Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pilgrim continues his way

Thank you for following the Edge of the Centre trail this far. If you want to keep in touch with all that happens as we journey into retirement, click on the following name link to visit my new blog. It's called 'West of the Centre'

Monday, April 19, 2010

Farewell Sunday

It was pretty late by the time I got to bed after yesterday's banquet. With no eight o' clock to get up for, I slept in and arrived at church rather too late for my own comfort, as there's always an assortment of pre-service checks to do before getting started. I was amazed that there were so many people there, and few missing who'd been there late last night. There were over seventy of us in church, as many as on Easter Day, an occasion to thank God, after thanking each other last night for the many blessings of years shared together.

I preached around the St John's resurrection Gospel text in which Jesus says to Peter "When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." It's one of the few references to the trials of old age in the New Testament, and it gave me an opportunity to make some special affirmations about this remarkable community of elders who give so much of themselves in faithful witness to Christ and his church.

There was a special 'retirement cake' for everyone to share after the service, which was a great pleasure, and then many farewells. Nevertheless I couldn't help being struck by the thought that this time, the first time in forty five years of life together, we are not moving on, but staying here in Cardiff. This is finally the place where we settle down and make our home. There are people in a small city that we will see again quite often, out and about, such is the nature of the place. The relationship will change, of course, once they have a new Vicar, but bonds of affection shared by mature people are such that change very little, regardless of circumstances.

So, although I am leaving the job and the role I have occupied, we are paradoxically coming to rest rather than moving on. And that's something I have longed for this past few years in a way I never imagined, having been such an energetically restless soul all my working life, always wondering where I am meant to be and what I am meant to be doing there. I don't know what the future entails. Once we've moved, life, limitations notwithstanding will be a skyline of opportunities for adventure and creativity - and to do new things in exploring the depths of God. So I didn't feel sad, as much as in awe of the occasion, of this new beginning. As Nicodemus once said: "Can someone be born again when they are old?"

After lunch I went out and did two out of the three home communions
I was committed to do post Easter, and have avoided doing so far, because of my nasty fluey cold. Then I popped in and had tea and a chat with Percy and Alwena before returning to church for the second Evensong of the weekend, a lovely quiet and ordinary way to conclude a final day of ministry before moving on into retirement, feeling very blessed indeed.

During the day several times I recalled the painful end of my ministry on the Côte d'Azur, where I was compelled to move on to make it possible for the Bishop to deal with unresolved conflict between the diocese and the chaplaincy. At my last service with the little congregation I had gathered in the Bordighera cemetery chapel over a nine month period from the remains of a congregation scattered due to closure of the San Remo Church, I broke down and wept after the final blessing, overwhelmed with sadness. There was no way of knowing if it would continue - this small enterprise which I cherished during dark and disturbing times with the Monaco congregation. Happily, eight years on, that congregation still meets for worship.

I returned to the diocese, and six months later was welcomed into St John's, overjoyed to be entrusted with a new ministry, but if I'm honest, I was still hurting. From the kindness and welcome I received flowed healing and new life that has sustained me through the challenges of the seven and a half years since then. I reckon there are many others who could say the same about their experience of becoming part of this church, and for a huge variety of reasons. Long may it remain so, for it gives the greatest glory to God, being a 'church for others'. My final blessings given today were for me experiences of joy and fulfilment. What more could anyone ask?

Here the story I have been telling of my life as a city centre pastor, through all the changing scenes of life, draws to a happy conclusion. It's time quit blogging for a while in order to ponder. I'd like to keep a journal of whatever follows on in life after this point, but at the moment I'm stuck for a blog name that might be as catalytic of fresh thought as this one has been. Hopefully that will be in my next and therefore final posting.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A feast to remember

Yesterday afternoon, Lynn and Pam took us in their car down to Llanbleddian, in the Vale, to meet up with other parishioners to sing Evensong in the Parish Church of St John the Baptist. It was a day of glorious sunshine, and all the flowers of spring were evident in the lanes as we travelled. Having charged up both cameras for the trip, I stupidly rushed out carrying neither. Fortunately Pam had a Nikon digital camera with her, which I was able to borrow and record something of the occasion for the parish website.

Llanbleddian has a tower of the same age (15th century) as our St John's, by the same Somerset architect, another gift of the wife of the Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker). We were welcomed by our band of ringers who'd arrived ahead of us to ring before the service. I ad libed a sermon based on the couple of lessons, chosen after we arrived (one of those bits of planning we'd all forgotten), and it went down quite well. We were given tea and cake by some members of the congregation, and that gave us all a chance to socialise, and return an invitation to Llanbleddian to come up to Cardiff for a special Evensong of their own at some future date. Although Evensong is done less than ever these days, it is still a much loved act of worship for many people. I'm proud and glad that a relatively small number of people attending St John's regularly make it their habit to offer Evensong to the passing world every Sunday.

Then we drove on through the lanes to Llanmihangel y Bont Faen, a small hamlet a couple of miles to the south, situated in the Rectorial Parish of Llantwit Major. Apart from a few farms, there is a fourteenth century Parish Church, set in a grassy wooded hollow with a running stream nearby, and a beautiful well menatained sixteenth century mediaeval manor house, Plas Llanmihangel, where we were booked in for an evening meal, thirty nine of us! Pauline gave us a talk on the history of the church, which still uses oil lamps for illumination, and has a baptismal immersion font underneath the floor close to the pulpit. It can't have been much used, however, since it has pews astride its cover.

Plas Llanmihangel opened its door to us at seven, with an apéro while we found our places in the seating plan. All credit and thanks to Pauline who organised the whole event perfectly, and gave us an arrangement that provided an opportunity to sit down and eat together as a congregation, and enjoy several hours of company and conversation, while eating a superb meal. It's a rare occasion for none of us to be serving a meal to others. So much serving others is done regularly by members of the congregation, that this was a special treat for all. It was what I'd hoped might be possible as a farewell celebration, rather than a stand up 'do' with a cast of thousands. Just a gathering of many who have shared with me as incumbent in the journey the parish has taken through these years of change.

There were speeches, a most generous presentation and toasts afterwards, all full of warmth and affection. The ringers presented me with an inscribed tribute recalling the quarter peal rung in honour of my retirement at the end of last month. It is a most unusual honour and something of which I shall remain very proud indeed. It was gone eleven when we left for home. For some, it was the latest they'd stayed out for many a moon. A thoroughly good time was had by all. From every angle it was one of those unforgettable days, a memory to treasure in times to come.

When we got home, I uploaded the photos taken during the day. The results are here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Final Friday

There were fourteen of us at the noon Eucharist today, bringing the weekday total up to thirty two, much to my satisfaction - the weekday average is up by 25% over seven years of upheaval in the city centre. When I arrived and people around the place asked me where I was working, I was often surprised to hear people say that they thought St John's was closed, even though the church had been kept open daily, even though the tea room was running regularly. I guess the clothing of the tower in scaffolding for a year, plus a few inevitable closures for safety reasons once it was realised this had to be done, did send out messages to the public that needed to be contradicted at a later date.

Getting people back into the habit of expecting the place to be open with regular worship on weekdays as well as Sundays took several years. We're not talking here about what went on in reality, but what people working around the city thought was happening. Making sure that the public is aware of the welcoming presence day by day did involve publicity, looking for occasions to make known the life and activities of the church, and not fighting shy of the possibility of a little controversy, if that's what it takes to get noticed.

I have encountered such disappointment among city workers and worshippers that there is no news of a sucessor, no possibility of a public handover, that would help make my successor known as Christ's ambassador in the city centre. The doctrine imposed from above is that 'the Parish' will have get on without an incumbent and live through a process of bereavement, while the recruitment process goes on - despite the fact that my departure has been planned and made known for over a year, and that undertakings were given that the interregnum would be as short as possible. What 'possible' means in this context is considerably different between those who look in to the city centre from outside, and those who have to carry forward the church's mission in this context. It's no wonder that the church as a public body finds itself unable to retain the measure of public respect and credibility it thinks it deserves.

After the Eucharist, I enjoyed a couple of hours at the sink, washing up in good company as usual. We wished Pauline happy birthday for Monday coming, with a nice bottle of bubbly, during the quiet period. Today there was a lunchtime organ concert, well attended, and it brought another wave of customers in afterwards. Just think next time I stand at the sink in the tea room, I'll be just a volunteer like all the others. I hope that everyone else involved won't find this too hard to get used to.

Once the activity died down, I went to my bank and acted upon Financial advice received earlier in the week, and began to move money that arrived in my current account a couple of days ago. Good to get it all safely locked down, where it won't any longer make me nervous to have around. A strange place for me to be indeed

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Another last day

Karry Watkins from the Parsonage Board came by this morning to look around the house and assess what might need to be done for an incoming new incumbent. I nagged on about double glazing to reduce further the energy costs, now that loft and cavity wall insulation have been done, just prior to our departure.

