Friday, 30 September 2011

On form again

Following an afternoon in the office yesterday, I drove to Penarth for another evening of Chi Gung followed by Tai Chi. In the second session an experienced group went through the full short form and I joined them. It's the first time I've attempted playing the form in full for about five years. I only managed about a third of it before my body memory for the patterns began to break up, and I was reduced to watching and try to copy familiar movements, but not adequately retained. I enjoyed doing it too much to feel frustrated by failure.

Christie our teacher always exhorts me not to let my mind get in the way. Of this I was guilty in times past, but I do believe that I'm more in tune with letting my body remember, and building on the recognition of when positions and moves feel right. This doesn't stop me wanting to think and write about the value and inner meaning of Tai Chi in a western context, but this will take time and a different context. First things first: re-engage fully in physical apprenticeship to form and movement. The more the body benefits, the more mental activity takes on a better quality, and the writing more worthwhile.

By the time I arrived home, Eddie and Ann had arrived after a long journey all the way from Felixstowe, for a long weekend including the opera. They arrived later than expected and the meal had only just started, so it was good we were all able to eat together and then talk until very late.
After a late breakfast, we all walked the Taff Trail, as far as the Melingriffith Water Pump. This visit, I was able to take photographs before the local shuttle bus arrived to take us into Whitchurch village for a bus into town. We stopped off at the Royal Welsh College both to show Eddie and Ann Cardiff's latest architectural triumph, and have a light lunch before a pre-operatic siesta. Not that I managed a snooze. I realised I'd forgotten to re-tax the car, and had to go back into the main Post Office to do this. Fortunately the queues were short and I was back within the hour.
The WNO's production of Mozart's 'Don Giovanni' was magnificent. Outstanding singing all round, and an amazing set, baroque bas-relief decoration, with all the scenery and backdrop painted black, made visible by changes in lighting colour. It was built from a series of movable modules, deployed to create the variety of scenes against which the action took place.

I was struck at the characterisation of Don Giovanni in the libretto as an amoral psychopath. It's the conquest of seduction that enthralls him rather than the acquisition of lascivious pleasure. It's the exercise of power without scruple or sensitivity. He faces his damnation with bold indifference, like dictator or a Balkan warlord on trial for crimes against humanity. The opera's commentators observe that it was written following a time of enlightenment liberalisation in the Hapsburg empire. Some perceived this as failing to achieve its humane goals. Mozart, despite his naughty youthful reputation was in this opera speaking up for a return to values and behavior based on traditional religious teaching. Quite an interesting perspective for our times, I think.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Root reconnection

There's still lots to be done to complete last week's network upgrading exercise, so I spent several hours in the office this morning and afternoon, tidying up the records of a few days that passed at distressing speed. I was, however engaged to celebrate the College Eucharist at St Mike's at tea time. It that meant leaving early enough to go home, change clothes and get there in time to brief and rehearse with students playing an active part in the liturgy. 

Some of them were returning from year group field visits, driving through unpredictable  afternoon traffic to arrive in time, and this put preparation time under pressure. Nevertheless, we managed to start only a few minutes late, and everyone involved in making the liturgy happen played their part well. There were nearly forty people present for the service, no sermon, but lots of silence to grace this occasion.

I enjoyed the experience - it was the first time ever for me to preside at a Eucharist in the college where I did my ministry training. I was struck by the resonance of the chapel and the need to go slowly enough to be sure my words were clearly audible. The piano accompanist played vigorously, but was often ahead of the singing - something attributable to the difficult acoustic of the building.

Since my time as a student, the chapel has acquired a lectern in chapel architect George Pace's materials and style. On it is a small plaque :  'In memory of Roy Engelbert Horley'  He was diocesan Registrar at the time I was ordained. When I was ordained, he lived with his wife Betty, who was Bishops's Secretary in the dwelling at the south west corner of the Cathedral called 'The Clock House'. I remember him in his jurist's wig and gaiters, reading out the official Mandates during the ordination. His unusual middle name helped  reconnect me with that awesome moment in my early life, although I don't remember ever learning how he'd come by it.

