Monday, March 30, 2009

Matters of death and life

This morning, St John's hosted the funeral of a lady whose name was unfamiliar to members of the congregation. She had left specific instructions that her final farewell should be here. She was one of the many Cardiffians who slip into church from time to time, for prayer and recollection. I don't think she was a regular churchgoer. Her devotion, like so many mothers and grandmothers was centred in her love for the family, cherishing and nurturing them all in love. This was her special place, the sanctuary where she found strength to love others, especially in the thirty seven years of her widowhood. It's a story, familiar to us, of hidden grace. People like her, and there are so many of them, do not show up in all the statistical data which church bureacracy seems obsessed with gathering year on year, even though nobody is certain if any of it ever really gets used for anything.

It's that much hated time of Annual Returns and Audits again, the Lenten penance which saps us of grace, by reducing us to the same level as any secular corporation. Asking the Body of Christ in any place "How are you doing?" - surely the purpose of the exercise, - is not really answerable in facts and figures (lies, damned lies, and statistics). But this is what is required of us. I shall always be resentful about the exercise, though we have nothing to hide. I see more people worshipping with us regularly, and thank God for it. Better to come along and share the joy, than inspect bits of paper in a remote office.

When I got home from the last session of 'God on Mondays' for this term, there was a message on the answering machine about Peggy, who had taken a turn for the worse and wasn't expected to last long. I picked my bottle of holy oil, and headed off to Ty Enfys care home to see her. She was still conscious, sitting up, breathing poorly, her lungs filled with fluid that is getting harder to drain off. She smiled and greeted me warmly. We sat quietly and talked. She is so looking forward to leaving for her heavenly home, as she puts it. Looking forward to re-union with all she has loved but sees no longer, quite unafraid of death. She has lived with life threatening illness for too long to be much troubled. She simply radiates graciousness. I held her hand and sat quiet for a good while with her before praying and anointing her. She clearly enjoyed that, poorly though she was.

She doesn't strive to stay alive, she simply rests content to let everything be as God pleases, and several times when its seemed that she was too ill to survive another day, she has rallied, and greeted anxious visitors with her radiant smile. When we said our farewells. I wondered if I'd see her again.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ooops!

Saturday afternoon St John's hosted an unusual concert. The Welsh Piping Society, the Manawatu Pipe Band from New Zealand and the St Athan Voluntary RAF brass band, all playing their kind of music separately and also some items together. There were over forty musicians and over a hundred people in the audience. The sound of the combined pipe bands, eighteen sets of bagpipes was a taxing on the ears as any heavy sound system pumping out pop music, in every corner of the the nave.

Having said that, the acoustics of the building did both brass band and pipes proud. There seems to be no kind of music that doesn't come across well, from solo voice, 'cello or guitar, through to mass choir and orchestra. I got home by half past eight, and was in bed exhausted by ten thirty, very early for me. It was only when I was on my way out of the house at twenty to eight that Clare called out and said "Did you realise the clocks went forward last night." No, I'd never given it a second thought. I hadn't read newspapers, watched TV or listened to the radio, to register advance notice. Several people turned up to find me absent. I have some apologising to do this week.

Tonight I gave the last of my Lent Talks to only a handful of people. I'ts just not worked doing it on Sunday evenings. So few are prepared to make the effort to come out a second time, and maybe Jesus and people of other faiths is too excessive a Lenten penance to bear. At least the Tuesday sessions on prayer has averaged a dozen people weekly. A special series at the main Eucharist is problematic, simply because Lenten liturgical themes dominate, and cannot or should not be ditched, but rather addressed in preaching. I don't think I'm short of ideas for educational material, but evidently I lack marketing skills sufficient to make faith learning sufficiently attractive to boost demand.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Too crowded

City Centre Churches together met last night. It was such a pity that only one representative from the Welsh speaking churches was present. All the others were at a Lenten prayer meeting whose dates had been fixed without awareness of CCCT's fixed date. We had a clergy meeting beforehand to arrange another Fraternal meeting. Having attempted to meet for breakfast on first Tuesdays for a couple of years, and often failed to sustain the habit, we needed to think about a workable alternative. The difficult thing is that often we get pulled about by demands which arise after dates have been fixed, and for reasons outside our control, these have to take priority. All our lives have become too crowded. It's harder than ever to take time to reflect together, but the need to do so is undiminished.

