Wednesday, March 03, 2010

What do we really want?

After today's noon Eucharist, a meeting of the 2020 focus group at the Castle, to look at the latest developments in the work on pedestrianising the environment of High Street, and hear about a scheme that will involve local businesses in becoming stakeholders in the management of funding that is to be applied to their local environment, having a say in spending priorities and in how the area is marketed. We heard that marketing the Castle Quarter is now getting attention. This is something I was researching two years ago. I must get in touch with the project leader and make sure that St John's is understood to be part of the Quarter publicity design concept from the outset, and maybe promote some of the ideas and work I've already done on this, while I still can.

The problem is that as soon as there's a vacancy, no familiar face to relate to, the business of securing appropriate inclusion soon goes by the wayside, and years go by before the opportunity is there again. Maybe it's just as well that we're only moving across the Taff, and not across the Severn or the Channel. For a while at least I may be able to keep some useful church interests alive before handing them over, as opposed to leaving them to wither and die.

After the meeting, a trip over to school for a meeting with another inspector, reviewing the pastoral role which Roy and I share in school - a lot easier than yesterday's meeting. It was good to see staff relaxing as they came to the end of what had been an intense and demanding three days. As if life in school wasn't intense and demanding enough already.

Then, an evening meeting up at 'the Res' church hall, as Glanely's Church of the Resurrection is called. It's over 25 years since I was last there to preach at Martin Reynold's first Mass. Now I was invited to speak to a two dozen strong ecumenical Lent group about Faith Communities and Climate Change. It was a first outing for me as a speaker on this subject, and enjoyed the challenge and the dialogue that ensured.

I learned that there were ructions going on because this event clashed with a Lent Talk given by Bishop David as part of a Lent wide series across the diocese. I checked when I got home, when I discovered that I too stood among the accused. I didn't really take in the publicity for this series, or think it relevant to me, a) because it was tied to a diocesan adult basic education course I am not using because my constituency has moved on from repeating basics; b) the first publicity for it arrived after I'd started planning my Lent programme (pressed by Richard's request for diary dates in advance for the magazine), and was approached at the planning stage of the Ely Lent series. In other words, the launch of the Bishop's initiative was already too late. Having been launched in the January 'ad clerum', a reminder was omitted from the February edition, so many forgot, if they hadn't already dismissed the invitation on practical grounds.

I don't suppose I am alone in regarding Epiphany as the trigger point for starting to look ahead to Lent. If some set of Lent events is going to take place that is meant to take precedent over local planning, then it has to be announced at least by the beginning of Advent if not earlier to allow for adjustments to be made in habitual programme schemes. It's hard enough to get people to commit to local Lent activities, let alone get them to visit the Cathedral or some such other place. But most importantly, the uncomfortable question: who has said they want the Bishops do put on this kind of event? How was the decision made, by whom? What mechanisms do we have for establishing what people want by way of teaching ,encouragement and support from their bishops or diocesan teams?

I sympathise with the frustration of those putting on poorly attended events, having gone through all that with the Lent Lectures, which I finally killed off three years ago. I know that St John's parishioners like to have some Lenten input, but find the time commitment difficult when they are juggling so many other things in their lives. That's why I do talks, print them, podcast them. I make the offer in several ways, but I know I can't impose, and demand their attention or attendance. I work on material because it's my job 'in season and out of season' as Paul would say. Part of my spiritual discipline is to do the work, and do it for people I know and live with. That's so much harder when you have a couple of hundred different communities to live and work with. Having a variety of ways to reach them all is essential. Timing is essential too.

Now that there's not even a meaningful debating opportunity at the annual diocesan conference, I wonder how constructive conversations between the grass roots and the leadership can be re-awakened. I don't think we see enough of our Bishops and other senior people alongside us in the parishes any longer. They may well come for big special events, but it's in the mudane and ordinary events that time can be found for more creative listening and debate. But these days we're all plagued by too much admin, too many committees. So when do we really meet and learn from each other what we really want of being part of the church today?

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