Sunday, 27 February 2011

Place memories

I had to be on the road before nine this morning to arrive in good time in Tongwynlais Parish, where I was enlisted to take services, at St Michael's and afterwards at St James' Taff's Well. Their Vicar John Payne, retired last month. He and I were contemporaries in St Michael's College Llandaff.

It's about 25 years since I least preached in this Parish, in the days when I was USPG Area Secretary for Wales. I also preached one of my earliest sermons in Taff's Well forty four years ago. My father grew up in Taff's Well during World War I, and walked a mile and a half daily to Primary school in Tongwynlais. It's still there, not far from the church. He recounted occasions when he and his friend Billy Herbert played marbles in the gutter all the way to school, and got caned for arriving late. I think he'd recognise the main streets of 'Ton' and Taff's Well nearly a century later, although the fields in which he would have played or tended horses then, are now occupied by homes and gardens. Nowadays, these are commuter villages, with Central Cardiff and the Bay seven miles away by road, ten minutes by train.

There were seventy odd communicants at St Michael's and another two dozen at St James. People were welcoming and friendly. I was greeted by Councillor Brian Griffiths, who was Lord Mayor of Cardiff last year. He sings in St Michael's choir. Not long before I retired, I attended a City Council meeting to say the opening prayer, and Brian, as chairman wished me well in my retirement. I was glad of an opportunity to express my appreciation to him in his home environment for his kind gesture.

Since I was last in the Parish, both churches have new church halls. St Michael's is on land just behind the north west entrance, where a previous hall stood. This one is joined to the church conveniently. St James' church was a double aisled affair. One aisle is walled off to create a hall, rendering the worship area much more practicable for contemporary needs. It can still seat around a hundred. The old hall had to be demolished because of hazardous asbestos found within. A blessing in disguise, even if the remedy was something of a financial challenge.

After lunch, I finally got around to visiting Cardiff Central Station to buy a Senior Rail Card, and book a ticket for travelling to Coventry when I go up to babysit Rhiannon on Thursday. Now I have the Card, I'll have to make more effort to get out and about by train. It may not be quite as good as the 50% demi-tarif abonnement I have with Swiss Railways, but it does make travel a lot more cost effective.

I'm, still smiling as I recall a phrase mis-pronounced in this morning's intercessions. 'We remember O Lord those who have passed on through this transistory life.'  So it is, in our hi-tech era. So it is.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

A walk on the wild side

Last night, Clare treated me to supper at Stefano's on Romilly Road, next door to where the defunct 'Le Gallois' restaurant used to be. It was a very enjoyable experience, with a free bottle of Montepulciano to wash it down and the food was excellent. They are certainly making an effort to attract new customers. These are tough times for restauranteurs. After the meal, I had to take the bus back into town and collect my office keys from Ashley, working late as ever. I'd walked out of the office and left them behind in my eagerness to be punctual for our supper date. The city centre doesn't look quite as crowded at ten on a wet Friday night these days as it did a year ago. Recession is the likely reason for this. I wonder how many of Cardiff's extraordinary number of night clubs will go out of business this year?

After lunch, we took advantage of the mild sunny weather, drove down to Porthkerry and walked east along the cliff top on a path rendered very muddy by recent rain and many walkers. This piece of Jurassic coastline is an unusual environment, with huge well tended fields running all the way down to the foot path running a few yards behind the cliff edge. Some sections are screened from the edge by bushes or stunted trees, others simply fenced with grass running up to the sheer drop of around a hundred feet to the limestone bedrock below. Here and there you see evidence that erosion of the cliffs is continuous and impossible to defend against. It's a wild exposed landscape with few buildings apart from Rhoose power station to the east and Wick lighthouse to the west.

