Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Upheavals and rejoicings

Yesterday the upstairs toilet and sink came out, prior to renewal of bathroom tiling and the installation of a new eco-loo. ('Bog standard', as the man in B&Q said, but with dual water saving flush). It'll take several days to complete. At the same time the guys who came to fix a leak under the kitchen sink did so at the expense of creating a further waste pipe leak, rendering the whole ensemble unusable.  To add to the disruption, gas engineers from Transco turned up, and dug a hole in our usual parking place outside the house, fenced it off, then left without saying when they'd return.

All this has somewhat disrupted our comfortable routine. It's a bit like we're camping out at home just now.

While builders and tilers came and went, I had a session with my financial advisor to sort out what I hope will be the last of my financial affairs for the coming year, apart from the dreaded tax forms of course. Then after lunch I spent a couple of hours in Southgate House on the never ending task of getting CBS admin affairs into order. I like General Petraeus' description of sorting out Afghanistan as being 'like trying to build a plane while it's already up in the air'. Sorting out any business on the move is much the same experience.

Then I had the pleasure of an evening trip to St Martin's Parish Church Caerphilly to attend the first Eucharist celebration presided over by Sarah Rogers, ordained on Saturday. There must have been a couple of dozen clergy colleagues there, and a congregation altogether of around 150. Her father, formerly Dean of Llandaff, preached reflectively about the gift of priesthood in the life of the church, and started bravely by remembering his dear departed wife, who was in her day a zealous opponent of women's ordination. But we all felt she would have been thrilled and proud of her daughter.

At the end of the Eucharist, Sarah made a personal procession half way down the nave and into the south aisle, where there is a beautiful modern stained glass window of Mary, and Christ's nativity. Here she laid flowers in memory of her mother, lit a candle and said a prayer, before proceeding to bless individually everyone present, making a second trip up to the communion rail to do so. A truly joyous occasion with great singing and an inspiring sense of solidarity.

I don't think I had the courage to ask my first Vicar if I could have such a special first celebration. Rather, I compensated by insisting that doing an ordinary Sunday Parish communion on my own for the first time, with the community I served and lived among, would be the best thing for me. I'm not sure many of my family would have understood such a grand ceremony, as things clerical were so unfamiliar to our shared way of life. But if I remember rightly Auntie Celandine my godmother was there for me, and received communion. How blessed was I to be able to minister the last rites to her when she was dying in hospital 37 years later.

Monday, 28 June 2010

After Stevie at Glastonbury

I've watched very little of the TV coverage of Glastonbury (and even less of the World Cup!), but last night's 93 minute final main stage concert by Stevie Wonder had to be the exception. He was in fine voice and performed 20 of his most popular songs, from his 47 year singing career, backed by a thirteen piece band, seven other assorted percussionists and a Gospel choir. Although his songs have been part of my listening down the years, what caught my ear was the superb re-working of all the backing musical arrangements. It meant that everything familiar was delivered with great freshness.

Stevie Wonder has the same kind of serenity and warmth on stage as the Dali Lama, although his dialogue with the 70-100,000 audience is more energetic. I guess most of the audience knew the words and music, judging by the vigour of the singalong. On several occasions, he had the crowd singing together melodiously in two parts, accompanied by himself and the band - an extraordinary unrehearsed feat and a powerful expression of unifying leadership. 

What I love best about Stevie Wonder is his unashamed expression of joy in the gift of life, and confidence in love for God. He is passionate in advocating the unity of people every race, culture and ability, working together for peace and equality, expressed most fully in the complete inclusion of all categories of disabled people. He gives voice to the spiritual aspirations of the late twentieth century in a heartwarming way - truly the 'blind seer' of our era. He puts across messages many preachers would love to convey, in both words and music. Thank heavens. Christian leaders may on occasions be able to attract equally large if not larger crowds, but what of that moving, unifying experience that connects people with each other, not only in the moment, but in the everyday stream of life, to which the popular song is often the sound-track?

Across the millennia, faith has found expression through 'people's music' in many different settings, not only the Christian - music that's popular to listen to, as well as music for singing along to. There is a vigorous contemporary Christian pop music scene today, but I don't think it has the mass audience appeal that Stevie Wonder's music has. Is it merely a matter of Motown's global marketing success in getting the music out there to consumers?

Christians may well find they can sing together the same hymns, whether traditional or contemporary popular, but division remains. The experiences faithful people seek to give them a sense of common purpose and good-will differ significantly. In Europe spiritual seekers are less inclined than ever to look to churches for inspiration. North America too seems gradually to be heading in the same direction. Does Christianity have anything to learn from contemporary creative culture, and its ability to make consumers into participants?