There were just half a dozen of us for the noon Eucharist. As I arrived the contractors working on laying the south churchyard path called me over to inspect their work. The paving slabs being used are not fresh from the quarry, but come from a stock-pile to us at a reasonable price. Many have been used before and weathered well. Once laying is complete, and the grouting has weathered a bit, the paving will settle quickly into an environment of ancient stones. I think the result will be pleasing to the eye.

I made it to the Governors meeting, on by bike today, not on foot, and was annoyed to be just five minutes late, and arrive during the prayers. The diocesan religious inspector delivered his report as part of the OFSTED inspection and was fulsome in his praise. At the end of the meeting Father Roy attempted to persuade me in front of the meeting to stop on as a governor at least until my successor is in place. I had to remind him that such matters were not ours to propose, but rather the diocesan education committee. Which was perhaps better than saying "Enough is enough."

I have loved being part of the life of every school it has been my privilege to serve as a pastor. I have never enjoyed being a Governor, although it has been an ex officio duty in three places where I worked. Educational policy comes largely from above, and the governing body has to comply with all sorts of policy impositions and decisions so complex that common sense is never sufficient and usually boring 'training' is required. The capacity to change or question any thing is so limited, that for the most part governors are obliged to become 'yes-men' if only to support the staff, and make their lives less onerous. Pedagogy and community learning struggle all the time against being stifled by useless politically driven resource wasting bureaucracy. There must be a better way, to raise our kids and not exploit our teachers surely?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A decent picture

There were unusually, a dozen of us for my last Wednesday midday Eucharist today.

I'm now at the stage of finishing off things that I committed myself to doing, like the new Parish Electoral Roll, and entering summary statistics into the Archdeacon's Annual return. It's a decent picture. St John's has grown and held its own over the past three years since the separation of the city centre parish from Cathays. We've more than made up for people lost through death or moving away. The electoral roll is a steady sixty. Averagely there are forty communicants per Sunday and nearly thirty on weekdays, most of whom don't come on Sundays, plus Evensong attendees, making ninety regular worshippers a week, apart from the many big occasions St John's hosts. There's a lot that a young more energetic priest will be able to build upon.

At the end of an afternoon of administrative pottering, I rushed over to Tregegarville School for a Governors' meeting only to discover I was a day early. I'd mis-read my diary. The few remaining staff were quite amused by this, and must have put me straight into the 'dotty old Vicar pidgeon hole. Ah well, it meant that I got home early enough to cook supper for Clare, who is beavering away at re-decorating the house ready for the move. I get do do my stuff in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


In this my last week of full time work, I realise that I need to think a bit more about what else I/we will consider doing, once we've moved to Pontcanna, got the house how we want it, made all the overdue catch up visits to family and friends, and found a different pace of life.

Life for the past forty years has been dictated by occupying a social role in relation to fellow Christians, defined by the Parish as the place to be. However busy or not the job may be, from time to time, the nature of the commitment and the solemn pledges on which it rests makes for ties akin to marriage, and that has not been without its conflicts and difficulties over the years.

In retirement I remain a priest and pastor, but for the first time become a volunteer, with more choices, fewer obligations, and a new sense of freedom to be more of a husband and father, without the excuses of the job to hide behind. As well as this I can play a different role in the community as a 'citizen', contributing the useful skills and experience as a helper, rather than initiator of projects. I don't have to remain politically neutral if I don't want to. I can join the fray, or turn my back on it. Both seem possible, depending upon my mood!

For the moment, a little back office support for Cardiff Business Safe in its crime prevention role is something that will keep my mind exercised, and give me a different kind of glimpse into the world of business. I'll be doing the same with Cardiff Street Carers' Forum also, as this evolves. We had a Representative Group meeting at County Hall this evening. Recently the pace has slackened somewhat, because the council officers we've been dealing with have been preoccupied with other project and not been able to give their full attention to seeing through what's begun. It's normal I guess. Everyone is keeping lots of balls in the air in their jobs, and there's always a gulf between imagination, ambition and reality. I can see that when I look back over my forty years as a cleric in the Church. Would it have been any different If I'd had the self confidence to pursue the path of being a priest in secular employment?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Money matters

All my working life I've lived in houses owned and maintained by the Church. We've managed to bring up three children and succeeded in living decently within our means. So having a visit from a Financial Advisor is a something of a novelty. I had a 'Fiduciare' in Switzerland whom I paid a few hundred Francs to fill in my tax forms, as these are notoriously complex and difficult. Even if you get by speaking French in everyday living, the local, cantonal and federal terminology of taxation merits getting someone else to take the strain on your behalf. UK on-line tax filing is a doddle after all that - and free.

Anyway, the Financial Advisor came because the bank noticed I had some savings needing to be re-invested, and I realised that there'd soon be a pension lump sum to consider as well. In fact the notice from the CofE pension fund came through the door in the morning's mail, not long before the man himself arrived. I've been out window shopping to find out more about 'financial products' as they now seem to be called, and become more and more bewildered by what it's possible to do. So it was good to sit and discuss with someone who wasn't pushy and who could get me to think about myself and my attitude to money.

Cautious, risk averse, that's me. If you've got enough to live off in your regular pension income, then the rest is rainy day stuff like insurance, in my book. OK then, call me mean. Life is a lot more enjoyable the simpler it is, the fewer options you have, the clearer the options. Honestly, even thinking about managing savings makes me nervous, because of the options.

I'm thankful that the credit crunch has delivered us from assault by tempting credit card offers of late. Mind you, I still haven't got over my moral indignation at the strapline 'Access takes the waiting out of wanting', ad that must have been all of thirty five years ago. These days, we may be less amenable to borrowing than we were, but I'm not quite convinced that there are really enough decent incentives to save. It's a habit we may need to re-learn. And I have to do some more thinking about the place of money in my life, in a way quite differently from those years of providing for a family.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Big birthday boy

Today I turn 65, and become a pensioner - well not quite yet - I have another week of work, and then ten days of full time effort in house moving before my resignation takes effect. The effects of the nasty bug that has laid me low for the last fortnight are still with me, sapping my energy, so today I felt more like an old man than I usually do. However, the sun shone and bathed the sanctuary with light for my final eight o'clock service for four faithful worshippers, and that felt good, after so many dark cloud laden, rubbish strewn early Sunday beginnings - yes, there's even less rubbish these days, so things are improving, slowly.

There was a good congregation at ten, despite it being Low Sunday, when often many are away. We had a baptism, the child of a couple I'd married eighteen months ago. That was delightful, even if somewhat exacting with my batteries on low. At the end of the service, Pauline came down from the back and got everyone singing 'happy birthday'. There was a birthday cake to follow, over coffee, with candles that re-ignited themselves when you blew them out. Such kindness. So hard ot believe it's me having a Significant Birthday.

The last time that happened to me was when I had an Easter birthday in Geneva. It comes as a bit of a shock when it happens. That time I didn't notice the improvised organ fantasia on the 'happy birthday' tune during Communion, and thought people ere smiling just because it was Easter. A priest leads from the front and is the centre of attention, but the only way to make this a true act of service is empty oneself, with the detachment of an actor on stage absorbed in playing a role. It's what a priest does for God and suddenly to become the focus of a different kind of attention is bit like being awakened out of a deep sleep.

After church Owain Clare and I went to a favourite Indian restaurant - the Vegetarian Studio for lunch. It's a friendly family place with a little Hindu shrine on the wall just outside the kitchen, and some of those working there had evidently been worshipping at the temple up the road before starting their day.

We went home for tea and another birthday cake and presents and phone calls from the kids - lots of new CDs, a shirt and a fabulous cooking pan with which I will be able to cook paella for four instead of two! Whilst listening to my first new CD, I fell asleep soundly. I seen to need to do this at the moment as well as having a good eight hours in bed. Dozy old man! Then it was back to church for Evensong before spending a quiet evening on the sofa with Clare in front of the TV. No stopping on for a final St John's Friends' committee meeting. Time to leave them to plan a future that won't involve me. Nobody is indispensible, after all.

I remember Mansel Gower recounting, some forty years ago how shocked he'd been when he quit teaching A level Maths at 65 one week, then the following, he was drawing his first pension at the Post Office, and the counter clerk was speaking to him loudly, clearly and slowly and with quite a different demeanour than when he'd been in previously - as if he was suddenly old and decrepit, no longer capable of counting out the few quid the State was passing him across the counter. Attitudes to age have changed as people have remained fitter and healthier for longer. Sixty five is the new fifty, or so they say - just as long as you're not burned out or fighting a bug. Fitness we can do something about, but health is a gift not to be taken for granted.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Visitor from afar

As I was tidying up after the lunchtime Eucharist today, I was approached by a young woman, who asked if I was Father Keith. I looked more closely and realised it was Dr Laura Ciobanu, on a return visit from Bucharest, where she teaches and practices medicine. We met when she was doing some specialist training here four years ago, and have met twice since when she's returned to see friends. All these meetings could so easily not have happened, but somehow were meant to happen. On this occasion she'd been told that I was unwell and had probably left the church, since I'd slipped into the sacristy after the service to work with Philip on an email for a few moments.

