Friday, 29 April 2011

Easter Week in North Wales

Monday morning, we were on our way to Bristol by nine thirty this morning, to collect Amanda and James (plus wheelchair) to drive up to North Wales to spend a few days at the Trigonos centre in Dyffryn Nantlle. It's nearly three years since we stayed there last. We took the motorway as far as Shrewsbury, then made our way into Snowdonia via Llangollen, Capel Curig and Porthmadog. The roads weren't too busy with Bank Holiday traffic, and the delight of spring blossom and many leaf colours on such a fine day made the six hour journey pass with ease, arriving in time for tea and Bara Brith.

Amanda was assigned one of the new rooms designed with disabled access in mind, and as the first such user was asked to give feedback on the kind of improvements to the facility which you'd have to be in a wheelchair to understand the need for. An interesting exercise for all of us. After a superb supper, were were all on our way to bed by ten, tired by travelling, exhilarated by the fresh air, the peace and the birdsong.

Tuesday, we drove to Caernarvon for liunch and visited the Castle - an interesting experience with a wheelchair user. The only wheelchair lift on the site had broken down, and the internal rooms not really visitable because of steps and narrow entrances. At least there is a rather stylish modern looking ramp crossing to moat to access the main entrance, with reduced entry fees for us oldies as well as a disabled person with carer. There are limits to the modifications allowable by CADW to a prestigious ancient building, and that means limits to its user friendliness for those in wheelchairs.

To have a conservation policy that effectively preserves a historic monument in the state it was acquired and its structure made safe for public visitors may seem fine, but a building is a living thing to which people relate, not a snapshot of its former glory, a relic to be preserved. Disabled access policy makes difficult challenges to everyone's assumptions, but it empowers and enables a significant section of the public to do things from which they would otherwise be excluded. It is a triumph of contemporary humanitarian thinking from which all may benefit once we have made the adjustments needed. 

If ancient stones need shifting, arches widened and ramps installed to enable all visitors to move more freely and safely, there is no sane reason why this shouldn't be done, given that we have such superb designers and architects to work on the issue. It is all part of the life of an ancient building which has already changed and changed again many times during its life in days before the dictatorship of bureaucracy took hold.

Wednesday morning, I took James for a walk around the old Dorothea slate quarry and work places. Then we all headed out of the seaside for lunch and a sunny afternoon of the beach at Criccieth. Glad to report the existence of a long ramp right down to the sand. Amanda managed a walk on crutches down to the water for a paddle, and we exchanged beach photos via Clare's phone with Kath, holidaying in Spain. We couldn't do that last time we were here - none of us could then afford to use a phone that sends photos.

Thursday, we took a trip to the National Slate Museum in Llanberis, stopping in Beddgelert to visit Gelert's grave and to eat a picnic lunch on the river bank. The Welsh Highland Railway is now running all the way from Caernarvon to Porthmadog, and I photographed steam trains running in both directions while we were there. It's an impressive and attractive enterprise which, along with Snowdonia's other mountain railways benefits the local economy significantly. It's also an example of how conservation of steam locomotives has led to real development, and not just preservation of old dead artifacts. The slate museum is impressive and easily accessible, with a working lift to take people to a viewing platform next to the giant waterwheel, still working, and able to provide power to machinery in the workshops that once supported slate making.

Friday - Royal Wedding Day, but for us the journey home right through the heart of Wales on deserted, but slow roads. The trip took seven hours plus two hours of stops en route - lunch in Machynlleth, tea in Tintern. As FM reception is poor in mountainous regions, listening to the big event live wasn't possible, but we had another feast of scenery and leisurely motoring to enjoy. 

Finding wheelchair user friendly places to stop for refreshment or comfort breaks could have been worse, but there is obviously much room for improvement, and in such a time of recession, sadly, this doesn't always get the priority it deserves. All credit to those companies and individual owners who do make the effort.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

This is the day the Lord has made

Easter Sunday saw me up early to celebrate the eight o'clock Eucharist at St John's Canton. I was temporarily disconcerted by a nose bleed five minutes before I was due to jump on my bike and ride to church. Fortunately it didn't last long once I got started on my way, and I survived the service without embarrassing myself.