Again, what struck me about Stevie Wonder's performance was the originality and freshness with which his old songs were offered. This represented a huge amount of hard work by the musicians, and their leaders. At best, any artistic leader has to enthuse, inspire, and motivate others to share in their creativity. There is a measure of that in what churches seek to do in worship, although we're far from regarding everyday liturgy as a form of creative art. The ways in which worship is meant to be inspirational are constrained by the conventions of performance (written or unwritten), by the demands 'orthodoxy' makes on content, and by the time and energy given over to experiment and innovation. I look back and wonder - could I have done more? Could I have done better? When worship is authentic and done well, it nurtures worshippers and commends itself to newcomers, even if it lacks much originality or creativity. But that's due in part to the kind of expectations people have towards it.

When I say that I would like worship to be more inspirational, it's not that I'm after a huge emotional uplift. I want beauty, space, silence, choice words, music and imagery that convey fresh insight, and challenge, or which feed my desire for greater intimacy with God. Am I let down by experiences I have, or by my expectations? Perhaps now I'm not tied to the regular liturgical production line, I have a new opportunity to explore what really does work, for me and for others.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Ordination Day

This morning, Llandaff Cathedral was packed for the ordination of three candidates to the Diaconate and five to the Priesthood - five men, three women. One of those being priested was Dr Sarah Rogers who went from university research microbiologist and church warden at St Teilo's (during my time serving that parish), to an ordinand of the diocese. Sarah's dad, John was Dean of Llandaff until he retired, and there for her to share in the laying on of hands. She was one of the Cathedral team of servers, and her twin brother Paul, one of the Cathedral bell ringers. It was fitting she should be asked to read the Gospel at her own ordination.

Two children from the Bishop of Llandaff school read the other lessons and intercessions. The sermon was good, the choral singing was as ever, uplifting and magnificent. The sun streamed in, the whole event was a beautiful and dignified offering of worship, to put these candidates in their proper place, according to vocation in the common life of God's people.

Also among those ordained was Christopher Seaton. He did a placement with us at St John's three years ago - one of the non-stipendiary ministerial mature students. He's an electrical engineer and ex-seafarer, with long experience of lay ministry in his home Parish in Barry.
 These are just two of eight ordinands on parade I happened to know. They have the same calling yet such different backgrounds. Diversity is a great asset in the service of the Church. Today's ministry candidates mostly tend to be older, and have more life experience before training, although that means a shorter period of active service. It's one of many factors leading to a shortage of ordained ministers in parishes today. Now that the government is set on the course of raising the retirement age, first to 62, eventually to 70, in response to increased longevity, changed social conditions and economic need, will the Church do likewise, I wonder?

Clergy tend to continue, as long as they are fit and healthy, as volunteers. Many parishes would have no regular ministry or services were it not for the contribution of retired clerics. That's how it's always been, except that the need is greater than ever before, due to shrinkage in the number of ministerial vocations.

As pensioners, retired clerics don't have any say in the decision making of the church. There's the bench of Bishops, the house of laity and the house of clergy as voting blocks in synodical governance, and that's that. Wise counsel may well be sought behind the scenes, but the role of ordained pensioners as stakeholders in the mission of the church isn't recognised in appropriate organisation, With so many of us freed by retirement of institutional ties, there's an opportunity to shape and strengthen the 'spares' to make more coherent use of clerical experience and flexibility, not just to fill the increasing gaps in the parochial system, but to develop new ways of working to benefit many communities now losing out, and to relieve full timers from excess workload.

After the ordination, Clare and I went to a lunch laid on by Archbishop Barry and his wife Hilary, by way of a 'thank you' to those recently retired or left the service of the diocese. It was a delightful occasion, with good food and good humoured conversation, certainly not the moment for discussion of this kind. I guess it's only since then my musings on the matter have taken shape.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Free-B RIP

Tomorrow, the Free-B city centre circular bus service will stop running. It started 12th October last year, six an hour all day. After its first few months it acquired its own distinctive livery, although no clear indications on its destination boards as to key stopping places that might attract passengers. I don't ever recall seeing more than two or three passengers on it at any time, and more often than not, it sped past bus stops empty, as only rarely did anyone step out and flag it down. It was painful to behold. A decent idea for linking the nodes of the bus network, but poorly implemented. It wasn't properly pitched as a resource for tourist to use. It took twenty minutes to cross a city centre that can be walked in ten by all but those with physical mobility difficulties. For them a taxi would be more convenient anyway. Since the majority of people who might use such a free service already have free bus passes, there was no attraction to using the Free-B. It was funded by a WAG grant in support of the Sustainable Travel policy agenda. What a disaster. An unsustainable outcome to a sustainability policy!

I've heard travel professionals at meetings criticise the marketing of the service, but also stoutly defend its retention as a necessary 'loss-leader', pointing out that similar facilities in other cities took a couple of years to be adopted by the mass of the travelling populace. But the geography, politics, management and social interaction patterns of every city are as variable as DNA when it comes down to detail. No matter how well anyone knows their own city, it doesn't mean to say accurate prediction of how it will respond to a new initiative can be made. So you take a risk, or you do nothing. 