I met with Roberta and Anthony for a wedding rehearsal this afternoon. They brought lots of family members along with them. Not so much as spectators, but to see the church, as many if not most of them were unfamiliar with the building. Theirs is the second of two weddings on the same day, a week tomorrow. It's strange, with only 4-5 weddings a year, this is now the second time in as many years that I've had a pair of weddings on the same day, and for no obvious reason. Back in the days when I was Rector of Halesowen with 60-70 weddings a year, mostly bunched in spring or early summer, we had requests for as many as five weddings on certain days. We had to impose a limit of three in order to manage the use of the building, which all would expect to find pristine, as if it they were the only users. I don't think St John's or I would easily cope with that sort of regular demand nowadays.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Climate in focus

The Faith Focus Group met this evening. I sounded them out about the idea of a conference on global warming and carbon reduction. These are issues which faith communities need to take seriously, as the City seeks to engage with the matter and formulate a policy. It would greatly enhance public regard for the social contribution faith groups make if an effective moral lead could be taken. It would mean investing time and money in making buildings energy efficient, and pledging greatly increased shared use of every kind of transport.

I think the group is prepared to support the idea, although I think none of us are quite sure where this is going to take us. I've been talking to Robin Samuel, Christian Aid organiser in South Wales about us working on this together, as he has such an extensive network of contacts, and works for an organisation which is already campaigning on the impact on global warming on the world's poor. There has to be some positive synergy here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rubbish and the economy

Capital Times this month has a brief report on the City budget. It notes that a recent Ask Cardiff survey indicated that chief among citizens' concerns are community safety issues and litter. That makes me feel a lot less like an elderly eccentric. Keeping the City tidy enough to reflect pride in our public domain is always going to remain a public spending commitment, and if we fail in this, it would be a sign of social collapse. But while I don't begrudge spending money on cleaning up, I do think money and energy might be better spent re-educating adults not to drop litter or dump larger items, rather than disposing of them properly.

Prevention is also important - the enforcement of anti-litter laws, sanctions against those who fill their match day coaches with supermarket purchased booze to drink en route or afterwards, and then leave their detritus for someone else to clear up. Or at least, why not make it more expensive for people to roam the streets eating their junk food and throwing away their containers, with a refundable deposit for returning them? The regulators may mumble 'too difficult', but money is being diverted from economic development into cleaning up after consumers who could be pressed if not persuaded into better behaviour.

Great fortunes are earned by the food and drinks industries with their disposable containers. permitting fast turnover and high consumption. Clearing up after the masses who can't sit down for long enough to leave their trash in one place where it can be cleared away properly and inexpensively, ends up being an additional burden on local taxpayers.

There were a quarter of a million people in town for the match on Saturday and they weren't all Cardiffians. But Cardiff paid for the dubious pleasure. How much of the revenue generated on such occasions remains here to benefit the City, and citizens?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What price Google Street view - Cardiff?

Google has launched its UK Street View facility as part of Google Maps. I imagine it might be very useful to people trying to find an unfamiliar place on a map and trying to get an idea of what the place looks like. The pictures of the Castle Quarter look as if they were taken six months ago, when the re-paving of St John Street had just begun, and pavements were up in the vicinity of Burger King. Not exactly flattering.

Pictures of the new library are of a site still under construction, not gleaming in the sunshine, as it is on this fine day. In fact the city centre photos are unflattering, and if I were head of City Public relations, I would ask if they could be withdrawn, as they are so misleading, given the speed of the transformation of the city centre going on at present. People could so easily be deterred from visiting.

I cycled to church for the early Eucharist at 7h45 this morning. The streets weren't totally clean, unsurprisingly following yesterday's Rugby Championship final, with many tens of thousands of extra people chucking their greasy litter and spilling their coke on to our nice new pavements, and making it look squalid, so there was a lot of extra rubbish to be cleared before the shops opened for business as usual.