At that time the chief legal officer of the diocese present at ordinations was the Chancellor, Judge Owen Temple Morris, also dressed in a jurist's wig and gaiters. In the swinging sixties, there were many things which had not yet changed. Judge Temple Morris spent his last years as a resident of the Westgate Street flats in the city parish of St John the Baptist. It was my privilege to support a faculty application made by his son Lord Peter Temple Morris to erect a memorial to his father in the church he loved and belonged to. It remains one of the few lasting achievements of my eight years there as Vicar.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

St Mike's - a beginning

My first visit as a voluntary tutor to St Michael's College today. I  felt somewhat apprehensive before I set out, wondering if I'd be up to the challenge of occupying a role in a rigid academic organisational framework. The intellectual or pastoral dimensions aren't a problem. The worry is keeping up with the required disciplines of an organisation foreign to me and my sanguine approach to institutional life. 

St Michaels's College Chapel

For most of the day, students were occupied with start of term briefings. I had plenty of free time to re-acquaint myself with the chapel, where I'm celebrating Mass tomorrow evening, and to read through and sign the must-read I.T. security policy documents, to obtain my college network login details and establish a personal user area on the Windows XP Pro system. It's a bit slow starting up, but neatly offers each user a choice of browsers to download and use, and that's a big plus.

I was impressed with the rigour of the I.T. security policy. It's well thought through, an important safeguard against abuse or neglect, and sets clear limits as to what the resources are to be used for. A theological college is a learning community where people would be expected to know as much about sin as they do about the grace of God. So one should expect I.T. doctrine to measure up to awareness of the wrong things people can do, innocently or otherwise.

After lunch I met with Lorraine, a second year student who'll be acting as Deacon at tomorrow's Mass. She has made all the arrangements for the Liturgy, and we spent half an hour together figuring out the liturgical choreography, before for she went off to hear my good friend Derek Belcher talking about Canon Law. I had an hour spare, which enabled me to cycle over to Staples to buy Clare's birthday present, an Amazon Kindle ebook reader, and then to Tesco's to buy festive breakfast food for tomorrow.

At five I met for an hour with the members of the tutor group I'm looking after while Peter Sedgwick the Principal is on sabbatical study leave. Three men, Chris, Marcus and Rufus, mature students and two women Liz and 'Becka in their twenties. All have interesting backgrounds and different routes leading them to take the path to ordination. I played the session by ear, and was delighted to find how warm and responsive they were to each other and to me - and few of them had the advantage of knowing each other before they arrived in the room for the tutorial. An encouraging start.

I finished too late to travel to Garth, Maesteg for Chris Reaney's silver jubilee Mass, but I was glad of a quiet evening to reflect on the day's events.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Lacking intelligence

After singing the Mass of the day at St German's this morning I conducted the baptism of a baby girl. In a few weeks time I'm booked for the baptism of five children of one family. In nine months of locum duties at 'the Res' and St German's, I'll have done as many baptisms as in five years at St John's. That shows just how variable demands on a minister's time can be from one parish to another.
Father Roy's friends were finally able to collect furniture from the Vicarage, now that a set of keys are in the possession of church officers. There is an element of craziness about a situation where the Vicarage locks were changed, and copies had to be hand delivered from the diocesan office near Bridged, especially in a situation where one of the church wardens is the local locksmith, and was not advised or consulted. 

In times past - BC - before computers, diocesan stewardship practice made such expert information available. Nowadays it seems to revolve only around money. It is so much easier to keep and share records today, but updating them is as onerous a practice of intelligence gathering now as it ever was. But is anybody bothered any longer about smart solutions, as opposed to throwing money at a problem?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Managing change - could do better

I was pleasantly surprised to see Father Roy, retired Vicar of St German's in church when I arrived this morning to say Mass in honour of our Lady of Walsingham on the anniversary of the beginning of the restoration of the shrine of the Holy House. He'd come in search of keys to the Vicarage, his former home, but found the locks had been changed by builders working on the property, so he was unable to retrieve surplus items of furniture belonging to him which he'd arranged to be transported elsewhere that morning. 

