Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Damn Good Send-off

I travelled early to Newport this morning to lunch with my friend Martin before we attended the funeral at St Woolos Cathedral of its recently installed Dean, Fr Jeremy Winston who died nine days ago. I felt no desire to dress up and join the eighty odd clergy who sat together, and as a result I stood for the entire service next to the font in the most ancient section of the building which joins the tower with the nave. The place was full with people from all over the church in Wales and further afield, paying their respects to a distinguished priest who had the ability to stay friends with many different kinds of people, many of whom didn't agree with his views.

Bishop of Monmouth, Dominic Walker presided at the Requiem Eucharist. It contained favourite hymns everyone could sing, a Mass setting by Lotte, and anthems including the sublime 'In Paradisium' from FaurĂ©'s Requiem. Archbishop Barry was present, and someone said, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet was in choir - the C of E remaining flying Bishop? Or was it his predecessor, now a Roman Catholic prelate?  Many of those who resisted women's priestly ordination were there, but also many woman clergy, who valued the courtesy and respect Jeremy showed towards them. That such a funeral could unite so many people showed what an excellent Bishop he might have made, regardless of his traditional catholic view of ministry - a man who loved his church and all her people. Much of the Church in Wales seemed to be there. It was a damn good send-off as Fr Tim Hewitt said on Facebook tonight.

John Davis, Bishop of Swansea and Brecon gave the homily/eulogy, and gave us a few things to smile about amid the sad solemnity. He was Curate in Chepstow when Jeremy was Vicar of neighbouring St Arvan's, and I was there, working from home for USPG. I was recognised and greeted by Hugh Allen a priest who was in Newport at that time. We hadn't met since. I learned he'd retired early from ministry and joined the Orthodox Church, unable to come to terms with womens' ordination. Communion distribution in such a congested building seemed not to have been well planned and took an age.

The public sector workers' strike meant that Jeremy's burial alongside his mother couldn't take place after the funeral service. So, his body was returned to rest overnight in St Mary's Priory Abergavenny before interment, giving people there an opportunity to pay their last respects. Such are the marvels of technology that the funeral, like his installation service, was relayed by video internet link to the Priory for those who couldn't attend, possibly sparing the environs of Newport's Stow Hill from lunchtime gridlock during the service. Jeremy would have liked that.

As I'd made a mid-afternoon rendezvous back at the office, I had to leave before it was all over without receiving, thereby missing the opportunity to meet and greet decades worth of colleagues from my seven years in Monmouth diocese. On the way out I was accosted by Fr Mark Zorab, Deacon of St Arvan's Parish. He'd been Warden when we last met 23 years ago. I hadn't recognised him in clerical garb as I'd not known him other than as a devout layman. Another life touched by Jeremy's,  grieving the sudden loss of a close friend. 

It turned out I could have stayed longer. My colleague was delayed an hour and a half, stuck in traffic on the periphery of Cardiff caused by closure of the Bay by-pass tunnel, due to the national strike. The city centre was heaving with shoppers - maybe strikers taking advantage of an extra free day? I returned home to eat with Clare and Owain, then returned to a much quieter city centre for an evening of catch up in a workplace as empty as it had been for most of the day.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Early morning meditation

I was due in St Mike's college chapel this morning at 7.45am, to lead Matins and give a meditation. I'd spent many hours crafting my brief effort, and retired to bed worried about waking to the alarm. I don't like active early mornings, even if I do wake up at first light. I found it hard to settle. 

I realised that I'd forgotten to mention in my addess that this day in the Anglican calendar is the annual Vigil of Prayer for World Mission.  When I worked for USPG this was a key occasion in the Church's year to draw attention to our raison d'ĂȘtre, and recall some outstanding Anglican pioneers who dedicated their lives to break down cultural barriers to share faith in Christ, often despite of, rather than because of huge expansion of world trade from the 17th century onwards. Important to mention this in a College where some of the students have a limited background experience of the full content and value of the church's calendar year.