What struck me most was sheer volume of bags and cups bearing the Burger King logo strewn on the streets. Their takeaway place on St John Street is open into the small hours. Doubtless they made a packet from those who partied the night away in town, without contributing to the additional cost of clearing up the morning after.

There were also plastic bags from the Spar Grocers in St John Street nearby, hung from the churchyard railings like votive offerings, with empty beer cans in them. I recall giving evidence to the licensing hearing in support of the churches objection that sales from this shop would lead to this happening, and the shop's lawyer got away with dismissing this as unfounded.

I would love to have been able to call him before eight this morning, to invite him to come and see what we have to put up with, not just on match days, but far more frequently, as I predicted. We can be thankful that Google Street View photos don't include pictures of Cardiff on early Sunday mornings, before our heroic cleansing teams finish their shift.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The challenge of getting things right

Another Street Carer's Forum Representative Group meeting tonight, with leaders of the City Council's HANR team, to review development proposals which have the potential to lead to a working partnership between voluntary and statutory carers for the homeless and vulnerably housed people of the City. This is requiring patient and careful consideration on both sides to ensure that something durable, and yet dynamic enough to respond to changing circumstances can be created. It's not easy because there are sensitivities and cautions in place on all sides. Exactly how it should be in dealing with the neediest and most dysfunctional of citizens.

Recently there has been much concern about the collapse of a housing enterprise which aimed to cater for people trying to get off the streets, or coping with broken lives after addiction or prison. What seemed to be working well and responding successful to need has been tried and found wanting, deficient by design, without necessary safeguards in the face of changing government policy or economic downturn. The local press gave this matter sensationalist coverage which was factually incorrect, adding to the worries of those doing crisis management, heading off evictions and the prospect of an eventual increase of the numbers of people in need of accommodation.

Cardiff has a good record at getting vulnerable and needy people housed within a short turn around period. This winter was the first time for some years in which the demand for emergency accommodation could not be met. There's a rise in people ending up on the city streets, because of the recession. Some have been encouraged to migrate from other local authority areas into the Cardiff, on the presumption that services here are better able to cope. Is anybody in the WAG aware of this, and questioning what's happening? With the Spring weather, things are perhaps a little less difficult at the moment, but there's still the prospect of many more getting evicted because of the collapse of one key providor.

I've never enjoyed working under the constraints of bureaucracy, but I've had to learn in order to survive in my job let alone my life in general. I've come to understand there are two kinds. Both can be equally complex and difficult to navigate, but one is fit for purpose, the other isn't. Fitness is about being flexible, able to adapt to change with accuracy and sustainability in response to need. Systems that are unfit can be self serving, or serve no purpose that relates to the realities they are meant to deal with. Large organisations contain a mix of both, and how hard it can be to reform them in order to optimise resources and opportunities.

As I head towards the last year of my working life in public office, I can see these things with a degree of clarity that was misted by the frustrations of not being able to navigate confidently through established channels when I was younger. All a bit too late to be of any use. Wisdom after the event. Ah well .... c'est la vie.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

See - under discussion

This afternoon I attended the City Deanery clergy chapter. It's good to see colleagues and catch up on news of interest. Today we heard something about the proposal being discussed to make the Diocese of Llandaff the permanent Archiepiscopal see, with revised powers and responsibilities being accorded to the Suffragan Bishop to permit more workload sharing with the Archbishop, who remains 'The Bishop'. Previous schemes which entailed creating a small token Archiepicopal see in the city, on the Irish model, were rejected. The idea is being revisited because of the increasing amount of time spent away from the Diocese by the Archbishop, on Anglican Communion and ecumenical affairs, far from home.

It's clear this addresses the present need, in which conflictual relationships between different alliances of local Anglican provinces across the world demand crisis management. The development of a singular role for the international deliberations of the Anglican Archbishops - the 'Primates meetings' has been a feature of the past decade of living with problems in the world church. It's not been part of our previous history. There is no universally approved mandate for such a body, even if such meetings have become part of the expectation of how to maintain sound international Anglican relations. Some people suspect this to be the surreptitious development of an Anglican counterpart to the Roman Curia. Some wish it was.