Last Sunday, Angela, the church administrator was complaining that she'd been unable to retrieve mail because the locks had been changed without notice and copies of keys not handed over. Later this morning enquiries revealed that keys had been delivered to her at 7.00am that day, but Father Roy was not aware of this, just taken aback at being locked out and his plans for the day thrown into disarray. Problems like this arise because the management of church housing is done remotely, and building work done by an agency which has little contact with those who might be affected. As I discovered during this week's exercise in upgrading a communications network, keeping all who need to know in the information loop is an activity everyone involved benefits from doing better. 

Following a quiet afternoon of catching up after a demanding week, Clare and I joined two of her school colleagues at the Millennium Centre for the WNO's English language rendition of Rossini's 'Barber of Seville'. We saw and enjoyed it last time around, but when? For an aide-memoire I checked my old blog 'EdgeoftheCentre' when we got home, and found that it was three years ago minus five days since we last saw this superb comic performance. We went on Clare's birthday and loved it. 

That was the day Ben Rabjohns came to us on ministry placement at St John's. He'll be ordained deacon at the Cathedral next Friday, Michaelmas Day, a term later than his contemporaries, since he did an extra placement in Jerusalem once he finished at St Michael's College. In my mischievous way, I wonder - which will have greater impact on him in the long term - three months in the 21st century Holy Land, or ordination in the Cathedral of the diocese where his father was priest of the same parish for thirty years?

Friday, 23 September 2011

More to all this than meets the eye

Thank God it's Friday, with the prospect of some respite from the affairs of this past working week. The radio network engineers arrived a day and a half late. This demolished my scheduling attempts and created problems for us in keeping radio users appraised. Some brought radios in to be fixed. Many more radios had to be hunted out in stores, clubs or pubs, taken to our base, then returned. I haven't felt so out of control since we moved out of the Vicarage and into our new home. Things were complicated by my absence attending a half day briefing session for new voluntary tutors at St Michael's College, on Wednesday morning, and then absence for a funeral this afternoon. Thankfully I was able to recruit Owain to join in the data collection / radio receipt side of operations. His disciplined thoroughness, not to mention his calm cheeriness proved a great asset in minimising the inevitable chaos.

For all our strict procedures, there is nothing uniform about the ways in which users operate their radios in different contexts. Those responsible for business change, not infrequently. Newcomers to  RadioNet system may not be briefed by an outgoing colleague or senior manager. CBS is rarely advised of personnel changes. Only if new users with no grasp of the radio operating instructions bother to ring up and ask for help can training be given. Some can't be bothered, so their radio ends up unused, which does nothing for the security of the place in question. Lack of conscientiousness is on times quite shocking. Some store operators only sit up and take notice after a series of robberies or a nasty incident takes place affecting them. Are they too busy to care?

A major maintenance session is when we discover sets are lost or have sustained damage without us being informed. Few would treat their own mobile phones with such disdain. It meant the exercise was fraught with unforeseen time consuming issues. Radios could not be upgraded at the planned rate, so the exercise ran for three and a half days, instead of two. There are many loose ends to be tied up next week. A fresh attempt to inventory our assets must be made, to ensure the condition and location of every handset is known, rather than traceable when changes occur: e.g. radios swapped out for repair,  given a new location identity, or reported as lost/stolen. At the moment we survive with a document hunt through a paper filing system, still recovering from three office moves in a year. A 24/7 operation in constant motion deserves better, and will get it this time around. It's the price we pay for establishing the organisation from scratch.

All week we camped out in the reception area of our building, surrounded by scores of radios being  upgraded. After arrival this morning I ran up and down four flights of stairs five times in fifteen minutes fetching kit, taking messages. An engineer arrived to service the lifts, taking them out of action for the morning, then another engineer arrived to test the building's electrical circuits. Then a landlord's agent showed up to inspect the building. As we were in the (unstaffed) reception area, with no phone links upstairs, someone responsible had to be located, one or two stories up. The guy managing the building was off work for the day. In addition, I did two circuits of the city centre delivering radios on foot. No wonder I was too exhausted to go out circle dancing when I got home.