From my viewpoint at the 'edge of the centre', it was obvious by Christmas this experiment was not working and meeting criticism from the professionals about the lack of clarity with which its marketing was targeted. A nice idea but, could it have been aborted earlier, at least to save on CO2 emissions? The saved expenditure could have been put into further research on the ground, and minor experiments to figure out better what would work. Easier said than done, due to the convoluted processes involving national and local government that put the scheme into place to start with.

Now the press tells us an alternative smaller electric vehicle is to be commissioned to cruise pedestrian zones and offer the same service to mobility challenged people. Will this mean a quicker journey time between bus network nodes? Quick enough to persuade people it's worth using? Apart from acquiring the necessary rolling stock, the existing traffic regulation orders governing access to pedestrian areas will need modifying. Drivers will need to be re-trained to operate safely - and hopefully learn how to give priority to pedestrians rather than just honk aggressively as often happens on the roads. And will they be able to curb their speed?  There is a move afoot to improve pedestrian safety by reducing the urban street speed limit to 20mph - common already in Europe. It will need to be much lower in any zone dedicated to pedestrians.

It's an unenviable task for public service organisations to have to deal with such complex issues and basically, after all the good science and engineering has been done, to have to potter about experimentally to get a perfect fit between good intentions and practical reality. In one of his 2010 Reith Lectures, Prof Martin Rees,  Astronomer Royal, said that we exist somewhere on the scale between the unimaginably large and the unimaginably tiny, both of which extremes, thanks to science we are able to know quite a lot about. There is also another dimension, about which we know significantly less - complexity. We have yet to get the measure of how complex the universe is and we ourselves within it, either in microcosm or macrocosm. As he also said, there's so much more we don't know about the universe than we do know.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

What are you doing here?

For the first time since my farewell Sunday at St John's, I celebrated the Eucharist this morning, at St German's. It was the Wednesday morning 'Class Mass' for a year group of Tredegarville School children. It was always an enjoyable experience to deputize for Father Roy, and remains so. Sunshine pervaded the tranquiity of that fine lofty building. The children were admirably well behaved, relaxed and at ease being quiet together in such strange environment compared to their everyday world. How they are together in school carries over naturally into the way they are when they're out and about.

At the beginning, one of them asked "What are you doing here? I thought you were retired." This gave me an opportunity to explain that although I wasn't working, I could still act as a priest if anyone invited me, and that was why I was there. No longer a duty but a pleasure to say 'yes' when asked. I loved most of the things I got to do as part of my work. Over the past decade however, the sense of responsibility attached to being a full time professional pastor were increasingly accompanied by a sense of anxiety and inadequacy in the face of the commission given to the priest by virtue of ordination, and appointment as an incumbent. I looked long and hard at this, desiring to overcome it and master it, in order to fulfil the commission to my own satisfaction. Perhaps the reasons are just too complex to comprehend. 

Now I have the freedom of retirement, I no longer have that old burden of anxiety. All I have to do is wait until called to serve, and maybe also discern between different possibilities, should that situation arise. For the moment, not much new is happening, demands of any kind are few and far between, and the opportunity for space and silence is a blessing for which I'm grateful. I think I was on good form today and felt fresh in going about my ministerial duties. I hope that was as good for the kids as it was for me.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Midsummer night rite

What a pleasure to have such warm weather and bright skies for the Summer Solstice. In the evening, Clare was out at her jewellery class. I just sat and savoured the blue evening skies, enjoying the changes in the sunlight bathing the street outside. The sun hit the horizon around 9.45pm, but it was another half an hour before it got dusk Then a closed the curtains and stupidly watched long film on telly. 

After midnight I decided to go for a stroll to unwind a bit before sleep, walking as far as the end of Llanfair Road. There were still a few people and cars around. In the middle distance, among the trees that clothe the steep escarpment at the side of Cardiff Road, a small fire was alight, and the shadows of several people sitting around it were visible. 

I wondered if they intended to keep vigil until the dawn of the shortest night. Were they chatting or chanting, telling stories, contemplating the flames, or merely drinking the night away? Or a mixture of all these things. It's an ancient seasonal rite of passage, no matter who performs it, or for whatever reason. I just hope they tidied their fire away when they left, and took their empties with them.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Finding Thompson's Park

Eddie and Anne came for the weekend, to see us in our new abode, and to see Bryn Terfel in 'Meistersingers' at the Millennium Centre, a Wagnerian marathon lasting from four until gone ten on Saturday. After we'd delivered them to Millennium Plaza through the busy afternoon traffic, we returned home, and on an impulse decided to go and look at Thompson's Park, just five minutes walk from home, as we'd not been in there before, I had only ever passed by in the car in journeys to and from the Council tip.