Last time she brought us the gift of an icon of St John the Baptist from home. This time, there was a special personal gift for me - some holy oil and incense grains from Mount Athos, the home of Eastern Orthodox monasticism. It was just so touching to be remembered, and to see her again. Her Father is a priest in Bucharest, now semi-retired following a stroke, but active in prayer and pastoral guidance in his local church. I bet he must be proud of his accomplished daughter. She went home, after her internship, to do something about medicine in her homeland, rather than earn a relative fortune somewhere else. She said it is so hard because the whole system is still run by communists, hanging on, with little vision or new sense of direction, not knowing how to address the need for change or cope with it when it happens. Much like here I suppose, though more far reaching in consequences where she is. Being here for her was a bit like being a dream world where dreams came true. Back at home, the dreams are more like nightmares.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

No more Returns

In the morning's mail was the City Registrar's Quarterly Return form. My very last one to complete and send off. This is a full copy of the marriage register entries for the previous three months. It's a requirement of an Anglican cleric's job that these be filled in, signed as a correct record and returned to the office in City Hall - one of those mundane chores that Vicars 'just do', that come uninvited with the job, along with the status of being a legal registrar for church weddings. It's a task that requires concentration, patience and no distractions. I've never been good at it, always hated it, and will be glad to see the back of it. Working to make the ritual of marriage a wondrously joyful experience was always a challenge and a pleasure. Solemn form filling was always a nightmare to me.

When I went to Halesowen as Rector 20 years ago, there were 90 weddings a year. There could be up to two dozen wedding entries a quarter to be copied on to the sheets provided (NOT a photocopy, NEVER a photocopy). Thankfully, I had an elderly Parish Clerk who did the copies in immaculate copperplate, and brought them to me, on time, for my 'certifying' signature, as Vicar. By the time I left, recession had set in, weddings dropped to sixty and continued spiralling downwards from there. The Parish Clerk retired, and form filling eventually found its way to the Incumbent. Since I've been here, the most weddings I had in any quarter was four, and only slightly more in any year. In seven years at St John's, there have only been two dozen weddings.

On the other hand, colleagues in the Diocese in Europe are often busy presiding at ceremonies for couples in romantic holiday locations, where it's possible to hire a local church and invite minister to bless a couple after civil ceremony conducted elsewhere. Separation of church from state in most of Europe makes this the norm. It gives pastors more pastoral freedom to engage with people where they are. Last week, Church in Wales clerics were advised that parliamentary has approved the relaxation of restrictive residential qualifications for couples wishing to marry in a church with a personal or spiritual association for them and their families. This follows a similar move in the CofE a couple of years ago, reducing the need to apply for an Archbishop of Canterbury's Special (expensive) License. I don't think this extra bureaucratic concession will have many extra couples rushing to the altar. Having enjoyed a much improved quality of ministry to married couples in the nine years I was abroad, I'm sad I didn't see the separation of the legal engagements of marriage from its sacred celebration in the UK during my working life. There seems to be little appetite for such change.

Well, I made it to the St John Priory Chaplains' meeting this afternoon, which is just as well, since the Prior has asked if I will stay on as a HQ Chaplain. Hopefully, the local Cardiff division will also be able to make occasional use of my pastoral interest. While my involvement with the Order is a result of being Vicar of St John's in the first place, it's opened up a world of interesting pastoral engagements for me that looks set to outlast retirement. I was pleased to have an opportunity to address the meeting about the development of pastoral ministry to St John's teams staffing the Millennium Stadium plus one or two other major permanent event sites staffed by St John's in Wales, like the Builth Wells showground, and the Llangollen International Eisteddfod site. Chaplains visiting events for other reasons would I believe find their day much enriched by spending time alongside first responders on stand-by at big events.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Downs and ups

My nasty bug hasn't given up without a fight, even after a couple of days of lying low at home, but I had to summon the energy to go in and celebrate the noon Eucharist today. Just my luck to be faced with the need to remount a dislodged cycle chain before setting out. I arrived just as the tower clock was striking the hour, to find that my key to the outside sacristy door wouldn't work, requiring me to enter through the South Porch, making me even later getting started. Afterwards, I set off on foot for a meeting of St John's Chaplains down at the HQ on Ocean Way, only to find I was a day early. It was clearly not my day. I should have gone back to bed. Instead, I spent a couple of hours checking subscriber data with Ashley over in Southgate House to conclude the afternoon.

There are two memorable things about today. The first is my discovery of a remarkable series of photos sent via Twitter from the International Space Station by a Japanese astronaut. I'm not a Twitter fan, nor a user, but to put this communications channel to such marvellous topical use can only be good for our sense of the world we are privileged to inhabit. Check it out - here. One of my best bits of new insight from visiting this site is that the Japanese have a different name for each daily phase of the moon. Like the Inuit having hundreds of words for kinds of snow, this tells you something about observation, and the value it's given in cultures other than ours. The other memorable thing is that several days ago I was invited by Ed Walker the editor, to be a guest blogger on the Wales On-Line website. I responded, and learned today that my post was published here yesterday.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Feast of Feasts

How lovely the sun was shining when I made my way to church for the early Eucharist of Easter Day. It was quiet, with just four of us there, and just as well. I'd not been unable to do more than think through the bare bones of a sermon during a night of coughing and turning, let alone commit to this paper as I usually do. I just had to improvise my way through, and for me that always means being longer than if I'd really disciplined my thoughts into text. Ah well, at least it meant that I was sure I had something coherent to say at the Sung Eucharist.

There were over eighty in church for the Sung Eucharist and 69 communicants, with many foreign visitors. We started with the Paschal Candle and Easter garden blessings and a rehearsal of the Easter shout; Christ is risen/He is risen indeed for use throughout. The sermon and even my sung parts of the service went OK. A lady from Connecticut expressed her appreciation for what I said, declaring it was "Sincere, from the heart." Yes, and that's about all - no record of this one anywhere, except that I recall starting from "It is finished", and attempting to read it as Jesus having accomplished fully his Father's will, and now finished with just being in one time and place. From the cross he moves on. From the empty tomb outwards to the world in every age - finished with the particular situation, moving towards universal relevance in every age, to becoming 'all in all'. Well, that's what I think I was on about.

The whole was more endurance than enjoyment, as I am still feeling groggy. It's not at all how I might have hoped to spend my last Easter in the Parish. I'm still far from over this vile bug that's plagued me now for a whole week. After refreshments, I gave Iris a lift home and gave her sister Hilda Easter communion. She's also poorly and in bed at the moment. It wouldn't really be Easter without home communions. There'll be a couple more during the week.

It's great that the family (apart from the Canadian residents) have been with us this weekend, even if a shame that I've been tired and lacking in energy to join in. I slept intermittently after lunch and before Evensong. At least that made it possible for me to go and lead the service. There were two dozen of us there - a dozen in the choir, the rest sat scattered about the nave, and watching, as passing visitors often do. I wonder what they make of what we do and say on an occasion like this. But we don't do surveys, we just try and welcome everyone with a smile and in the name of the risen Lord.

We finished the evening chez nous, watching 'South Pacific' on TV then re-running 'Mamma Mia' on video. We were all in bed before midnight, tired out.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

My last parochial Good Friday

It rained as I made my way to church for the Good Friday Vigil. The streets were pretty quiet, and I thought that would result in few people attending. However, I was mistaken there were around thirty people were there for the first two hours, with some comings and goings, and numbers rose to around 50 for the Liturgy in the final hour. Although I was still feeling pretty groggy, my throat was not nearly as sore as yesterday, and my voice held up throughout. It was hard to feel much. I did my best to remain focussed and put in as much energy as I could into preaching. On this occasion it meant not singing, and that was strange - being quiet for some of my favourite hymns of the year. The important thing was getting to the end without cracking up and causing a drama. Without the quiet support of church officers, willing me on as well as sharing in the liturgy, it would have been much harder.

Afterwards we had a quiet, most welcome cuppa and toasted hot cross bun, all relaxed and homely up in the tea-room, closed for the day, then home to await family arrivals and get some rest. In fact, we agreed to cancel Saturday night's Easter ceremonies, rarely attracting more than half a dozen people, so that I could have a full day to recover before Sunday. No point in taking any risks at the end of such a hard-going final parochial Holy Week.

Late in the evening I popped back to church briefly to see how the ' Pub Church' team was getting on with its Good Friday outreach for city clubbers, organised by Pastor James Karran and University Chaplain Trystan Hughes. They had different videos of Christ's Passion being projected in three different spaces around the church, and some mediation stations, focussing on Way of the Cross events. They were pleased to have had a good response from passers by - I guess the loud music pumping into the street from a church will have made some curious.

