Monday, 29 August 2011

Bank Holiday outing

I drove through a quiet city centre to St German's on this Bank Holiday morning to celebrate Mass in honour of the martyrdom of St John the Baptist for five worshippers. Then I picked up Owain for an excursion to the Gower, for a walk and a picnic. Though cloudy, the weather was just perfect for a good stroll. 

Traffic was reasonable for most of the journey, but on the outskirts of Parkmill on the last stretch, we ground to a halt in a queue of cars which only progressed when drivers decided to turn around and take another route. After ten minutes, we did likewise, and took the road across Clyne Common, up and over Cefn Bryn to avoid Parkmill and reach Oxwich Bay. Traffic everywhere else was reasonable, and the diversion gave us a chance to stop at the top of the ridge to enjoy the view and take a brisk walk down to Arthur's stone, the megalithic tomb overlooking the Loughour estuary.

The beach front car park at Oxwich was full and hundreds of people were out enjoying clement weather. The vast beach hardly seemed full however, especially as the tide was out as far as it could go. It meant we were able to walk straight across the sands to Three Cliffs Bay and eat lunch there at the foot of the cliffs. We climbed up the long sandy footpath on to the cliff top for the first stretch of the walk back Oxwich, as the turning tide had by that time cut off our return all the way across the sand. The abundant cliff top heather was a remarkable bright purple colour. 

At the northerly end of Oxwich beach, someone had drawn a giant turtle on the sand, over fifty feet long, and best visible from the cliff top immediately above. I wonder if the artist had a companion up on high to advise on proportion and dimensions? Within two hours of our passing by it would be effaced by the incoming tide. An interesting work of art indeed, more ephemeral than street graffiti.

We had tea in the garden of our beloved Oxwich Bay Hotel before driving back to Cardiff. I was certainly ready for it after our brisk five mile afternoon walk.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Busy day

I never sleep well when I have to be out of the house early enough to celebrate an eight o'clock Eucharist somewhere, and today was no exception - a night punctuated with odd dreams reflecting uncertainty. I was up and about as soon as the alarm went off, as ever, and punctual arriving at the Parish Church of the Resurrection in Ely for a small congregation somewhat depleted by the fact of the Bank Holiday Weekend.

I had the church to myself for an hour between services, and made use of its huge space and my free time to practice some Chi Gung and Tai Chi moves before the main Eucharist of the day. After the Eucharist I celebrated the baptism of two children. The families and friends of the two children christened amounted to more than double those attending the Eucharist.

After this, before returning for lunch, I drove over to St German's for another baptism service, a much smaller affair, with about three dozen present, only two of whom were men. I've never done two baptism services en suite like that in my entire ministry. It was just necessary because of the problems of clergy deployment during one of the weekend in the year when it seems like more clergy want time off than any other time in the year.

St German's didn't know until Tuesday that there'd be a priest for its one Sunday Mass. Shortages are a reality, but it seems to me that the greatest shortage is in recognising and dealing with the problem that exists, as if those at the top responsible for ensuring pastoral cover are still in denial that a radical solution is needed to ensure that people at grass roots get the support they need to continue their witness through worship.

Anyway, I was happy to find that I could cope with four services before lunch - just like in the old days of the Central Cardiff Rectorial benefice, depleted of clergy - I was home eating lunch by two, back at St German's after a snooze in front of the TV for Evensong and Benediction at five. When I got home, Katherine was there on Skype, standing in a wifi hotspot with her iPhone outside the hotel where she, Rhiannon and Anto are weekending down in Valencia, so I could sing her Happy Birthday. Half an hour later, Rachel was there on Skype from Fairmont B.C., having just talked to her sister. This made my day complete.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

No mean feast

This morning I celebrated Mass at St German's in honour of St Monica mother of St Augustine whose feast day is tomorrow. It's an occasion which figures in our family memory, as our eldest daughter Katherine was born on St Augustine's Day in the old St David's hospital on Cowbridge Road, here in Cardiff, forty years ago. Strange to have daughter who's forty, when you hardly feel that age yourself (sometimes). The facade of the hospital building remains, albeit converted into apartments - I wish they'd get the clock on the tower above the old main  entrance working once more. The rest of the site has been turned into apartments, plus a much smaller medical specialist centre for older patients. So different from its glory days as a top maternity unit.