When the tide is out, the less friable, more hard wearing bedrock appears from above to resemble a giant cobbled pavement worn smooth. In one of the bays, pavement levels and tidal flows have combined to create  semi circular arcs of stones a hundred feet across perched upon them, making patterns reminiscent of a Richard Long sculptural installation on a huge scale along the foreshore. One section of the car park at our point of departure was littered pebbles between the size of a grapefruit and a football, all thrown over the retaining wall by wind whipped winter high tides. We're fortunate to live near places from which no human effort can eliminate the wildness. We'd do our selves a favour to make better use of them while we can.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Time not saved

I'm delighted with the eleven inch HP ultra-mobile PC I bought to accompany our travels to Canada - just one size up from a Netbook, and not quite large enough to be called a Notebook, this form factor has been oddly dubbed the Notbook. It was inexpensive, has decent battery life, runs Windows 7 well and boots fairly fast, but not really fast enough for me. I have a tendency to switch my computer off when not in use, rather than put it into suspend or hibernate mode when not in use, to avoid wasting charge.  I do this with cameras too. Perhaps if the machine had a twelve hour battery life rather than four, I'd change my habit. Needless to say, I boot the machine to use it half a dozen times a day, and find the couple of minutes wait quite frustrating.

I could just as easily get what I need from a decent smartphone, with startup times of a few seconds, but I have no real use for expensive small technology which can easily be dropped, lost or stolen. I can't wait for the day when all small portable computers will be driven by software that makes them active in seconds. Toshiba produced a netbook last autumn deploying a version of the phone operating system Android, with a start time of five seconds. I saw one in a department store in Geneva, but have never seen one in the UK. It was panned by tech reviewers, for serious flaws in its engagement with web documents that would restrict its usefulness. Maybe it will surface when machines with another new generation of chip technologies appear later this year.

In the meanwhile, I decided to explore the Spashtop technology, which appeared on Atom based machines several years ago, and was launched last month as a free download for use on any PC. This is a cut down, dedicated version of Linux which can be installed within the existing operating system to give dual boot capability. At startup, Splashtop can be selected instead of the usual operating system. It boots the machine in ten seconds to a browser window giving full internet access, email and Skype phone calls. It's a brilliant idea, and it works very well, except that it's still a product in development. Some computer hardware specifications are fully supported, others not. Mine works perfectly, tethered to an ethernet cable, but its wifi link doesn't work making me less mobile than usual. The Splashtop technical help forum is full of posts from users asking what to do. The response is like a litany - We're working on it. 

Evidently they've moved to soon to market the product. It's not unusual for versions of Linux to have problems relating to hardware drivers, yet the Open Source Software community produces solutions for most of the issues arising with commonly used components. I wonder if the Splashtop team realised the extent of the range of machines users would want to try out their product on? It was particularly annoying to be informed at the end of the installation process that my machine was not one of those currently enjoying full support from Splashtop. A simply diagnostic tool could have displayed that message at the outset, and saved me the effort. This is most disappointing for such a promising time-saving resource.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Technology induced waves

So much has happened in the Arab world in the month since I signed up with Twitter. Upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrein, and Yemen, and now Libya. Reading selected Twitter feed updates is proving a very useful way of keeping up with Libyan developments along with the BBC and Al Jazeera news website coverage. Several years ago Jean Paul Jeanrenaud in Switzerland was praising Al Jazeera's high standard of international news coverage in English, to be compared with the Beeb, far superior to the American channels. There wasn't the need to follow it regularly at that time, but now it opens a window on the world from a different angle.

The Foreign Office is getting a pasting from the UK press for the slow and seemingly disorganised response to the urgent need for evacuation from Libya. Allowances have to be made for the complexity and difficulties to be overcome in making arrangements in such a dangerous, constantly changing environment, but even so, there does seem to be a response that suggests unpreparedness and indecision. To what extent is this an issue of leadership in the upper realms of the civil service, not just at ministerial level? 

Owain's sojourn at the British Council is nearly at an end. He wouldn't consider staying and being redeployed there because of the management incompetence and mishandling he's experienced over the past year of 'restructuring' and reorganisation resulting in his redundancy, even though the valuable work he's been doing is still a vital part of what the B.C. does. Serious errors have been made in handling people and processes, suggesting those in charge aren't competent to manage what they're meant to be doing. This smacks of poor leadership and effective accountability at a high level. The British Council is part of the F.C.O. empire.

New social media technologies have made communication possible between people living under oppression all over the world in the past few years. Because people in freer countries can eavesdrop, news can be spread, encouragement and solidarity can be expressed, as well as protests organised before the engines of tyranny can react in their characteristic way.