I shan't forget my ride along Bute Street at lunchtime today, driven at full tilt in the traffic on one of the city centre's electric golf buggies to collect a couple of unused radios from a down-town top floor office. I kept wondering if it had enough power for the return journey. I worried about being stranded, as I had to cycle home and prepare for the afternoon's funeral. All's well that ends well. At least I'm getting a taste of what it would have been like to be the worker-priest I originally hoped to become when first ordained. There's a lot more to living a priestly life in the world of work than meets the eye. Could I have ever sustained both dimensions satisfactorily I wonder?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Sombre Harvest

Before I went to celebrate Harvest with St German's Parish this morning, after reflecting on the Cil-y-Bebyll mine accident, I decided to email Archbishop Barry and express my support for him  at this tragic time for the people of his home valley, from one miner's son to another. We brought the Paschal Candle from the font, and lit it in the midst of the church to remind us of those who had died.

The Mass was followed by an excellent lunch in the Parish Hall next door. I sat next to Fr Malcolm Brooks, former Vicar of my home town Ystrad Mynach, and we chatted about the village and people remembered from my youth, and about the lost community culture and values of the coal mining era. It was natural to do so in the light of current events. 

After lunch, instead of going home, I went into the office for a couple of hours to see if there was anything more I could do to advance preparations for this week's radio network upgrade. Yesterday, I learned that the engineers had encountered problems with their side of the operation and this would mean a late start. We have so much to get through in two working days, I can't see this project being completed to schedule.

It was such a comfort to leave all these worries behind on the desk and return to St Germans for the comfort of Evensong and Benediction. Only half a dozen of us were present, but we sang without inhibition while the evening sun streamed through clouds of incense into the holy of holies. I guess it's the contrasts and paradoxes of the worlds I move in and out of which give me most pleasure.

Friday, 16 September 2011

A Hard Friday

It took me the best part of six hours non stop work today, to produce the radio reconfiguration scheduling mail-out for about 180 users in ten groups over two days. It shouldn't have taken so long, except that designing a suitable conditional mail merge, not to mention editing the dross out of the mailing database might have taken longer than using an older label print-out and much manual sorting, not to mention folding and sticking. Lots of repetion with minor variations. The challenge was not to lose concentration and mail schedule letters to users in the wrong groups, so that the check lists for collection and delivery didn't match what recipients had been informed. I only lost the plot once, that I noticed (I hope).

Ashley arrived with the news that the engineers had advised him that they'd be starting later than expected due to glitches in their programming preparation, thereby putting the whole schedule out of sync with the information issued. Ah well, I did my best to order the chaos. I'm dreading Monday and Tuesday already. To add to our trials, our BT internet connection was down again and their support services seemed to be even more chaotic than usual, telling us that our account had been disconnected, promising to ring us back by a certain time and failing to do so. Ashley must have spent two hours on the phone to different operatives, having to explain the situation each time, as none of the information he imparted seemed to be retained and passed on from one section of BT to another, and nothing was resolved.

This was especially annoying as the radio reconfiguration engineer had emailed us a spreadsheet for us to check for the forthcoming work, but offline we couldn't access email. The only BT service working for us was our rarely used 3G internet dongle, and this had to be installed on Ashley's laptop before he could access his account. Once it was working the dongle advised us that only limited use was possible as it needed a software upgrade. Anyway the email was retrieved and the file forwarded to my laptop before it stopped working. As last user of the dongle, my software was more up to date, so I was able to retrieve the file, and together we tackled the task of error checking its 250+ entries, and returning it before the end of business for the weekend. By the time I'd cycled home, I felt fit for nothing, exhausted by so much attention to detail.
The evening news reported the death of the four miners trapped underground at Cil-y-Bebyll. Flooding, by waters accumulating from old unmapped mine workings in the vicinity of the latest tunnel may well have caused a fatal tunnel collapse. There was an excellent reprise of article written 15 years ago about the resurgence of small private mines in today's Guardian. Local Vicar Martin Perry was interviewed on Radio. I watched MP Peter Hain on the TV news. In the distant outdoors background, out of focus I think I saw Archbishop Barry talking with locals. He is one of the locals there, born a few miles further north.  It's where I'd expect to find him at a time like this - with the people rather than with the media. My heart goes out to them all.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Under pressure

Work was busy this afternoon, with scheduling preparations for next Monday and Tuesday's network radio upgrade to prepare for. Yesterday I got up early and spent a couple of hours on scheduling before going over to Bristol. I sent an email about what I'd done to the office, but omitted to send the file attached, and also omitted to save it in any other place I could access the data. So, as soon as I arrived I had to turn around and go home and recover the file from my desktop machine. Lately, I've been conscientious about emailing in work done at home or storing in in Google Docs, but on this occasion, absent mindedness wreaked havoc.