It's a typically pragmatic Anglican response to a changing situation. As such it's provisional and to my mind should remain so. I prefer to see the Anglican Communion remain a family of regional Churches (each made up of a federation of Dioceses), in communion with each other working as partners in God's mission, a network driven by mutual respect and concensus decision-making, avoiding building more hierarchy than already exists. In the absence of concensus, we must learn to live together respectfully with our differences, make progress in witness and action only in such areas as can be agreed upon.

Before the contemporary revolution in travel and communications, the Communion got by on having a Lambeth Conference of Bishops every ten years. The big change is the decline of the church in the West and huge growth of the church in the global south. It can be well argued that more time and energy is now needed to build concensus as the range of cultures and Anglican regional voices becomes more diverse. Hence growth of need for extra international meetings and decision making. But in the end it involves extra expenditure and time spent away from the home base, where Bishops are local leaders in church and society.

This is fine, so long as we have easy and relatively cheap fast travel. Pragmatically speaking, how long will this model of face to face consultation be economically sustainable? Climate change calls into question many aspects of modern convenience living we have come to rely on for business and leisure. The cost of transport is likley to continue to rise, and a model of global economy so reliant on mobility is already being shaken to the foundations by this unprecedented global recession. There will be more to come. Scarcity will concentrate the mind in peace time, as it did in war. 'Is your journey really necessary?'

How long before our churches will be asking chief pastors if their journeys are justifiable let alone affordable? Given the present sophistication of telecommunications, do they need to be away so much that the local church needs re-structuring to cope? In the long view such measures could be deemed an ephemeral expedient, a dated luxury, or a necessity which could have been managed in some other way. It's not only churches that will have to think about these things, but also the international sports and holiday industries.

As ever, I am thinking aloud. Sooner or later I'll have to formulate my thoughts concisely in a contribution, since the consultation process on the proposed change has invited responses from churches and clergy. The paper on the proposals can be accessed here


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sustainability

It's been a busy day, with three services and a church council this evening, with an afternoon to get reports ready for it. This isn't difficult. It's just that there's lots to remember to mention, and projects being worked upon that it's vital to keep people well informed about and involved in thinking through. The great thing is that our church council members are willing to think things through and not just accept everything handed out to them by the leadership. That's how it always should be.

Top of the list is geothermal heating for the church. It's such a complex project to undertake, from a basis of no prior experience, but with desire to do the right thing and, for once, resources with which to do it from the sale of St James'. Understandably, some were apprehensive, tempted to defer the decision if not the project, maybe let someone else take the lead, because we don't have the confidence or the expertise.

In a way I'm less than bothered about sticking our necks out and taking the risk. There is greater risk from doing nothing, dragging our feet until there is a real crisis, because the future of such a great building is no longer sustainable, economically or ecologically. It doesn't have to be like that.

Since the 'Carbon Lite' workshop on Tuesday, I am convinced it would be irresponsible not to be pro-active, to take risks aiming at a right solution, on the way towards realising the urgent need to become a zero carbon footprint institution. I don't think it will be too long before the City is challenging every organisation, voluntary and statutory, to consider its future if it can't meet the requirement of a 9% annual reduction in carbon footprint from now on.

Tonight, I feel most grateful that we have agreed to commission an expensive full feasibility study for the installation of ground source geothermal heating for the church. It's a step into unknown territory for us all. Doing this is an act of witness to the seriousness with which we take our place as an organisation serving the public, which happens to be driven by faith in God and love for people. We want a future for our descendents to enjoy. We want our church to be part of that. Our city is truly driven by its development ambitions, as can be seen it the current city centre regeneration project.

If part of our Gospel mission is to 'seek the welfare of the city' as Jeremiah once stated, we must understand and act upon matters which start out by being of more concern to the city than perhaps to ourselves. Despite the nervousness which recession breeds, we have faith in the future - not based on our ability to achieve, but in what we believe about God's good will towards us and our descendents.