Richard and Philip were there, Evan was expected. A really long day for all of them, and a sign of their strong commitment to make the church a place open to all kinds of activities that may bring people in, and make them think. I was too tired to stay long, and so grateful that I didn't have to stay to the end. But above all I felt immensely proud of having been part of this small team that has quietly self-effacingly made so many wonderful things happen for others in over the years.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Maundy Thursday

On my way in to celebrate the midday Eucharist, I stopped to chat with the churchyard path laying contractors, about to knock off their their Easter break. All the renewed kerbstones are now in place, and there's a layer of six inches of concrete laced aggregate rolled into place, leaving room for the pennant flagstones to be laid when they arrive after the holiday. "Derr, that's a bit overkill for a path innit?" said the charge hand, "You could drive a tank over it when it's finished." "That's the idea, we're sick of tripping over loose flagstones." I riposted. "Yeah, but it'll outlast the church at this rate." he said. "No harm in that." I replied, trying to imagine the path bearing visitors or pilgrims in 200 years time, hopefully, not paying homage to an urban ruin. So, with a bit of luck and decent weather, the job should be done before I retire. Meanwhile, the guys have kindly used some spare aggregate to fashion ramps at each end, to facilitate wheeled access for the time being.

We were a dozen at the noon Eucharist, half seemed to be passing foreign visitors. After the service I went over to the Catholic Truth Society shop to buy a paschal candle sticker and a stock of communion wafers. The congregation at the Metropolian Cathedral Chrism Mass next door was just coming out, and Archbishop Peter was in the door way greeting the faithful. A very joyous and happy atmosphere was generated by chatting groups along the pavement. The forecourt of the shop became briefly a refuge for several clergy uninhibitedly puffing away at their first post liturgical ciggies. There was a party atmosphere in the shop too, for them one of the busiest days of the year after the visit of the relics of St Therèse. "You wouldn't believe it Father - non stop twelve hours opening. We had to throw them out in the end."

Then I went over the Southgate House, to complete my little effort in CBS subscriber data input. My arrival coincided with a visit from our technical supplies man. We had an interesting conversation about the the problems of 'reception' - not transmission quality, but reception of new ideas in certain areas of local government where 'Not invented here' is inscribed religiously on the door lintels. We have a little way to go yet, to ensure that the city is as well served as it deserves to be. He's an interesting guy, who left a certain local church school with one 'O' level, and was 'blessed' with this valedictory sentence from a teacher: "I can't ever see you holding down a steady job." Undeterred, he said that he'd never been out of work since then, twenty eight years ago. Some people can only learn to succeed from life itself, and not by jumping through hoops laid by academics. Failure to recognise this is perhaps at the heart of modern educational problems.

There were fourteen of us for the Evening Eucharist of the Lord's Supper. I preached, for the second time today, having just enough voice to be ready to have a go, but I did begin to splutter towards the end. I wasn't the only one barking, snuffling and coping with catarrhal deafness. Evan was right on the mark after the withdrawal of the reserved sacrament, and the sanctuary was stripped, bleak and bare by the time we came to the end of Psalm 88, with the last light of day fading rapidly. "It was night", as scripture says, abrupt and powerful.

Time then, to draw breath go home and eat, and hunt nervously for tomorrow's Vigil at the Cross addresses, completed before Lent began, and just a bit elusive earlier on in a file system, reproduced over two machines each with Linux and Windows partitions. After a minor panic, they turned up 'in the cloud' as the latest trendy tech jargon has it. I took a free subscription to an Ubuntu Linux internet file storage service you can access from anywhere, just in case you forget your memory stick or floppy disk. I parked the sermons there, meaning to transfer them to earthly property owned by me, in another room, or the church office, and then forgot what I'd done. If you don't make it to hear them live, you can read them here.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Virus blues

The unwelcome beginnings of a cold reported on Sunday turned into a nasty affliction, leaving me almost without voice yesterday. The symptoms were reminiscent of the monster 'flu which put me out of action from Christmas Day to New Year's Day the year before last. With suitable hygienic precaution I got through the Evening Eucharist, then went home to a bath and early bed. By yesterday afternoon I was over the worst, able to venture out for an important meeting to work out office provision for Cardiff Business Safe. Rather than walk home in the face of an icy wind, I hopped on a bus and went out to PC World to exchange a memory card reader for the chip in my new mobile phone. I'd been sold the wrong one on the weekend by a sales assistant who was no better than I at reading the microscopic print on the box. Happily, obtaining the right one meant that I got a refund of four quid. That warmed me up. Then I jumped on another bus back to church for a quiet hour before the evening's Eucharist. Early bed was once more a welcome release from battling with the symptoms.

Today there was a midday as well as an evening Eucharist. My throat is not ragingly sore now but I only have a small voice. Hopefully this will come back to normal by Friday for preaching the Three Hours. I've worked Holy Week with bronchitis several times over the years, but I'm not as resilient as I used to be, so the risk of not getting through is greater. One can be fine most of the time, then useless when it counts most. When you go sick suddenly at the busiest time of year, there won't be too many clerics around on stand-by - they'll already be helping out in some busy place where the ministers are already stretched. There's no doubt that Parishes are feeling the pinch from clergy shortage, but there's no sign yet on the horizon of any regrouping to address the challenge. And it's the clergy who take the strain on this.

A few people in recent weeks have expressed the sentiment that my last few weeks might be happy and fulfilling to reminisce over. What I will treasure is the ocean of kindness and patient consideration from St John's members that has kept me afloat, and coped gently with my vulnerability. It keeps me from the bitter trials of having to work in isolation as a priest without a colleague. It shouldn't have to happen. A little strategic leadership and management could ensure everyone working at the public interface has support from a professional partner to share the entire workload. I mean working together, not just an emergency backup. I mean peer partners, not the boss-minion arrangement which seems to be what the church is experienced in maintaining. It didn't happen in my serving lifetime. Will I live long enough to be able to say "I told you so."? Yes, I'm moaning again. I believe things could and should be better. That was, after all, why I signed up for this, all those years ago.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Clocks on - Palm Sunday

I wish the start of Summer time didn't co-incide with Passiontide and Easter quite so often over the passage of years. Invariable the loss of an hour is combined with not going to bed early enough to compensate, and this means facing a Sunday less fresh than usual. Today I woke up with the unwelcome beginnings of a cold, which took away from my appreciation of this special time of year.

Everyone of us was delighted to welcome Bill John back to church. It's six months since he fell and broke his femur exiting the church porch. He's now driving again, and took his usual part in welcoming and introducing worshippers at the beginning of the service. A real triumph for his patience and persistence to be back among Christian friends again. In six months we have made no progress in removing the porch and replacing it with glass doors that would enable all who enter to see their way and negotiate the steps better.

We've had conservationist objections to relocating the porch, and have been pushed back into articulating a Grand Plan for all the stages of development needed to make the West end of the church and the choir vestry more visitor friendly, rather than letting us achieve one sound practical move at a time. I'm sorry not to see this resolved, before I go, but know that the determination of church officers and members will see this through to completion, despite the disregard of the DAC for the serious health and safety concerns we've represented to them.

It took three years of work in the face of safety worries to get us to the stage where the south churchyard path is now finally being re-laid. The official line is "If it's that unsafe close it off.", as if that was the only sensible answer possible in the life of a working church relying for its viability on being open to the public every day. Preservation of church property seems to be given more weight in 'duty of care' arguments than the people who use them. What would He who had not place on earth to lay His head have made of this I wonder?

It's the same regarding the adaptation of listed buildings to conserve energy. The church and other public bodies are in the thrall of CADW, when it comes to installing solar panels of ancient buildings. They all have the power of veto, and it's too expensive for anyone in their right minds to challenge this. Eventually we'll pay for all our failures in not putting the needs of people before fancy ideas about what is really precious in this world.

Dinah, the young Malaysian intern who's been worshipping with us for the past couple of months said her goodbyes today. After a quick tour of Europe, she's returning to Kuala Lumpur and her old desk in the University admin department. I'm hoping she'll email us some photos of her home church congregation, set in a culture where Christianity doesn't always fit comfortably, most church buildings are new-ish, and conservation is more about protecting the natural world from the ravages of commercial exploitation than preserving monuments to human ambition.

Sure, we all love our ancient sacred spaces, and invite them to speak of God to us, but how often we forget they were also built as expressions of power and status in past times. Our attitudes and preoccupations allow them to dominate us while we contrive as best we can to put them to proper use. How could we better achieve a proper balance? Another unanswered question I leave behind, when I leave office.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Honoured by bells

This morning, St John's bellringers attempted a full peal of Gransdire Caters, change ringing on all ten bells, to mark my retirement. I felt greatly honoured by their intentions. It was a lovely sunny morning, so I went and stood in the churchyard and recorded a few minutes' worth of the ringing, in a spot where there was little accompanying noise. Then later I added this sound clip to the front page of the church website, after a little juggling. The peal attempt had to be abandoned due to a calling error just after the first quarter was accomplished, and the band members looked a little disappointed as they came down the steps. I still felt greatly honoured.

