Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A passing generation

Family and friends at St John's gave Mary a good send off this morning. Behind the scenes last night and this morning it was all panic. The promised new photocopier had not been delivered, and the lazer printer ran out of ink during the print run, leaving me without a complete fair copy to take up to Staples or Tesco's to finish the job. However, I managed to obtain the necessaries from Clare's printer, and got them run off at Oner Signs just down the road from the church, with just twenty minutes to spare.

Mary's son Andrew had asked me to deliver a eulogy, based on his notes. I was unable to prepare anything written, as the office computer would not print, so relying on his notes, I reflected on the story of her life, and found that it all came very easily into place - not least because the most recent memories of her were memories I shared. Some of those present had known her for nearly sixty years, and while the memories were full of smiles of laughter, there was also an inevitable sadness, a quiet awareness of being part of a fine generation slipping away - the people who had in every sense re-made church and community life in the aftermath of World War two, with all its privations, environmental chaos, and the looming insecurity of Cold War.

I was only a child then, and these were all energetic young adults, getting on with forging a better future, making progress happen. How will I feel about my generation when I stand where they stand? Undoubtedly the feelings will be very mixed, but I hope they will include a debt of gratitude.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Michaelmas Day

I popped in to see Bill in hospital this afernoon, now on his way to recovery after an operation to mend his broken femur on Sunday. He's looking bruised about the face, but is as alert and perceptive as ever. He described a sleepless night in a busy ward quite factually. The fact that his description sounded surreal reflected precisely that experience of strange events in half darkness - am I dreaming or am I not? As I recall from my brief overnight hospital stay last year. It was reassuring to see him, and receive a big smile as I departed.

This evening a dozen of us received Mary Denholm's body into church overnight before her funeral and I celebrated a requiem Mass. She'd been a parishioner since her family was bombed out of their home in Splott when she was a teenager during the Blitz, nearly seventy years, always active and a great lover of her church.

Her past few years had been spent in a nursing home because of dementia. In the early days of its onset, when it was simply a question of worsening forgetfulness, she would turn up for a Sunday service on the wrong day, still confident enough to order a taxi and get there, and needing to be persuaded that she had made a mistake. Being part of the church and its worship was so central to her life that the urge to be there remained in the face of the failure of her faculties.

Whilst at one level this is sad, at another, it says a great deal about the soul's longing and how it engages the will, even when the mind fails. I've heard it said that Alzheimer's patients who cannot remember who they are, or anyone else with any degree of consistency, can still be able to recite the Lord's Prayer. It's embedded in that intangible part of us where the soul and the will reside.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Birthday outing

I took today off, as it was Clare's birthday. She started the day with a swim, so I slipped out to get the present I'd planned to buy but found no time to shop for, plus card, flowers, and some chocolate eclairs, a long standing favourite, and got back in time to prepare a birthday breakfast, for her to return to. We made our way down to Penarth for a birthday lunch at the Mediterraneo on the promenade, with a view of passing ships while we ate. We both spontaneously expressed the wish to live hereabouts, as and when we can sell the house and buy a new one with a view across Cardiff Bay.

On the way there we visited the Pumping Station antiques 'superstore' I suppose you'd call it, on Penarth Road for the first time, and delighted in its archtecture and the multiplicity of Aladdin's caves of collectors' items it shelters. We've passed by many times, too busy to turn off and make the discovery. It was a pleasant occasion to do this. On the way home, we both had appointments with an osteopath to sort out painful creaking joints. A favourite saying among parishioners is : "Old age don't come alone..."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Confirmation outing

I was delighted that Fr. Eddie Davies, recently retired Vicar of Christchurch, Lakeside, was able to stand in for me at this morning's Parish Eucharist as it enabled me to accompany Andrew to his confirmation at St Michael's. I was delighted to learn that Eddie was a parishioner in his youth. He and Sally also recently retired, were married in St John's, and were delighted to revisit, and meet old friends in church. Andrew has been journeying towards confirmation for the several years I have known him. We both share a high regard for eastern Orthodoxy and a passion for photography, so our conversations have always been enjoyable. I'm glad that he's decided that he is most at home in Anglicanism generally and with us at St John's in particular.

St Michael's was packed for the confirmation. The four other candidates were children of the same family, whose confirmation had been delayed by the sudden death of their father last year, so this was an occasion with mixed feelings for the family. Bishop David spoke to the situation admirably, enabling us to move between sadness and laughter and onwards into the heart of worship without strain. It was such a treat to share in parish worship without any responsibility apart from reading to Gospel. Just being able to listen and receive is a real blessing.

After taking Communion to Hilda, I went up to the Heath to find out how Bill was doing after his accident yesterday evening. When I got to the ward, I was glad to learn that he had been taken down for surgery that morning, but not yet returned. It was reassuring to know that he didn't have to wait, as had to happen to Hilda when she had a similar break. Both a worrying and painful experience for her.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Two AGMs today

Up and out early to drive up to Methyr Tydfil this morning to attend the Diocesan Conference in a huge leisure centre on the edge of town, taken over and decked out to accommodate the formalities of the conference, worship, and a festival of diocesan life and activities, with stalls, seminars and activities running throughout the day. It was a rich diverse experience, impressively well organised and a real morale booster for all taking part. I guess there were over six hundred people present.

Archbishop Barry's formal address to the Diocesan AGM at the start of the Conference accentuated many positive dimensions of life in the diocese and parishes, he encouraged us to appreciate and take confidence from the many good things, and not simply worry about matters which gives cause for concern. He had every reason to be up-beat on this occasion. The Mission committee introduced us to a new international companion link - with the Church of Bangladesh, to run alongside the existing link with Uppsala. Sunil Menken was there to receive a gift and good wishes from the Conference on his forthcoming consecration. The Rector of Llantwit Major is to attend his consecration on behalf of the Diocese.

I had a good look around after the conference formalities, but then had to return home, since the Heritage Open Day and Friends Festival date had been arranged without the clash of dates being noticed, and it was important that I be there for the afternoon, and the Friends AGM. When I got back to the city centre, the streets were even busier than previous days - the shape of things to come. Ill be interested to see the footfall measurements in a few days from now.

Chief Superintendent Josh Jones gave the address at the AGM of the Friends of St John. He spoke about policing in the city and about the innovative Street Pastors scheme, which has become a notable feature in the reduction of city centre crime in the past. Cardiff now has nearly forty trained volunteers, working on rotation Friday and Saturday nights between ten at night and four in the morning. It's an impulse from the evangelical Christian organisation Ignite Hope.

It has a commendable track record wherever it has been implemented. It involves a training course of ten weeks and volunteers have to pay £300 for the privilege of getting accredited They get special uniform clothing to make them visible, as part of that. Josh is an active member of Lisvane Baptist Church. As part of his address he read a passage from John 13. In his day job he's the consummate professional leading policeman fair and equal in his regard for all. He must have felt at home and among friends to have been able to share his faith so freely with us.