What was first deployed to promote new music and consumer fashions around the world is now giving a voice to the voiceless, and transforming the way political change can be achieved in places where no change has been possible for many decades. These tools are known and well used in politics as well as commerce where we are. Changes requiring urgent response can be spotted and acted upon quickly, so long as the decision makers are fit for the task. Let's hope the upheavals of the Arab world will also rattle the comfortable cages of our foreign policy stewards.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A long birthday weekend

I celebrated and preached again Sunday morning for the congregation at St Saviour's Splott and then drove straight up to Kenilworth for Rhiannon's seventh birthday celebration. I arrived at the little St Barnabas church hall, not far from where they live, to see Rhiannon and a dozen little friends, all dressed up as wizards and witches, in mid party. I was just in time for the presentation of the cake, a Clare creation in the form of a wizard's hat, as the party decor had a magical theme, and for the final game of musical chairs.

Then yesterday we drove with Rhiannon over to Stratford on Avon in the rain, and used the very efficient Park and Ride service to get right into the town centre, hassle free. Our destination, a butterfly farm, on the opposite side of the river from the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre. The place was very busy with children and parents as it's half term term week. We had an enjoyable hour wandering around, with all manner of exotic species flitting around us, and posing for photographs on vegetation or on special small tables dotted about the place. I was delighted with the quality of pictures produced from my new Sony HX5. 

After a snack lunch in a nice tea room set in the old converted timber mill nearby, it was necessary to head for home. It was chillier walking around town than we'd anticipated at the outset and Rhiannon started to feel the cold. She seemed happy enough to get home again and play quietly. She has such a prolific imagination that she never gets bored. Little ones these days get so stretched and stimulated in school, that there are everyday time constraints on their use of free imagination, so weekends and holidays become important for them to resume natural creative development at their own pace. She enjoys reading and loves books, either borrowed from the library, or as gifts. It's such a delight to see.

Today was actually her birthday, and before breakfast, the table was decorated, and laden with cards and presents from the family for her to open. By the time breakfast was over it was time to pack and make our way back home to Cardiff. On the way out we stopped at Currys-PC World Coventry super store, where I'd tracked down a large size computer monitor with the right specifications for use in the CBS office, at a bargain price. Before buying, I asked if I could see it running. The salesman took it and connected it to a running laptop, but seemed not to know how to switch the display from laptop to monitor. I had to show him. The monitor was powering up and self testing OK but failing to display a picture, probably because of a faulty cable adaptor. It was impossible to persuade the thing to work, so I gave up on the purchase. I wondered what would happen to the monitor after I'd left. Would it simply go back on the bargain shelf, and the buck get passed to another unsuspecting staff member?

Friday, 18 February 2011

Job satisfactions

Clare started off for Kenilworth this morning, and had to wait so long for a 61 bus that she missed her train. It happens now and then. The regular service goes erratic with no warning, buses start coming and going in pairs instead of evenly spaced out. I made an effort to go into town earlier today, having received an email saying the Friday tea room team would be short handed. I too had a longer than usual wait, ending with two buses arriving in convoy. It's hard to wean people off the use of private cars in the city if you can't build confidence in the stability of the service. All the more reason to invest in trams or light rail routes to link with existing rail infrastructure. It'd be possible to have a circular rail route from the centre out and around Cardiff commuter suburbs with low impact, by connecting Coryton station across the Taff at Forest Farm to Radyr station, but I guess if it hasn't been done so far, it's probably too costly to contemplate.

I arrived at St John's just after noon. Prayers with the midday Mass congregation were being led by Pauline, who'd come down from the tea room dressed in her pinafore to apologise because the priest appointed to the task had not turned up. I smiled and thought to myself how good it was that priest or no priest, the prayers of the people were still being offered at the heart of the city. But, no sooner than I had taken my coat off to get to work, Pauline was behind me, asking if I'd be willing to go down quickly and take the service, before the faithful finished their personal prayers and went away.

It's lovely to be asked to celebrate, as opposed to having to as a matter of occupational duty. It's something to do with imparting a sense of freedom instead of obligation into the heart of my prayer life. A voluntary priest was what I hoped to become after training, but it never happened, as one vocational door after another opened to me throughout full-time ministry. I accepted these duties freely and willingly, but somehow, solemn obligations of responsibility carry with them a burden of anxiety. Now I am free, I still ponder on the reason for this, and whether it is inevitably so.