I spent most of the morning error checking the annual report, and found one big one that had been introduced by a bit of unchecked cut and paste by the auditor, which placed responsibility for managing the four churches of the old parish on St John's - not a good idea. I wonder how long that error has gone un-noticed? No problems with the financial pages, thankfully. But it does go to show how careful one has to be to eliminate errors that may mislead readers. Even elaborate documents couched in legal speak caveats mistakes get made. Lack of simplicity can make things harder understand and to check no matter how many pairs of eyes look things over. This is the last time I will have to bother with stuff like this. It's the kind of responsibility I'm glad to be relieved of.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Climate concerns continued

Another well attended noon Eucharist today, fifteen people. The average weekday attendance at all services is generally around 27-30 people these days, unless the weather is horrid. I did an hour at the tea room sink afterwards, and when it quietened down I headed over to Southgate House to finish off the data entry task I'd taken on. I had the place to myself and was able to get the job done quickly, and go home.

After supper I went to the Quaker Meeting House to co-chair a UNA sponsored meeting giving a faith perspective on climate change, featuring Dr John Weaver, Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Dr Hefin Jones, a biologist and member of Minny Street Eglwys Annibynnol. It was a very good meeting, with 22 people present, as many as we had for the conference I ran last September. It was a different constituency, and there were some interesting responses to the speakers from participants.

So, if this is what one can expect in terms of numbers from faith communities prepared to turn out in order to inform themselves at any given opportunity, it's going to be several years of putting on such educational events before there's any critical mass of people will to shoulder responsibility for developing a real faith communities' carbon footprint reduction action plan. That's what I'm convinced is needed - not just high level policy conversations, but something at grass roots that encourages local church communities to take effective steps, before the need for crisis management comes to meet and overwhelm us. If we don't get this, we risk losing many of our places of worship, and the community resources we rely on for mission, as they become unsustainable in a changed economic and well as physical environment.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lady Day

After the midday Eucharist, a trek in the rain over to Tredgarville School for the annual blessing and distribution of Palm Crosses to staff and children. A group of kids performed my Hosanna Rap account of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which gave me pleasure. Just as the ceremony finished, the Head intervened to introduce a surprise presentation - about me, a kind of brief 'This is your life', told by some children, and a Powerpoint presentation made up of pictures of me taken from an internet search, mostly very fuzzy, as they were small sized and unsuitable for blowing up, but it was fun nevertheless. The pictures of me with one of the granchildren in my arms drew lots of aaaahs, and the infamous photo of me holding someone else's ipod, in an image used several times in tech news stories since it was first taken, aroused much amusement all round.

Each of the classes contributed their own handmade good wishes cards, so beautifully done. I must see if I can photograph and most them for wider viewing - just delightful. Then there was a present - one of the bigger digital photo frames with lots of memory, big enough to contain thousands of re-sized family photos. Just the job for a full time grandpa. I was just overwhelmed. The thought that I might not re-appear again after the Easter break spurred the staff into early action. There will be another chance, however, as there'll be an Eastertide School Eucharist to celebrate when term re-starts.

I took the opportunity to do an inventory of the church stuff held in school. It's only taken me three years to get around to it. Glad I remembered before I no longer hold the keys to do the job. This means that the work I've been doing on a handover file for church officers and my successor is now nearly complete and only in need of checking. That'll take an age, given my fading attention to detail.

From school, I went down to County Hall, where I had been asked to say the opening prayers for the Council meeting, both the regular clerics who do this were unavailable. It's the first occasion during my seven and a half years in office, and probably the last. It gave me a chance to greet several councillors I knew beforehand, and that was good. When I'd done praying, the Mayor, Brian Griffiths announced my imminent retirement and expressed his good wishes on behalf of the Council. That was a nice kind touch. Much appreciated.

Then it was back to school for a Governors' meeting with the OFSTED Inspector, who read through the summary of his report for us. It took fifty minutes, and all I can say of its content pre-publication is that rather than nasty surprises, there were only good surprises.
There's some stuff to work at, but everyone is very pleased at the positive recognition of the immense team efforts made week in week out over many years, in some cases. When the introductory description of the school's 'Sitz im Leben' was being read out cooly, it struck me quite hard just how difficult and challenging a social context this is to maintain a school, let along one that aims so high with pupils of every kind of ability, so that they do their best from whatever starting point the depart. I'm so proud it's a church school. I don't see how having beliefs can ever be a problem when the founding belief is that only the best is good enough for the children we care for. I'm glad to have had a small part in it. I would have liked to do more, but there's never been enough time to do everything needing to be done.

From school, it was back to St John's for me to attend the meeting of our local Cardiff Cytun - City and Bay (as the City Centre Churches Together has now rebranded itself). Along with the business, and a discussion of what the organisation wants from its website in the hands of a new volunteer designer, we had a discussion which I led about language and identity, which was an opportunity to think about issues that could be touchy, and which certainly impinge on how churches in a bi-lingual city engage with each other. It was ten before I got home to eat supper. The pace has been pretty lively just lately. No winding down for me yet.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Surprise tomb

After an early visit with another load of junk to the Council's waste disposal centre on Wedal Road through the commuter traffic, I went to the Priory HQ of St John Ambulance to meet Keith Dunn and think through with him what I might be able to do as a member of the Order once I retire from the Parish. I'd like to do something a bit more practical than my present role has permitted. I've been offered the opportunity to do the four day St John First Aider training, so that I can pull my weight as part of any St John's duty team I work with pastorally. My aspiration is to re-engage with those who work on big events at the Millennium stadium. This past few years it's been too taxing to do a Saturday evening event, and then have to rise early and work a whole Sunday. When I'm retired, I can do that, and aim to be recovered fully in time for a noon service at the Cathedral or evening Mass at St Mary's - the best of both worlds.

After the noon Eucharist, Martin our architect and Evan, our PCC secretary and professional archaeologist both arrived to inspect the work on renewing the south churchyard path, which started yesterday, a day later than proposed. The large offending roots of the ash tree that have caused us so many problems over the past decade were exposed. So also was the cause of the root problem. On the east side of the tree, the roots had been unable to grow downwards, due to a large stone slab buried in shallow soil beneath the present level of the churchyard path, so the roots had gone outwards sandwiched between the surface and hidden slabs, causing the upper ones to distort. A little prodding with a mechanical digger revealed fragments of stone slabs beneath the surface, covering a brick vault nobody knew was there. It was 80% filled with soil, perhaps from burials back before the closure of the churchyard in 1855. A little research of old churchyard maps is now in order, to ascertain whose tomb this was.

Was this tomb hidden to those who last re-laid the path, around 1890 after the expansion of the church with north and south aisles? The path was already a century old by then. The brick of this vault is identical to that of its neighbouring vault under the E-W 'alley' from the Market to Queen's Arcade, making it early nineteenth century. The find needs a work around solution from the contractors - not too onerous - but for us, it means a little detective work on the somewhat messy, under-reported history of changes to the church in the nineteenth century.

After this, a brief excursion to Tredegarville School to look at a school admissions dossier and confirm decisions taken by others, then back to Southgate House for another spell of work on data before returning home to meet briefly with Archdeacon Peggy to hand over documents relating to the Cardiff Churches Forum and its defunct successor Cardiff Christian Council, an ecumenical body which died of disinterest during my first year back in Cardiff. There's to be another attempt to revive a city wide ecumenical instrument, as a channel of support for Lightship 2000 and its ecumenical ministry to the city down in the Bay. I hope this has more success than the efforts I was involved with - one of my few disappointments of this job.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Another landmark for Street Carers

This morning was booked for a loft insulation team to come and do their job in the Vicarage....

At the end of the morning I emailed Kerry at the diocesan parsonage board, and soon after got an apologetic phone call. The crew arrived at two, as I was about the depart for a session with Ashley Hopkins organising information for Cardiff Business Safe, and listening to his behind the scenes stories of business in the city centre. Fortunately Clare arrived home in time and was able to keep an eye on the workers and the house.

At the end of a satisfactory three hours of work, rather than rush home, I made my way slowly down to County Hall for the second Street Carers' Forum training evening. This time's numbers of new trainees were much less than last October's, just eleven people, but the programme was delivered in a crisper, sharper way than last time, benefiting from the criticism of the sixty odd who took part in the first training. Let's hope that the two remaining basic trainings can be as good and lead to a position where all who've been through this are recognised and accredited. This will be something good to show for the effort we've put in over the past two years.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Education, and education

Monday morning was much lifted for me by a visit from my good friend Roy Thomas for a 'catch up' chat. Since the completion of the Spiritual Capital project, we've both been too busy to see a great deal of each other. We still share a strong desire to work out fresh ways to engage insight from spiritual traditions of faith into the very secular processes of business and governance. It's not to do with religious institutions exercising worldly power, but rather to do with the creative impulse and vision.