After lunch we drove down to Cold Knap in Barry for a walk along the cliffs to Porthkerry. There was a strong wind off the sea, but it wasn't uncomfortably cold. The tidy was right out and on the turn, crashing in on the vast bank of pebbles by the time we left. Most stimulating, and guaranteeing a good night's sleep.

Thursday, 25 August 2011


This morning I acted as scribe for the RadioNet User Group monthly meeting. There's not usually a meeting in August, so only half the usual number of people attended. During the meeting I raised a security concern of my own, arising from the televising of the parliamentary debate about social unrest after MPs had been recalled last week. Our local MP Jenny Willott was one of the earlier commenters to catch the Speaker's eye, complimenting South Wales Police officers re-deployed early to assist in quelling unrest - fine. But she couldn't resist mentioning how Cardiff and Sheffield had escaped civil unrest, and attributing this to superior city centre management. 

To say such things, whether true or not, seemed to me to be inviting challenges to peaceful order. Why mention these things before it was certain stability had been restored? I thought it indiscreet, tempting providence, and I discovered others at the meeting felt the same. The consensus was that it's best to say as little as possible about security issues until you're sure everything is as stable as it needs to be. Time to drop a note to our local MP I think. 

Our new local city centre 'Bobby' was at the meeting, PC Dave Sharp, sharing with us his enthusiasm for keeping regular local offenders in check. We certainly have some persistent problem people, beggars, thieves, hustlers, causing a lot of trouble. Given that removing one seems to make room for another, I wonder how long he'll be able to keep up the initiative? After the meeting I managed to get the framework of the minutes sorted before I had to go home. 

After lunch, I was picked up in a sumptuous new Funeral Directors' Jag and taken to 'the Rez' Parish Church in Ely to conduct a funeral service for a man a year younger than me who'd died of a brain tumor. He worked as a fitter on the railways all his life without taking sick leave, but after five years of retirement, an inoperable cancer developed and took his life in eight months. None of us know what lies ahead of us, do we?


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The news war

I've been spending a lot of time following events in Libya this past few days. This morning's trip to St German's to celebrate St Bartholemew's Day was my first outing since Sunday. Each day is punctuated by sessions of news channel hopping between BBC, Sky and Al-Jazeera, both on telly and on the web, plus regular scanning of Twitter to sift for the odd speck of gold among the dross of thousands of postings repeating old stories or peoples' varied emotional reactions or spam of Russian origin. Unscrupulous folk mention Libya or Tripoli so that the search engine will pick up and display a posting which is generally about something unrelated, usually dodgy. Purveyors of verifiable facts and outrageously fictitious notions of events, not to mention comic one-liners, are all there in the mix, but with a little practice it is possible to identify stuff worthy of consideration.

On any hashtag (= #name) relating to the conflict, one can find the first posting of any occasional article or news report worth reading, the pleas of people close to the conflict for medical aid, or recognition of some new conflict hot spot. People were tweeting about Gaddafi's network of tunnels days before reporters were broadcasting the guided tours. Twenty four hours before Gaddafi soldiers concealed in the forest area linked to the zoo started opening fire on the city's liberators, someone in the locality was tweeting a warning about the danger of their presence there. No doubt news hounds and military intelligence observers also have their eyes on the 'tweetosphere'. It's interesting to see how long it takes for a noticeable reaction to new information. Sometimes the tweets throw up specific immediate material that simply needs to be prayed about. As one might pray briefly on hearing the sound of an ambulance  racing through the streets.