Added to this, I was also thinking of Fr Bob Morgan, whose funeral my College duties prevented me from travelling to St David's to attend. After churning and turning, I got up at five thrity and re-wrote an introduction to the address mentioning the Vigil and dedicating it to Bob's memory, as it reflected the kind of incarnational theology we shared in common. You can download and read it here

I went back to bed, slept until the alarm went off, and got to College punctually. I came away relieved and satisfied, then put myself to shame by eating a cooked second  breakfast I didn't need. Hardly a good example of Advent restraint, let alone weight loss strategy. No even a good Chi Gung workout this evening could make up for that. Thankful that I didn't have to go to work after this,  went home and back to bed for a couple of hours to make up for hours lost.

After lunch I returned to College caught up on some Tutor group stuff before our tea time session, and read some sections of Teilhard de Chardin's 'Le Milieu Divin' from both the French and English copies I possess. It's something I haven't tried before, and I found doing this somewhat improved my understanding of it. He was a man of vision, ahead of his time, but his written discourse comes from the learned world of nineteenth century Jesuits, and needs decoding improve my comprehension of his passionate insight into the Christian cosmic vision. Interpretation and translation go hand in hand, I think.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Advent begins

This morning's journey to Porth to celebrate the Parish Eucharist at St John's Cymmer was in bright clear weather. Quite unlike the previous occasion in October, when it was misty and damp, and I ended up at the wrong church. There was a welcoming congregation of fifty, and afterwards I joined them for a cuppa in the church hall before my journey home. Everyone was in good spirits as they'd netted over eleven hundred pounds at their Christmas Fayre yesterday. I was asked by the lady who served me tea if I wanted to join the men. 

Two dozen women were moving around chatting in groups. The four men present, all of pensionable age, sat around the same table together, obviously old friends. They welcomed me to sit with them and we chatted and joked for a quarter of an hour. Whether they'd worked or sung together or been church members for heaven knows how long, it was clear they all belong to the local community and were growing old together.

I enjoyed sitting with the old guys. I'm now one of them myself - it's hard to get used to the idea - but it was special to be with them. The women are pleased they're there at all. One of the men, a retired mechanic 77 years old, told me that he's a 7th Dan Aikido master, involved in martial arts for more than half his adult life. I told him I'd been learning Tai Chi for nine years. It's not something I often get to talk about to anyone in church circles and something of surprise to do so today, up in the Rhondda Valley. 

As Cymmer is equidistant from home by two routes, after making my farewells I took the alternative way home via Llantrisant, making the most of sunshine and blue skies, enjoying the scenery, laughing at Radio 4's 'I'm sorry I haven't a clue' all the way home. At lunch, Advent candles burned while we ate. I hung Ann-Marie's patchwork Advent wreath on the front door last night. It's been with us each December for well over fifteen years.

After lunch, instead of a snooze, I had enough time to catch up on last night's missed double episode of 'The Killing II' with iPlayer. It's every bit as eventful and intriguing as the first serial, but faster paced, which means that it won't be able to address in the same depth the subject of the impact of a crime on a family which was superbly explored in the first. This time the political process of coalition government is under scrutiny, and how it tackles a situation that conspires to arouse islamophobic reactions from the public. Complex.

As I set out for Evensong and Benediction the sun was on the way to setting. The thin sliver of a new moon was visible in a still pale blue evening sky. The next new moon will be on the evening of Christmas Day. Maybe there'll be more time to stand an stare at it in wonder then. Weather permitting.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

End and beginning

Here we are, last day of the liturgical year. The Mass Gospel this morning had Jesus warning his disciples to be on the alert in order to be responsive in the coming last days (Of the world? Or of his life? Probably both) "Be on your guard so that your hearts are not weighed down by dissipation and drunkenness, and the worries of this life." Quite suitable for Advent, and all its pre-Christmas celebrations. We have our first 'winterval' outing tonight - Clare's choir dinner. As she's unable to drive until her cataracts are removed, it'll be an alcohol free night for me, and viewing part two of  'The Killing II' on BBC iPlayer tomorrow night. But quite apart from that, Advent is upon us - one of my favourite seasons of the Christian year. It helps me cope cheerily with the encroaching winter darkness.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Another unexpected death

I took the funeral of a former dockside crane driver at St German's this afternoon. He was born in Cardiff's dockland, served in the Welsh Guards during the war and returned to life and work in his home Parish after demobilisation. He spent the rest of his career loading coal on to ships, getting dirty every day he worked, and by the time he stopped work, the flow of coal out through the Port of Cardiff was slowing to a trickle as the mines closed. He was proud of the place he spent his life, and much of his leisure time in retirement. 