For the three weeks of Lent so far, our Sung Eucharist attendance has been nearly sixty children and adults. It's noticed, commented upon, and hugely appreciated. Katie (3), one of our home grown children who has been in church since before she was baptized, comes up to the communion rail for a blessing during the Eucharist. She is prone to run off afterwards, generally in high spirits. "Don't run, after you've had you blessing." says Mum to Katie before the service. So when I've finished with her at the rail, she steps down, then skips serenely down the length of the chancel. She's one of many excellent reasons for ensuring we make the future of the church a sustainable one.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Landscape change

Arriving home from town, after visiting the new library I was for the first time struck by the huge change to the streetscape of Queen Anne Square which has taken place over the past few days. Dark skies and drizzle recently has limited the desire to stop and take notice of things when leaving or arriving home.

A line of overgrown plane trees, just over the north wall enclosing the Square has disappeared in just a couple of days. These stood along the perimeter of Nazareth House convent garden, itself a broad and spacious green apron in front of an imposing ensemble of late Victorian buildings to the north of us.

Now the buildings in all their glory are visible, and we can even see the overhead traffic light gantry on North Road beyond on the west side. Previously the foliage was so dense, low level bushes as well as tall trees, that little was visible of the scene beyond. The convent is less secuded than it used to be, and no doubt the cost of grounds management will be lower.

Now there'll be fewer leaves blowing over the wall to help justify the cost of our new roof gutter covers. But there will also be less shelter for the varied local bird population, quite prolific for the centre of a city. I wonder if the convent authorities had as much hassle with the Council's Tree Protection man as we did in St John's churchyard?

New Cardiff Central Library opens

I am writing this brief post, standing at a network terminal in the ground floor of the new city library, which has opened today - just because I can do so. The IT component of the place is most impressive in sheer numbers of machines available to the public. Signing on with the use of my library card and and personal pin, after queuing briefly to obtain one, has given me and access an opportunity to test drive the system, running on top of XP professional, guarded by Kaspersky Anti Virus. When you sign on you have to agree to Terms and Conditions of use set by the Council. These are clear, common sense and not onerous, and worth reading through once, unlike the gobbledeygook served up in so many EULAs attached to ordinary programs.

The new building really is a special place, with a spacious, light, bright and airy design, with plenty of space for the stock of books, and for readers to sit and work, either at tables, or at terminals on each of the five floors. There's an automatic book sorting machine close to the main entrance. It can be accessed from outside the building when the place is shut. It's a splendid piece of mechanical and electronic technology combined, and should fascinate children of all ages, both to use and to watch. There's a lot of thoughtful design gone into creating the place. It's been delightful to wander around and listen to the low babble of voices, people of all ages expressing delight and curiosity, as they wander around. I took lots of photos, but I'll have to wait until I get home before I post them to my redevelopment site.

This is a sure fire winner in my view. A foretaste hopefully of the quality and user friendliness of the rest of the new buildings to come into use, in another six months or so from now. Facts and figures about the new libary can be found here.

What the BBC had to say about it last weekend is to be found here

Well done Cardiff !

Friday, March 13, 2009

Scaffolding

The Vicarage looks normal for the first time since the second week in January, when it was enclosed with scaffolding for an inspection of problem guttering. It was all removed today, with the exception of a dozen or so planks and poles for which there was no room on the lorry. The gutter next to the entrance porch has spewed out rainwater where it shouldn't ever since we have been in residence. Long ladders and common sense are now out of the question due to Health and Safety regulation, so it had to be scaffolding. I'd love to see a cost comparison between scaffolding, and a remote controlled camera on a telescopic pole. After all, since the invention of fibre-optic cables and miniature cameras, we no longer send small people underground to check the integrity of sewers, so why not send them upside on the kind of telescopic pole used by modern window cleaners?

It turned out that several of the fascia boards needed replacement, and the guttering needed some adjustment to ensure the water actually could flow where it was meant to go. Given the leafiness of our salubrious domain, we also needed devices to prevent the gutters from getting dammed up and overflowing every autumn. When we lived in Switzerland the device in question was a simply cone made of wire mesh which fitted over the mouth of each drainpipe. No such device was available to fit into our gutters here, so eventually it was decided that all should be covered with rigid plastic netting to keep out the leaves. Replacing and painting the boards, plus netting the gutters has taken two months, not least due to the harsh weather conditions which have limited outside working.