Not long after I got home, I had a call from church to say that one of our senior members had tripped and fallen as he was leaving church. Thankfully he was among friends who knew what to do. Paramedics had been called, and now he needed to be taken to hospital. And on the busiest night of the week too. An unsettling end to the day.

Friday, September 25, 2009

User frustrations

Crowds of shoppers continue to pour into the city to visit the new John Lewis store. Everywhere else seems to be benefiting as well, including the tea room, which was very busy today, and as it turned out, short staffed, so I had to wash up before and after the Eucharist to help them cope with the demand.

This meant that I wasn't able to go up to St Michael's College for the introduction of new students on placement, but for me this year it wasn't so crucial as Andrew Highway and I have known each other since I started the job here in the city centre. By sheer co-incidence, Sunil and I bumped into Andrew yesterday afternoon in John Lewis', as he was taking a detour in between work meetings to check it all out.

After the tea room closed, I spent an hour on the computer checking to see if Talktalk had done anything to remedy the line fault (reported yesterday) which is making our internet connection an occasional, fleeting thing. How much we've come to rely on having the facility in church, to keep everything running efficiently. I guess there's been a wholesale shift in communications and administrative culture which is now reaching into every corner of society. Since the advent of broadband, it's become so pervasive. Yet, quite apart from the quality of the infrastructure not keeping up with demand, the quality of the actual means of communication and the discipline with which they are used are still less than fit for purpose, still less than idiot-proof.

O know, for instance that my old email address still lives on in office PC circulation lists and data servers in the Council, the Church in Wales and a host of other organisations, all of which have been requested (often more than once) to take note of the new address and delete the old. I can have correspondence with people using my current address, and then miss a vital distribution of documents because the information update has not been rigorously entire. On top of this, there are issues of security. To keep up to date and secure all the time involves a fair amount of machine minding for individual users, small offices etc. There's the temptation not to bother if one is in a hurry, and that may lead to a machine being compromised. Every new improved system turns out to have its flaws and weaknesses, and its frustrations because the usability and intelligibility of the user interface is simply not good enough for new and experienced users alike.

Most cars are familiarly similar in the layout of their basic controls for a driver to be able to get in and go. Road layouts and signage conventions are the same on a national basis, and nearly the same internationally, apart form the side of the road you drive on. Why can't safe and efficient use of computers be as simple to adapt to as driving a car?

Clare and I decided to go down the Bay to watch Nofit State circus in Roald Dall Plas. We opted to go by bus. The first to turn up outside the Hilton was only going as far as the station. The driver said there was one behind going all the way. So we didn't get on, we waited. Ten minutes later, the next one sailed past us bearing the information that it was not in service. Having waited 20 minutes, this left us insufficient time to walk to the other side of the city centre and catch a bus that would get us there for the start of the circus, so we gave up and went home, annoyed.

Admittedly early evening is a transitional time with bus routing, due to the closure of lower St Mary Street to make it safer to fall about drunk all night without being rolled over by a bendy bus. The lack of useful relevant information to aid bewildered visitors and knowledgable locals alike is utterly contemptible laziness on the part of the company's marketing arm. It undermines the efforts the city is making to raise itself in the ranks of must-visit destinations.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Walking the talk

Last week I was asked by John Webber, chair of the diocesan mission committee if I would give Sunil Menken, Bishop elect of the Diocese of Kushtia in Bangladesh a pastor's eye tour of the city centre. Sunil is currently a parish priest in the city of Dacca, the capital. He's staying with John down in Llantwit Major. Lllandaff diocese is preparing to establish a companion link with the Church of Bangladesh. I'm delighted about this. And I hope it makes possible closer ties for us locally with Cardiff's substantial Bengali community.

We met at Cardiff Central station, mid morning, and I took him over to Southgate House to say hello to whoever was at their desks in the city centre manager's office. It has a great view of the Parish. Also next door in Land Security's local office, an additional view of Cardiff Bay, plus an architect's model of the city centre, altogether making possible an excellent overview to get us going on our tour.

From there, we walked up to St John's for the midday Eucharist, and had a snack in the tea room before the tour proper. I think that hearing a little of Cardiff history is quite useful for giving an idea of why buildings and streets are laid out the way they are in relation to landscape. It's so easy to be impressed by the latest layer of new edifices, and not realise the mutations of past centuries that have left place names, obscure landmarks, open spaces. Any city is a hugely complex story. Just imagine - Dacca is thirty times the size of Cardiff. There you'd just need a much bigger overview and a lot more time to tell the story.

We walked up to the Castle, down St Mary Street to the Prince of Wales pub, to recall the first Cardiff village riverside settlement where the Benedictine Priory of St Mary the Virgin was set up in 1080, and looked back up the street considering how the business quarter developed, not at the wharf-side, but in the safer shadow of the Castle walls, where St John's was built and rebuilt as as chapel of ease to St Mary's, close to where successive markets traded from the thirteenth century right down to today.

Then we crossed into Bute Terrace, gazing at the new hotels - sign of the contemporary mobile society that has established itself as part of the modern core economy of the city - and slipped into the John Lewis department store on its first day of public trading. It was heaving with people. We took the escalator to the top and back, took some photos, walked around among the crowds. Sunil clearly enjoyed this.

Then we walked up the Hayes, looked at building works nearing completion, and went through the 'old' St David Centre, now renovated to match its new neighbour, into the Queen's Arcade and then into Queen Street. We walked down Charles Street, popped in to St David's Cathedral, passed the CIA arena, crossed over into Tredegar Street and re-entered the John Lewis store for a quick cuppa before I took Sunil for his train back to Llantwit Major.

In between my descriptions of what went on where, Sunil interrogated me throughout about what might broadly be termed 'social service provision' - care for poor and marginalised people, civil and human rights advocacy, interpreting Christianity to people of other faiths, and so on. So many things that are undertaken by the church in Bangladesh are done by secular charitable bodies here in U.K., not least because the Christian ethos of many generations has so strongly influenced our civil society, and encouraged voluntary social enterprise. For him the context is a predominantly muslim society, with different history and priorites. For me this was a stimulating and challenging exercise, a dialogue, and not merely a presentation of Cardiff to a visiter.

It really was one of those days. The random element of city life means I can walk through the streets for hours and see nobody I know on one day, yet get stopped at every corner on another. Today as Sunil and I went around, we met all kinds of people, Steve - the city centre ops manager; Andrew Highway, Steve's predecessor, now working for Caerphilly UDC, who is also a non stipendiary ordinand coming to us on placement from this Sunday - he was just sampling John Lewis in between work appointments when we met. Meg Underwood, NSM priest who is part of the prison chaplaincy team. who usually comes to our Thursday Eucharist, Eddie Davies who was in the tea room when we arrived for lunch. He's taking the service this Sunday to permit me to support an adult confirmation candidate up at St Michael's. Then, on the street, we bumped into Ian Thomas, my steadfast supporter in city centre outreach this past five years. All chance encounters, welcome any day of the week, but especially welcome today as I gave account of what being a city centre priest means in this setting.