He'd married a St German's girl, and her funeral had been there five years ago. Traditionally docklanders want to return from wherever they eventually made a home for their funeral at St Mary's Bute Street. This keeps Fr. Graham extra busy. On this occasion, a docklander wanted to be buried from the church where he married and from where his wife was buried, so other docklanders came away from home in force to pay their respects. A hundred and fifty people attended the service. Afterwards the cortege made its way to Thornhill cemetry through Cardiff Bay, driving past streets the deceased had lived in as a child.

On the journey one of the funeral attendants riding with me in the car asked if I knew Fr Bob Morgan who'd died a couple of days ago. He then fished out his iPhone and showed me the news article and photo of Bob which appeared on the Western Mail/Echo website. It came as another shock in the same week as losing Fr Jeremy Winston. Bob was 83 however, not 57 like Jeremy, but it was still unexpected. 

Bob had already been Vicar of 'the Res' in Glanely for several years when, as a junior Curate in my post- ordination training programme I first met him. His was considered one of the toughest jobs in Cardiff, and he was innovative, and an enterprising radical catholic missionary in engaging with a huge working class community. He got elected as a Labour councillor for his local ward, and rose to lead the Labour group and South Glamorgan County Council, as it then was. He ran a massively popular youth disco in his church hall. Not only did it fund lots of necessary work on church buildings at that time, but it gave him a zone for informal pastoral work with generations of young people.

Decades later, many of them, now parents or grandparents themselves, remember him still, as I've found in my recent pastoral engagements in Glanely. It was the only Parish Bob ever took charge of. He understood it was important for community building that there was a consistent long term pastoral (and in his case also political) ministry at its heart. The church building is still a key gathering place in that community, part of its social cohesion, a legacy of his sojourn that still flourishes. He was in every sense friend, mentor and role model to many priests trying to undersand and do mission in the sixties and seventies. I'm proud to count myself as one of them.

We met up again a decade after Bob's retirement when I preached Holy Week in St David's Cathedral two and a half years ago. He said he'd come for just one hour of the Three Hours devotion, but he stayed throughout and kindly expressed his appreciation for my efforts. He probably didn't realise how nervous I felt having to preach before the gaze of someone I'd looked up to for years. I felt honoured by his staying power at my feet. It was one of his great gifts to the Church and the people he lived to serve. May he rest in peace, and rise in glory.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

School opening day

I left the office early this afternoon to have enough time to get to Roath for the opening ceremony of Cardiff Steiner Education Initiative's new kindergarten building, housed in the century old former Saint Anne's Parish infants school, which closed last summer. 

Representatives of the Parish and previous school were present, also parents with children and a group of former pupils from the past decade of the kindergarten's existence in its Iron Street building in nearby Adamsdown. These took part in the opening ceremony.

It was a lovely occasion. Anna, one of the school's founding staff members, who told a story, also Russel the school's eminent mentor. A moving contribution was made by a Sudanese Sufi Sheikh. He reminisced about his childhood by the Nile, living close to nature. He stated how Steiner education reminded him of the spiritual values that nourished him, and how pleased he was to advise and support Muslim parents to send their children to the kindergarten. Fr. Stuart Lisk, Vicar of Roath spoke about the death and resurrection of the school. It was a happy day for him, as he was Chair of the old school's governors, faced with accepting the heart breaking closure decision due to decline in pupil numbers. 

Steiner education's creative approach to pedagogy garners parental support from people far and wide. Parents and staff work together as genuine stakeholders to form a self supporting learning community truly centred on the world of childhood development. It achieves government targeted aspirations for learners, albeit by a different route along which creativity, co-operation and spiritual awareness of the world and each other all play a vital part in the child's schooling. 

The Church in Wales' partnership with the state in its schooling programme strives hard and often excellently to achieve similar educational aspirations, but this is not without compromise, because of the way all teachers are trained and shaped by the experience of dependency as part of a large public service institution. In effect, schools (State and Church Voluntary Aided) are clients of the Local Education Authority. Pupils and their parents are clients of the school. Public bodies, both church and state are perennially subject to the vagaries of politics and finance. Running them always seems to involve excessive amounts of change management and trouble shooting, draining energy from the essentials of pedagogy. 

