Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christ in the centre

An Advent tradition, better known in Europe than Britain, is a meditative walk, taken along the arm of a spiral pattern laid out on the floor, either in a sanctuary or a garden. It has symbols decorating the way, associated perhaps with biblical prophetic verses or images, pointing to the coming nativity story, and at its very center is a lit candle. The whole represents the journey within, to meet Christ at the heart of all things, Word made flesh in the Christmas mystery, soon to be celebrated.

In the week before Christmas, since I've been here in Cardiff, I've devised my own Advent walk. I go from one hotel to another in the city centre 'square mile', to offer leaflets publicising any special seasonal events at St John's, and above all the Christmas services. The city's hotels are filled with visitors from near and far away at this time of year. Some of them will be enquiring about locally accessible Christmas services. My little walk takes the information to those who are looking after visitors while they are here, and gives me a glimpse into the smart hotel foyers of the city.

Since I began, seven years ago, the number of hotels in the centre of Cardiff has risen by four to fifteen. Two have had a complete makover, several have changed hands. Demand for hotel rooms in the centre still outweighs supply.
A couple more new hotels are still on the drawing board, to be built when the economy picks up again.

Today, the weather was perfect for brisk walking; bright, sunny, clear and dry, with a persistent frost. Starting from St John's with a couple of hundred freshly printed leaflets, my journey went as follows :-

The Angel Hotel, Westgate Street
The Holiday Inn, next to Canton Bridge
The Sandringham Hotel, St Mary Street
Travelodge, St Mary Street
Sleeperz Hotel, Saunders Road, by Central Station
The Marriott, Mill Lane
Radisson Blu, Bute Terrace
The Big Sleep Hotel, Bute Terrace
The Park Inn Hotel, Mary Ann Street
Hotel Ibis, Churchill Way
The Holland House Mercure Hotel, Newport Road
The Thistle Park Hotel, Park Place
The Park Plaza Hotel, Greyfriars
The Hilton Hotel, Greyfriars

I ended up by dropping off leaflets at the tourist information centre and the new library - other obvious places where people might enquire about Christmas services.

Each place has its own character. All are spruce and welcoming by nature. The newest hotels replace a long check-in counter in the lobby with a series of swish looking desks with computer terminals, emphasising the personal service being offered. In none of them was the lobby empty of guests going or coming, nor of staff to receive my little offering with courtesy and sometimes appreciation. It's a ritual they probably go through many times a week with people bringing in publicity material for a thousand and one different events.

Over the years I have dreamed of getting a churches promotional page into circulation on all the cable TV setups in the hotels. Whilst the concept is simple enough, it would require time for research, and an effective PR campaign and on-going management of the resource to make a long term sustainable difference. Desirable, not impossible, but still a dream, because there isn't a churchgoing insider in this industry to help steer the idea into realisation.

Meanwhile, I hand over my pieces of paper, conscious that they have a shelf life of less than a week, and may well get misplaced or binned. I always say "Just in case someone asks you about Christmas services in the next few days". Actually I'm hoping God is listening too. It's a kind of prayer in hope that St John's will have another festive opportunity to share faith in Christ with people the city welcomes as visitors and tourists. As I walk, I pray that the city centre, despite its reputation for debauched festivities, will be a place both of hospitality, peace and revelation in coming days. 'Christ in mouth of friend and stranger'.

At tea time, we had parishioners in for carol singing, mulled wine, mince pies and much convival laughter for a couple of hours. Tomorrow morning, the children will take their turn to tell us the Christmas story. It's Advent Four, and we have Nine Lessons and Carols in the evening. We have no compunction about jumping the gun, liturgically speaking, because these are all things we love to share together. Many of our community will be travelling elsewhere to share Christmas with their families. One who stayed last year said that when she arrived at Midnight Mass she was surprised to discover how few people she recognised were present, and yet there was a crowd of about a hundred - visitors mostly. That's the nature of the place in which our bonds of affection are rooted.

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