There are times when this job has felt very lonely. Yet, it has forged many connections with different people for me, and for the most part, these are invisible to those I worship with, who support me day by day in this ministry. How blessed I felt that all these meetings happened within the space of a few hours - especially when I know from experience that I could make exactly the same journey and see nobody I know.

This evening I had another privilege. A long conversation with a young man to be confirmed this Sunday. He has taken a long journey of learning and discovery in Christian faith and this has led him to find both a welcome and a home at St John's, slowly and steadily over several years. As in my own journey of faith, he has been deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy, so conversation has been easy and enjoyable between us. It will be a privilege to sponsor him before the Bishop this coming Sunday.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A day to remember

And what a day!

Two lane traffic in each direction along the Kingsway, with work on the new pedestrian crossing finished, opening on time. The first new sign posts going up in Queen Street - nice design too. All the trees along the Hayes are now planted, although I am tempted to say 'installed' thinking of the way they arrive all neatly packaged to be lowered by crane into their neatly dug holes lined with special soil. Half the Hayes pavement is now accessible to pedestrians, and Mr Bachelor's statue is almost free of building site materials at last. How long before he is crowned by the first traffic cone of the season, I wonder?

The Echo did our conference and its purposes proud with an article that appeared today, with a suitably humorous and quirky headline. It certainly helps get across the message we set out to promote. I'm so grateful for that.

After the lunchtime Eucharist, I popped over to St David's Cathedral, just at the end of the final Mass associated with the tour visit of the relics of St Terèse of Lisieux. The place was crowded to the doors,and there was a lovely atmosphere. We Anglicans are discouraged by our foundation documents, the Thirty Nine Articles from having any devotion towards saints or their relics, but I didn't go there out of curiosity or nor to protest, but as a small expression of ecumenical solidarity in this age when all sorts of excuses seem to be made for not giving much priority to the practice of reconciliation between faith communities.

St Terèse was a remarkable woman of faith, much bigger in spirit than the institutions she was part of. She longed to be a priest, but given the impossibility of being anything other than who she was where and when she was, she gave her life to prayer in support of priestly ministry. The Catholic church is suffering from a dearth of vocations, because of the exigent demands it sets on candidates, or because the Spirit is moving in oher ways - we cannot tell. The message of St Terèse is a reminder to Catholics everywhere that they need to pray, both for the priests they have and the priests they need.

Our ministerial ranks have shrunk with membership numbers but not as steeply as Catholics, as there are no gender or martial status restrictions on non Catholics. Nevertheless all baptized Christians are called to prayer, holiness and social engagement. It's good to be reminded of this, and of one of God's people who steadfastly pointed to Christ, by her devout life and writings. The presence of a few of her bones in an ornate casket before the Cathedral altar in its way reminds us that she's not just a story, not just a plaster figure or an image in stained glass, but someone just like us, who was flesh of our flesh, bone of our bones, as Genesis puts it.

Then by way of complete contrast, an invitation to the 'thank you' reception put on by the John Lewis Partnership in their new store, the day before it opens to the public, to the City Council's members and officers most intimately involved in seeing through the redevelopment and making possible the building and opening of the store on time. We were given champagne and canapés in the top floor restaurant quirkily called 'The Place to Eat', and a couple of speeches were made before we were given a guided tour of the building. Everyone seemed pleased - the staff were all smiling, the council people smiled occasionally, but mostly attempted to look serious, as if it was utterly sinful to be partying at teatime with an hour or more to do in work before home.

Paul Mannings managed a grin and a twinkle for me, however. "I told you we'd get there Vicar." he said. I just had to congratulate him for getting the Kingdway work over in time. Not all of the retail partnership members were there. I realised I was fortunate to get an invite. It was great to have an opportunity to ask questions about the running of the store, with its 780 staff. I learned that all the building maintenance and cleaning is carried out by the landlords rather than JLP. What a complex task when you're running sayven days a week around the year.

The building has huge volume, and trades on four floors with access by escalators around a central well. Ceilings are high, making each trading floor very spacious, and giving lots of room to display goods in aesthetic and imaginative ways. There's so much that's delightful to the eye. I worked overtime with my camera, and the results are to be found here. I hope their opening days will give the staff the response they need. There's been a huge amount of hard work in a few months to get ready to retail, to the point that most staff could take yesterday off.

It's quite extraordinary to think that right at the heart of the parish a new community is springing up. Yes, that's the right word. All employees are stakeholders in the enterprise and can share in its decision making, shape its future. No wonder they had ten applicants for every job. Someone pointed out that this is the largest retail department store to open in Cardiff for a century. Given its sound business ethics and good practice, let's hope JLP's presence will be an influence for the good that will lift the standards of work and workers' welfare across the city centre.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Climate concern

Unfortunately my press release last week about today's Climate Change conference went astray, but true to form, reporter Ben Glaze called me yesterday and fixed an interview for this morning. We spent an hour together, and he took copious notes, which may lead to a post conference article. I don't mind as long as some interest is generated. Yesterday's local papers carried a nice piece about the tea room, fund-raising and renovation at St John's. I didn't see it in print, but someone sent me the web-link (here) and several who did see it expressed their pleasure. So glad we are good news worth telling. It's not always been like that.

All our conference contributors turned up and did us proud. The uncomfortable truth, clearly state from Alan Netherwood, the City's policy road map to carbon reduction from Julian Steadman, to back our thinking with facts, and then some moving powerful stories from Bangladesh and India from Subash Chellaiah, and more from Northern Kenya from Abdullah Abdi Ibrahim, a muslim working for an islamic aid organisation among drought stricken pastoral nomads whose joy and passion gave him an evangelistic campaigning vigour when it comes to communicating the need for action to all the powers that be. Paula Clifford, Christian Aid's resident theologian gave us an excellent thoughtful and realistic summing up. The evening session in St John's was led by our new assistant Bishop David and gave us opportunity for more free ranging discussion and reflection on the topics of the day.

It was all excellent and worthwhile doing. However, apart from the contributors and organisers there were only 36 participants, and only half a dozen of them throughout the day were leaders of faith communities. This was a great disappointment, given the efforts made to publicise the event. Only a handful of apologies or messages of support were received. The silence is deafening. I knew a pastor who used to say "It's easier to get forgiveness than permission" when he wanted to do his own thing. I have another version. "It's easier to say nothing, than it is to make excuses." Eventually climate concern will become an overwhelming preoccuption, a life or death struggle. Penitence and apology in those days won't extact us from the mess we've allowed to accumulate though having more 'important' things to do.