Small community stakeholder engagement behind Steiner education is much more demanding in some ways on parents and teachers, but gives much more to the children, consistently enabling each one to rise to their potential. It succeeds in meeting the kind of aspirations Church schools strive to maintain in their altogether different organisational model. I'm thankful this initiative flourishes, not least because of the inspirational example it sets in local early years schooling.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Dean Jeremy Winston

I received a phone call from my friend Martin this morning to tell me that a mutual friend of ours for the past thirty five years had died overnight. Father Jeremy Winston was only recently installed as Dean of Monmouth, and no sooner had he moved house during a few hectically busy weeks, than he collapsed and was taken into hospital. Tests revealed an advanced brain tumor, and preparations were well advanced for him to start chemo and radio therapy. Martin had visited him in his new Deanery home yesterday afternoon and found him up and about, fully engaged with life as usual, and positive despite the enormous threat over his life and ministry. And overnight he's gone. Such a shock.

Jeremy was Vicar of St Arvans where we lived in neighbouring Chepstow, and when not involved with USPG duties, I'd help him out in his five church rural parish in one of the most beautiful parts of Gwent. He went on to a long and distinguished ministry as Vicar of Abergavenny, and contributed to liturgical reform and governance in the church in Wales, on top of taking several rural parishes into the town benefice, and major restoration works to the church, culminating in reclaiming a mediaeval tithe barn close to the church and turning it into an attractive visitor centre. He was no stranger to ill health and pain, yet packed in to his thirty years of ministry double what most others would achieve. Such a sad day for the Church in Wales.

Jeremy was a mission minded Anglo-Catholic, who could not reconcile himself to the ordination of women because of its impact on church unity, and St Mary's Abergavenny was where many the ceremonies carried out by the Provincial 'flying bishop' were held. His appointment as Dean of Monmouth was welcomed by female and male clergy alike, as his was renowned for his gracious respect for all colleagues, and his regard for decisions made by the Church in Wales, even if he himself didn't agree with them. He'll be remembered as one of the best Bishops the Church in Wales didn't elect. (Or wouldn't elect because of his position on ordination). Despite this personal discomfort, he remained a loyal and true Anglican to the end. He will be missed, and leave a gap in the leadership of the Church he loved.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Sunday busyness

I began the morning celebrating the Parish Solemn Mass for St Saviour's congregation in Splott, almost a year since I was last there. Then it was a matter of popping less than a mile down the road to St German's for their Parish Solemn Mass, followed by a baptism - my twelfth during the interregnum - and at the end of the afternoon, Solemn Evensong and Benediction as usual. By the end of the day, my hair and clothes reeked of incense.

When Father Dean takes over at St German's in January, this will be his Sunday routine, with all the pastoral activity that inevitably accompanies it. Fine, as long as everything runs smoothly and there's no traffic congestion on the short trip. Fine as long as Ministry of the Word and sermon don't exceed a certain total length. It's manageable, ironically, as long as the St Saviour's congregation doesn't double in size - distribution of communion no matter how efficiently stage managed has a way of eating up time and eating into schedules. 

I had an equally busy Sunday morning for many years of working on my own: eight o'clock, followed by nine thirty and eleven o'clock services in different churches, then Evensong. It left me drained, always feeling I wasn't giving core community supporters enough attention and interest. But that's how the job makes you feel - a sense of pastoral obligation that goes with the freedom and privilege of priestly life in a parish. The pattern may just about be sustainable, but does it nourish people and priest? The danger is that it keeps us all busy and talkative, less good at being together and communing.

Being retired, and only less frequently doing the kind of Sunday duties which used to be routine all year round gives me a different perspective. I'm happy to help in sharing the burden, and I want what I do to be more than just terminal care. I wonder where and how I can take any kind of creative initiative that can help change things for the better, but I don't see it at the moment.

Saturday, 19 November 2011


After saying Mass at St German's this morning, Clare and I went out for an expensive coffee and croissant at Creme in King's Road. After lunch we went into town for a shopping expedition, ending up at St John's for Evensong. The congregation were welcoming a party from Trellech congregation in Monmouth diocese. Their Vicar, Sandra Howells was a lay person in the congregation at Chepstow when Clare and I lived there and I worked for USPG. Clare and Sandra got a Bible Study group going which was one of the things that helped to spark Sandra's vocation. It must be twenty years since we last met - such a delight. With the party was Father James Coutts, former Vicar of Monouth, retired some ten years ago and living in Sandra's Parish. It was good to meet him again, looking fit and well. It's a lot longer than ten years since we last met at Ty Mawr.