The park covers the southern and western flanks of Penhill, which itself rises up about a hundred feet out of the south-western corner of the river plain which is Llandaff fields. It's rather hidden by streets of houses on three sides, and I was surprised at just how extensive it was, with a circumference of about three quarters of a mile. It has scores of beautiful mature deciduous trees, and remarkable view westwards in the direction of Wenvoe. You'd never think you were right in the middle of an urban area hemmed in by a rather fine and varied collection of streets of terraced houses. It's one of Cardiff's hidden gems.
The hill top is marked out discreetly with running tracks, probably for the use of local schools and clubs, and there's a well used bowling green.  On the south side of the hill is a pond, and another wide open grassy area with flowerbeds, all beautifully looked after by the Council's Park's department.

The land was given to the city by corn merchant James Pyke Thompson in 1924. It had been, hitherto, the land surrounding the family house in Canton. Thompson, was a philanthropist and art collector. He also built the famous Turner Gallery in Penarth, and was a generous donor to the National Museum of Wales.

There are more photographs of the park to look at here. I think it's rapidly going to become our favourite destination for a moderate jog, or a constitutional walk.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Monmouthshire gems

Today Oswald and Marion took us out to lunch to one of their favourite places, the Gliffaes Country House Hotel, in a wooded valley above the River Usk just beyond Crickhowell. This was a real treat, as it's in a part of Monmouthshire that has long been one of my favourite places on earth - where I would like to have settled in retirement, except that over the years we've become urbanised in lifestyle, whilst loving and longing for country repose. We have to consider what life will be like when driving a car is no longer possible, either in consideration of expense or physical fitness. That doesn't put the deep countryside out of reach, but it means that it remains somewhere you go rather than where you make your home.

Gliffaes is a family run, nineteenth century establishment. Its clientele are mainly huntin', shootin' and fishin' types, plus romantics and those who need quiet and secret places to think or do business. Its grounds are full of a wide variety of mature trees, you might want to use the word arboretum, but in the end of the choice of plantings over a century ago reflect the love of the owner, and generations of inspired head gardeners. The house sits on a promontory a hundred and fifty feet above the river Usk, and guest must descend a winding path to enjoy the fishing rights owned by the hotel. Fish was on the menu, but it was plaice, rather than river fish, to my surprise. I opted for a lamb kofte dish, as lamb is one of our great local specialities, to be enjoyed if the opportunity arises.

After lunch and a walk around the grounds, we visited nearby Tretower Court, a recently re-opened National Trust owned sixteenth century courtyard manor house. Much restoration work has been done to  present the building as it would have looked in its heyday. Imaginatively the trustees have commissioned contemporary wood-workers to make furniture for the kitchens and banqueting hall in the style reported in documents of the period, rather than use ancient and degraded museum piece artifacts. This is a brilliant touch which does much for the imagination, and gives the presentation an unusual freshness. I'd say this is a 'must visit' place to add to the list in our little corner of the world. What an excellent day out!

I've posted some photographs here

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Thanks Drive

Since I've retired and moved closer to several bus routes into town, I use public transport more than when I was within easy walking or cycling distance. There are several things I like about using the bus in Cardiff. The mood and social atmosphere varies greatly with the time of day and composition of passengers. Often groups of passengers through the age range seem to know each other and chat as they travel. Occasionally the bus seems very quiet, the passengers solitary, withdrawn. Then there can be electric moments when harsh words are exchanged and conflict threatens to break out, but the mood changes when the aggressor or the victim gets off.

Most frequently heard above the chatter, when the bus is disgorging passengers or taking them on board, are the words 'Thanks Drive', addressed quite audibly to the bus driver. This expression of appreciation is widespread and classless, used by grannies, hooded youth, schoolgirls in uniform, 'suits' going to work, beefy guys in trainers on their way to the gym. The drivers are of mixed age and gender, a few too many are overweight and between them they exhibit a wide variety of driving styles from the stately ponderous to the nerve wracking. Some greet their passengers in a friendly way, others are sullen, withdrawn and look bored with life. All are saluted with 'Thanks Drive' regardless of their demeanour.

I manage a 'Thanks' or a 'Thankyou' when I get off, but not yet a 'Thanks Drive'. It doesn't roll off my tongue easily, perhaps because I'm not a true Cardiffian. I wondered if non-Brits easily adopted this local saltuation, and set out to observe - group chatter on the bus is often in Italian, Spanish, French, Arabic or an Indian language. I noticed that something is often said to the driver, but rather quietly or with added gestures. Perhaps once you've fully settled down, adoption of native custom comes more naturally.

Bus riding became a feature of my daily life which I lived in Geneva, where all social existence was punctuated with bonjours and mercis.  Perhaps at some level, I've yet to catch up and fully settle down.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The mystery of buses and the church carbon footprint

Since I retired, Fridays seem to come around very quickly, I don't know why. Anyway I set off towards town as usual, using the 61 bus - the nearest to home, the most regular, frequent and usually less congested route. Clare insists there are more frequent buses from Llandaff Fields, and indeed there are, but I've waited up to fifteen minutes for a bus before a selection of them arrive within a short space. Admittedly the routes running through Llandaff are among the most congested and hard to manage in the City, and that, if anything, makes running buses to time less than predictable.

