Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday outing

I met up with my two junior confirmation candidates for an hour in church before the midday Eucharist and Liturgy of penitence, and gave them an introduction to the traditional vocabulary of church architecture and liturgy. Real familiarisation with 'church' language takes a long time, but it has to begin somewhere, and should begin with confirmation if not before.

A journalism student came in and filmed the church before and during the service, to which I had consented by email, but was so busy with the kids I had not found time to welcome him and tell him what he could and couldn't do. As a result, he partially blocked the entrance to the chancel where the service was held, in the usual unselfconscious way that possesses people when they get behind a camera lens. But we survived without incident. In fact, he left after the Gospel, giving him plenty of film footage with which to convey a misleading impression of what really happens in the Ash Wednesday Liturgy. I was pleased that the chancel was full, however, with two dozen people present and twenty communicants.

Our outing then moved in somewhat rainy conditions to St Fagans Musem to see the completed St Teilo's church, transplanted from Pontarddulais. All its walls are now covered with frescos in the fifteenth century rustic manner - together with a reconstructed highly decorative rood screen, it's a brilliant exercise in creative restoration work. And, the paintings were done by Fleur Kelly, whom we've invited to work on paintings to enhance our font cover. The response of the children to all the decorative art was revelatory. I was astonished at how well versed they were in the wide range of biblical stories represented on the walls, a sign of not only good schooling, but Norma Thomas's influence on them in Sunday school for most of their lives. There were obscure images and symbols that needed decoding, but we had fun guessing who was who of the twelve apostles depicted on the rood screen. On such a damp day we benefited from the geothermal heating installed in the church too.

Last call was Llandaff Cathedral, already familiar to Matthew who is a Bishop of Llandaff High School Boy, but not to Bethan who is in top Juniors. It was a pleasure to have him introducing her to his favourite parts of the building. All in all we covered as much ground in our five hours together as we would have in three classes. In all of the preparation it's a matter of opening the door to an experience that will encourage further curiosity, as they grow up in the community of faith. That's as much as can be hoped for. What thrilled me was to see what a marvellous aid to catechism the ancient popular western iconographic tradition may have been in a society that had proportionally fewer literate people, and relied more on oral memory and visual cues. Far better than flash powerpoint presentations any day.

The rain continued in the evening, and there were only half the number at the Eucharist than had been present at lunchtime. Alex and Huw came. She's decided definitely 'yes' for confirmation, and her parents and coming down for the occasion. Brilliant.

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