Paula Clifford made the point that the churches in Europe (not speaking for other faith groups) has largely lost its capacity to give public leadership on social and moral issues, and now has to learn how to listen, discern and follow where others lead, and to support them. I'm not so sure we are much good at doing this. Church communities seem to have become high maintenance entities which busy themselves ... at maintaining themselves and their social status quo. 'Those who save their lives shall lose them' said Jesus. What does it now mean to be 'Church for others' as Jesus was 'man for others'. 'God so loved the world ...' we declare, but is this really true of us?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

St Matthew festivities

One of the regulars was there at eight o'clock this morning, others opted to come later on to the Sung Eucharist, celebrated by Canon Malcolm Ellis, my predecessor, on the occasion of the golden jubilee of his ordination to the priesthood. In place of the regulars came three passing strangers, all men - one English one Indian, newly arrived, to work in BT's Cardiff offices like others before him, and a third whom I didn't speak to, who looked South Eastern European in origin. It'slike that at the early service. There's always some good reason for turning up and being just there, even when I know the regulars are away.

The congregation at the Sung Eucharist was double its usual size with Mac's family and friends there to celebrate with him. It was great to assist him as he celebrated and preached. on Saint Matthew, a saint special to both of us because of his association with our shared ordination dates. It was a happy occasion, with an excellent party afterwards. It's so rare that I ever have the opportunity to receive the ministry of another priest in my own church. It may be as long as five years since the last occasion this happened.

Two of our regulars who divide their time between Cardiff and Teneriffe where their children work, came with son, daughter in law and this time two grandchildren. It was baby Lily's first home visit, so we welcomed formally and blessed her at the end of the Eucharist, as we did two years ago with her elder sister.

Our resident cheesemonger was in church with his mother and his girl-friend. He first visited us while selling North Walian cheeses at the Christmas market. Now he has a shop in Penarth. His Mum was on the final leg of her trip which took her from home in Nigeria to visit one of her children in Denver Colorado, and then to Cardiff to see her son. She was delighted to recieve a St John's welcome, being active in an evangelical congregation back home.

Visitors from abroad are so much a part of our regular church life these days, because Cardiff has so many tourists and international workers. It certainly makes everyday life interesting.

After the Eucharist a quick trip to the farmers market, and the coach ticket office, to book a journey to London. I have an errand - to return all the exhibition photographs to USPG HQ. This is the one opportunity I have to go this week, with extra things going on - Climate Change conference Tuesday, John Lewis preview Wednesday. London today, back tomorrow afternoon, rather a lot of time in a bus, but less expensive than freighting the pictures, and I get to see my sister in the bargain.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Notable anniversary

Mary rang this morning, cheerful as ever, to say she was OK, having spent the rest of the day going through tests at the hospital and finally being discharged after midnight. I was so pleased to hear her voice. Otherwise, it was a quiet day today, as Clare has gone up to visit her niece in Preston. Time to stop and think. It's thirty nine years today since I was ordained to the priesthood.

It’s strange to reflect that at the outset I thought I would soon move to ministry in secular employment. I was, as a student, been inspired by the Worker Priest movement in France, and also the writings of Roland Allen, an Anglican missionary in China in the early twentieth century whose observations about the spontaneous expansion of the church in China provided material to make a case for the value and effectiveness of indigenous voluntary pastors, as opposed to trained career professionals. His thinking was most influential on those who pioneered non-stipendiary ministry from the thirties onwards.

Somehow I have gone from one full time appointment in ministry to another in my thirty nine years, even training as a teacher after thirteen years, but then becoming a full time mission educator. My first real spell of voluntary ministry, apart form nine months helping out while an education student, will be when I retire. Retirement is from being an office holder, occupying a defined role in the church's ministry, not from participating in God's mission and ministry. I wonder what being a voluntary priest will be like? I’m rather bemused it’s taken me so long to fulfil this particular ambition..

Tomorrow is the fortieth anniversary of my deaconing, the start of public ministry, receiving authority to preach to Gospel, being set aside as an ambassador for Christ. Whilst being an ordained minister means taking on a very public role in many regards, like any ambassadorial role, there's a lot of behind the scenes work as well - time spent with individuals; time spent preparing, investigating, studying; time alone with God, wondering if you've got any of it right as the world around you changes at merry-go-round pace. As I get older, I cannot help but think that it's time alone with God that's been most lacking in my working life of priesthood so far, even though I tend to be a bit of an introvert. Will the balance change? Will I be able to cope with this, I wonder?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The world's a stage

Work on completing the repaving of the streets is rapidly nearing completion. Most of the work on the Kingsway road crossing is also done, though not yet tidied up and open for the free flow of traffic. Recently there's been more work being done at weekends and evenings as deadline chasing dominates each passing day. Paul Mannings yesterday smilingly showed me his computer screen displaying the last few weeks of his three year long project managment diagram, all on one page.

After the midday Eucharist today, one of our two regulars named Mary felt so poorly that she could not go upstairs to the tea room for lunch and a natter with her four mates, as she always does on Friday lunchtimes. In fact, none of them went up. All off them sat together quietly in the front pew, surrounding her with their tender, gentle, un-anxious care. It was a very moving scene. Mary was feeling embarrassed at the fuss she thought she was causing, and not keen that an ambulance be called, but in the end detemined common sense prevailed, and four green clad paramedics soon turned up and treated her with equal warmth and kindness. She took some persuading to go with them to hospital for a check up, still bothered about putting people out, and in the end one of her friends went with her.

It was a busy lunch-time in the tea room too, as we were a volunteer short with Allan in Italy. Abby Alford and a photographer came in, interviewed a few people and took some pictures for the 'Echo', all to celebrate the renovation of the church part-paid for by tea-room funds. Philip was off sick, so I had to do the weekly newsletter before going home for an early supper, and the first autumn evening at the opera.

The WNO put on a superb production of Verdi's tragic romance 'La Traviata', set in fin de siècle Paris with sets looking like paintings by Toulouse Lautrec. Violetta was played by an aristocratic willowy Greek soprano called Myrto Papatanasiu, with a marvellous voice, well up to the demands of the role. She made me think about Maria Callas, inevitably, I suppose, though her voice is not so strident. Beforehand, I thought it was an opera I didn't know at all, yet many of the arias turned out to be familiar (from BBC Radio 3, I guess), even if the story was not.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A trouble shooting and store launching day

At last night's preview of Brian Gardiner's painting exhibition in church, Pauline told me of troubles she's begun to have with her computer. It sounded to me as if she had acquired one of these unpleasant pieces of malware which can be picked up from an innocent website hacked into then used to conceal and download on to a visitor's computer malicious program code, that can open a gateway to download viruses and trojans, before promoting another program a user can buy to remove the infections thus introduced. Welcome to the world of internet scams - a thoroughy evil business.