It was very pleasant to walk in the sunshine with Clare to St Luke's for the Sung Eucharist of the day. On the way we noticed that the Goscombe John statue 'Joyance' in nearby Thompson's Park has been restored after a vandalistic theft last year which left in place only the feet and base. I found a news article from two months ago reporting the installation of the bronze replica. Apparently it's the fourth such replacement in forty years.
At St Luke's, I enjoyed preaching to a mixed all age congregation of about ninety, my text: 'This is the day the Lord has made'. The singing was rousing and the mood buoyantly festive. I left my reading glasses at home which made it something of a challenge to focus on my text. Thankfully, I coped without too much hesitation, deviation or prolongation. It was a joyous occasion, with all my favourite Easter hymns. Who could ask for more? 

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Easter Eve

Getting a sermon ready for tomorrow occupied much of my quiet day, both in the morning and in the late evening when I returned from taking part in the Easter Vigil at St German's.  I took great pleasure in singing the Exultet, and not having responsibility for any of the planning or organisation. 

I love the Vigil, and for most of my ministry I've worked in churches where this event has not been fully adopted by the majority of parishioners, so it's been attended by small numbers, with few servers and other assistants to make it run well. This meant I had to lead from the front, rather than the liturgy being run by a team working together to make it happen. There we thirty people there including four clerics and half a dozen servers used to working together on grand occasions of this kind, so it was a lovely occasion  to share, with many active participants in which relaxed and enjoyed worship doing something which for me is very precious. Beforehand, I had time to sit quietly and savour the moment. What could be better?

The service started well before sunset out of practical necessity, with the blessing of the fire and paschal candle outside in the church garden. It was lovely to see the evening sunlight stream into the church during the Liturgy of the Word, and paint everything in a golden hue. By the time the Vigil ended, darkness had fallen, and the east window floodlights were back-lighting the high altar and candle filled chancel. There's an Easter garden in the nave surrounding the Paschal candle, made of soil and stones and filled with pots of spring flowers of many colours, a real labour of love on someone's part.

I returned home very content with such a full and varied week, doing things I love best of all.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Good Friday

Because of the good weather we're enjoying this week, I could cycle over to St German's to share in the morning's  Stations of the Cross. Then, with several hours free before the afternoon Liturgy of the Passion, I rode back into the city centre and joined the congregation at St John's for the first hour and a half of the Vigil at the Cross. Father Mark Preece was preaching. I was so glad that he'd committed himself to maintain this special city centre church tradition. It's a lot of extra work for him in addition to his role as Area Dean with responsibility for the Parish during the interregnum, on top of his own. It's an occasion that attracts all sorts of people apart from the faithful regulars - casual visitors away from home, aware that it's a holy day, and church goers from other parishes around the city that no longer offer the midday Three Hours devotion on Good Friday.

Then I returned to St German's for the afternoon Liturgy of the Passion, on the spur of the moment offered to improvise a short homily to prepare for devotions on the Seven Last Words from the Cross by Father Roy. I returned to the train of thought I'd developed for my address in Pontyclun on Wednesday, and starting by  reading John 12:23-32. I don't often trust myself to preach without any notes or a script, but this time, I felt the right kind of confidence to let the words flow from me. I felt very blessed by this, and by the liturgy it was part of.
On the way home, I called in to the office, unusually quiet as Council employees apart from the Traffic Wardens weren't working. There was a little snagging problem in something that I've been preparing this past few days that I wanted to deal with before next week's holiday.  A fifteen minute errand turned into a three hour marathon of a different kind. It turned out to be a real trial of patience and persistence to sort out. So it was gone eight by the time I got home, more than grateful for the serenity imparted by the worship on this Friday that is forever called Good.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Royal Maundy

Yesterday I returned to Pontyclun for the last time, to give a Holy Week address and celebrate the Eucharist. When I returned home, Clare and I went together to a meeting of the Ignatian meditation group, being held in a house not far from us, in a street by Thompson's park. The group lunched together after its session, and then I cycled into town for a few hours in the office. Before returning for supper I rode up to the Heath Hospital to visit my centenarian Auntie Ivy, who was admitted before the weekend with a cracked femur. The repair job was done successfully on Monday and she is making a remarkable recovery for a woman of her age. She is fully alert and asking questions about members of my family, remembering their names. I hope I'm still as engaged with life as she is, should I ever reach such an age.