The other day, queuing in the car for the Llandaff crossroad with Western Avenue, to go to Maindy for a swim, I was outside Howells School entrance when a large SUV pulled out of the forecourt of a grand house opposite the school, cut across the traffic and drove in through the school entrance - a manoeuvre which halted the flow of traffic further. It didn't look like a delivery vehicle. To be charitable, the driver may well have been on an errand, en route elsewhere, maybe delivering a child with mobility difficulties to the school door, but I couldn't help wondering if that short journey was strictly necessary, not do-able on foot. In those congested conditions it can't be much of a time saver. It made me wonder. Yes, I know, I should get up earlier and ride the bike direct across Pontcanna fields when I go for a swim. I'd be more warmed up when I hit the water, and tireder afterwards - not that it matters, when you have so much free time.

Anyway, I digress. I walked across into Rectory Road just as the 61 bus was due. The bus had already left the stop, some 30 yards further on, and was stopped at a red light. I caught the driver's eye and begged him to let me on board, but my beseeching was in vain. Ah well, 12h27, just ten minutes until the next one. It arrived, not as scheduled at 12h37, but at 12h45, with another 61 directly behind it! No doubt there are rational explanations for this phenomenon, but essentially the legend lives on. What people say of public transport in most cities I've lived in, is justified by events. You wait for a bus that never comes, and just when you're about the give up, two come along at the same time.

I was mad with myself because it made me late for my washing up stint in St John's Tea Room, and the day promised to be busy with a lunchtime organ concert in church. I arrived to a scene of ordered chaos, that's the best way to describe it. There was a plumber with his head under the sink, people serving drinks and food as usual, with others standing around looking bothered and helpless. The sink blockage of the decade was being dealt with cheerfully by an ebullient wise-cracking guy called Ian. Then, I noticed the piles of unwashed dishes. Everything had ground to a halt while Ian did battle with bung of tea leaves and chunky soup particles somewhere down the maze of pipes between the sink upstairs, and the sewer.

Thankfully, the crisis was soon resolved, so I was able to set to work, and catch up on what I thought I'd missed, aided by the natural slow-down of clientele, siphoned off into church by the attraction of fine music. Fortunately, the Friday tea room team are all experienced at surmounting problems, working carefully and safely together. With all the food for serving prepared already, earlier in the morning, now stored outside the kitchen in cool cabinets, and a surfeit of of china to eat it off, there was no reason to close or turn customers away. But if Ian hadn't been able to clear the blockage, and dirty dishes had piled up to cover every surface in sight, it would have been a different matter. He works for the firm that services the church boiler twice a year. He could even remember the make and model number.

In the post this morning was a copy of the feasibilty study report researched for St John's on the possibility of geothermal heating. The most interesting piece of topical trivia is that St John's carbon footprint is estimated to be forty tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. I wonder how many trees that represents, in terms of compensatory planting? If every church, or every organisation with a large public building knew what their carbon footprint was, the possibility of acknowledging that figure in the running costs budget would become a reality. I say that, even though I am doubtful about carbon offset trading and the sharp practice associated with it. Well, I guess churches here could plant forests with church communities, in environmentally damaged third world regions. A new angle on what mission means today, for sure.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Mulling over future possibilities

Today at lunchtime I attended a meeting in the Castle of the Council focus group on public transport, way-finding and access for the first time since my retirement. The group is now looking forward to the next ten years worth of developments in and around the city, and its purpose is to put out some ideas about how new major projects are being approached, to take soundings and seek insights and ideas that might be there amongst people of wide ranging backgrounds and expertise. It's a sign of recognition that remote preparation of this kind can be both a stimulus and a corrective to the ideas of those who work in the professional think-tanks with and beyond the domain of the Council - a bold intiative to my mind, well worth the investment, even if there's not much to show for it. By its very nature most of the deliberations are not intended for publication at such an early stage of gestation, well before adoption.

It was great that Richard Hall came to this meeting for the first time, as Churchwarden representing St John's while there is no Vicar. I continue to get invited to this meeting due to my connections to the Street Carers and work with the homeless, with Other Faith communities and Community Safety, through Cardiff Business Safe's crime prevention activity. I've learned over the years that the best public design work - buildings, open spaces, furnishings etc - results in a environment where people feel safer. This makes it possible for all kinds of people to co-exist without threat or conflict. Thus I'm pleased to have an opportunity to take part in these conversations.

Afterwards, I met Ashley and we went over to City Hall to visit Room 136, and meet Glen, co-occupant of the space for our temporary office accommodation over the next month, and then we returned to Southgate House to advance the cause of chasing subscribers who haven't paid. It's a perpetual problem in any business, and more so in a recession. It's necessary effort. Solvency is essential when you're offering a guaranteed service of this kind.