I did some homework on the net, and downloaded a reputable free malware removal tool, and cycled over to Pauline's this morning. The job took two hours, which was for the most part machine minding while the removal program did its job, plus fixing the browser and emailer to minimise their security vulnerabilities. It's running OK again now, although there's still some tidying up to be done to make it more efficient, but that can wait a bit longer.

Computers are a bit of a hobby for me as well as working tools, but security issues are more of an obsession. Making my own and anyone else's computers as safe, efficient and easy to use as possible, and keeping the crooks out is something that matters, largely because, as a pastor I see the distress caused when people's kit doesn't work after they have invested so much time and energy in learning to use it. How dependent we've all become on these systems. Because of certain aspects of their design, Microsoft operating systems have inherent flaws easy to exploit. It's not accidental at 99.9% of the world's viruses, trojans and malware is written to attack Microsoft products.

Security software to protect those systems is big business. It's honourable work, but work that would be largely un-necessary if the basic commodity wasn't so flawed. Mackintosh and Linux systems are almost free from the afflictions of malware, but persuading people to pay extra for a Mac, or delve into the universe of free secure open source Linux systems, and make the effort of learning something slightly new, if basically the same, is really difficult. So far I've 'converted' three people to Linux use. Linux has less than one percent of the global market, and doesn't promote itself as Microsoft does. It's an uphill struggle.

This evening I accepted an invitation to the launch of the James Howell department store, re-branded and re-liveried as a House of Frazer store. A huge amount of internal building work has been done while the store has remained in use, and the staff all looked very pleased to be at work and welcoming customers on their first evening opening following the conlusion of the transformation. There was a drinks reception in the coffee shop, with a speech from Mandy, the store's general manager, then some over loud entertainment which rather inhibited conversation around the table sequestered informally by members of the Retail Partnership Board and their spouses.

It was great fun, and I even managed to get interviewed about the church's renovation program in the course of the evening. This was because I'd taken the opportunity, earlier in the afternoon to show Paul Williams, city centre manager around the church, his first visit since re-decoration. I think the transformation was something of a surprise to him, because he went around the reception enthusing to people about it, which gave me great pleasure, plus an introduction to Abby Alford the Media Wales chief reporter who was present for the launch. An enjoyable night's work (?)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lots of new openings

This morning's first retail partnership board meeting after the summer break was unusually well attended, as the main agenda item was several briefings about the big retail openings in the next forty days.

First, this Thursday evening, the VIP re-launch of the former James Howells Department store as House of Frazer. HoF have owned and run it before but been respectful of Cardiff's retail heritage by keeping the old brand name alive. Two complete floors have been re-modelled, new brands are being introduced, the exterior is being buffed up, rather than re-styled - a good move because the building already has a stylish façade, the only outstanding retail façade in St Mary Street. Only the signage and window dressing has changed. High Street and St Mary Street has some remarkable buildings in mixed styles but few shopfronts of aesthetic value, HoF has got the best.

Then on 23rd of the month, the day after the Climate Change conference in City Hall the new and eagery awaited John Lewis store opens for business, slightly before all the public realm work is complete and the free bus shuttle around the city centre is up and running. By then, their own underground car park will be operational, but I bet it will overflow with interested customers.

Exactly a month later, on 22nd October the Grand Arcade of the St David's shopping centre will open to the public and three days of opening activities are planned. Once all the 2,500 new car park spaces are accessible the city will have 25% more parking spaces than it had three years ago, and, at least for short term and evening parking for a couple of hours, the cost will be lower than it has been for a decade. £2-3 for a couple of hours. I reckon it would be even possible for people to come in by car for Sunday afternoon shopping, maybe a meal, and come to Evensong for the same price as a bus journey in from the suburbs.

In poor weather, people could park and walk to St John's nearly all the way under cover, and in an environment where no kind of anti social behaviour will be tolerated, less of a distance than parking out beyond City Hall. Making the most of off-peak offer and easy safe access is capable of opening all sorts of new social opportunities for people who at present find that coming into the city centre in the evenings is too much of an effort.

After the meeting, I made a flying visit to Nelson, to deliver a couple of boxes of USPG exhibition photographs to the Rector, Chris Reaney, and to meet his house guest, Sunil, the Bishop elect of Kushtia, the second diocese of the Church of Bangladesh. Sunil will be with us next week at the climate change conference. Subash Chellaiah, USPG's East Asia officer, an Indian will be presenting the research of another USPG mission partner in Bangladesh, James Pender, on how climate change is being tackled in that vulnerable country. The work is a fine example of best practice for us to take note of. I guess the risk that country is exposed to concentrates minds. It's so good that we have this international component to this conference - think globally act locally is still the best advice.

This evening, the Street Carers' Forum re-convened in County Hall, there were 28 of us present, representing 14 different churches. There was some searching discussion, in the light of the policy differences we were bound to report, as this had retarded progress for so many months, but at the end of the evening, I got the impression that most were satisfied with the direction we had taken and were pleased to see us get on with arranging the training and getting the process of accreditation for Street Carers working. Lots more to do, but feeling supported in attempting to achieve it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Holy Cross Day

I went into church this morning to take down the USPG exhibition photos and pack them ready to transport back to London. The exhibition boards are staying up for another couple of weeks to accommodate another exhibition of paintings by local artist Brian Gardiner, which opens on Wednesday, entitled 'Spirit of Place'. Before going to clergy school, I spent some pleasant hours digitally scanning large format high quality photo slides of his work, in order to be able to post them to a publicity page on the parish website. It will be good to have his paintings on display in church, especially as the stream of summer visitors continues. His paintings offer views of parts of Cardiff which a normal tourist would be unlikely to pass by. They show beauty in the ordinary features of a quiet suburb away from the glamour of the city centre.

Paul Hocking and I met with Mike Friel, head of the City Council's Housing and Neighbourhood Renewal Team today, to report on all that had happened in the Street Carers Forum over the past few months, and to make evident the determination of the Representative Group to press ahead with plans already made to arrange a training and accreditation programme for Street Carers despite recent setbacks. Our news was well received. That's an encouragement, providing us with the confidence to proceed with tomorrow night's Forum meeting, to which leaders of churches with Street Care teams are invited for a briefing on our plans.

The meeting was over in good time, to allow me to visit Tredegarville school for the first time since term began, and receive an update from the head teacher on his plethora of plans for the year ahead. With additional matters grabbing my attention at the moment, it won't be possible to re-start 'God on Mondays' until after half term. Kelly, one of the teachers who has been working with me on the service over the past year is off sick at the moment, and that is a contributory factor as well. It's a disadvantage not having a ministerial colleague to share this particular piece of work with, to ensure continuity. I feel bad that it can't be every week all the year round, but there are other haphazard demands to be met that disrupt the routine, not least my own vulnerability to illness. The return of nosebleeds during the hours of sleep this weekend after a five week break has been most disconcerting - and still no sign of a specialist hospital appointment. It must be three months since my doctor first requested one for me.