Early this morning, the double gazing work team arrived to install all new fittings on the ground floor at the back of the house, including a new door with puss flap. I hope the fact that it has been fitten a few centimetres lower will please Ben, who has access issues due to the stiffness that goes with being a 'geriatric' cat (in vet speak). While the work went on, we sat and watched the Royal Maundy ceremony from Westminster Abbey, and were rewarded with a glimpse of our dear friend Gill Howie from Holy Trinity Geneva smiling at the Queen as she received her Maundy purse. She and the church got a mention from the commentator too. I was also pleased to see Robert Paterson, now the Bishop of Sodor and Man, reading a lesson. When he worked in the Church in Wales and I with USPG, we were both members of the Provincial Committee for World Mission - he as chairman, and that was a quarter of a century ago. He still looks youthful, although he now has silver hair, as befits the dignity of his rank.

Following an afternoon's work in the office, I cycled over to St German's for the Mandy Thursday Liturgy. Father Roy invited me to share in the evening celebration and to preach as well, which was for me both an honour and a pleasure. There were about thirty in the congregation, much the same as I recall in St John's on an occasion like this. Older members are reluctant to go out at night if they don't have someone to accompany them, and that's a problem in any community made up largely of elderly people. I imagine it's tough for those who stay home alone when they'd rather be at worship with others.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Festive days in a penitential week

Sunday afternoon I drove up to the West Midlands town of Kidderminster to meet Clare at the train station, as she'd been looking after Rhiannon in Kenilworth for two nights. We had two nights booked in a B&B to afford us short journeys to celebrations we were invited to on two successive days. First on Monday, Mike and Gail's ruby wedding anniversary party, held at Bodenham Arboretum. It's a family affair, developed in a visionary way from scratch out of a derelict farm they took over forty years ago. It's a beautiful place to visit at any season.

Thirty of us were invited to meet there for a guided tour by the owner' son. It was an informative introduction to the ecology and economy of a modern environmentally aware agricultural development project, conceived out of the owner's love of the world's trees. Some of the work they do now on the environment will come to fruit only in a century or two from now. How many people work with that kind of secret vision today? 

Then followed our celebratory lunch in the Arboretum's restaurant, built into a hillside with a grass roof. All the food we ate was sourced locally, if not on the property itself. Mike and Gail's children and grand son were there. It turned out I was the only person present who'd been present at the wedding forty years ago, which was a good excuse for me to be the one proposing a toast. The weather was perfect, and the trees were laden with blossom and/or unfolding leaves in many colours - a feast for the eyes.

Then on Tuesday, over to Fairfield Parish Church for the wedding of Richard and Sue. We met Richard and his first wife Brig over the christening of their children, and I ended up presenting them for Confirmation. They later came to Geneva and stayed with us on the way to the ski slopes with their small children, Tom and Emma, and between them, taught me to ski up at Les Gets sixteen years ago. Then tragically, Brig died of cancer ten years ago, and is buried in Fairfield's churchyard. We were delighted however when Richard and Sue visited us last summer, to find that love had found them and was renewing their lives in middle age. 

I felt so privileged to be invited to read 1 Corinthians 13 during the service, but otherwise to sit back and enjoy seeing another priest cope with a pastoral celebration. I valued everything about celebrating marriages when I was a Vicar, but found the responsibility for the occasion quite exhausting.

The wedding party took place in the banqueting hall of Avoncroft Museum, a sort of West Midlands version of St Fagan's museum of Welsh life. Much of the afternoon passed in a giant photo opportunity before we sat down to the meal followed by speeches. Just before the dancing started at eight, we had to depart in order to drive home, and prepare for the rest of Holy Week, the beginning of it having been put on hold to share in rejoicing with two couples with special places in our lives.

One of Avoncroft's boasts to fame is that it holds a national collection of various models of telephone boxes, interestingly displayed. Inevitably, this reminded me of a certain field in the Rhone valley, near the nuclear power stations not far from Valence, next to the Autoroute, which is filled with an assortment of France Telecom phone boxes of the past forty years. It's not a museum, but a dumping ground of surreal dimensions, still memorable across the years since I first noticed it en passant.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Holy Week begins

Another outing to Tongwynlais and Taff's Well this morning, yet again under a clear blue sky, for a double dose of the full length Palm Sunday liturgy, plus brief homily. The congregations are delighted a new priest has been appointed already, to be in place by the end of August. He will serve part time as Director of Ministerial Training. Now that there are fewer clergy, many more incumbents are being appointed with a part-time additional role at a diocesan level. Let's hope this is beneficial both to Parishes and the wider church.

