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.

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