With tomorrow's sermon taken care of earlier in the week, I had time for some writing, and to watch the first couple of episodes of the serialised Danish crime drama 'The Killing II'. We seem to be in for another month of exploration of Danish politics addressing issues of xenophobia and islamophobia. It's made extra interesting through the close quarters portrayal of wheeling and dealing in a coalition government. That's the rather prominent backdrop of another murder investigation by eagle eyed Sara Lund, whose near autistic attention to detail enables her to join up dots and notice patterns nobody else can see because they are so busy over-reacting the the pressures on them. It's half the length of the first series, maybe more intense. Will it hold up a mirror to our own situation?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Alarm distribution

In town early today  for the monthly Radio Users' group. We distributed a large quantity of personal attack alarms, recently delivered to the office, to Police and security staff for free distribution in stores. It's one of the things CBS undertook to do in response to concerns expressed about retail staff personal safety leaving work in the dark evenings. I hope the distributors remember to give us credit for this.

The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing renewal invoices for subscribers who join in autumn, plus a few chase up reminders to those whose payments are overdue. There was more to do than I'd anticipated, so I got home later than anticipated, and we had to eat in haste in order to get out on time, Clare to her study group and me to Tai Chi - another rewarding class at the end of quite a demanding day. The meeting minutes will have to wait until tomorrow.

Great to learn from the news of the capture of Saif-al-Islam Gaddafi, the last of the dictator's sons remaining on the run. His trial will challenge to Libya's fledgling justice system to prove its integrity and fairness.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Class Mass

As Father Dean was away today, I stood in for him at the Tredegarville School 'Class Mass' in St Germans for one of the older year groups. The children are with few exceptions well behaved and attentive. Dean's efforts to involve the children in readings and an offertory procession are well worth the effort he's put into this. I look forward to seeing how he develops this further in coming years, with physically active as well as verbal forms of participation, suitable for the occasion.

He's not yet been given a licensing date, and work on the Vicarage is still not finished. The interregnum seems set to continue until the end of the year if not January, so by the looks of it, I'll be at St German's for Christmas.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Economics of Gospel communities?

Back at St Michael's College again today, following the students' reading week, with a lunchtime Tutor team meeting, then an afternoon spent meeting with individual students to find out how each of them are doing before the group met for the hour before supper.

In the group we prayed using texts from a Greek Orthodox lay person's daily prayer book, which was a little out of the ordinary, even if we only used the English from the bi-lingual sheet. We then had quite an interesting discussion about the variety in pastoral values and priorities in church fundraising, mission and maintenance. 

It struck me listening to the conversation that within and across denominations church communities embrace a diversity of economic characteristics, in the way they plan (or don't plan), raise funds and disburse them. It may relate both to a given context and the tradition of social teaching which has been derived and applied from the interpretation of the Gospel. There are plenty of books about Christian stewardship around, but I| confess that I don't know of many writings that study ecclesiology in the light of economic practice.

Perhaps this reflects just how out of touch I am with contemporary theology.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Two kinds of remembering

St German's Remembrance Sunday Mass this morning began with my reading of the names of all those who died in two World Wars, about eighty names all told, from St German's and from St Agnes a long vanished daughter church. From the surnames it was possible tell that some families lost two and three sons on the Western Front. One of the Curates, John Godfrey Barton was killed in the North African campaign in the Second World War, and one of the Parish Sisters died in a blitz raid.

No doubt there were also servicemen raised locally who were killed in half a dozen or more conflicts that British forces have been involved in over my lifetime. The lack of any church monument to any of them reflects not only that there were fewer of them, but also it's a symptom of the dispersion of once tight knit working class neighbourhoods over the past half century, with the rise of post war housing estates around the periphery of the city. The impulse to raise a memorial to local fallen comrades would not be so strong with fewer of them, less well remembered. Those newer war memorials will tend to be raised only where churches serve the neighbourhood of a military base. 

I get quite irritated if I attend a Remembrance ceremony where the fallen of post 1945 conflicts are not referred to, at least in general. It confines to the past something which remains still part of our troubling present. We have still not conquered the deeply embedded impulse to wage war despite knowing in more graphic detail than ever just how evil war is.