Thankfully, Jason and Ashley were on their way in together by car, and were able to collect me from a bus stop and take me home and then back to the office. I couldn't find the file at first because I'd forgotten that the work had been done on one of my two portables machines, so the search got me in a right flap. By the time we got back to the office I had only two hours to work before returning home to eat early, then ferry Clare to Dinas Powis for her study group, before going to Penarth for a double session of Chi Gung and Tai Chi. I was glad of the workout, but found it more than usually demanding, after a stressful day. By the time I dragged myself to bed, I felt like I'd swum a couple of miles.

News came in during the day of workers trapped by flooding in a small drift mine at Cil-y-Bebyll in the Tawe Valley up behind Swansea. The news triggered off memories of my father, and the sombre mood at home associated with accidents up at Penallta colliery. The eerie untimely hooting of the pit's siren would announce a crisis that got off-duty emergency responders into their boots and heading out up the road back towards work, just as fast as their tired limbs could take them, just in case they were needed.
Although the large nationalised coal mines are long gone, small privately run drift mines still operate, mostly at the Western side of the South Wales coalfield, where lucrative anthracite coal, known as 'Welsh gold', is abundant. This is a region suffering from tens of thousands of mining job losses three decades ago, on top of the impact of the current recession. Anthracite is a high energy low smoke coal costing around £130-150 a tonne in today's domestic market. Small mines using traditional methods in difficult conditions, lacking the benefits of modern equipment, are unlikely to be highly productive, but they still offer men an opportunity to work for a living, albeit for meagre rewards, with high risks attached, as we are reminded by the headlines once more.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Visiting SS Great Britain

Owain Clare and I drove to Bristol today to visit Amanda and celebrate her birthday with a trip to see SS Great Britain in Bristol Docks. We were living in Caerphilly when this great ship made her grand re-entry to the dry-dock where she'd been built. Five years later we returned to live in St Paul's Bristol, but the eight years we lived in the city that followed I never made a visit, although I imagine the children must have made school visits there. So for me at least, this was a first time experience, and a most impressive one.

The ship's interior and top deck have been beautifully restored to reflect the way she was in her heyday as the first great transcontinental ocean liner of mid-Victorian times. She is surrounded by only a thin sheet of water, to give the impression of being afloat. Beneath the artificial water-line the hull sits on terra firma in the dry dock with amospheric humidity controlled zealously to combat the deterioration of her cast iron hull plates, oversaturated with decades of sea salt.

The visit begins by going down to hull level, where one can walk around the entire ship at ground level, then it continues with a walk through history exhibition, before ascending to the sea deck, overlooking the harbour and the steep streets of Hotwells, just across the water. From there, one can go down below deck three levels, and see where passengers lived, both rich and poor, and where those who served them and the ship's crew, and livestock were accommodated.

What's remarkable is just how wheel-chair friendly the entire visitor experience turned out to be, with lifts conveniently placed near staircases. A very positive experience for us wheeling Amanda around in her chair.  Although she's improved a great deal, an entire visit on crutches is out of the question for now. After a late lunch and stroll along the quayside, we headed back to Amanda's, where I cooked one of my seafood paella specialities for supper, to go with one of Clare's excellent chocolate birthday cakes. It was a superb outing, and we got back to Cardiff in time for Owain to go to a gig, Clare to choir practice and me to relax doing nothing in particular at home.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Another sombre blue skies day

Well, finishing the sermon was easier said than done. We got back from Worcester just after eight, and it was half past midnight before I turned in. Then I had a new idea while I was eating breakfast, and had enough time for a final edit and print before driving out in bright sunshine to Llandough for the first Eucharist of the day at the Parish Church of St Dochdwy, on the Western ridge above Cardiff Bay. Dochdwy is one of our local Celtic saints of the 5th-6th century.

The mid 19th century church sits on 12th century foundations in an ancient Llan, more oval than circular as sections of this ancient circular enclosure of a sacred place have been trimmed off with the passage of centuries. The interior walls are clad with attractive reddish pink bricks decorated with large crosses in yellow and black brick, imitating the interior design of William Butterfield, who was at the same period building St Augustine's in neighbouring Penarth Parish. Lit by bright morning sun, it looked quite enchanting.