Watching over days, the same film footage, reports and interviews are aired time and time again. Each channel has its own angle. The Beeb is always a bit behind Sky and Al-Jazeera in sniffing out new stories, and a bit more preoccupied with the views of powerful institutional figures and speculation on policy than immediate events on the ground. Interviewers, reporters and commentators can get very worked up at what seems to them like a slow rate of progress in resolving a crisis. Their impatience is an irritation, itz demonstrates a kind of naïvety about the pace of real events outside the studio, and the scale of difficulties being faced up to in order to get through huge upheavals, especially when you don't have all the resources and a dedicated team at your beck and call.

I used to think the Beeb was most balanced in its reportage, but it's been good to compare perspectives and priorities between news organisations and to see that the Beeb reflects the establishment position - our establishment of course. However, one thing I'd like to think the Beeb would never do, and that's display a Mediterranean map marking the wrong Tripoli (in Lebanon), while fighting in its Libyan namesake was being reported. But CNN did. And news of this went around the twittersphere like wildfire!

But why this obsessive watching? The overthrow of this particular evil tyrant has been longed for since well before Saddam Hussein came to power. How it has come to pass, and where it will lead the Libyan people is for me a matter of much prayerful concern. One of those things I feel I should make time for in retirement.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The surprising triumph of faith

I had a leisurely start this morning, my first service being the St German's Solemn Mass at eleven. After this  came the baptism of three children - two little girls of four and five in white dresses, and a boy of toddler age. It was at the mother's insistence that the children were christened. He partner is a Kurdish Muslim. She hadn't expected him to attend, but he came  and sat through the service with the family. I noticed he had lost his left hand, and wondered by what act or violence or misfortune this had occurred, but there was no time to ask. 

Each girls' had a godparent standing by them and steadying them as they stood on a stool to bend over the font for the pouring of water over their heads. Then, to my surprise and delight, Dad stepped up with his son in arms, and tipped the boy's head over the font with reassuring words for him while I poured water over the child's head. On each occasion the baptismal action was met more by cheers than by a liturgical 'Amen', but nobody could question peoples' involvement in the ceremony. His family didn't come, although invited. Perhaps another time.

Afterwards, Dad stood at the door, radiant, and greeted everyone as they left the church. I'd like to think that for him this was a special moment of acceptance and bonding with her family. I greeted him afterwards with Salaam eleikum to acknowledge his Muslim identity, and expressed appreciation for his willingness to participate in the service. For the mother of his children, this must have been one of life's small triumphs, a little victory in capacity of her faith to bring people together.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

View from the Rhigos

After celebrating Mass at St German's this morning, I drove Clare and Auntie Daphne (who's holidaying with us this week) to the Ignatian mediation group at Tonyrefail Vicarage. Members of the group lunched together, and then we took the long way home - driving up Rhondda Fawr, climbing up over the Rhigos, then going east along the Heads of the Valleys Road as far as the junction with the A470 above Merthyr Tydful, then back down the Taff Vale all the way to Cardiff.

There's little remaining of the scores of coal mines which would have punctuated this route thirty years ago. Auntie Daphne quizzed me about the South Wales coal field, so I was challenged to explain the geology underlying the geography as we drove. The now closed and empty site of Tower Colliery outside Hirwaun is still visible from the lay-by up on the Rhigos.

The striking difference since we last drove up there is the sight of a hillside a few  miles to the west of the colliery, covered with over a dozen wind turbines. When I checked my photo archive for pictures taken on our last trip, I was astonished to find that it was seven and a half years ago.
We also noticed on the east side of the road past the colliery site, open cast mine workings where none existed before. A large sign declared that they belonged to Tower Colliery Ltd. Wikipedia informed me that after colliery closure in 2008, planning permission was sought to extract the coal in this area of land, formerly used by the colliery as a coal washery site. Six million tonnes of anthracite left to be extracted, and hopefully benefit local economy for a little longer.