It's going to be strange not spending all of Holy Week in one Parish or worshipping community. It's always been something of a working retreat for me. The narrative affects me profoundly, makes me dig deep within myself, in the endeavour to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. Father Mark, Rector of our local Parish of Canton, has invited me to celebrate one of the eight o'clock Masses on Easter Day, and to preach at the main Mass at St Luke's. I'm really thrilled to have been asked (or should I say 'rescued' at the eleventh hour). I will relish the opportunity to preach the Resurrection Gospel to a congrergation I have often sat among and prayed with. It will give me something special to exercise my heart and mind upon this coming special week.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

London outing

I cycled over to St Germans Thursday morning to celebrate Mass this morning, as Father Roy Doxsey has taken a group to Caldey Island for a retreat. It was an all male affair, four of us sharing the weekday Mysteries - not that unusual at St German's in my experience, people make the effort. 

Then I cycled to the CIA to take minutes at the Cardiff Business Safe Users' security meeting. There were eighteen of us present, including three police. One of them Richard Moorcroft is the incoming Inspector for the city centre sector, introduced by his colleague, about to retire, Tony Bishop. After the meeting they came over to the City Centre management officer for a cup of tea and an informal chat. Then, while it was all fresh in my mind I drafted the minutes of the meeting, before getting on with the rest of my work. There was a lot to get done, as I was not due to be in the office on Friday, owing to a trip to London for a birthday treat.

Kath and Anto bought me a ticket for a concert in the Barbican centre of our favourite Spanish contemporary flamenco fusion group, Ojos de Brujo.  So, I caught the fast 8.30 bus, and went and had lunch with my sister June first. We travelled in to Chelsea together on the bus afterwards, and visited the Saatchi contemporary art gallery, an amazing palacial Georgian building mainly full of large inferior paintings, with a handful of quite interesting installations. I liked the glass tank which at first sight appeared to be full of flying insects frozen in mid air, but on closer inspection revealed them to have tiny fairies either riding on them or hanging from them.

There was also a room housing a custom made tank full of old sump oil. Its dark sheen made for the most intriguing optical illusion, mirroring the light walls and ceiling, but in a dark shade, giving a strange sensation of depth. However, although the oil was seemingly odourless, I came out of the installation room with a irritating cough which persisted for the rest of the day. The sort of cough I associate with those days when central heating oil would be delivered to the Vicarage. There's something not right about that.

After tea in Peter Jones' store, I took the underground to the Barbican Centre to rendezvous with Kath and Anto. It was a great performance, both by Ojos de Brujo and the support band Depedro, although getting the sound balance right seemed to take the first half of their set.
We were told that this would be Ojos de Brujo's last appearance, as they are disbanding after ten years, to pursue other projects. How sad for us. But who knows what will emerge as a result? Will it be as good, as innovative, I wonder?
I loved the way that Marina Abad, the band's singer, closed the concert, following two encore songs, with an unaccompanied solo, that sounded to me as if it was a traditional lullaby, clearly known by the majority of her young Spanish ex-pat audience.

Having re-installed my sister's net curtains at risk of life and limb - she has tall windows - I returned by coach, Saturday lunchtime, and went straight into the office for a couple of hours before going home, as Clare is in Kenilworth babysitting, for Kath and Anto, both to take me to last night's concert, and do a gig of their own this evening.

Back home again, I watched the evening's double episode of 'Engrenage'. It gives a picture of Parisian politics, policing and crime which seems incredibly sleazy,  when compared with the dubious image of the same in  Copenhagen portrayed in the recently completed serial 'The Killing'. I felt like a needed a wash after watching it - the kind of feeling you get when you've walked through a dirty derelict old building. Strange, not nice.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


Off to Pontyclun this morning for the fifth and final in my series of Lent talks on the Exodus journey to a two dozen strong appreciative mid-week Communion congregation. At the end, Grace the Vicar asked I could also return next week, as it was Holy Week. Originally I thought I might be away in Holy Week and so had only arranged to do the five Lenten addresses, but as our plans have changed, I agreed. When reviewing my final address I found that there was one detail I'd not been able to weave in to my addresses - the story of the serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:7-9), cited by Jesus in John 3:14 as he foresaw his Passion. So I won't find myself wrestling for something relevant to say. It's nice to be asked. 