The congregation of nearly a dozen were so welcoming and appreciative. I prayed for my newly appointed successor, for the welcome St John's will extend to her and for a blessing on her ministry. In the week after the appointment was made public, it felt like a privilege to be able contribute to the fund of good will which  makes new ministry possible for any new priest arriving and seeking to make their home in a new community. Then it was back to washing up and clearing tables and chatting, as usual.

With Clare away, it meant I could stop later in the office afterwards, as I would be returning to cook supper for myself. Yesterday I had time to install a redundant laptop from home for use as a reference file library, and today attempted to tidy up the workspace, following the arrival from various sources of file cabinets and stuff from storage to be sorted out eventually. I also got a pile of repair invoices ready for posting following the arrival of a shipment from the suppliers' workshop. Pre-Christmas preparation work is now bearing fruit, so a good flow of revenue is improving our operational resilience, and consolidating the business to make ready for its next phase of development. 

Since the Business Crime Partnership was set up five years ago, Cardiff Business Safe has worked closely with City Centre Management. After nine months of coping with problems due to operating out of different premises, the CCM team has now moved to the building we're working from, and into the same large open plan office space. Along with the Civil Parking Enforcement CCTV and radio network monitoring system opposite us on our small island of desks, this entire arrangement couldn't be better for us. It will greatly improve the efficiency of our activity, and make everything less stressful to maintain. It's great to see what we've been working towards starting to fall into place at last.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A place invisible to Google

Last night my friends Chris and Bev Reaney were both licensed for ministry in neighbouring Parishes. Chris is now priest in charge of St Mary's Troedrhiwgarth, Maesteg, and Bev is Curate in the Team Ministry of Llangynwyd with Maesteg, in the same borough. Bev started as a non-stipendiary priest and is now converting over to full time ministry, hardly a difficult task for her with a background in hospital social work, and a quarter of century as a pastor's wife. I've never been convinced by the excuses made for making movement between voluntary and paid ministry more flexible, especially as training for both forms has to a good extent converged. Nevertheless, Bev's patience has been rewarded. Maesteg is lucky to have them both working there as community builders.

Anyway, with the Chi Gung class being moved to Thursday this week, there was no conflict of interest, so I was free to drive up to Troedrhiwgarth for the induction service. I knew it was in the borough of Maesteg, but not exactly where. I had the place name, but not the street where the church was. I tried looking it up on Google Maps. Maesteg, Google could find, but Troedrhiwgarth? No. It offered Troed-y-rhiw in Merthyr Vale instead, and I was able to find Garth railway station, Maesteg but absolutely no Troedrhiwgarth. I couldn't believe it, and was quite upset, as I knew that the Parish contact phone number would be most unlikely to yield friendly travel instructions an hour before the service. However, Google images gave me a photo of the church - in daylight naturally. Would I be able to see it in the dark? There was nothing for it but to drive to Garth, Maesteg, and stop and ask someone.

It rained all the way there, but the journey was smooth. I didn't see a soul on the streets as I drove up Cwm Llynfi hunting for signposts. I found the Garth turning easily, and drove up the main street. Thankfully, that's where the church was easily found, recognisable, ablaze with lights and activity while all around was empty and deserted. I arrived to hear the bell tolling as the clergy procession made its way from the Elderly People's Club down the street to St Mary's. A quarter of the people in a smallish church holding about ninety were clergy.

Bishop David Wilbourne preached thoughtfully, and conducted proceedings with a good deal of humour, as is his habit. As part of his sermon he recited George Herbert's 'Love bade me welcome' with such vigor, that it was a few sentences before I realised that he wasn't just quoting a line, but delivering the poem in the same relaxed Yorkshire accent with which he preaches. He reminded me of Ian McMillan performing on BBC Radio Three's poetry programme 'The Verb'. It was good to be there, to meet former colleagues, free to sit right at the back praying. A colleague nearing retirement asked me what retirement was like for me. Great to feel so free from everyday anxiety, I said. That would be nice. He replied, knowingly. St Paul spoke of his 'daily concern for the churches'. Did he experience this too?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Talk of the Devil

The BBC's website says this of the concluding item in this morning's Today programme.