The Heads of the Valleys Road to the west of Merthyr seems to have changed little in the half century from its launch as the new trunk road across the northern perimeter of the South Wales coalfield. The stretch from Hirwaun to Merthyr looks as if time has stood still and forgotten to move on, unlike the section to the east of Merthyr which benefited from a European Community funded upgrade a few years ago.

Travelling up and down two former mining valleys got me thinking about my father, with whom I'd travelled these roads as a teenage during school holidays, as he went about his job as a consultant representing a wire rope haulage company. I think he hated what the pits had done to despoil such beautiful countryside, and would be glad to see them looking fresh and green again. Even so, I wonder what he'd have made of the wind turbines?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Reflecting on the riots

Two services this morning out in the Vale, first at Saint Marychurch with its round Celtic llan of a churchyard, then at St Hilary. The tower at St Marychurch is currently cordoned off with Heras fencing. A large crack has appeared in the south-west corner of the tower. Fortunatley the crack doesn't penetrate right through to the interior of the tower, it's just the stone dressing of its core that needs attention, doubtless expensive for a small community. As I entered I was greeted by a lady offering free bags of cooking apples, gratefully received. At St Hilary, another lady was selling one kilo bags of lovely ripe Victoria plums a quid each for church funds. I gladly stumped up for a bag to take home, though I was certain Clare would be getting somer at the Riverside farmers' market. She's been making the most of the abundance of a good season of summer fruit, first with strawberry and then damson jam making. Maybe plum jam as well? Or just lots of good eating.
When I came to check my sermon last night, one I'd written in fit of zeal last Monday knowing we'd be away several days, it seemed less than relevant, after the week's urban riots. I'd worked with a Gospel about the healing of the Canaanite woman's daughter, a favourite of mine for reflecting on how Jesus approached inter-faith and cross cultural encounters. So I re-edited the text radically, to focus on examining the spiritual context of public disorder. In the end I didn't need to abandon the 'inter-faith Jesus' theme, as I was able to point how how he applauded the faith of people different from his own beliefs and culture, enabling us to admire people other than Christians, like Tariq Jahan, whose son was murdered in Winson Green last Tuesday, standing up for values clearly recognisable to Christians and others of good will. I've posted the text of it for downloading here.

It was interesting to observe that the press has made little of the fact that Mr Jahan is muslim, that his son was killed in the holy month of Ramadhan, that his appeal for peace, not retaliation or revenge in response was a consistent witness to the inner meaning of Ramadhan discipline. Only at the peace rally in Winson Green  televised after lunch today, did Mr Jahan himself mention for the first time this week that he's muslim and that it's Ramadhan. In the end it's example that counts.

At Evensong in St German's we observed the Assumption of our Lady, which gave me an opportunity to use three of my favourite Marian verses from the Byzantine liturgical corpus. At the end of it, I was just too tired to join the others who went on to St Mary's for an eumenical event with festive procession and fireworks in honour of the feast, grateful for a quiet evening at home instead.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Scarborough journey

After celebrating the 10.00am Mass at St German's on  Wednesday morning, Clare and I travelled by train to Scarborough to visit out old friends from Geneva days, Peter and Andrea. The six hour journey was so much more pleasant than driving by car even if it cost more. The high summer countryside up the border between England and Wales, and on the journey across the Pennines from Manchester to our destination provided us with a feast of beautiful colour. The trains on both legs of the journey were in good order and satisfyingly full.