Monday, 7 June 2010

What's happened to mission in today's church?

Yesterday morning, before church, I listened to a service of worship broadcast live from Edinburgh where a conference on world mission was taking place last week, marking the centenary of a major event that was the first milestone in the establishment of a global ecumenical movement. Archbishop John Sentamu preached. I was privileged to attend the 75th anniversary conference in Edinburgh when I worked for USPG, and a remarkable international event that was, in my recollection.

In 1910 few people attending were non-European or from churches of the third world, whether colonial or indigenous in nature. In 2010, by design, the conference membership reflected the composition of the church world wide more accurately. Today, Christianity is diversely multi-racial and multi-cultural, with white Europeans and North Americans a small minority in comparison to the growth in the numbers of the faithful elsewhere. The worship leader observed that Edinburgh churches today include four recently developed indigenous African Church congregations among their numbers. I reflected that the same was also true of Cardiff with 20% less population. Mission was spoken of rather obscurely as being 'from everywhere, to everywhere'. But that is true of migration in the era of globalisation and mass communication. Mission and migration have been linked since the outset.

Preparations for this conference have been going on for several years, and I took part in one of the prior consultations in Newport last autumn. Little publicity to the process and this major event seems to have been given, to my knowledge, by the main denominational communications channels including the Church in Wales. There doesn't seem to have been much of note in the Church Times or Church of England Newspaper. This weekend's Church Times carried a news article, but that was about the suspension of the conference director, rather than about the conference or its content. A full conference report is promised next week. 

Fortunately the conference website offers documentation, news reports and user generated content through social media, allowing for a measure of insight into the process, but how much attention is being shown by established denominations here? Why is this now of so little general interest to Christians? Is it because mission is considered 'too difficult' to tackle these days? Or because the church is  so pre-occupied by the possibilities of schism between liberals and conservatives? Or because white mainstream Europeans aren't all that interested in what non-white brothers and sisters in Christ in the world out of sight have to say?

Admittedly, some conservative third world churchmen in recent years have been vociferous (and in the eyes of many of us mistaken) in their trenchant criticism and intolerance of developments among white Western liberal Christians in their efforts to engage with contemporary society in mission, but these are not the only voices to be heard, in the effort to learn how we can live together with our diversity and difference. As the conference began, a 740 word 'Common Call' statement was issued on behalf of participants, a fruit of all the years of preparatory work. It's not obscure, nor is it an easy read, as it's densely packed and needs digesting for the amount it says about Christian identity and purpose, to serve as a shared set of convictions about today's call to mission for Christians of very different ideas and cultures. It has more to offer as a starting point than covenant proposals currently laboured over by the hierarchs of the Anglican Communion, ultimately designed to distinguish 'us' and 'them', whoever they may be.

Here's a link to the Common Call Statement in case it moves off the home page of the 2010 Conference website and becomes hard to find once the conference report is published. It's worth a few reads, to get us thinking over what Christian are supposed to be doing today.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Orthodoxy in pictures

We went to St Mary's this morning for the deferred Mass of Corpus (at Sanguinis Christi), concluding with Benediction and Angelus. It reminds me of celebrations at St Gregory's Small Heath, and St Agnes in the St Paul's area of Bristol, where sharing worship with a multi racial congregation became one of the defining norms of my life in ministry. We popped in for a cuppa and a chat with Eleri and Sr Winifred their house guest from the All Hallows community in Norfolk. Just as we were leaving, Fr Graham arrived, having fitted in a baptism after his second solemn Mass and procession of the morning. We arranged to meet up soon, so that I can help him review his ICT needs and train him in updating the Parish website regularly. He's so busy, its understandable that he doesn't readily retain the minutiae of web management and trouble shooting.

In the evening he phoned me apologetically with a problem he was stuck with. He'd been commissioned to write an article for 'Croeso' the diocesan newspaper about the Romanian Orthodox community which worships in St Dyfrig and St Samson's church on Sundays, following their own Parish Mass. One of their congregation had promised him photographs of a recent episcopal visit for their congregation's patronal festival of All Saints, which falls, not in November but early Trinity-tide. He'd received an email with an embedded link to a web server, and had been able to view them and forward the link to the editor of Croeso, who had been unable to access any of the pictures. Could I help sort this out?

He sent me the link, to a Yahoo photo server with several dozen photographs. The problem was instantly clear - the photographer had taken large pictures, 10-12 megapixels a piece, each weighing in at 6-7 megabytes each, big enough to print a high resolution photograph bigger than a bath towel. The entire collection was over 200 mb, and any attempt to download all at once would have stalled the stoutest domestic computer system. Downloading each one in turn of a selection of half of the pictures was a half hour job. Then it was a question of re-sizing them to dimensions a publishing editor could both receive and work on without any grief. Those I returned to Fr Graham were all a sixth of the size of the original, and quite fit  for purpose. I enjoyed the exercise as the photographs were shot by someone who understood the Orthodox liturgy, so I could add helpful captions to the downsized photos from my own experience of assisting at Orthodox services since before I was ordained. 