The thought of not preaching on Good Friday and Easter Day is very strange to me - possibly the only time when I've not done so in forty four preaching years was the time we went to Taizé en famille, while I was working for USPG. As nobody manages or oversees the offerings of ministry by retired and supernumerary clergy - in this, the church is very much a free enterprise zone, despite being a highly centralised economy in other respects - perhaps I should make it known that I am available, just in case there's someone who is trying to cope with too many services in a short space of time.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Birthday surprise

After a nice lazy breakfast, Owain arrived and we were soon on our way to Brecon, to lunch at the George. It was cold and overcast when we left Cardiff, and raining when we crossed the Beacons, but it cleared up and the sun came out by the time we'd finished eating. This allowed us to stroll around town for a while. I was delighted to find the town centre church, St Mary's was open - the first time I recall seeing it open in many visits there. The church, looked considerably different to when I preached here with USPG 25 years ago. There's new flooring chairs and a nave altar, and south aisle has now been given over to serving refreshments with a kitchen and servery in the south west corner.

I also popped in to the South Wales Borders museum, while Owain and Clare waited in the car, to enquire about service record archives. I wanted to see if I could find out about Great Uncle William who served with the Borderers on the North West Frontier in the 1890s. The duty curator was very helpful, and gave me some useful leads to follow. It was only when my phone started ringing loudly in that quiet place, that I realised I'd left them parked outside for half an hour. A fascinating place to return to.

We drove on to Talybont reservoir, and walked along the foreshore, enjoying the blossom, wild flowers and birdsong. Such a delight. We'd left it too late to stop for tea on the way home, so we stopped off and picked up a few missing ingredients for the hasty assemblage of a birthday cake on arrival home. Imagine my great astonishment, when I got out of the car, to see my bike in the front garden surrounded by beautifully made brand new wrought iron railings - a special surprise birthday present, installed in our absence, without me having a clue about the conspiracy to get me away from home for the day. The idea of the railings is to have something to chain my bike to when I leave it outside (which is more often than not). I had been thinking of sinking an iron post with a ring into the ground, but Clare had much a more creative idea. Brilliant!

The other surprise of my sixty-sixth birthday was the Facebook greetings I received, not only from my family, but also from friends in Singapore, Brazil, the USA, and Cardiff, plus emails from Valdo in Switzerland and from the Wales Ubuntu forum, of which I'm a lapsed member. A memorable day.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Another Vale visit

Thanks to habit of starting the day with a few Chi Gung exercises, the after effects of yesterday's cycle ride were far more muted than I feared, and just as well, as I had an early start to get to the Cowbridge Benefice Parish of St Marychurch by nine fifteen to celebrate and preach. I had to pick up petrol en route and this proved to be a bit of a nightmare, as I had to queue at the Culverhouse Corss Tesco filling station to use one of the only pair of pumps in use, the other six being locked out of service and the kiosk closed. Thankfully I had enough time in hand so this didn't make me late, only nervous.

The thirteenth century Parish Church of the Annunciation, remodelled in the nineteenth century, is sited on top of a hill in the village of St Marychurch. It has a characteristically Celtic circular churchyard called a 'Llan' in Welsh, probably the Christianisation of an even more ancient sacred site.

After ministering to the congregation of fifteen at St Marychurch, I drove back through Cowbridge town and out on to the westward road to get to Penllyn's Parish Church of St John the Evangelist, to minister to another congregation of fifteen. This church is sited at the village entrance to Penllyn Castle, home for many generations of the Homfray family, whose memorial cover the walls, many of them military men. The well appointed church building dates from 1850 rebuilt on the site of an older Chapel of Ease. 

In a location more remote from Penllyn village, reached across fields, is a thirteenth century Church dedicated to St Brynach a sixth century Irish saint reputed to be its founder, although his name is more associated with Pembrokeshire. It is only used for worship occasionally, due to its remoteness, and problems with access and maintenance dating back three hundred years, though its ancient churchyard remains the Parish burial ground. All this I found out from my history reference book of mediaeval Vale churches when I returned home. I'll have to take another trip out there some time, and see if I can find it.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Taff Trail triumph

It's been such a beautiful day today, warm and clear blue skies again. Clare was inspired to go to the RHS show over in Cooper's Field and look for more plants to enhance the back garden. Once I'd got my sermon sorted for tomorrow, I decided to get my bike out and go for a ride up the Taff Trail. Amazingly, although this was my first outing on wheels since last autumn, I found it far less tiring than I'd anticipated. On my last ride up the Trail, I made it as far as Nantgarw before needing to turn back. This time I made it all the way to Pontypridd, about twelve and a half miles from home. 