Yesterday, our dear friends Oswald and Marion took us out to lunch at Miskin Manor near Pontyclun. It's a delightful Victorian homage to a prestigious mediaeval country house, with harmonious late 20th century additions, set in well managed grounds with a lovely mixture of trees, still in leaf on this mild late autumn day. At some stage in the afternoon I fell to reminiscing about my mother's Yorkshire Spice Cake recipe. Clare wondered if she still had it following a cook book clear out before we moved. Later in the evening she proved she'd retained it, by cooking a small trial version with half the sugar of the original, to suit our taste.

We ate Yorkshire Spice Cake for pudding at lunch, mine with yoghourt - not the way I would have enjoyed it fifty years ago. The texture, once cold enough was just perfect, but my memory of the flavour was that it was spicier in those days. The keynotes were ginger and nutmeg, but did my mother use anything else, not recorded in the text? Maybe not. My palate has changed. I have far less of a sweet tooth and we use spices in cooking far more now than when I was growing up. Far more is available to us to use, not to mention recipes and foods from far and wide. I didn't taste yoghourt or eat curry for the first time until I'd left home for university, forty eight years ago. This month it's forty eight years since Clare and I first met.

Saturday, 12 November 2011


As yesterday was Armistice Day, I went into town to the Wales National Cenotaph in Alexandra Gardens behind City Hall, to join in the two minutes Silence. I arrived in good time and was surprised to discover no formal preparations for the Remembrance ceremony. About a hundred and fifty poppy wearing people turned up, some bearing campaign medals, some wearing an armed services cap. The City Centre Police Inspector and two sergeants turned up in uniform, and at five to eleven a troop of thirty cadets in identical track suits marched in, with a couple of NCOs in uniform, followed by a group of twenty others not in uniform. Four cadets read out commemorative statements which were hardly audible to the gathering, then all fell silent until the stroke of eleven when the Silence proper began. No bugle playing, no traditional formal Act of Remembrance, no wreath laying, although there will be a ceremony this coming Sunday. At five past eleven everyone dispersed. It couldn't have been more low key.

Last night I attended my ninth annual United Services Mess dinner to act as Chaplain, say Grace and lead the gathering in its customary Act of Remembrance. In conversation beforehand with other top table guests, I discovered the official ceremony of the day took place inside the Castle walls. It seems the ceremony, and the Welsh National Garden of Remembrance moved there after last year's Armed Forces Day was held in Cardiff Castle. It has remained there since. Cadets will have their own good reasons for continuing to parade at the National Cenotaph, likewise the handful standing around the nearby Falklands War memorial.  But what of the 150 others who turned up in the wrong place like me? Did they not know about the change? Or, if they knew, was it too far for them to walk to the Castle? Or, were they quietly making their protest at the change by being at the Cenotaph instead of the new location?

I walked past the Castle to reach Alexandra Gardens. The only external publicity for current events within was for the Wales GB Rally, on this weekend. There was nothing to tell passers-by that the National Remembrance Garden was inside the Castle Grounds. Citizens with photo-card passes can get into the Castle grounds free, but visitors pay. If it was special free entrance for all for the Remembrance ceremony - was this advertised anywhere? On-line maybe? Fine for those with mobile internet access, what about others who might just want to take part in such a special moment in the heart of Wales' Capital city?

Whoever is in charge of making such information public should remember there is still a Digital Divide. Also, most of the public, who just turn up to remember without benefit of an official invite, aren't mind readers.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Return to St John's

For the first time since I celebrated the 40th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, we walked into town for the Parish Eucharist at St John's this morning. 'Becca, one of the students in my tutor group was preaching her first sermon, so it was my job to listen to her, and she did very well indeed. 

It was lovely to see all our friends in the congregation. There were over fifty people present, some new children in the Sunday school - all very pleasing. Two of the children, brought by their dad, a local licensee, I baptized in my first year in the Parish. Now they are nine and ten. It's the first time I've seen them since, partly because at that stage the family lived away from the job, but now they live just around the corner from the church. 

It was good to meet Liz my successor for the first time, as well. She has a different kind of challenge to the one I faced as the Archbishop has involved her in working on ministry vocations in addition to her city centre role.