I promised myself that I'd visit the Greek Church for the liturgy when I retired. Now I could add the Romanian Church to the do do list, once my liturgical lethargy has lifted. At the moment, now I have time, I'm re-discovering the pleasure of writing a daily reflection on a passage of scripture read during the offices and studying a commentary if needs be, when I get stuck. Doing so, not driven by the demands of work, but by the freedom to enjoy. Watering the dry places of the soul ....

Friday, 4 June 2010

Hospitality in City Hall

It was much too sunny and warm a day to go hunting for a new toilet and floor tiles for the upstairs bathroom, but that's what we did this morning. It took much longer than it should because the man who served us in the tile showroom was not only informative about tiles but interestingly chatty about lots of other things, so we lingered for ages, and didn't get back home until midday, the car laden with porcelain.

Then I went down to St John's tea room to do half an hour's washing up before going to Southgate House to do some invoicing, and update information on some companies about how to get paid. Then I went to pick up mail from the Vicarage, via City Hall, calling in there to check arrangements for setting up a small temporary office base there for CBS until our new accommodation in Charles Street is ready next month. We'll be in one of the south facing rooms overlooking City Hall's lawn and fountains, sharing with one of the admin team for the Wales GB Rally - should be an interesting place to work for a while.  

City Hall was busy with a big posh wedding reception, the staff were nerving themselves for a busy tomorrow. Not only is the Wales v Springboks rugby match happening in the Millennium Stadium, but also demonstrations by the English/Welsh Defence league and a counter demonstration by a coalition of anti-racist organisations, in the streets either side of the building. Inevitably, the media want to show up with all their kit to take before during and after pictures for broadcast, to try patience even further. At the best of times the place is busy and very well used by a great variety of organisations and events, as befits one of our most prestigious buildings, but the staff are worked hard indeed.

The back garden looks good in the sunshine, with petunias, French marigolds and geraniums breaking out, and our half dozen tomato plants looking healthy after re-potting.
Yesterday evening the song thrush returned as the blackbird was holding forth, and the two duetted for several minutes, only to be joined by a robin. I had my camera outside, set it to run on video and hunt it on the washing line. The audio component is superbly sensitive and can be extracted from the wobbly video footage on the computer, to play independently. One of the little pleasures I now have more time for.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Setting sights on 2020 - already

Today I was back in City Hall for a 'Proud Capital' conference organised by Cardiff Council, aiming to seek the advice of people from 'partner' organisations about shaping its plans for the next decade - plans that now have to be made in the light of major cutbacks in public funding to reduce the National Debt, as it used to be called before the more elaborate phrase 'budget deficit' was invented.

I think I was invited because whoever operates information services in County Hall has yet to eliminate my name from the invite list on which I landed as the Bishop's delegate on the City's Strategic Planning Board (aka Vision Board, since the most recent makeover) seven years ago. My successor as Bishop's delegate, Archdeacon Peggy, was among the conference invitees, I'm pleased to say. Some of my emails from the Council still arrive second hand, having first been sent to my old address, discontinued in December 2008. Both my most recent email addresses are also on the Council's information system. If didn't have auto forwarding of emails from a defunct account, I might miss out on all sorts of interesting things, but fortunately so far, not this kind of event.

Heaven knows why, since Cardiff Business Safe is a key stakeholder in the city's crime reduction strategy, no invitation was sent to any member of the team involved in its work. A culpable omission in my view. Suitably indignant, I sent back two conference registration forms - one for the director and one for me as 'administrator', well invoice clerk by any other name, as that's what's most needed to support him in the remarkable work he's doing keeping the city's security radio network up and running, day in, day out. CBS has had a rough passage over the past three years, its presence and intentions mismanaged by senior officials reluctant to take responsibility for an organisation developed in response to a need identified both by the Home Office, the Police, and the business community, to mitigate the impact of crime on the retail industry. 

CBS has had to reform itself and overcome huge problems issuing from the collapse in 2005 of Cardiff Chamber of Commerce, its backing organisation at the outset.  City government chose not to extend the same patronage to CBS as it extended to City Centre Management, a more obviously 'mission critical' organisation, also the offspring of Cardiff Chamber of Commerce. After the demise, CBS re-invented itself as an arms-length not for profit company run without financial backing by volunteers, whilst maintaining day by day a secure radio communications network relied upon by over 200+ different traders, the Police, the Council and other organisations in and around the city centre. It has never failed in its duties.