The Devil is the personification of evil. But he has inspired great writers down the ages. That is the theme of a new book - the Devil As Muse - by a Cambridge academic Dr Fred Parker. He discusses the cultural significance of Lucifer with Peter Owen-Jones, who is now a vicar now but was an advertising executive in another life.

A potentially interesting tail-piece, but muddled, not well faciliated as a discussion. Fred Parker's book is about the use of Lucifer myth and imagery, but Devil myth and imagery was introduced, Satan got a look in as well. None of the contributors sought to point out that all three refer to the same area of human experience, but originate in different contexts either within or outside the realm of biblical culture. It's a bit like starting a discussion about what sort of Celts the Irish are, but insisting on talking about the Scots or Welsh as well, or even instead.

The fact that the story about the name Lucifer, accounted for as a fallen angel of light, doesn't appear in the Bible but in other religious literature of the era wasn't mentioned. Nor that fact that Satan means 'one who accuses' in a juridical sense which has ancient Semitic roots. Nor the fact that the word Devil is derived from the Greek for 'one who divides'. The cleric seemed to struggling with his own ideas too much to be able to impart such useful information.

Any discussion about humankind's relationship to its complex experience of evil, where this has anything to do with religion, needs to be properly informed. The (largely mediaeval) personification of evil which is part of western culture, and the notion of how people, particularly creative people, have related to it are worth a discussion not steered by a presenter trapped in his own stereotyped muddled view of how to make things simple for the listeners. Better to leave this to Melvyn Bragg, I think.

Given today's growing ignorance about the actual content of religion, ensuring people are accurately and relevantly informed about matters of faith is less than easy. I don't think us religious communicators are doing as well as we could in this information age.

Monday, 14 February 2011

An answer to prayer

For once yesterday, we drove in the rain rather than walk over to the Cathedral for the Sung Eucharist at eleven. We were again treated to a Mass setting by Barclay, plus Byrd's 'Ave Verum Corpus'. Despite nearly five centuries between these works they fitted well together for my hearing pleasure. Curate Julie Baker preached superby on Jesus meeting the woman of Samaria, giving the impression that she'd really got inside the story in order to recount and intepret it. I floated through the service with a smile of enjoyment on my face.

That smile got bigger on learning the announcement had been made this morning at St John's of my successor as Vicar, nearly a year after the search commenced. Liz Griffiths will be in place by the end of June. She's teaching pastoral theology in Norwich, and has to wait for the end of the academic year to change jobs. She's also worked at St Martin's in the Fields and so has that rare type of background experience in urban mission that can make all the difference to the church at the heart of a city centre. To the distress of its members as well as that of parishioners and well-wishers, the diocesan Patronage Board was unable to recommend someone for the job over ten months. It's a credit to Archbishop Barry, responsible for continuing the hunt, that someone suitable has been found. It's an answer to prayer indeed. I was beginning to feel guilty about quitting when I did, and hated people saying 'You're a hard act to follow', when the problem is that so few clerics are trained and experienced in urban mission any longer.
After supper, we watched the second pair of episodes of  'The Promise', even more moving, and true to my experience of how things are in the Land of the Holy One. I was browing the web page relating to this after the showing, to see if there was any fresh feedback. Last week there was a live forum on-line, though not this week. I then came across the Twitter feed, and although it didn't say much, I was impressed with the technology, and decided to subscribe. As well as reading themed Tweets, I can write my own. I couldn't be bothered to think up an alias, so I shall tweet as @keithkimber - how dull is that? 