Standing a little way from the south west corner of the building is the three metre high stone shaft carved with celtic patterns of the 10th - 11th century, remains of a celtic Cross, with the name IRBIC inscribed on it. Some historians have speculated that the size of the head of a celtic cross in the same Ogmore sandstone found in Llandaff Cathedral could be what once stood on this shaft. Imagine - if this could be scientifically proved to be true - how many decades of argument would follow on the subject of re-uniting them, and where it should be located?

The twenty strong congregation was friendly and welcoming. Afterwards I had to decline their offer of a cup of tea and a chat, as I had to make my way across to Adamsdown on the A4232 ring road section crossing the Bay to arrive on time for the 11.00am Solemn Mass at St German's, where a congregation of thirty was waiting for me in another enchanting sunlit building four times the size of Eglwys Dochdwy. I got hardly any feedback on the sermon in both places, apart from "Nice to hear someone different for a change." Well, I should be grateful nobody walked out, I suppose, with attendances compensating with commitment for lack of numbers. The sermon's here to read, if you want to see where yesterday's musing led me.

Lunch was hot and on the table when I arrived home - venison stew lovingly prepared by Clare with fresh green vegetables - very tasty. I hunted the afternoon TV news channels to find out if there was any resolution of the unfinished conflict in Libya, but all attention was on the Ground Zero commemoration in NYC. It seemed quite bizarre that BBC One was showing the Monza F1 GP race, with all its minor skirmishes for position, seemingly oblivious of the sombre mood elsewhere. But then channel hopping always seems a bit surreal to me. It was a relief to return to sunny St German's for a single focussed happy hour of Solemn Evensong and Benediction, as a prelude to a quiet evening of Sunday relaxation, grateful for the peace and safety we enjoy, the cost notwithstanding.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Terrorism - confrontation or dialogue: what do we want?

As part of the run up to tomorrow's commemoration of 9/11, Mister Blair was interviewed on this morning's Today programme by John Humphries, who wasn't quite as bullying as I usually find him to be, though Mr Blair was dogmatic as ever about the part he and Britain had played in the past decade of violence around the world. He still insists that combating so-called religious extremism is the key to neutralising the global terrorist threat and still doesn't see the costliness and unproductiveness of the use of force. 

Yet paradoxically it was on his watch that secret negotiations between the 'terrorist' leaders on both sides that led to the end of decades of conflict in Northern Ireland bore fruit, as Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller pointed out in her Reith Lecture this week. Although the warring parties in Ulster were for ever assigned religious labels, the conflict was not about religious belief as such. It was about the inability of those with power and access to resources to share it fairly between different communities and their needs. As it happened those communities had social and cultural identities with roots in the religious history and politics of another era. In the doctrines of opposing sides, fair shares in employment, education and housing were what mattered, and required a reconciling response. That's what the dialogue revealed and led the way to achieving.

I was disappointed that Humphries omitted to remind Mister Blair that only about ten per cent of all reported suicide bombers in the past couple of decades could reasonably be described as 'religious extremists'. The other ninety percent were ordinary people, some communist, some atheist other with religious beliefs maybe but not as a driving force. Helplessness rage at the plight of a nation, a community, an ethnic group, subjected to foreign domination, exploited, deprived of dignity as well as resources, generates a despair that induces a feeling that since all is lost, why not give the oppressors as taste of their own medicine? It's a most perverse and evil way to make one's existence meaningful, but it's the response of poor vulnerable people whose lives have been thoroughly devalued by their experience of suffering oppression.

Emphasis is rightly given to the tragic victims and heroes of 9/11, nearly three thousand of them, maybe more when the final account is made of eventual victims of toxic dust fall-out in the aftermath. The world would have a lot more mourning to do if a similar day were to be set aside for a hundred times as many victims of a decade of  'war on terror' in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and other parts of the globe soon forgotten. Why do all these lost lives seem to matter less in the estimation of attention given to their demise? It's a mighty challenge to secure any kind of peacemaking dialogue with people enraged to the point of insane despair. Violence must be stopped by reasonable force if needs be. But beyond that?