I was saddened to hear this morning of the death of Graham, Jones, a long standing member of St Michael's and their senior server. Last week in clergy school Caroline their Vicar told me that he'd been admitted to hospital with liver failure, and two days later she reported that he was to be admitted to a hospice as he had an agressive cancer which had spread rapidly through his vital organs. It's happened so quickly, he hadn't been ill for long. The cancer had spread undiagnosed. A stark reminder that health no matter how much or little we value it, is a precarious gift.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Clergy School (4)

After breakfast, we met in the college lecture theatre for Mattins, followed by a good humoured session, punctuated with witty remarks and much laughter, led by Archbishop Barry, smiling and relaxed, reviewing the conference. It was widely agreed to be one of the 'best ever'. In this context 'ever' means the memory of senior clerics with around forty years service behind them. Unlike me, many if not most of those present have spent their entire ministry in the Diocese, so that's a well earned accolade for the Bishop's organising team.

We then discussed the matter of liturgical anti-swine 'flu crisis hygiene measures. It was the first really collective opportunity there had been for clerical discussion since the Archbishop's letter of advice from the Bench of Bishops to Parishes issued at the end of July. I was glad to find that I was among the multitudes unhappy with not offering the chalice to everyone at Communion. It was reported that some Parishes hadn't altered their practice but just advised communicants to opt out if they were anxious about cross infection, or thought they were infected.

I was surprised to discover how strong the concensus was against communion by self-intinction - each recipient dipping their communion wafer in the wine and communicating themselves - on the grounds of hygiene. So often the shared experience is that 'dippers' ' fingernails end up in the wine, and if nails are dirty or coated with varnish, the outcome is far from wholesome for others drinking from the Cup. Even under control with the priest dipping the bread in the wine and giving to the communicant, risk of accidental contamination remains. A ban on the practice was regarded unanimously with favour.

At St John's we followed the Bishops' advice as if obligatory, although it wasn't, as our regular group of worshippers is always supplemented by visitors who may not understand the concern, or may not even know that they are infected. My thinking at the outset was, better to err on the side of caution, even if it means doing something I'm unhappy with. However, I've found intinction as a regular method of communion difficult to practice, and am now inclined to think it would be better to offer the chalice advising communicants that it's optional under the circumstances and let them decide for themselves, .

I must discuss this with the church wardens as soon as I can.

The rate of swine 'flu infections is dropping rapidly now, although there's not yet been a declaration of an end to the emergency. Infection rates may may rise again this winter. Rates have been lower in Wales than in other places, so is all this caution any longer necessary where we are? Discussion was wide ranging and inconclusive, yet, it was considerate and pragmatic in best Anglican tradition. Contemporary pastors take seriously the real world they inhabit.

I doubt if there will be another episcopal edict on this subject for a while. Discretion and local consultation will be the means by which this matter is dealt with, until the time comes for fresh advice from the top. Next time I hope the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will consult before issuing a public statement, so that their counterparts in the Celtic fringe churches are not caught on the hop.

I suppose it was inevitable this issue should arise at such a gathering of clerics. What struck me was how considerate the discussion was, how reluctant all were to impose a 'one size fits all' solution to a pastoral problem, while being keen to do the right thing by people served. To me, this is the real evidence of what was being called 'Anglican DNA', the core of our identity as a 'church for others'.

Our clergy school ended with a Eucharist in St Giles' Parish Church, at which Archbishop Barry presided and preached and everyone sang heartily. After lunch, the coach delivered us back home to Cardiff. Archbishop Barry was with us. I didn't notice him get on the bus as I was dozing at the time. This made me wonder if he'd been on there coming up to Oxford and I hadn't noticed.

It's great to have a spiritual leader who is so quietly at home among his co-workers.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Clergy School (3)

Well, that was a good day, content wise and weather wise, and I've had a few hours of quiet to finish off, emailing and surfing, and just thinking. We get three cooked meals a day here. Far more nourishment than any of us can walk off, given the rather static nature of our activity, and the brief quarter mile dash to the offices at St Giles' twice a day. A longer walk is possible, whether for sightseeing and shopping by skipping a session, or to go out to the pub after supper.

Before lunch we had an interesting session by two researchers from Cardiff Uni's sociology department examining the current state of religious nurture among British muslims. There are indications that 77% of second generation muslims have received and maintain the faith passed on to them from their parents. The figure for Christian 'transmission' as they call it, is 29%. It's still a work in progress. The team is trying to identify the key factors. From what I could tell, it sounded a bit like the experience of British expatriate communities abroad, much more tenacious about retaining both their culture and religion in a foreign setting.

This afternoon I missed the start of the follow up seminar because I was writing, so rather than walk in a quarter of an hour late, I gave myself a brisk walk down to Christ Church, bathed in sun, with its gardens and neighbouring meadow looking lovely. I was astonished at the admission price, but then it's not the kind of thing I think of much. The cost of managing the building for millions of tourists a year must be met somehow, when too few people attend and give sufficient to cover such additional expense. I hope we never have to do that at St John's.

It was good to stroll through the pedestrian area and observe a) how well maintained it was, and almost litter free; b) how all cyclists dismount in the marked zones - given how many bikes there are in the city. Maybe there are conventions and protocols about riding that are drummed into every freshman, assuming they weren't raised in the city. I wonder if there are any lessons here for Cardiff to learn?

Our last lecture from Prof Martin Percy was another tour de force in perspective and objectivity from which us clergy could take encouragment. So often lectures to clergy I have heard over the years about ministry have been advocating with sincerity and passion latest trends in thought about how to lead, or how to run the parochial system better, or how to do mission. But not this formidable scholar, a sociologist of religion and theologian. He spoke analytically about the role of the pastor as exercised in Anglican tradition, about getting stuck in to a situation, flourishing where planted, being there for people, as the essential core of mission and ministry, right across the board, no matter what one's preferred churchmanship. Being the one who knows the Parish and is known by the Parish, know as one who cares, even in these times of disinterest towards religion, this is what matters most, and is the source of whatever other initiative or contribution someone can make due to their particular gifts.

He drew carefully from history and from social anthropology in making his point. It was music to my ears. It made so much sense from my experience, having survived four decades of trying everything, exploring innovations, trends and techniques hoping to learn something of value, and always coming back to where I started. My time at St Mikes, hearing much the same assertions from the mouths of wise elder parsons, speaking only the language of clerical piety and personal experience, for that was what they had in plenty. They wouldn't have been surprised to discover that new social sciences upheld what they'd lived, practiced and sought to impart to us young trendy upstarts of sixties modernity.

The bottom line was the very simple reminder to remain faithful and not forget that where the growth of the church is concerned, it's God who gives the increase, not the latest schemes and theories liberally applied. The marvellous thing to me was that this discourse wasn't in any way reactionary, nor an appeal to return to traditional values of a golden age, but rather a reminder to have confidence in who we are, what we know ourselves called to be for others as ministers of the Gospel.