After tea and a custard slice in The Prince's venerable continental style tea room, I went up to the famous stone arch bridge to take photos. Then, to commence the return journey I rode though Ynysangharad War Memorial Park to see the bronze sculptures commemorating father and son Evan James and James James responsible for composing 'Mae hen wlad fy nhadau', the Welsh national anthem. You'll find my photos here.

I was tired and ready for supper when I got back, but not nearly as tired as I thought I might be. In fact I bought some food for supper on the way home and cooked as well. Spring, season of new life is here!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Re-shaping mission at Parish level

I celebrated Mass at St German's for Fr Roy Doxsey this morning, to enable him to take a proper day off. He's just had his seventieth birthday and retires at the end of June. The church looked magnificent with Spring sun streaming in through its clerestory windows, and making the sanctuary lamps glitter. The Parishes of Splott and St German's will share an incumbent once Fr Roy retires. There are simply not enough full time clergy to cover both separately any longer, and although both are reasonably well attended for urban prioirty area churches, there are only sufficient supporting members between the two communities of Splott and Adamsdown to afford one priest between them.

In times past it was possible to underwrite clergy costs from the wider diocesan budget on the grounds that these communities are mission priority areas. That might still be the case if there were sufficient clergy to deploy, but such is the shrinkage in numbers of trained people, that even if this was regarded as a broader budget priority for the diocese, it could could only be achieved by depriving areas with greater numbers of faithful, equally in need of the ministry of a priest. We're also getting to a stage where the numbers of retired clergy available will grow less because of the reduction in numbers ordained generations ago. I'm not sure how many faithful members yet realise the scale of the problem facing the church. 

The Roman Catholic church has been in a similar situation for the past quarter of a century, likewise the Free Churches, so we're not alone in this. We've actually made things more difficult for ourselves too, through the emphasis on the centrality and desirability of regular Eucharistic worship in church teaching, to the extent that services of the Word and the daily offices tend to be neglected; that is to say, services which do not require an ordained priest to conduct them. We've accustomed faithful Anglicans to having Communion in their locality, and several times a week. It's an ideal, a counsel of perfection which makes the church utterly dependent on ordained clergy. And now our own vision is put to shame by the lack of vocations to the very ministry that can guarantee continuity. Where do we go from here?

Can we re-train our parish congregations to sustain regular prayer and ministry of the Word with lay ministers in each church, and gently insist that gatherings for the Eucharist will take place on an area basis where several parishes can conveniently meet, or agree to rotate from place to place, wherever a priest can be invited to lead worship? This will require a massive change in culture and social habits, especially from those with a genuinely valid vision of what local mission through worship should be. It will require not just direction, teaching and leadership, but debate and the rebuilding of a consensus about how God's people can nurture and inspire themselves for service, witness and proclamation in what seem like the worst of circumstances today, where the sea of faith seems to have receded beyond the horizon of anyone's imagination.

Well, not everyone's imagination.

The past decades has seen the emergence of new churches rooted in evangelical tradition which are less reliant on ordained clerics and less dependent on Eucharistic worship to nurture community building that the historic mainstream denominations. It's not been a reaction against the trend to celebrate sacraments more frequently, but born of a desire to give people an experience of faith alive in community, and emerging through a learning programme that speaks to people's everyday personal and social needs, and it's grounded in the desire to make sure people can read and understand the bible, and apply its teaching to their lives. Surely there are lessons to be learned from this in facing up to the challenges which lie ahead of us?

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Faith in the Family

I drove out to Pontyclun in glorious weather again this morning to give the fourth of my Lenten addresses on Exodus. After this Clare and I went to St Mary's Bute Street to attend the funeral of Pegi Roberts, the mother of Eleri, wife of Fr Graham Francis, both friend since college days. Graham celebrated the requiem Mass, and Archbishop Barry was there to offer the Commendation prayer at the end. He had been her diocesan Bishop in Bangor. She lived on Anglesey all her life until she came to Cardiff to spend her last years with Eleri and Graham in St Mary's Vicarage.