I've got to preach twice tomorrow. What can I say? But first,  there's Mass to celebrate this morning at St Germans, then a drive to Worcester for lunch and a walk along the banks of the river Severn with our friends Mike and Gail, to lift the spirits and clear the mind. And then finish the sermon.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Worlds of work, leisure & late shopping

I had a noon meeting in the office today with two people from the company which does all the technical support for Cardiff RadioNet. We had Monday and Tuesday of this week set aside for a major exercise in upgrading 240 networked radios, and this was postponed for another two weeks at the eleventh hours. Today was our opportunity to review all our work plans for the coming months with top tech guy responsible for these things and consider the proposed scheduling of work needing to be done. Inevitably plans now have to be re-jigged to fit resources available, and that means more work for me next week, but at least this meeting afforded us the  possibility of progress in getting our comms network to function in a way that matches our ambitions. 

Would I have survived if the nature of 'getting things done' in the church had been as tricky and complex and strictly time based ? (Essential in any upgrade exercise of this kind.) The timescale of change in the church is generally pretty long and very elastic. As an impatient feller this frustrated me hugely, even though I learned to take 'the long view' over time. Now I have to think hard about the most efficient way to manage scarce time resources to get this job done. It's quite a contrast to the way I spent my working life, but I'm glad of all the insights this gives me into the ways of the workaday world.

This evening, Clare and I went to a circle dance session in the Mackintosh Institute over in Roath, with its immaculate, well-used bowling green right outside the french windows of its main assembly room. There were only seven of us (adults of riper years) at this first session of the new term, all people we knew from times past when our friend Moonyeen (God rest her soul) was this group's guru. It was an enjoyable if challenging experience to discover if I could still follow instructions, repeat steps consistently and not make a fool of myself - not that it matters - if you do go wrong nobody's bothered. Circle dance embraces every level and kind of participant that can stand and move around. I love its combination of physical and spiritual activity. Would that our over-intellectualised church life enjoyed the same balance and integration.

On the way home we called into big Tesco on Western Avenue to get some 9 volt smoke alarm batteries, as one of our three started irritating the hell out of us this morning. Such a simple purchase at ten at night in a 24/7 supermarket entailed queuing for a quarter of an hour at a checkout behind a couple of people with their week's shopping. The '10 items or less' aisle was closed. Only a fifth of the checkouts were open. There were queues requiring a couple of staff members to manage those using automatic checkouts. I refuse to use them on principle. OK it may be simple and efficient, but it's so impersonal. It reduces the social experience of shopping to queuing with others who don't want to speak, already fed up that they have to wait to part with their cash to a damned robot. I'd rather say 'hello' and 'thank you' to a real person, even if I have to queue for the privilege.

Next time, I'll exercise even more patience and get my spare batteries downtown, in Cardiff Market.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Time out

No Wednesday Eucharist to celebrate today. School's back, and the first of the term time 'class Masses' takes place, and Fr Dean is taking this on board from the start. 

I've been feeling mentally tired this past few days, so I didn't feel like going in to the office. Instead, Clare and I took a brisk walk up the Taff Trail to Whitchurch aiming to see the newly restored Melingriffith Water pump. We certainly needed the exercise, as we were both somewhat out of condition, and were beginning to feel joint pains by the time we reached the road where the pump is sited. Just then the local circular bus came by. We stopped to look at it and it stopped for us! So we didn't get to see the pump, but took a ride into Whitchurch Village and had a cup of coffee from a nice little takeaway shop while we waited for the 24 bus into town. We had lunch in the new Pipi's café, soon to add a Greek restaurant to its excellent food fare offer, then went for a little browse around the shops before returning home.

After supper I booked flights for us to Alicante for a week's half term break, since Anto's apartment is free for us to use. It's hard to believe that we were last there over two years ago. That time has flown by so quickly. Our first visit there was in October during the grape harvest ten years ago. It's not so fiercely hot, and that should make it more tolerable to spend time watching flamingos and other birds in the local natural park behind the shore line on the southern side of the port - while wearing a shirt.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Creative contributors or passive recipients?