During this time Clare and I have been nervous about the security implications of being surrounded by scaffolding, wondering if our household insurance would be compromised, even if we continue unfailingly to remember to lock windows and doors at night. It felt a bit like being under siege, until .... Until the neighbouring couple next door had a visit from burglars, and the lady living alone in her eighties also had visit from burglars the same evening. It was an unnerving shock to the inhabitants of our élite neighbourhood, and the chair of the Queen Anne Square Residents Association soon issued a security warning to all householders. As about a third of Square residents are in military officers' quarters, most of them moving on within a couple of years, it was a sensible thing to do. Three years ago, an army couple both had their new bikes nicked from the doorstep. They thought it was safe, to leave them unlocked. We never know who's watching us in such a prestigious place.

I had felt nervous about the scaffolding from the outset. But after the burglary, I revised my opinion. The houses broken into have no side gate. It's possible to sneak through to the rear and break in without the tell-tale gate creaking noises advertising one's presence. We have gates, although rusty and insecure, they are a visual deterrent. And really, when I think of it, you'd have to be an idiot to climb on scaffolding to attempt the forced entry of an inhabited house, due to the attendant noise and visibility from the road. I can imagine a rogue taking one look at the Vicarage and saying "Oh no, that's just too risky." So there was no need to have worried at all.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

'Carbon-lite' workshop

I attended a workshop this morning laid on by the City Council's Vision Board officer team to help board members examine the wide ranging issues that need to be tackled as part of strategic planning because of climate change. I don't like the 'Carbon-Lite' title, because it's American, trendy and makes me think of mass market drinks that rot your teeth, gut or brain, while pretending to be less damaging for you than the eponymous full strength product. I'd rather we talked about carbon dependency reduction. Even though its more verbose, it doesn't evade the demanding nature of the task.

We were briefed with an imaginary scenario on how Cardiff might be by 2025 if no policy was devised and implemented to curb fossil fuel use. Fifty percent of the City's carbon dioxide output is due to industry. The rest is domestic and public sector consumption.

On top of anticipated population growth, we were asked to consider catering for an extra 10,000 inhabitants - climate change refugees from other parts of the world, afflicted either by desertification or rising sea levels. The paper was prepared before today's news, that by 2100 the anticipated average sea level rise will not be 60cm, as previously thought, but 90-120cm, a figure that could have greater impact on population, and local geography. The matter of Cardiff's sea defences was hardly touched upon. The scenario envisaged prolonged recovery from recession, energy and food security problems, and public disorder arising from scarcities of both kinds, as being more than possible. The challenge for heading off the worst case scenario is a net 9% reduction per annum in carbon emissions from now on. Implementation of a reduction policy must become a major driver of local economy, not just for potential cost savings, as fossil fuel prices skyrocket, but for developing renewable energy sources and technologies to match need to minimise carbon demand.

Discussion of the scenario touched upon a wide range of issues -

Improving transport infrastructure to enable mobility when fewer can afford cars.
Re-use of existing sites for housing and re-visiting the design of high-density living.
Improvement of energy efficiency of existing housing stock.
Improvement of all public buildings for greater energy efficiency.

Encouragement of local food production and use at all levels.
Targeting investment in research and innovation which will be eco-beneficial. Educating all citizens, promoting change towards more eco-friendly lifestyles.
Recognising how health concerns interlock with action on climate change.

On of the most interesting points raised was about the breakdown of a sense of neighbourhood and local community. The need for urban mobility arises from journeys made for work, domestic and recreation needs (not forgetting worship) each in different places from where people live. What would it mean to renew and redevelop a sense of local community within the City? What can the Church do to re-create a sense of Parish as local neighbourhood when so many people travel across town to pray? A working group will produce an action plan for meeting the 9% per annum carbon reduction, for adoption across the City, by every organisation that contributes to its carbon footprint.

