen of Community Saftey report to the meeting that several trees new and old in the city centre were likley to compromise CCTV cameras in their vicinity, just as I had observed outside St John's. I was pleased to have a chance to report on the part of the Faith Focus Group the possibility of a new partnership between street care volunteers working with the city centre's homeless, and the newly formed Housing and Neighbourhood Renewal Team, as emerged from yesterday afternoon's session. The meeting went on a bit and I returned one bus later than usual, which made me late for the noon Eucharist. As I dashed from bus stop to church I rehearsed my apologies and hoped the regulars hadn't given up on me and left, since I'm rarely ten minutes late, even if I often arrive close to time. 

To my surprise I discoverd the church was cordoned off, and there were lots of people and police officers standing around looking in the general direction of O'Neill's pub.  Assuming it had nothing to do wiht me I went around into Worknig Street and entered the church by the sacristy gate, only to discover the place was empty.  Then I slipped outside the tower entrance and there learned that an emergency had been declasred just before mid-day, due to a gas leask, and all the buildings in the vicinty evacuated.

I found the St Mike's Tea Room volunteers over by the Queen's arcade, having a drink and wondering whjen they'd be let back in and what they'd be able to do about the mountain of cake and sandwiches they were in the middle of selling. Apparently the congregation, once turfed out of church had called it a day and left by noon, before I arrived. So no apology needed in the end. By quarter to one we were allowed back in, and within five minutes it was business as usual in the Tea Room, with people queuing to be served.  You can't keep people away from good freshly made cake, sandwiches and tea!

I overhead one of Skanska's site supervisors complaining about pipes not properly marked on the infrastructure maps.  This would cost the company £5,000 in call out and repair charges. Last time we had an excavator incident St John Street was flooded with water, and the time before electricty to the church and surrounding shops was cut off for several hours. It's true the emergency people are good at getting things fixed efficiently, and at a price. It's not unusual for apparently for these maps to be inaccurate, due to careless work on the part of previous contractors, long gone. One wonders why such large mechanical implements have to be used to excavate, when a small gang of men with smaller power tools if need be could excavate manually with greater sensitivity to what they might find. I wonder if any one has done a total costing of the differences of method?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

An unexpected, needed breakthough

I was invited to a meeting this afternoon convened by Mike Friel, the head of the Council's new Housing and Neighbourhood Renewal team, tucked away anonymously in a corner of a business park down the Bay, in what I think used to be NTL's call centre building. The invitation came via Jeff Rees, the outreach worker of the city centre homelessness team. The idea was to get people together who are involved in the soup runs that operate in the city centre, and try to engage in a dialogue that stalled eighteen months ago when all the changes in the city centre social services set-up were first mooted. We'd got to the stage of outlining a proposal for a 'Street Carers' Accreditation Scheme' to offer basic training and skills development for those who might feel encouraged and supported by this. And naturally I was interested to see if this might be possible to re-start.

Members of the Paradise Soup Run were present, and Paul Hocking the wise and influential chair of the Evangelical Alliance's Cardiff Gweini. Paradise networks forty odd church groups across the city for soup runs. There are other groups besides, from student voluntary services, and churches not involved with the network, and individuals as well. Trying to get them all together, even to make or discuss anything to do with organisation is a bit like herding cats. But, as we sat around table I was gratified to think there'd been this much response to the Council's overture. We weren't going for long before I felt compelled to bring up the past. The idea of an Accreditation scheme, as far as it had got, was received with interest, and to my delight all those representing volunteer teams around the table welcomed the idea.

As a result, we agreed to meet again in a month's time, to make an effort to invite as many representatives of church soup runs as we can find out about, to a gathering at City URC in the evning of 7th October. I managed to contact Joel, the City Church administrator and secure a booking while the meeting was concluding, so everyone went away with the date in their diaries. I have been charged with making a presentation about the idea of Accreditation and its content, to lead to a brainstorming session on the desirability of particular kinds of content, the amount of it, and the level at which various kinds of volunteers might be expected to engage. Volunteers are invariably a mixed group in terms of ability, confidence and experience. There needs to be someting for different kinds of learning needs, so that everyone grows and feels affirmed by their involvement in the scheme.

I'm just so delighted that something I thought we'd lost has come within sight again, with more than just a few enthused ideas people driving it. In all this, the success of the occasion was down to Ian, my city centre 'eyes and ears' having met and networked with key people in the world of soup runs and social services outreach. He had the important phone numbers to enable himself and me to invite these few important others to be involved. It's a great service towards making things happen that need to happen.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Election good news

I was delighted to hear the news this afternoon that Wyn Evans has been elected Bishop of St David's diocese. That makes four Bishops of people who were in college around the same time as I was.

It's funny, after forty years, the things you remember about people. Wyn was always one of those tidy, organised and disciplined students who meant business and didn't mess around. You could always hear him coming because his leather shoes had heel tips. His pace was always brisk and purposeful. A man with a sense of direction.

So it's not surprising that he's done a great job as Dean of St David's over the past fourteen years, especially in developing a high quality modern visitor centre worthy of pilgrims from all over Wales and the world. That's an absolute nightmare of a project in terms of planning and conservation issues in such a landmark institution.

Many in St David's diocese were disappointed at the untimely departure of Bishop Carl, whose progressive approach in tackling the difficulties of a widespread and complex diocese was appreciated as a breath of fresh air. I won't be surprised to hear the same of his successor in due course.

Definitely a Wyn-win situation for the diocese.