Since yesterday, I've been reflecting about the condition of parishes in times of interregnum. They go into a kind of suspended animation, with all development initiative suppressed until there is a new incumbent in place, as if lay people can't be trusted to do the right thing without a 'king in the castle', so to speak. I can see that conditions may not be so healthy everywhere, that lack of priestly pastoral leadership might lead to conflict, or strategic decisions no new cleric would find it possible to live with. 

Those of us who share in  maintaining this static condition aren't allowed to change anything or permit changes to be made once an incumbent has gone. It's not the only choice church leaders could make, and it's not always a healthy choice. The idea of having people, ordained or lay, who could accompany a parish pastorally ad interim offering 'light touch' guidance in response to development of new ideas seems not to be explored, or if it happens, it happens off the official radar. Expecting keen lay folk to be patient for a long period puts them at risk of becoming 'patients' - passive recipients of what ecclesiastical professionals hand down for consumption whose creativity has been stifled. Is that good enough?

Back in the 1920s British Anglican theologian and missionary cleric Roland Allen who'd worked in China and in East Africa observed that the rate of the spontaneous expansion of the church, once the Gospel had been received by ordinary people, diminished noticeably once leadership was entrusted to trained professionals, whether expatriate missionaries or local indigenous people. His prophetic insight stimulated debate about the need for non-stipendiary and locally ordained ministries half a century before these were finally approved and adopted by the professional leaders of Anglicanism.

Sure we need our trained professionals, but do they have to be so much in tight control of everything? I'd never thought of that until I was introduced to Allen's writing back in the seventies. Interestingly, after his spell of overseas mission he became a CofE incumbent, but gave it up to earn his keep as an international free-lance expert teacher and writer on mission. I suspect after his experience of mission, he couldn't get used to having so much status, power or control over parishioners. What's it got to do with the Gospel? After all, the pastor like Christ is meant to be 'among you, as one who serves'.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Waiting for a new start

Once again I celebrated the Solemn Mass at St German' this morning and Benediction this evening. Their new lay Reader Mike preached at Mass. It was a welcome change to listen to someone else. The sun shone, sending beams of light through clouds of incense, to add to the pleasure. 

I was glad to learn that work has now started on renovating the Vicarage for its next occupant, two months after it was vacated. Sensibly, to my mind, Fr Dean is resisting being licensed to the Parish until he has a place in which he can both live and work. Settling into a new community would be very stressful if the house was a building site with workmen  coming and going while he's trying to work. 

Let's hope there are not too many delays. At this stage, unless there's a miracle, I doubt if they'll be finished in time for his new ministry to be launched before the end of the year. Mindful of that yesterday, I emailed Area Dean Fr Mark a list of my remaining locum duty availability for the last quarter of the year. I don't envy him the task of providing all the necessary duty cover.

I admire the cheerful patience of church members, getting on with their regular duties, welcoming various guest clerics, also parishioners seeking pastoral offices. It's business as usual until they can work with their new pastor to figure out what fresh initiatives they want to take together. I get an insight from here into what it must have been like for the locum clerics who did duty at St John's during the fifteen months after my retirement. A pity it always seems to take so long.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Making time work

It's been a busy week in the office, with preparations to make for to organising the software upgrading of the 240 digital radios belonging to the City Centre radio network. This involves checking their specific identities and locations to which they are assigned, so they can be configured correctly. My task has been to figure out the best way to create a timetable that will bring users to two separate locations convenient to them, for a ten minute rendezvous with an engineer over a period of two full working days. This must be done within a specified period to minimise down-time for the 200 users involved, and build enough slack into the schedule to allow for the inevitable minor glitches, late arrivals, failure to get the rendezvous message through to the person who has to perform the errand. 

I went into the office early this morning to finish the task, as I had to officiate at a funeral after lunch, only to learn that the engineers had postponed the work for a couple of weeks. We had only just started to distribute a general reminder notice, and that a somewhat later date than desirable, as a preliminary to preparing the schedule notifications for distribution, so the notification task had to be aborted, and all users notified of the delay instead. At one level it was most annoying, but at another level, the extra preparation time will not go amiss, and will allow us to refine the scheduling plan to optimise the limited (expensive) time available. As a not for profit company we have to make best use of our finite resources, and to do this, a little extra time is most valuable.