After the service we walked over to Riverside market to get our organic veg for the week and then walked home for lunch. Then, it was back to St German's for Evensong and Benediction, now in a darkened church no longer filled with the rays of the setting sun - it's quite a change of atmosphere, even if the temperature is still fairly mild for a November Sunday.

Remembrance-tide begins

Yesterday morning, Clare and I attended the blessing of the Royal British Legion Garden of Remembrance at Saint John's, sitting in the congregation for the first time. As I'm still Chaplain of the Cardiff and Vale branch of the Legion, it gave me a good opportunity to connect with many members who were present for the ceremony. Most of those present were as old if not older than I, and maybe for that reason alone they seemed pleased to see a familiar face there with them the usual place even if the service was being taken by a newcomer to them. RBL members ask very little of their Chaplain. While I was wondering what else I could offer to do Syd Nash, one of the event organisers approached me and asked if I'd help arrange a ceremony to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Legion next February in Llandaff Cathedral. That made me feel a lot better. I have a very high regard for all that the Legion does.

Afterwards, we lunched at Pipi's Greek restaurant in Caroline Street, with an authentic menu that'll take a few more visits to explore properly. I sipped my first proper Greek coffee since we holidayed in Corfu five years ago, awakening memories that go back four decades. Mediterranean food and places have figured greatly in our days of adventure throughout our married life together. We then made an effort to get started early with Christmas present shopping in John Lewis', but it was so crowded we soon ran out of energy and headed for home, to an evening without sermon preparation for a change. Tomorrow we go to St John's to listen to one of my tutor group students preach her first sermon.

I took advantage and stayed up late to watch the first two thirds of 'Vengeance' a popular cult movie about the overthrow of a nazi style dictatorship in Britain, which first featured the now ubiquitous-at-protest-events Guy Fawkes mask. I'd seen the last third of it before and made little sense of its end, so seeing the beginning was a reasonable effort to make on an idle evening. It resembles other movies, like Superman, Batman and Spiderman, deriving inspiration from strip cartoon novels, embodying narrative in which much is unexplained, so everything is barely credible or only just adds up. Storylines consist of an elementary argument forged  from untested generalisation. The Guy Fawkes mask has become a trendy symbol for protests against the dominant western world social and economic order. It just doesn't add up to my mind. It's a triumph of style over substance for a media image obsessed generation. The season of Remembrance-tide always reminds us of how complex as well as costly the struggle for freedom and democracy will always be.

Friday, 4 November 2011

A Day in the Control Room

It's six weeks since the major upgrade of the CBS radio handsets took place. Today we met with Phil the engineer in the CCTV Control Room down in County Hall to complete the exercise with a database update of information about the 200 plus network handsets. The network computers are in the actual control room, on a long desktop housing CCTV screens and their controllers, radio handsets on different talk groups blasting out their message exchanges, all facing a huge wall with more than two dozen huge video screens containing images linked to CCTV cameras across the city centre and beyond. At the other end of the room is another wall of screens displaying images of road junctions around the city, staffed by the different team. It's overwhelming at first, all the flickering images and noise from radio communications. It's a debilitating challenge when you have to concentrate on doing something with lots of detail. I admire those who have to work in this enervating environment day after day. 

I was seated adjacent to the SafetyNet database screen for information checking. The operator to my left took calls relating to opening and closing the security barriers for regulating vehicle traffic in the pedestrian zone. The room heard the conversation between him and the driver of a van from a company called 'French' who was demanding to be let into the pedestrian zone for an out of access hours delivery, and refusing to remove his vehicle from where it was obstructing emergency services access. The operator politely refused his demands and was treated to a torrent of obscene abuse audible to the whole room. Everyone present jeered with derision. The driver was told to move or expect a visit from a mobile police patrol, and only then did he reverse his van back out into the traffic at the bottom end of St Mary Street,

This task was long overdue, as we had problems piecing together a totally correct account of all our radios, in active use, being repaired, broken beyond repair, lost or stolen. Not having a single information system logging all changes over the past three years, whether temporary or permanent, made the audit process into a constantly moving target. I managed to build an information while pursuing the working data, and over time have reduced the number of unknowns. piecing together 100% of the information, however, is a lot harder than piecing together the first 95%. After last minute revision yesterday and this morning while waiting for Phil to arrive, we were ready to go. The job took him six hours non-stop, including troubleshooting anomalies.