Scarborough is what one might call a traditional seaside town, beautifully maintained with lots of fine Victorian buildings and three cliff railways, of which two are working. The sea front is an eclectic mix of buildings serving the needs of holidaymakers: pubs, restaurants, ice cream parlours, amusement arcades, stalls selling toys, sweets, fresh sea-foods etc; and there's a harbour, with excursions on speed-boat or pirate galleon, catering for all kinds of taste. There are some grand hotels, and Victorian terraced houses of substance, and many streets that still contain small shops of every kind. 
Without striving to manufacture it, Scarborough breathes the ethos of an earlier time, an era which remains attractive and comforting to a large enough number of people to sustain the town as it is in these times of change. It has a high proportion of of older residents among its population, and that may be what ensures its viability for the present. Our friends are very happy there in retirement, and despite a Thursday of dreadful weather our stay with them was most interesting and enjoyable, destined to be repeated.
We had a couple of days without internet, only occasionally being able to follow TV news. Even so, just as I'd imagined, the numbers of arrests of people rioting in London and other parts of the country quickly rose to over fifteen hundred, with courts sitting all night to process offenders. Parliament recalled has discussed the events ad nauseam and now efforts are being made to begin a sensible grass roots enquiry into the reasons for such public disorder, even before any formal judicial enquiry is set up.

I daresay, in the long run, an analysis of how it all happened in its different settings may be achieved, but even if underlying moral and spiritual failures of society are identified as a key factor, I doubt if any practical remedy will be the outcome. The modern world is so addicted to its own ideas of progress, it's impossible to see what heartfelt repentance and reformation might look like in a way that would transform life for all.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Insurrection or what?

For the last couple of days, the news of rioting in London, then Manchester and the West Midlands has captured my attention. I've spent a lot of time following the unfolding news and commentary on TV and via Twitter and the BBC and Sky news websites. It's reminded me of the riots during the time I was Rector of the Parish of St Paul's Bristol on April 2nd 1980, when 'ignored poor people spoke with fire' as one black activist put it to me days later. The first major civil disorder in England since 1820 broke out that day.  

What's happening now little resembles that time. The scale and spread of events, the use of technology which facilitated the uprisings in Arabic countries of the Middle East, employed to co-ordinate public disorder and looting. Those making mayhem now are more diverse in culture background and age than in St Paul's, 31 years ago. Yet now as then, people are out destroying amenities that serve places they belong to. It's a kind of communal self-harm expressing a profound social sickness and dysfunction nobody seems able to deal with effectively. Nothing much has changed. Socio-economic divisions are as deep as ever, set to disadvantage an even broader cross-section of the population.

All this has distracted me from full enjoyment of Kath and Rhiannon's visit, although we did get out to Saint Fagan's folk museum this afternoon and to Stefano's around the corner for supper tonight. But, all along I've been crossing my fingers that Cardiff wouldn't erupt. I rang my colleague Ashley very late this evening to seek some kind of assurance from someone on the ground in touch with security people in the centre that it was as calm as it was being reported by others. It's been quieter than usual - maybe people have stayed at home to watch news on TV rather than go out.

I picked up this evening on an interview with Darcus Howe, a Trinidadian black militant even when I was in theological college. A BBC presenter, poorly briefed, alleged he was no stranger to riots himself. She was upbraided by him for her impudence. He spoke of current events as 'an insurrection' of disavantaged people. Exactly the phrase he used, talking about the St Paul's riot in 1980. In a sense he was right about both, except that there's been a change in what I call the 'boundaries of transgression'. More violence, less respect for the vulnerable, the stranger in the midst, more self-centred attention grabbing behaviour - the dark side of that libertarian phrase which crops up so often on tee-shirts and advertisements: 'no limits'. There are real risks in promoting people's fantasies to them as if they were reality. Now we're reaping what we sow. 

Looking at news film footage I get the impression that huge numbers of people are swept away by the sheer excitement of defying law and order, intoxicated with the illusion that they are invulnerable, undetectable, like some primitive tribe on the warpath feeling that its magic spells protect it from an assailant's bullets. On times it seems as if the police are reluctant to intervene as people are setting fires and looting. They are outnumbered in some confrontations, it wouldn't worth the risk to respond without support. They're there to protect lives, and however important property is to everyone, people must always come first. 