We're both interested in innovation, and I delight in learning from the fresh discoveries he makes in his journey through the world of business. I'm not so sure how much he gets from my fascination (and sometimes suspicion) with technological innovations and their consequences. He's no sluggard in applying the latest social networking tools to his own work. Way ahead of me in fact. But then, his social world is a lot broader than mine, voluntarily restrained in the effort to do real justice to the specific social context in which I'm called to minister.

In this meeting Roy introduced me to Edge - a website that make space for some of the most creatively prodigious and visionary minds on the planet to have their say in writing. There's a lot of new ideas to another website called TED which is, a video blog containing 10-20 minute long videos of talks given by distinguished thinkers from every imaginable discipline, either about their field of work, or their personal take on life. TED is educative, inspirational and insightful if you tend to sit about as I do, before or after prayer, or when I'm finding life hard going, as it takes me places I hadn't thought of going, engaging with ideas from a different angle. It's just a learning boost that restores confidence in humanity.

After lunch, over to Tredegarville School for my last 'God on Mondays'. A congregation of four children (all boys again) and eight adults, four parents and four staff. Judging by one or two reactions from staff, my departure from the scene hasn't really registered yet. Parents have talked with me about it often in months past. It makes me realise that how different is the place occupied by a priest compare to a teacher on their social horizon. Teachers are busy maintaining the school's high standards of pedagogy and pastoral care. The presence of clergy in the life of the school is in the background, dependable, a relatively maintenance free contribution to the welfare of the whole from the school's point of view, and that's fair enough. Once the immanence of my departure regisers, I fear it's going to generate a lot of un-necessary fuss. I'd just be content to fade into the background - you could say, like any other 'service providor' when their job is done, without the drama of big farewells.

We are, in the words of Jesus, no more than 'unprofitable servants'. And in that, so privileged to have even a tiny share in the ministry of the pedagogues.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday encounter

This afternoon I went into town on a domestic errand, taking advantage of the lull in the crowds while Italy and Wales played the last rugby match of the Six Nations championship in the Millennium Stadium. As I was walking along an empty Edward VII Avenue, I was thinking about my former colleague at City Church, Tom Arthur, who retired last year. I was amazed then the next person to come into sight was Tom himself, out for a brisk walk. It's the first time I've seen him to talk to since he left work and crossed town to live in Canton.

Talking about the blessings of retirement he said: "The only good advice I received was this - just think of it as a career change, not as an end to working life." Funnily enough that just about sums up the way I have been thinking about the move we'll soon be making. Yesterday we booked the removal van for 30th April.

Yes. Tom's right. there are all sorts of things I want to work at, interests I have in the life of the City that will continue to occupy me while I have health and strength. The main priority will be home and family, catching up with old friends and a little travel, but even so that leaves lots of additional time for pursuing interests and being creative, without the compulsion to drive one self to justify one's existence. I wonder how difficult I'll find that. At the heart of it all is the challenge of living the faith, exercising priesthood in different ways, without the burdens of responsibility that go with managing a church and leading a community.

Tom, ever the Reformed Pastor in his passion to read life in the light of the deepest insights into scripture, has turned back to scholarship in retirement, studying St Paul's letter to the Romans, giving a lecture series on it for CACEC and writing a book, as well as returning to his youthful passion for visual arts. I look forward to opportunities to hang out with him in times to come.

As a result of this welcome break in by journey, my errand had to be completed amidst thronging crowds, as the match came to an end and appy red shirted supporters poured out on to the streets. Wales had won their last match. The pubs will be full tonight

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Preparing the way

I really didn't mind getting up early and being at church by 8.30am this morning. This was to meet with Matt Wakelam, Council project engineer, and Danny McGee in charge of the team that will be digging up the south churchyard path and re-laying it with pennant flagstones over the next couple of weeks, finally. It's been three years since this was first mooted, and it took us two of those years to get the Faculty to do the job. The rest of the time has been waiting for the right stone and contractors' time to be found. It's great, the job may be done for Easter, but more than likley before I leave. That'll give me a sense of achievement, especially if I can re-dedicate the path in memory of Peggy Theophilus, whose legacy purchased the pennant flagstones to be used.

After the Eucharist I spent the afternoon with Ashley in Southgate House entering data about RadioNet subscribers into a spreadsheet, ready for invoice production. A laborious task needing attention to detail from both of us, as each entry needed to be cross checked, and both of us have a tendency to stop and tell stories as we go, prompted by queries about the entries. I heard lots of anecdotes about business practices regarding bill payment which I wouldn't care to repeat. It made me realise how big a component of any economic crisis is lack of integrity and honesty on the part of those responsible for running a business. Whilst this may fall short of being a crime, lack of discipline and restraint in managing finances can so easily cause an otherwise healthy business to go under.

When I got home, Keith and Vanessa were waiting for me to take their details in preparation for their wedding, to take place the week after my retirement becomes official. My predecessor is performing the ceremony, and I shall be there no matter what. To hell with stuff old clerical protocol, these two are my friends!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick's Day

Yesterday, I took an early coach to London to see my sister. By the time we reached Newport the heating system had sprung a leak, and we stopped there until the next coach arrived to take us on, and hour late. The toilet on this coach was not functioning well, and half way the poor driver had to stop at a service station and do an urgent clean up, as its water tank had obviously not been filled or had stopped working.

On the crowded second coach, I sat next to a lively young afro Caribbean woman with a strong 'Lunnun black' accent, so different in tone and character from the rural dialect of her parents or grandparents generation which I got used to and was able to imitate when I worked in Bristol's St Paul's Area. A fascinating evolution of speech among the rising generations over a thirty year period. She told me that she'd just started work as a home carer for an agency, after eleven years in care home. She now worked long hours every day for ten days, dealing with the care and support needs of seventeen people, visiting some several times a week and sometimes daily, then having five days off. She was confident and proud of the work she was doing, and told me in passing that she went to church on Sundays. That cheered me, for sure.

After today's lunchtime Eucharist I attended my last Deanery Chapter as an incumbent of the church and was invited to open with prayer, which I appreciated, as it meant I could give God thanks for the fellowship of clerics and all the difficulties and challenges faced, and entrust them and their work to God. Better than making a speech. I am still struck by how poor clergy morale is, and how cynical many are about church leadership. The traditionalists do not feel heard or cared for. Mutterings about going over to Rome are heard. But to what good purpose when Rome itself writhes under the impact of clerical child abuse scandals?

We are witnesses the breakdown of traditional expressions of moral and spiritual authority in all churches. Religious Hierarchies as they have developed in the late 20th century under the dubious influence of global corporations on the one hand and over controlling secular legislation on the other, are under great strain as they strive to hold everyone together in he face of the forces of great change. Will it all break down? Or is it not to late to hope for reform, or organic mutation, transforming the community of communities into smaller sustainable communities in which mutual trust and confidence can be rebuilt? It isn't more controls or containment that the body of Christ needs, but rather creative freedom and confidence. More of the Spirit, less of the law. More of positive innovation, less of guilt inducing regulations that are either irrelevant or unenforceable. Do we need heirarchs? Yes, but more of them with less power and more accountability through personal dialogue.

After Chapter I came back into town to attend an open afternoon to launch the revamped Tourist Information Centre in the Old Library - now with extra added retailing space, but still awating the return of a notice board for promotional advertising of local events. I bumped into a senior Council officer for whom I have high regard, and took the opportunity to bend his ear about the plight of Cardiff Business Safe. More accountability through personal dialogue also applies to the Local Authority. It may not lead to any real change, but it may help to grow understanding and trust. With these elements, every organisation runs better.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The trials of getting the job done

It's two years since pressure of work and the limitations of my ability to be helpful in a difficult situation led to me taking a Lenten break from helping with the administrative side of running Cardiff Business Safe. I've kept in touch with director Ashley Hopkins since then, because he was 'hotdesking', as business slang describes it at the City Centre Manager's officer in Southgate House, where I am a frequent visitor. I have continued following developments with interest.

This time last year a new digital radio communications network was established using state of the art equipment to serve the business crime prevention needs of city centre retailers. It's the first of its kind in the commercial sector in the U.K. if not in Europe. This kind of equipment is used for secure communications by the police, prison service and others involved with public security, because it cannot be eavesdropped upon.

Getting the organisation to run properly as an instrument of partnership on crime reduction and public safety in full co-operation with the police and the Council as well as retailers and licensees, has proved to be far from straightforward, and full of frustration. The technical side of the operation, and the servicing of RadioNet system subscribers, albeit complex, has proved much easier to set up and run than relationships with public bodies. When the City Centre management office moved two weeks ago over to the Old Library, Ashley and CBS didn't also move. No provision had been considered to support his work, which is acknowledged to be a vital part of making Cardiff as safe place for trading and leisure activities. Something taken for granted when it works well had fallen down the cracks in the channels of Council bureaucracy.