Valentine's Day today, and it caught me by surprise. The Church in Wales lectionary celebrates Slav cultural heroes Kyril and Methodius today. By the end of Matins, Monday's date had come into focus, sending me out of the house to get a card and some daffs for Clare, who fortunately had gone early into town, leaving me free to prepare a little surprise while she was out. Then, mission accomplished, I went in to the office, and spend a couple of fruitful hours of detective work eliminating question marks, filling in blanks in the 2010 account sheet. This will enable Ashley to send in the VAT returns pronto - although according to me, they owe us money at year's end. I hope they'll agree. Oh yes, after a week's interruption, our internet service was once more working. Getting all four devices attached to the router to work properly took a little time, but all's well that ends well. Now we can get on with a letter of complaint. This breakdown shouldn't have happened, and has all the symptoms of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing at British Telecom.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Un-businesslike BT Broadband

Just after I'd I finished Matins and checked my emails, the funeral director's car arrived to pick me up to take me to 'the Res' for the funeral. The church was three quarters full. I couldn't help noticing that the empty quarter was a section right across the middle of the nave of about half a dozen rows. The church had filled up from the back forwards and from the front backwards - the very front rows being reserved for immediate family.
It drizzled gently as we gathered around the grave in Western Cemetery after. The closes family members threw roses on to the coffin after the committal. I was left a bit curious by the fact that several mourners held on to some of their roses, until I noticed them quietly moving over to a grave nearby. Here another close relation of the deceased was buried, who'd died of cancer at 25, leaving a small baby - now in his teens, visiting his mother's grave. The mother of the deceased told me that her father had died young leaving her mother with six children to fend for. So she was no stranger to tragic early bereavement. The way they all stuck together and supported each other was most impressive.

Yet again I was able to get a lift into town, rather than back home. I arrived in time to attend the midday Eucharist at St John's and greet the celebrant, Canon Alan Luff, who is about to spend three months doing a locum at St John's Territet, at the other end of lake Geneva from where we lived. Looking at their website, they seem to realise how lucky they are to have a visit from one of Anglicanism's eminent hymnologists. I hope they treat him well.

After this I went to the office. We've been without internet since Tuesday, and each afternoon hours have been spent trying to contact British Telecom, waiting in call queues, or machine minding while painfully slow diagnostic tests are run remotely from somewhere up in Scotland. We did exactly the same tests two days running to no avail. Each time we were talking to different people (at least four) and it was hard to ascertain if there was any communication between them or any shared record of actions taken that all could access. Tuesday a recorded message informed us that 5,000 people in South Wales were suffering problems with broadband service, but since then, nothing further has been mentioned.

This afternoon our service was up and running for all of half a minute, before it died and sent the router into a cycle of endless reboots. So at least we know it's not a physical problem between us and the central exchange, but rather some data snarl up which nobody knows quite how to untangle or even identify. On top of this BT are billing us heavily for line re-location which comes free as part of our service agreement. There seems to be equal chaos regarding management of our account. Maybe the two issues are linked.

Once services are re-instated we shall of course issue a fulsome complaint and expect compensation. But will we any longer be able to recall the many problems we've had with our Premium Business service since we relocated seven months ago? Of the twelve hours I've worked this week so far, half have been spent on the phone trying to resolve this problem.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Technical run-through

I went to 'the Res' in Ely again this morning to celebrate their midweek Eucharist. I learned that the lady who read the first lesson last week returned home and had a stroke after the service. She and a friend were due to go visiting another who was housebound. The friend rang to give her arrival time and got no response, so she went to the house and was greeted by the lady at the door, evidently having trouble speaking. She was quickly whisked into hospital, and is now making what will be, hopefully, a good recovery.

The step-father and step-brother of the man whose funeral I'll be conducting here tomorrow turned up after the service to try out the CD they'd created from two downloaded tracks, with special pieces of music for the entrance and departure of his coffin. This has become common practice at the crematorium (where sadly only recorded music is now on offer), and in many parish churches, generally supplanting live organ music, except for hymns, if an organist is available. 

It is necessary to arrange a trial run, as often people make CDs of MP3 format music requiring a special kind of playback machine, or a computer. Churches have these installed, since most church electronic kit belongs to decades before MP3s were down-loadable. There's nothing worse than a technical disaster on the day, resulting in apologies and running repairs to the order of service. The wise parish insists on a technical run-through. This is also good for the mourners involved. Preparing the recorded music gives a few of the mourners something to do, something to contribute to the event.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Home alone

Clare's been attending a Welsh course at the Museum this weekend, leaving me to my own devices.  It meant I had time to go out to Ely and make a visit to discuss funeral arrangements with a family whose son had died unexpectedly in his sleep, aged forty two. I had time then to record their recollections in preparation for a brief eulogy, as they were all too shocked to have attempted to deliver one, and, as ever, remarkably trusting in a stranger to be their voice. It is very humbling to be given this responsibility, especially if you've never met the person in question. I just listen carefully, and let my imagination recreate their picture, as best I can.