Sometimes I think that 'arms-length', though intended to mean independent and disentangled from Council politics and economy, really infers dis-ownership - some officers would push us over the edge into oblivion if they could. Why do I say that? Because there exists an almost cultural jealousy on the part of some officials, who resent the success of CBS in delivering all it is meant to. Its success rests on self sacrificial effort far beyond the realm of duty as defined by the average local government job contract. This the troublesome frictional interface between voluntary enterprise and statutory undertaking.

The sad thing is, that officers of government, used to measuring and controlling everything within their scope, tend to be deeply suspicious of initiative, free creative energy and imagination at work, too readily interpreting it defensively, as being driven by self-interest and personal gain. Ideas of working for personal satisfaction, or for the common good, are unintelligible to those weaned on a culture in which every jot and tittle has to be accounted for, or disguised as something else. I don't see this makes anyone happy, but it's the way things are in the world as we've made it today.

That's a big digression - what's important is, although CBS was not invited for whatever reason, we turned up, and made ourselves known in a modest way. Lots of other voluntary and public service organisations also seemed to have been left off the invite list which should have been there, or else it was not explained to them how important it was they should be there, so they gave it a miss. The biggest contingent were local government officers from a range of Council service areas. So were the rest of us really interlopers on a Council in-house training day?

I'm glad we were there to gain a small measure of understanding of the disciplined efforts being made to identify the kind of social, economic, environmental and technological changes that will steer the way our common life unfolds in the coming decade, even if the day's process of acquisition was pretty turgid. I hope nobody believes any of today's deliberations should be regarded as definitive, as so many different sections of civil society were absent. I understand there will be future opportunities to involve citizens in the process of formulating a strategic plan for the City, before it is finalised. 

I enjoyed being there in quite a different role, meeting people with whom I'd sat at other tables when I was Vicar of St John's. As I said to Archdeacon Peggy over coffee - no I don't feel at all lost outside my former role. This is my city, in the sense that it's the place where I am, after all my years of restlessness, at home, and a citizen - something I now have the opportunity to take seriously on my own terms, as equally as I've always taken my duties as a citizen of heaven.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Afraid of the truth?

This year's BBC Reith Lectures are here again, with Astronomer Royal Prof Martin Rees speaking on the theme 'The Scientific Citizen'. How nice to be able to sit in the kitchen after breakfast and listen without distraction, and then read the text transcription later in the day. As ever the Beeb provides a great service, with a podcast and a discussion forum on the Reith 2010 web page. Rees speaks in a simple, measured way which conceals the depth and complexity of the issues, and yet makes them accessible to the average listener. In my mind that makes him a considerable philosopher of science (one of my youthful academic interests), as well as a leading astronomer. As well a being a practitioner of science, he is also an experienced University teacher dialoguing with the finest young minds of our time, thus in a position where you can't get away with bluffing your audience.
Looking at the lecture's web discussion forum is a sobering reminder that many people are suspicious and distrustful of science, simply because it is a key activity in society always in need of funding, the slave of its paymasters, appearing for long periods to be unproductive, unable to deliver what backers and audience want. Obscure scientific breakthrough, however, has seized the creative imagination of those able to take the fruit of new discoveries, and use them to develop new products for new purposes, transforming life hugely over the past century; polymer and DNA discoveries, nuclear fission, transistors and lazers for example.

I get the impression that the rigorous scientific quest for truth isn't that well or widely understood by those whose work doesn't rely on it some way. In the media, interrogating journalists pester scientists with questions devised by their editors that demand simplistic answers where none are possible or meaningful. School teachers complain about the dumbing down of science curricula in recent decades, and express concern about the reduction in varieties of science taught in schools, not to mention the disappearance of university science departments through shifts in funding distribution. Ultimately these are political issues, and possibly attributable to the dearth of trained scientists as elected parliamentarians.

What no longer seems to be well understood is that any new era of wealth creation with real substance, is preceded by scientific discovery and technological breakthrough. Some are hardly noticed until they become big business, unless they become the latest target on which to project common anxiety and insecurity, as happens with genetic engineering and nanotechnology. I wonder about the real origin of this fear and distrust. Is it that each new batch of scientific discovery invites us to consider the world in a new way, and we become anxious because it means we can no longer perceive the world, or feel about it, with the certainties we used to enjoy?

Two of my favourite scripture texts are : 'The truth will set you free.'  'Behold I am making all things new.'  I was taken with this passage from today's lecture.

"... science is generally 'self-correcting'. Scientists are their own severest critics. They have more incentive than anyone else to uncover errors. Thats because the greatest esteem goes to those who contribute something unexpected and original - like refuting a consensus. That's how in science initially-tentative ideas firm up - not only on climate change, but - to take earlier examples - regarding the link between smoking and lung cancer, and between HIV and AIDS. But that's also how seductive theories get destroyed by harsh facts. Science is 'organised scepticism'."

I'd like to think there was an element of organised scepticism in the practice of faith. Possibly some schools of spiritual direction that value discernment highly go in that direction, but it's uncommon.

'When the Son of the man comes, will he find faith on earth?'