What the perpetrators forget however is that above the thin blue line, the CCTV cameras are recording and zooming in on the action. I bet there are also police officers photographing events just behind the front line too. Reports come in of people taking pictures being beaten and having their cameras stolen. What would happen if hundreds of citizens came out in protest with their cameras, and photographed and every effort to break the law? Unity is strength. 

The appearance of hundreds protesting against the riots by getting out into the streets with bin bags and sweeping brushes is a great triumph for a 'big society' which already exists - people of good will responding spontaneously before any politician can claim the credit. Cameron has recalled Parliament. Will MPs be joining a clean-up started by the people?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

New release

Up early today, to celebrate the eight o'clock Mass at Christchurch, Roath Park. That was it until Evensong and Benediction at St German's, so I had a nice un-busy Sunday for a change. 

Kath and Rhiannon arrived to stay for a couple of days, just after I returned. It's great to have them here again. Kath brought me the latest album from Ojos de Brujo,  'Corriente vital - 10 anos' - two new songs and nine old songs from their repertoire interestingly re-worked with different musicians and producers. It's marvellous to hear great songs presented with considerable differences in interpretation and performance, a real exploration of how their musical content can be developed. 

To my mind there's not nearly enough of this happening in the popular music world of today. The emphasis is so much on everyone writing and performing their own original stuff. The increase of volume of material is accompanied by a decline in its quality. As a result there's very little that's musically exciting to grab attention in the general market. There are always remarkable exceptions of great originality of course, and it's great to know that originality is the hall mark of the output of 'Ojos de Brujo', even when reworking their own songs.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Transfiguration anniversary events

Today is our forty fifth wedding anniversary. Clare had a lie-in, but I was book to celebrate at St German's, so I laid the breakfast table and left her  greeting card before I left. Another young mum with kids came to thechurch after Mass to book in a baptism. I'll have done more baptisms this month than in give years at St John's. It shows how much variation there can be in pastoral demand from one church to another.

At noon, Clare and I joined a congregation of about three hundred at St Mary's the Docks celebrating Father Graham Francis' fortieth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. I was sub-deacon at his first Mass in Holy Cross Parish Church, when we were both junior curates. The legendary Father Ken Gillingham guided him through the celebration and preached. Here we were, forty years on, in the church which 'Gillie', as he was fondly known, had served with distinction, before during and after the years we were at St Michael's College in training. We both worked under 'Gillie's supervision as Samaritans volunteers. 'Gillie' was a priestly and pastoral role model to us for ministry among the working classes. Graham followed in his footsteps, and this was testified by the number of clergy present, both in the congregation, and at the altar as con-celebrants.

The celebration was superbly organised involving dozens of people, singing, reading, praying, serving at the altar. There were even three Bishops present, one of them preaching an thoughtful homily on transfiguration while reflecting on Graham's priestly ministry. The singing of all his favourite hymns was exuberant, making for a joyous occasion of thanksgiving. We sat together in the choir stalls, overlooking the nave altar from behind, a great place to see the variety of people in the assembly.

Afterwards we stopped briefly to greet a few people, before heading out to Caerphilly mountain for a walk. We looked at a display of black and white photos taken at Graham's first Mass. I appear in them porting a beard, with long black hair, resembling pictures of Rasputin, as my father used to say. Typically sixties. I can hardly believe it was me I was looking at. I don't recall much about that service, only the hassles of arranging a nave altar for the occasion on a very uneven flagstone floor in Holy Cross Church.

After an hour's vigorous exercise in perfect walking weather we had afternoon tea in the New House Country Hotel, with its panoramic view of the city, Bay and Severn Estuary. By the time we arrived home neither of us had much enthusiasm for supper at a restaurant, so we went out and hunted for a take-away meal, settling for fish dishes from Seren, a Turkish restaurant in Canton. I think we'll go back there for a proper meal soon.