I've also done some writing of my own, finishing my series of Lent talks for Pontyclun Parish, on the Exodus story. A new venture for me. I also caught up via BBC's iPlayer on episodes of the new TV crime serial from Danish TV - twenty episodes, delivered in pairs, each lasting two hours. Much painstaking emotional detail in portraying the investigation of a single crime and how it impacts on the lives of all those touched by it. No excitement here - the story telling pace renders it as if in slow motion, but to what effect? It's a bit like watching a TV broadcast royal event. At what point in ten weeks will I lose interest?
This morning I walked to Victoria Park for the Sunday Eucharist at St Luke's. The service included the baptism of one of the young confirmation candidates, and this gave the service an uplifting atmosphere. Confirmation is the Sunday after next down in St John's Canton. Sadly we're already committed elsewhere that morning. One of these Sundays I hope we'll be free to join in a Benefice Eucharist, when all three church congregations in the Parish gather to worship under one roof. It only happens four or five times a year.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Hilltop farewell

This morning, Clare and I joined Moonyeen's family and a few close friends at the hilltop Natural Burial Ground overlooking Cardiff outside St Nicholas for the burial of her body. The site is an open field, surrounded by large groups of tall mature trees. A lively gusty wind blew causing the trees to hiss melodically, and it wasn't that cold, fortunately - "A bit like Wuthering Heights"  someone remarked, while we were waiting. "It's a real R S Thomas day", said another, referring to our most admired Welsh dead poet of bleak landscapes. I wasn't the only one there to declare this to be just perfect weather to conclude the farewell which began at the celebration of her life at Thornhill last Saturday.
Her wicker coffin was painted with a band of rainbow colours, a huge bunch of flowers on top. Some people made the effort to wear something colourful. I wore my green parka to match the grass. As we drew to a conclusion, the funeral director in charge stood at the foot of the grave, pulled out his iPhone, pressed a button to give him a pitching note, and sang 'Myfanwy' beautifully in a fine operatic tenor voice with the wind in the trees as his sole accompaniment. ("I'm studying with Dennis O'Neill", he told us later.) It left me smiling rather than tearful. Moonyeen would have loved it because it was so well done, not bland or sentimental, as a rendering of this piece of classic Welsh Victorian music can be.

Most of the dozen people present spoke words of appreciation, or offered a poem. No prayers said, no rite of committal other than the shared scattering of flower petals over the coffin before we left. The whole occasion was itself an act of committal, entrusting her mortal remains to a place where she would have been happy to camp out, and lead some circle dancing. Now we'll all know exactly where to find you. I thought - she who'd learned to live as free and unpredictable as the wind

There were things I could have said, prayers or scriptures I could have recited from memory. There was no reason for not doing so. Nobody would have taken offence at me. I was content to listen, to offer my silence as a gift. For forty years I've stood at the mouth of one grave or another, being the voice of a group struck dumb by their grief, if not already made inarticulate by the presence of a minister of religion. Whether the mourners were believers or not, all laughed and smiled,  hugged each other, and wept their tears of  sorrow. They could minister to each other at least in part, because of something they had, received from the one they now mourned. 

The rarity of this experience left me with nothing to say and no need to speak. I could simply appreciate and savour the Spirit at work, bringing peace and healing, binding people together in sympathy. They didn't need a parson. I felt good about that. I recall circle dance evenings when Moonyeen would teach us a simple measure and enjoin us to move meditatively. As it ended, before the hugs, we'd stand in the circle united comfortably in deep silence, for as long as it took. Sacred dance is not a technique or a ritual, but an experience of graciousness passing from movement into silence. 'O taste and see'. The wind danced for us today as we stood around her grave and took our leave of her, when all was said and done.

Instead of joining the others for refreshments in friend's home, Clare and I went off to Worcester for lunch with friends of very long standing, Mike and Gail. They celebrate their Ruby wedding in April. Gail observed that I'll be one of very few of the original wedding guests left able to attend. It happens when a generation's worth of time passes.