Aware of this, I paid Ashley a visit in the huge empty office on the ninth floor where he is for the moment a 'grace and favour' guest of the St David's Partnership team, now winding down its activities, with the work of overseeing the redevelopment project coming to its natural end. It's quite a bizarre situation, but Ashely labours on stoically, determined to let nothing get in the way of maintaining this prestigious new communications system, despite the odds. By the end of our chat, I offered to help clear some of the paperwork backlog, as time permits for the moment, and more so once I retire.

It will be nice to have a little project to which I can contribute and keep in touch with City life and activity without being a nuisance to the diocese as the process of appointing my successor hopefully gets under way. Last week's PCC meeting decided to write and ask the Bishop to get a move on and advertise without delay. I know he is keen to do so, but it seems to me that having made early moves to formulate a Parish profile with the Archdeacon back before Christmas, inertia has now set in for no good reason.

It is embarassing for me to be quizzed by all and sundry about who my successor is, when they start work and will there be a handover period, and be obliged to say "I don't know." Almost universally the response is "What on earth is the matter with your bosses?" There's no point in explaining just how far into the rural past the mindset of the Church in Wales is stuck, even with the modern organisation and communications resources it uses.

I went on from visiting Ashely at work to Tredegarville School for 'God on Mondays' - this week on Judas. The head related the latest exchanges on financial planning with County Hall, and a spat with a company pursuing the school for payment after delivering faulty goods and services. All this, and teaching too. Our school is a place of educational excellence with the highest standards of care and dedicated service by the entire staff team. The system that is meant to be there to support this essential purpose can be said to be good in parts, but in many ways exhibits less zeal and dedication to than is found in school.

Are people employed in public service less committed to their work today than their forebears were? What has made such a difference? Is it the size of organisations, or the way they are structured, leaving so little room for real responsibility, judgement and personal initiative? Or is the nature of work today less condusive to stable commitment?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mothering Sunday

We had a baptism at this morning's Parish Eucharist of Mary Jones' great grandson Thomas. The normal congregation was more than doubled, and it was a lively occasion, made even more of a challenge to handle by the unforeseen absence of two key people who make our main Sunday service happen. I had to make sure that all their normally un-noticed tasks were done to make things work, and I was only 99% successful, which kept me on the alert. Nevertheless it was a happy occasion and I don't suppose many will have noticed the things that caused me discomfort.

I was delighted because Dinah the young Malaysian woman who has been attending the eight o'clock Eucharist in recent months came to the ten o'clock for a change, and experienced the full warmth and vigour of a pastoral occasion she easily recognised from her church experience back home. Like many from outside UK, she was confused by the tradition of Mothering Sunday, as opposed to the internationally marketed Mothers Day, generally in May. She said she'd rung home and her mother was bewildered by this early greeting, so a full explanation of the British 'mothering' tradition was gretefully accepted. We also welcomed a young Chemistry post-graduate Italian student called Chiara who'd somehow discovered us recently. That's the great thing about being an open church in the middle of the city, you meet people of all ages and cultures as a matter of course. And it makes our regular congregational members happy indeed.

In the evening before delivering my fourth Lent Talk and singing Compline, I was inwardly grieving /whingeing a little at the poor and irregular attendance for this occasion. Admittedly, I make the texts available in advance, plus a printable booklet, but like every orator I crave a decent audience. We were fifteen. the usual dozen familiar patient faces, and three visitors.

Two ladies were with us from a parish near Burton on Trent for an away football match supporters weekend. After the service they stayed to chat. As my maternal grandparents had lived in Burton on Trent in their old age before illness and infirmity compelled them to surrender their home to come and live with us, there was a special point of conact between us.

My address had caught their imagination, as they were facing the challenge of renewing their own parish outreach into the community by adapting their buildings for more diverse usage. The question was how to underpin this at a spiritual level? I had been talking about the notion of being 'church for others', which I've lived with for forty years, but still comes afresh to some, much to my surprise. I told them the story of how St John's Tea Room had educated church members in pastoral mission in the most unexpected of ways. With another couple of days to their visit, they determined to come back and investigate for themselves. Their genuine interest served as a fulsome reproach to my tendency to self pity.

The conversation meant that I was a late arrival at the Friends committee meeting. However, it was well steered by Vanessa, and I was gratefully home by ten past eight.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Technical obstacle course

The day started with a maintenance team arriving on the doorstep to fit new halogen lamps to security lights the Vicarage doesn't have. Un-noticed, further down on their worksheet was the real reason for their visit - the annual gas safety inspection, which the guys hadn't noticed.

Once the job was done, I went over to St German's by bike, to pick up my missing rucksack, before going into St John's, earlier than usual. Another work was in progress there - a technician from BT attempting to sort out the problems with our noisy phone line and erratic broadband link. It turned out, as we suspected, that the problem was in the street outside, and due to a flooded conduit. The work was completed right on midday as I was about to start the Eucharist and Lent meditation. I was unsure if the work had been effective as I walk in, and played my part in a most distracted way.

Sure enough, after the visit we had better quality audio on the phone line, but no broadband. The usual connection difficulties persisted, and this meant that I couldn't retrieve the Annual Report documents needed for printing and copying from email. I went next door to the new City Centre management office on the top floor of the old library, to borrow a computer link, but their security system wouldn't allow me access to Google Mail, so I went down to the new library. I never established whether I could access Google Mail or not, because their computer hardware doesn't include a Memory Stick card reader. I had intended to download documents on to the spare chip I always carry in my wallet, but the Library computers are only equipped to take USB flash drives, so I had to ride home and acquire files for printing there. Annoyingly, the one day I didn't have a spare USB flash drive in one or other of my pockets, was when I needed one most.

Four hours after the telephone job was done, our broadband link was restored. That little exercise in futility, plus production of the documents needed for distribution on Sunday took me the rest of the working day. Making it possible for the church office to function for the demands of our time in a relevant and effective way remains a frustrating resolved problem, which may or may not matter to my successor. It won't bother me when I'm retired. Whether my home broadband works or not, I'll have time to visit the library (supplied with USB key) and while away the hours surfing in a fair and convivial place, whenever I want, with no more deadlines to fret about. Glory be!

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Before celebrating the midday Eucharist at St John's, I stood in for Fr Roy at St German's this morning, to enable him to go off and conduct a quiet day. As Clare needed the car to get to school, she dropped me off en route, and I walked back into town, via school. Annoyingly I left my rucksack in the sacristy, and couldn't re-trace my steps and pick it up, as the church was locked after Mass and Fr Roy was away.

The rucksack contained a new phone for the Choir vestry and documents for the Archdeacon's Annual Return. In this, the Parish gives an assortment of statistical data about Pastoral life and activity that is required to accompany the audited Parish Annual Accounts and Report. Audited Accounts are necessary for the regular scrutiny of the diocese by the Charity Commission. The Report from the Vicar and PCC summarises all that's notable and interesting about the past year. Statistics are of attendances at regular worship and occasional offices.

Like a portrait made of dots, they give no more than an impression of the reality. What are they used for? How often are they cited to inform real decisions? We aren't told. It's hard to believe there's any real value in this annual exercise, as its findings aren't properly discussed with the providors. It's got easier over the years, with the help of a prepared spreadsheet, to work out the averages, and this final time, it didn't take me long to complete. I'll be content never to have to do this again. Perversely, it makes me think of the curse upon King David's census (2 Samuel 24).

Ours being one of the few churches in the diocese open seven days a week to the public, it irks me that no account is required of our annual visitor numbers. It's a statistic that helps make sense of our mission, and is of interest. We should really invest in automatic counters attached to each entrance door, to obtain a reasonable estimate. In the meanwhile, church service attendances across the year amount to around 6,000. Half are regular repeat attendances by the core of faithful people. The other half are from those who come for occasional offices, carols and other special services. Another 1,500 a year attend organ concerts. The Tea Room serves in the course of the year around 15,000 customers. In addition is the greater number who just pop in to pray, or visit and take photographs. Numbers signing the visitors book, or taking tourist guides in seven languages are but a small fraction of consumers passing through, leading us to estimate that quite apart from its regulars, St John's welcomes 40-50,000 visitors a year.

I hope my successor will not be absorbed so much by church management as to lose sight of the challenge presented by all these passing people, to give a positive witness to the faith we live by and exist to proclaim.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Timely measures

How delighted were all who attended today's midday Eucharist to have Percy back with us after a spell in hospital. His singing is much missed by the choir on Sundays. The morning was bright and sunny, and having him with us was 'value added', as far are we're concerned.

Mike, one of the craftsmen who worked on the renovation and redecoration of the church in 2008 is back with us, constructing much needed additional drainage channels in the north churchyard. This measure will help reduce the ingress of damp, one of the knock-on effects of such abundant extra rainfall.

Slowly, St John's is taking protective measures to mitigate the new impacts of climate change on the building. Our geothermal expert technicians have been in and out this past week, measuring and evaluating the environment of the church to inform their proposals for a geothermal energy strategy for the building. It's a lot more complex and subtle than I had originally envisaged, but this is partly because new technological solutions are now coming on stream very rapidly. I'd like to think that what we're doing is timely.