I hope all the sisters and brothers will dare to walk a little taller when they get back to ground zero in their Parishes on Friday.

Clergy School (2)

A warm sunny day in Oxford, with a wholesome mix of worship in St Giles' Parish Church, plus three lectures and an address by Fr Ken Leech, reminiscing and telling lots of stories, pointing us to the unique things that make each of us and our Christian journeys what they are. I was delighted that he mentioned Nicholas Zernov, the Orthodox theologian who was around in Oxford when Ken studied here. Zernov was possibly the first theologian I ever listened to as a member of the Bristol University Church of England Society in the winter of 1963, and certainly my introduction to a lifelong relationship with Eastern Orthodoxy and its mystical theology.

One lecture was on the new approach to the liturgy of baptism. It was all stuff I was doing 20 years ago, when I was obliged to think things through thoroughly with 150 baptism a year to do in Halesowen - I think I may have dozed off, to my disgrace, but we were up very early so insufficient sleep probably took its toll. We had time out after lunch, and a slept for an hour, before walking the length of the Gilestide fair, taking photographs.

The late afternoon lecture on the Eucharist engaged me better, taking about Dom Gregory Dix and the Parish Communion movement, both of which had become familiar to me even before I offered for ordination, in the environment of a very lively University Chaplaincy scene.

The third lecture encouraged us to take a long view on the state of the church over which we so often despair, a long view revealing that there is more to be encouraged by than we generally allow for. I got enough of a challenge to my own despair from that, to return to my room and get most of a Sunday sermon written before bed. Now that's what I call stimulus. The College internet link was down from mid afternoon till lunchtime today, so for once there was also no distraction from surfing or checking emails.

Archbishop Barry, as he put it, got his own way for once, decreeing that Matins this morning should be after breakfast and before the Eucharist, not at 7.15am. This made a great difference, and I really enjoyed the best part of an hour and a half soaking in scripture and silence in the company of a hundred or more prayerful people. The intrusive clamour of the Giles-tide fun-fair in the streets outside the church was replaced by the less prominent everyday hum of passing vehicle traffic, as the fair reached its conclusion late last night, and all the rides and attractions simply vanished under the cover of darkness.

This morning Ken Leech reminisced about Thomas Merton, another early influence on me. Well, Ken is only six years older than I. He's a priest I always looked up to and enjoyed reading and listening to. He's seems to be ageing fast, slowing down, admitting to being forgetful about recent stuff, although not about the past. Most importantly, he is focussed on the essentials. His recall and delivery is slow, ponderous even, as if he is distilling the wisdom he shares. Makes me wonder what I'll be like in six years from now.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Clergy school (1)

Tonight I'm posting from Oxford, in a room at St Anne's College, where the Llandaff Diocesan Clergy school is taking place until Thursday. In the distance the sound of the St Giles-tide fair is filling the night air, and blocking off the Woodstock road outside to through traffic. We arrived mid-afternoon after a leisurely coach journey from Cardiff, and were assigned well appointed hotel style single rooms, with ethernet terminals and login codes thrown in as part of the deal.

Worship is taking place in St Giles Parish Church, whose environs are at the moment engulfed by the fairground rides and stalls. We were enjoined to accept the background noise as another mundane context in which to offer up the life of the world in prayer. But it's not distracting noise, it's distressing noise that reduces ones capacity to hear what's being said. Maybe that just says my hearing is not as good as it used to be and I haven't noticed.

We had Ken Leech addressing us after Evensong, telling stories about formative people and situations in his early life and reflecting upon them. It was good to hear him again after twenty years. I didn't recognise him when he arrived. Not that he's changed that much, but I failed to make the connection when I saw him, even though I knew he was coming. After supper Prof Martin Percy, principal of Cuddeston theological college addressed us. It was a thoughtful session, from a theologian who is also a sociologist of religion. He delivered his material in a hilarious way, maybe to make it seem non-threateningly strange or overly familiar stuff. He'd come with some penetrating insights to share about ministry, and stared by putting us all at ease. He could earn a good living as a stand up comic, I'm sure.

We're thinking about identity in these few days, about diversity and commonality and how that works as part of divine providence. I'm too tired to go out to the pub tonight, and really appreciative of a quiet room and the promise of a full night's sleep. I didn't get one last night as such a long Sunday left me over tired. It's called getting old, I guess. Such a shame when there's so much that's interesting going on.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

What went wrong

A busy day today, with the United Services Mess Annual service following the main Eucharist, a home communion to do in the afternoon and a PCC after Evensong. The load was lightened with a touch of hilarity when Bill turned up with the legal road closure notice relating to the Kidney Wales 10k run this morning. He'd cut it out of a copy of the 'Echo' to show us. The date for road closure in the published notice is Tuesday 8th September. So, somewhere along the line, a high level error had crept into the stream of information, sowing confusion in the realm of what was knowable by the public. No wonder there was no information available to the public about today in the local police station.

Thankfully, the action side of the business was operational as usual. The traffic wardens were as helpful as they could be, enabling people to get into church by car despite the road closures. But it does mean that technically speaking the closures did not have the necessary legal authorisation in place. An embarrassment, maybe a rebuke for someone in the corridors of power, but in the end still a breakdown which could have serious unintended consequences in seriously difficult circumstances.

At lunch in the Mess, I was chatting with a couple of veterans, reflecting upon wartime disasters brought about by incompentent administration or high level decision taking, observing that such things were still going on, because of the gulf between the front line and the people who sit behind desks in Whitehall who never see first hand the outcomes of decisions poorly made. The same, I thought to myself applies to people with responsibility in public administration. Political observers are always keen to cut back on administrative staffing to make things more efficient and cost effective, but the real efficiencies occur when everyone on the team is fully aware of their responsibilities, not as a theory or an idea, but as a practical reality.

When people know their jobs well, when they understand all the consequences of jobs not being done well, when all see themselves as stakeholders in an enterprise, not just place holders doing a job, maybe even flitting from job to job as befits career aspirations, or personal convenience, then an organisation becomes really fit for purpose. Maybe it is like that in some sectors of public administration, but sadly it's not universally the case. Outrage is expressed in the press about the number of discretinonary sick days off public employes take, and what it costs the public purse. The work ethic is one of the casualties of the post-modern breakdown in social concensus, and that makes it really difficult for truly excellent public service to flourish.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Public autism

Allan rang yesterday to report that he had been into the central police station to enquire about road closures for sunday morning, as Kidney Wales have a 10k race, on Sunday morning, mainly in Bute Park, but ending outside the Millennium Stadium. This means Westgate Street will be closed to traffic possibly at the very time churchgoers are coming in for services.