All the lessons at the Mass were beautifully read in Welsh, by her grand-daughter, grandson's wife and family friend Canon Geoffrey Gaynor, as befitted the obsequies of a first language Welsh speaker. Graham preached an excellent homily, respectful of his mother in law's wishes that there should be no eulogy at her funeral. I admired his determination to lead the mourning from the front, so to speak - something I could not have done for any close member of my family. He was very fond of her and she of him.

One day I stood in at Mass for Fr Mark at St Luke's, and Pegi was in the congregation, having been brought there from the care home where she was staying temporarily while Graham and Eleri were on holiday. It wasn't long before I realised who she was because she spoke so proudly and affectionately of Graham and rejoiced in the faith they shared. That's such a blessing in the family for a priest. My three devout aunts gave me that kind of encouragement, but my parents, uncles and grandfathers had more reservations about my faith conviction, and this reservation has been reproduced in our children, despite our efforts to raise them in church life and Christian faith.

I keep reminding myself that we cannot impose, only share our faith as part of our free self offering to those whom we love, without regard for the consequences. Who can control the way in which seeds sown will grow to fruition?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Change in the air

Ages ago, St John's women's Tuesday Group invited me to tell them about our Canada trip, so I spent some time making a selection of the almost a thousand pictures I took to talk about, and went along this afternoon. I borrowed the office laptop to display the photos, not having access any longer to a projector and screen, and being unable to find the box to carry our nice flat screen telly into church to show them on. Fortunately the laptop is large enough, and has a high resolution screen, so was just about adequate for a group of nine.

Naturally enough, talk before and after was about the recent visit of their new Vicar Liz Griffiths. As I expected, they expressed their fascination and delight at the prospect of this 'first' in the nine hundred year history of the church. The women of the Tuesday Group are mostly of the generation that first showed what ordinary women could achieve with education, permission and an opportunity to contribute to shaping today's world.

After the meeting I spent a couple of hours in the office before attending my Tai Chi class on the way home, on a splendid early evening with Spring in the air. It left me feeling more refreshed than tired, for which I'm thankful.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Refreshment Eucharist

Today we had a lunch date with our friends Martin and Chris in Newport, and they invited us to join them beforehand in attending the Eucharist at the Parish Church of St Julius & Aaron on the east side of the city, where they are regular attenders.  

The church is tucked away on the hillside above the suburb of St Julian's, close to where the M4 climbs up a very long hill in by passing the city. It's an interesting building in the Anglo Catholic architectural ethos, using red brick and stone to good effect, dating from the early twentieth century. It contains the reredos rescued from Llanthony Priory, a failed nineteeth century monastic experiment in the Honddu Valley, north of Abergavenny. The church was never completed and indeed looks incomplete. Apparently there is a plan afoot finally to add a Lady Chapel on the south side of chancel, as this was originally conceived

I went to St Julius and Aaron's parish church just once as a guest preacher for USPG in mid-eighties. It was good to return with friends and realise how much it had changed in 25 years. Admittedly, sun was streaming in and enhancing the sanctuary, but I remembered it as a somewhat sombre over furnished place all those years ago. The chancel has been cleared of choir stalls and a nave altar installed, leaving the impressive Llanthony reredos and altar to serve as a setting for the Blessed Sacrament tabernacle.

Distribution of flowers during the Mass
The church was full for an all age Mothering Sunday Family Eucharist. The service blended Catholic ritual with contemporary music and the use of a project for hymns, liturgical texts and visual aids during the sermon. It was all beautifully done, with a well crafted homily from Fr Rex the Vicar. So well done as to feel natural and relaxed. I imagine it must have taken a huge amount of careful preparation in order not to feel contrived or self conscious.

The church is fortunate in having a gifted organist and choir director who is sensitive to the worship needs of both priest and community - a marvellous partnership. It's the other side of town from where Martin and Chris life, and it's quite an effort to get the family there on time, but it's obviously worth their while. It's a place where people can feel nurtured and uplifted in an everyday parochial environment, because what happen there matters muchly to those who make it happen.

I hope that's how history will remember the majority of our parishes in this era of survival struggle.