Monday, March 08, 2010

End in view

This afternoon we re-started 'God on Mondays', two weeks into term, after the school OFSTED inspection, which has concentrated all attention and sapped collective energy since it was announced at the start of the winter term. I really wonder if the impact of this process is as good for the schools as a thoroughgoing evaluation is meant to be. Everyone already does their best for the sake of the kids, and that's evident from even the most cursory of visits. I wonder what the 'added value' element of inspection consists of, and how it can be quantified? Still, I might say the same about the Monday afternoon Family Services I have been conducting over the past four years. Will my successor think this worth continuing? Or think of something better, more attractive and relevant to help nurture the faithful who still value this link to the pastoral and liturgical life of the parishes that support the life of the school?

There are three God on Mondays sessions in this half term. I'm using them to look at characters who appear in the Passion story. Then, the day before term ends, Fr Roy and I will distribute Palm crosses to the children, and that will be the end of my pastoral engagement with the school, over the five years since the last Curate of St James left the Parish and was not replaced. Will retirement mean the end of my ministry to children, I wonder? I would like to have done a lot more, but holding the whole Parish together, survival in this era of resource starvation has meant that there's been less time for people (children included), and more time just coping with running a big public voluntary enterprise hemmed in by some many administrative and legal checks and balances. I have never been happy with that. And retire discontented at the inevitability of iit all.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Retirement landmark

The weather was kind enough to allow me to cycle to church for the eight o'clock this morning, and that meant I was a bit fresher and more awake than usual when I went to the altar. I love the early morning time of quiet prayer. But, I'm a night bird, and getting to sleep early enough to wake up feeling fresh has always been difficult, making it an effort to get into gear. Trouble is, on clear evenings I love to go out and look at the stars in the silence of night before surrendering to sleep, and that equals Late. Among the early worshippers was a young woman from Malaysia who's been to the eight o'clock before, she's on a work placement in the University Registry. She said that the temperature at home was 40 degrees centigrade. In Cardiff, it was just above zero. She didn't seem to be suffering from the cold like those of us present, two or three times her age!

At the Parish Eucharist I counted half a dozen single women among unfamiliar faces, in addition to the average three dozen regulars. Unusual. I wonder why? I spoke with two of them - one was from Italy, here on a language course for three months. The other was a student passing through from Freiburg im Breisgau, a University town near Basel and the Swiss border, gateway to the Black Forest. It's marvellous the way visitors discover St John's, and seem receptive to our very traditional ways of worship and hospitality. I'd like to think that doing things well and wholeheartedly is the secret.

As we finished the evening office of Compline, preceded by Lenten address, our young Malaysian returned with her camera. She wanted to take photos of the daffodils that still decorated the church after last Monday's St David's Day service, and Margaret's funeral to send home. She was so disappointed to discover they'd all been spirited away after the Parish Eucharist. However, I was able to offer her the consolation of access to the Parish web photo archive, where I'd posted, Monday night, 65 photos taken by Pauline and me on my camera, and by Anna Morell, Archbishop's press officer, on hers. The album is here.

The offer took a little time to deliver. I couldn't remember the long web address of the photos, so I needed to pick it up on-line and write it down for her. Simple? No. The church office is so cold that some times computer boot-up procedure, meant to be 2 minutes under Linux, twice as long for Windows (I run both systems in the office in case one has a hissy fit on me in an emergency) seems to pause forever in mid-process as if the system is broken. Just like me getting up in the morning. So I sat for an age in freezing cold when I should have been upstairs in the choir vestry making an efficient start to the PCC meeting, due to begin five minutes after the end of the service. I arrived twenty minutes after the due start time, and fifteen minutes of that delay was waiting for the computer to perform. Perhaps we should put thermal lagging for the office computer on the next PCC agenda.

It was a good meeting, driven by shared awareness of key items of interest, rather than my steering of the agenda. This was my last full PCC meeting. There were no expressions of sentiment, just the usual business, with lots of full and free exchange, as it would be, whether I was there to chair the meeting or not. The life and mission of the church has to continue, with or without a Vicar in the inspirational moments and in dull routine periods. These are people who keep their eye on the ball.

I feel so privileged to have had this spell as their leader, and am happy to know that, no matter how well or badly the bosses discharge their responsibility to re-appoint, St John's will continue active in service as the spiritual heart of the city centre.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Losing our religion

A quiet Saturday was just what I needed after such a taxing week. After a late breakfast we went over to our house in Meadow Street, to inspect kitchen installation progress, now that that job is nearning completion. We then went out and bought ourselves a ceiling light fitting, ready for next week's electrician visit, and travelled on to Penarth to have lunch in a small eatery we like, with quirky sixties 'continental' décor.

While we were at table a lively mixed group of young adolescents came in for a cuppa and a chat. I wasn't following their conversation, but at a certain point one of them started rehearsing the Lord's Prayer, as if trying to remember it for some reason. Quickly the whole group joined in saying it together, demonstrating I guess who could and couldn't remember the text - not with a feeling for it as prayer, but much in the same way that a memorised poem or pop lyric might be said, as if they were challenging one another to remember. A curious phenomenon. What does it signify, I wonder?

After our return home, I walked into town to get some wild bird seed and fish pie mix (to cook paella for supper) from the Market. On the way, I passed another group of slightly older adolescents. One of them was tearing up a booklet and scattering its leaves - opposite the Police Station and Law Courts. Some of the group were laughing and others reproaching him with a concealed admiration at his daring. I spotted the discarded cover. The booklet was the text of Saint John's Gospel, probably acquired from one of the evangelists who operate on the streets of the city centre from time to time.

Deliberate blashphemy? Sure. An offence to literature and literacy lovers, as well as religious folk. This age of cheap print publication and disposable literature has made some Christians keen to distribute scripture in the most profligate way, taking the chance that people will read rather than hoard or discard the gift. It's true that in deprived and impoverished countries, the gift of scripture and literacy are cherished highly. But here, where we have excess of everything, too many words, too much rubbish in print, it's a different matter. Not to be able to value a book, not to be able to respect holy scripture is a profound handicap for a young person - a recipe to nourish fascism.

How do we teach upcoming generations respect and value for that which is to be treasured most?

Friday, March 05, 2010

Farewell Margaret

Over eighty people gathered to say farewell to Margaret this morning. I felt unable to sit down and write either a homily or a tribute, and had to trust that when I opened my mouth something worthy would come out. Pauline's voice was full of her sadness as she read the Epistle : "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race ..." I felt the same too, as I read and spoke, but managed to get through without cracking up. But all in all our sadness was filled with the light of our love for her, and the sun shining in, making all the daffodils glow. I'd like to think Margaret would have been comforted by the occasion if she'd been taking part.

As I awaited the arrival of the hearse outside Thornhill Crematorium I saw a pair of buzzards circling high above the fields below the Wenallt on the north side. It reminded me of life in Geneva, and trips through the Vaudois countryside on Sunday afternoons, going to Gingins to take a service, and seeing several pairs of buzzards in the course of ten miles on back roads. Then, after the brief committal ceremony, it was back to St John's to celebrate the noon Eucharist and deliver the third Lenten meditation, then afterwards to join the rest at the post funeral reception, the Tea Room being closed for the day.

Finally, a brief visit to Tredegarville school to hear the first reports of the OFSTED inspection. All round, a 'very good' verdict, with 'outstanding' for Pastoral Care and Religion teaching. It's what I'd expect, but it's so good to have that confirmed objectiverly by outsiders. The staffd are alll pelased, but quite exhausted after the ordeal, which has dominated their lives for the past couple of months. Isn't there a better way? I wonder.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Moving on

Archdeacon David Lee stood in for me at the lunchtime Eucharist today, enabling me to officiate at the funeral of the mother of one of the St John's Priory Headquarters staff. This entailed a journey over to the Gwent Crematorium in Croesyceiliog, and a reception afterwards in the Rhiwderin Inn on then outskirts of Bassaleg. It was a beautifully sunny if chilly day, and a countryside, although still wintry, looked as if was about to break out into spring, with crocusses in abundance, though very few open daffodils outside. I was given a lift back to Cardiff through the lanes over Caerphilly mountain, via Rudry and Lisvane. The views of the city were uplifting, after the sadness of sharing a bereavement.

Then at six o'clock, we received Margaret Kemp's body into St John's overnight, and I celebrated a requiem Eucharist with over thirty friends and family present. The church was still awash with the scent and colour of the hundreds of daffodils brought in for Monday's Mayoral service. We decided to leave them in place as a special tribute to Margaret. We knew she'd delight in them. Afterwards someone reflecting on her passing spoke unwittingly of the continuing decline of the congregation. Not, so I had to say, with three adults and two children confirmed in the past six months and several other newcomers joining us regularly. The growth is not remarkable, but it has been steady and slow, and more than the net losses of people through death or moving on. I'd like to think this will continue for my successor also, as I move on.