The police had no record of road closure this coming Sunday, no inkling. After all, the Kingsway is reduced to half its usual size due to roadworks, already causing massive congestion daily. So naturally this led us to conclude that the end of the race had been re-routed.

Just to double check, I went on the race website, and saw that the map was unchanged, so I emailed the race organiser to flag this up, as a wrong map could be misleading to some. I had a swift reply assuring me that the road would be closed and that the finish would be as planned in Westgate Street. For the first time in the two months since the race route was announced, I was given actual road closure times. Not that I hadn't already asked the race organisers several times and Council officials responsible for traffic management - each time my request for factual information had been ignored. Not even a polite 'I don't know, I'll find out and get back to you.'

So what is going to happen on Sunday morning, if the police are still unaware of the event at this late stage, even though the organisers can name names of police and Council collaborators and claim that all is organised? We're talking of hundreds if not thousands of runners of the street around the castle wall, running through a road works area already constricted.

The least worst scenario is that the police enquiry desk was at the time of Allan's visit staffed by someone who wasn't briefed, or that information about arrangements, whatever they might be had not yet trickled down the chain of command to the front of house. As for the public who are not out there running, but wanting to get into work, go shopping or go to church - evidently there is little concern about them, and what they might do if they got seriously fed up.

The Council's highway department is supposed to work closely with the police, and for the most part it does so reasonably well, but, like the police, it is utterly hopeless when it comes to keeping the public in the picture. You'd think people in public service would be interested in making sure properly that the public knows what is going on, yet so often there is ambiguity and confusion if not contradiction in the information and messages conveyed. And sometimes just silence.

It seems to me they all live in their own world, out of touch with reality. Public autism, I call it. They should all get out from behind their computer screens and on to the streets a bit more, watch listen and discuss things with people from day to day, not just at 'special consultations' and committees. It took a month for me to get an acknowledgement from a senior Council officer with a p.a. and staff team to an email I wrote after spending an afternoon in town analysing the difficulties being reported by bus users during the period of bus stop location changeover, and suggesting a simple solution. Too busy even to set up an email auto-reply?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Facebook skeptic

It's two years and three months since my daughter Kath me to sign up for Facebook. I wasn't very enthusiastic about it and quickly lost my log in details, and had no reason to retrieve them. Only recently I stumbled upon them, occasioned by trying to explain to my sister June, who signed up accidentally, while still learning the ins and outs of the internet. She wanted to know how to escape the torrent of emails it precipitated on to her computer from a few users she knew. She didn't understand the point of it and wanted out.

I said I'd try and find out for her, and then started poking around, out of curiosity and poking around discovered the login details I'd failed to write down at the start. It seems that quite a few people I know use it, though apart from occasionally interesting photo galleries (small sized in comparison to my preferred Picasa) there's not much content of compelling interest from most people. It's a bit like being at a party with lots of acquaintances, swanning around exchanging greetings, banter, snippets of news, references to books music and videos for the most part. You may have a good time meeting and greeting, but it all feels somehow superficial.

I suppose there are situations apart from publicity where it could be a useful tool for networking with like minded people, but I'm not sure it has much to offer a dyed in the wool introvert like me. I'd rather ramble on with this blog - the old bore in the corner, I guess. But every now and then my curiosity gets the better of me, or I get an advisory email from someone I know, or sometimes don't know, wanting me to be their 'Friend' - very odd choice of phrase. No wonder comedians get such mileage out of poking fun at this. Unless I can achieve something with Facebook which I couldn't so easily with any other cyber tool, I shall remain skeptical.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Vision and the visual

This morning, Pauline and I picked up the font cover from St John's and drove to the village of Dilton Mark near Westbury in Wiltshire to meet Donal Channer a cabinet maker, who works occasionally on projects with painter Fleur Kelly. Fleur recently work on recreating mediaeval painitings in the church of Llandeilo Tal y Bont, rescued from dereliction in its original site in the flood plain of the river Loughor outside Pontarddulais to become a living exhibit at the National Folk Museum at St Fagans on the edge of Cardiff. The purpose of our trip was to get Donal to consider the woodworking challenge of creating eight curved triangular panels to fit the spaces presented by the font cover.

The spaces were originally filled with a beautifully open fretwork lattice. Because of its fragility two thirds of it has been destroyed over the years. Restoration of such excellent delicate craft work commonplace a century ago would not only be very expensive now, but equally impossible to protect from future damage, as the original has shown. Preliminary deliberations with our architect led us to agree that preserving the remains with a rigid covering would preserve it for posterity, but also give us an opportunity to enhance the cover in a way that would bring added value to a traditional object through paintings that would tell the story of the Parish.

The idea is that these surfaces would be filled by Fleur, an expert in mediaeval icon 'writing' (as the Greeks would say), with images of saints associated with the history of our Parish - the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist to start with, from early times, then in the nineteenth century period of expansion, St Andrew, St Alban, St Teilo, St James the Great, St Monica and St Michael the Archangel. All of the latter dedications in context represent churches and schools built to meet the pastoral needs of central Cardiff as it expanded during the coal boom town decades of the late nineteenth century. Sited adjacent to glass sliding doors planned to replace an existing modern porch which has never been a success, an enhancement to the font area would off a striking view to our multitude of visitors.

Last week, popping into St Paul's Cathedral in London, to take a look at their entrance area and visitor admission facilities, I couldn't help noticing that their font is centrally sited in a prominent location in the western end of the nave, a powerful symbol to complement the altar and pulpit - statements about those dimensions of Christian identity we all have in common. It gave me the added incentive to see if we could make this proposition work for St John's.

We succeeded in missing a turning and losing half an hour passing through the traffic nightmare which is Bath on the way over, but Donal and Fleur were waiting for us in a deep country village not far from Warminster, and we quickly came to the conclusion that what we proposed to do was practicable and worthwhile. All we have to do now is to report back to the PCC next Sunday and if all are agreeable, submit a Faculty application to obtain permission as soon after as possible.

I hope the Diocesan Advisory Committee will be sympathetic to our proposal. In many ways it is a traditional, untrendy sort of thing to do. But St John's is a flagship church welcoming at least 50,000 visitors a year, it's our mission to remind the world of our city's Christian roots. This multi-cultural multi-faith age, wouldn't exist so freely and safely the way it does without having such long Christian past. A place of beauty, rich with ancient symbolism is one of the most durable and cost effective forms of advertising who we are.

On the way home we called in at the studio of local artist Bryan Gardiner to look at paintings which we're going to be exhibiting in a fortnight's time, after the USPG photo exhibition is finished. He has drawn and painted places in Newport and Cardiff over the years and captured something special of the beauty to be found in ordinary everyday settings. His exhibition will be called 'Spirit of Place' - yet another initiative from us at St John's to encourage people to look at the world they inhabit.

Contemplation begins with turning the effort of looking at the world into one of seeing what is truly there, in all its glory.