There's rioting in Tottenham tonight, following a protest march to a police station in connection with the killing by police of a local man two days ago. It sounds like senior police were unable to respond to the request for a meeting with the dead man's family, then disorder broke out and went out of control. Given that the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) was called in to investigate a killing by police, did this induce a paralysis of common sense on the part of the leadership? There's a lot of anger out there.


Wednesday, 3 August 2011

St Germanus celebrated

At the end of an afternoon in the office, I cycled over to St German's to celebrate their feast of title with a Solemn Mass, followed by a social evening for neighbouring church members from St Saviour's Splott. Evening sun added its numinous touch the occasion. It was a great pleasure to perform, and it pushed me to research St Germanus of Auxerre. He came to Britain in the early fifth century on a mission to dispute with Pelagian heretics. I daresay he was something of an influence and inspiration to our local Celtic saints of the generation after him - David, Patrick, Illtud, Teilo, Dyrfig, Samson etc. 

Two festivals honour his name. This one, relating to his death while visiting Ravenna on a peace mission from Gaul in 448, and then one in September celebrating the home-coming of his remains to Auxerre, where they remained undisturbed in the Benedictine Abbey there until his tomb was desecrated during the Huguenot revolt of 1567. What a violent traumatic upheaval the reformation must have been for many ordinary people across Europe! I wonder if our changing times will one day be perceived similarly.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Lammas Day thoughts

Lammas Day, first of August - I wonder how many people of today seeing that title on an old fashioned calendar would know that it refers to the ancient custom of baking and offering to the church for use at Mass on this day bread made from the first-fruits of the new summer grain harvest? Loaf-mass=Lammas. Is popular culture today as disconnected from the tradition of Eucharistic community life as it is from agriculture?

Looking over the Cowbridge Benefice Sunday bulletin last night I learned that David Boult the non-stipendiary priest in the Benefice has now been licensed to full time ministry there as Assistant Curate. That'll make a difference. For many months Rector Derek Belcher has been the only full-time cleric in a rural agricultural area of eleven churches, eight of them with weekly services. There's a vacancy for a Team Vicar proving difficult to fill. Thankfully there are a number of retired clerics living in the Vale. Without their help every week, plus local teams of lay people, pastoral life in the area's village parishes would be impossible to sustain. It's cause for concern as numbers of retired clergy shrink, reflecting a decline in numbers of vocations dating back to my ordination time. 

In those days, the Church in Wales promoted liturgical revision and acceptance of Sunday Eucharist and Holy Communion as the norm for worship. This sent Matins and Evensong, services not needing a cleric, into terminal decline. Short-fall priestly vocations has been proportionately greater than that of church attenders. Demand for the Eucharist is now high and clerical numbers to provide it are fewer than ever, as in the Roman Catholic church. Cardiff Deanery has half the clerics it had a decade ago, though few churches have yet had to close, or give up their Sunday Eucharist altogether. At what point does the present pattern of localised church become unsustainable?

Sixteenth century liturgical reform aimed to increase regularity in receiving Communion but it failed. Regular church-going remained less than popular and Communion infrequent.  People were content to attend Matins or Evensong, and in the absence of communicants, Eucharist was not celebrated. Even the four obligatory main feasts a year were poorly attended. Centuries since have seen times of stagnation and revival. Recent church decline follows missionary resurgence in the nineteenth century as the population moved from the countryside into the cities. However worrying the present situation is for mainstream traditional faith communities, nobody can really predict what the future holds, especially in times of such rapid change. 

There are plenty of experiments in mission and worship going on today, quite apart from those enforced by pressure for change. There has been much rethinking of the way Christianity and the Gospel is translated and communicated for the era of modern science, technology and globalisation. But we have yet to see how the spiritual hunger and creative imagination can be captured for such a radically new era, an time in which accounts of Lammas tradition can be accessed on-line in seconds, but rarely if ever encountered in reality.