This will have implications for energy use in places of worship in the city - currently around 220 of them, great and small - and for the 40,000+ people who move around week in week out to attend their place of prayer. The Church in Wales has made a good start with its Parish Green Guide, but there's so much more to be done across all faith groups, to ensure this matter is tackled with practical seriousness and urgency.

The notes from the workshop can be found here

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Canterbury in Cathays again

Yesterday evening, the Archbishop of Canterbury was addressing a gathering in the Parish again. It couldn't have been much closer to home, just five minutes walk from the Vicarage, at the Temple of Peace. On this occasion I received advanced notice, from the secretary of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs - of which Archbishop Barry is president. I was grateful to be able to attend.

His subject was 'Ethics, Economics and Global Justice', and he spoke with impressive understanding of his subject, to judge from the responses he evoked. I confess I found it hard to follow because Rowan's tendency to avoid using clich√©, re-stating many things others would skate over in a fresh insightful and original way offered too many alluring insights for my magpie mind to be sidetracked by - failing to hold the treasure chest firmly, because of the fascination with the particular jewels it contains.  I am therefore most grateful that the talk is posted on his website

The Western Mail's report offers a useful summary

The man offering the vote of thanks afterwards made a point of appreciating the contribution to public life made by leaders of the Church in Wales over the time since its disestablishment, following the earlier period when non-conformity overshadowed Anglicanism and its absentee prelates. He found it significant that a church leader could speak so authoritatively on a secular subject on a secular environment like the Temple of Peace.  

Well, economics is supposed to be a science, as it uses lots of statistical data to interpret the world of human behaviour. It can do so on times with about as much accuracy as religious forms of divination and necromancy. It presumes faith in materialism. As an apologist for faith and spiritual values, and a leader in the dialogue between faiths, it's not surprising that Rowan should be well rehearsed in this set of 'religious' beliefs, and able to offer more than just a capable ethical critique of the economic situation.

It's just over a month since I was last in the main hall of the Temple of Peacer standing hand in hand with a Muslim Sheikh who was praying for the world and its needs before a gathering of equal size, not all of whom were believers. He'd been addressing issues to do with domestic violence, feminism and terrorism, all equally current 'secular' concerns, but he still ended in prayer. Bishops and Archbishops pray in all sorts of places sacred and secular before such mixed crowds. So why not in the Temple of Peace? Or is it there a loss of confidence by our leaders in people's real ability to tolerate them for what they they really are - people of prayer, as well as people of learning?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Street Carers progress

This evening, the first meeting of the Street Carers Forum Representative Group took place at the old Gospel Hall building in Tavistock Street Roath. This was bought by Highfield Church and transformed into a support centre for homeless and needy people. The downstairs area contains a well equipped kitchen, shower and toilet, with sufficient small tables and chairs for thirty people to sit and eat.

Upstairs is a room which contains a clothing store, and a seating area of nice comfy sofas. When people have been fed downstairs, they can come up, sit and relax in a homely environment. If they need help with filling in forms or writing letters, there are volunteers to hand who will help. There is a TV, but it sits in the corner on the floor, unused so far, as for many street people who come to be fed, having the chance to relax in company and chat is far more important than being 'entertained' by the idiot's lantern.

TAVs, as it is called, is a superb piece of voluntary social enterprise, used by the Salvation Army by day, and on two weeknights by Street Care teams. Interest is being shown by new teams in the possibility of working from there on other weeknights. If a local volunteer led facility of this kind could be established close to another part of the city centre, it could contribute greatly to getting needy homeless people 'off the streets' in the right sort of way. Not cleared out of sight, to numb the consciences of consumers, but given a place where care and interest is offered, where people can feel safe, relaxed and normal for a while, and eat a meal sitting at a table, rather than standing up or sitting on a doorstep, or street bench.

As for the meeting, it was lively and constructive. My account of the developing liaison between the diverse groups of volunteer Street Carers across the city, can be found in a new blog, set up for this purpose.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Complexity

First thing this morning I cycled down to County Hall for a Countdown 2009 Executive meeting, at which I had to report on the latest issues of interest and concern from the Faith Focus Group. We were given a brief guided tour of the new computer booking system for all registered accommodation providors in and around Cardiff, an amazingly detailed and complex piece of database engineering, which one can only hope delivers as superbly as it promises.

Another essay in complexity was given by Pat Thompson, one of the city enginers charged with highways and transportation. He chaired the group I attended last week about infrastructure issues. He reported on that meeting, but also gave an excellent presentation on the simple question of people's reasons for travelling into the city, and traffic management matters arising therefrom. It was an insight into the complexity of the problems which are coped with, well or badly on a day to day basis.

It would be nice to see a presentation like that out in the public realm for a wider audience to absorb, and maybe think a little more about how and when they travel. I must ask Pat about this when I'm next in touch with him. I have the task of collating all the Sunday service times of places of worship in and nearby the city centre, as an indicator of times when some people are in need of public transport to get them where they want to be. There may be no simple answer that satisfies all, but maybe just thinking about it will open the door to something innovative.

I had to dash out before the end of the meeting to pedal back to the city centre for the lunchtime Eucharist. Then, after lunch the first of my deferred Tuesday Group Lenten services and with address, this year on 'Prayer of the Heart'. Ten people turned up, for which I was most grateful.

After supper, I went up to St MIchael's College in Llandaff to meet with Ben and two fellow students who are going to be conducting the Vigil at the Cross on Good Friday, while I am away preaching in St David's Cathedral Pembrokeshire. I shall enjoy sharing in their preparation for this, and believe that their freshness will be really good for those who gather for the Three Hours at the heart of the city.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Laying Patrick to rest

After 'God on Mondays' yesterday, I took the Megabus up to London, to stay with my sister June overnight, in readiness to attend my friend Patrick's funeral this morning at Christ Church Streatham Hill. There were as many if not more people there, as there was last June for Patrick's 40th jubilee of priesthood, over 200 at a guess.

The full Requiem Mass with Absolutions took an hour and three quarters, with a fine sermon from Bishop Tom Butler, together with three tributes. It was a joyous occasion with much laughter in appreciation of this wonderful man whose lives had touched so many people. A quarter of those present were clergy, men and women, white and black. There was an imam there, with a white and flowing beard - one of Patrick's prison colleagues, I suspect. I only caught up with one former USPG colleague, the Bishop's wife, Barbara Butler. If there were others there I didn't recognise them, nor they me on this occasion.

It was the kind of convivial occasion which Patrick would have appreciated, with a buffet meal for all comers laid on by the congregation afterwards. The only moment of quiet thoughfulness was introduced by Golda, Patrick and Judith's West End stage performing daughter, who read the meditation on death from Kahlil Gibran's 'The Prophet' with power that evoked the mystery in a special way. For me, she touched upon a side of her father's nature which I had glimpsed - the deep spiritual seriousness at the heart of his comic and absurd vision of life.

I wanted more of that element, a bit more simplicity in those proceedings and a slower pace to touch base with my friend, the Patrick I knew. Rather than make the effort of much casual chatting with strangers, after a few sandwiches I slipped out into the rain to catch some quiet, and sing a few of Patrick's songs over to myself in my head, on the way back to my sister's flat. After supper, I was back on a late bus, dozing all the way home, occasionally humming still.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Dydd Gwyl Dewi

As the four of us dined out and were late to bed last night, I was glad that Ben was preaching this morning, weaving together thoughts of St David and the beginning of Lent. When I walked home from church, the annual St David's Day parade was assembling outside City Hall, to the drumming of a local Samba band, and people in various odd-looking costumes or band instruments were streaming down Edward VII avenue towards the assembly point. All very jolly, but I can't help wondering what St David would have thought about such cavortings any time in Lent.

This year's annual service for the Mayors of Wales was appropriately at Eglwys Dewi Sant, which meant we didn't have to adjust our morning's liturgy in any way. What we offered was certainly Lenten, but cheerful nevertheless, and with 52 communicants, that was a biggest attendance since Christmas. There were only 15 in the evening for my first Lenten address and Compline. But that's just about normal.

In the Sunday evening series, I'm looking at Jesus in relation to people of other faiths in the Gospels. I'll be posting the talks on the 'Futurefaith' blog, as we proceed.