With my part in the process completed, I went home after four and a half hours, glad to return to the chore of cooking supper. As I arrived at the front door, I completely failed to notice that our new front gate had been installed while I was out. Admittedly it was dark, and the gate is painted black, but the finished job gives the house exterior such a right feel, blending in to the point of being unremarkably 'normal'. making it look just like it did before the street was stripped of its railings to help with the war effort, some seventy years ago.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Ends and beginnings

I rose early to go to St Mike's to preside at a service of Morning Prayer, followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It's not a bad idea to vary the form of the Liturgy of the Word and Prayers in this way but it seems strange to me to have no Gospel reading, however short, among the scriptures read, as happened on this occasion. During the prayers, the name of Alan Schwarz was mentioned among the departed. Afterwards I learned of the death yesterday of one of Wales' leading Jewish partners in Interfaith dialogue, and President of the Cardiff Orthodox synagogue. He'd been buried as well, the same day. I wonder who'll replace him in giving such a positive lead in mutual openness? He will be greatly missed by many people.

Heavy hearted, after breakfast, we drove to the vet's surgery for the last time with Ben this morning. We stayed while a sedative was injected and watched him strive to stay conscious a just little longer before going under, while we continued to stroke him. A lethal injection was then administered, and his vital forces slowly ebbed away, leaving us both tearful and sad. The right thing for a helpless animal. But would it be ever right for a helpless human being, consenting to someone else making an end of their lives? Some seem to think so. The practice of foreshortening someone's mortal suffering has a long history, and is even found in Old Testament scripture. I confess that discussion and debate about regularising voluntary euthanasia leaves me feeling very uncomfortable and unresolved, as does the presumption that organs can be 'harvested' (such a sinister use of the word), unless someone decides to opt out.

After our sad surgery visit, I took Clare to the new Steiner School, just opening this week in the former Saint Anne's infant school buildings in Roath. Teachers and parent have done a wonderful job renovating the place and giving it that distinctive ambience that makes a Steiner School classroom such a gentle environment, where imagination and creativity are nurtured rather than over-stimulated. Looking around the place was a cheering treat, and brought back happy memories of Rachel and Owain's schooling years.

At lunchtime, I went to the doctor's surgery for my 'flu jab, then into the office for a few hours before a double class of Chi Gung and Tai Chi. I really noticed the impact of the injection on my arm when I started exercising. I was working against both tiredness and grief. One way and another, that was a hard day.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

All Souls sadness

We took Ben to the vet's this afternoon, and the kind serious look on her face said it all really, even though she said the decision to have further treatment was ours if we wished. An eye operation on a seventeen year old cat, however fit, would have a lower chance of success than with a younger cat, but was possible. I found it hard to imagine Ben surviving and not suffering further in a neighbourhood with at least one other aggressive tomcat, with one eye, slowed down by age, as he already is. 

Whilst Ben is happy about the house, especially the comfy places, he's still very much an outdoor cat, even if his domain has shrunk to the garden and lane beyond, so keeping him in with a dirt tray would be not much of a life. Letting him roam would risk a repeat incident. Suddenly I see how vulnerable his damaged eye has made him.

We decided to take him home and discuss matters. Owain came over for supper, and Clare rang Rachel in Canada. The concensus, wrought with much sadness was in favour of ending his life. So we rang the vet to book another appointment, and gave Ben his favourite treat of tinned tuna, for his last supper.

I went in to the office for a couple of hours to catch up on some necessary work. As I was leaving the damp evening darkness was dominated by the sound of the Catholic Cathedral's Passing Bell. Well actually, it's a tinny recording, sounding a little like something from a Hammer horror movie. I popped in to pray for a while as clergy and congregation made preparations to celebrate the general All Souls' Requiem Mass with the new Archbishop presiding for the first time.

Can you pray for the soul of a cat condemned to die? Well, you can give thanks for the gift of companionship and loyalty, however much those things are governed by the evolutionary process whereby humans and animals have a symbiotic relationship. One thing is sure. Cat and human, by whatever path, share the same fate.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Homecoming disquet

Our journey home to Cardiff went smoothly and to time. Taxi, 'plane, bus, train, bus, all connecting without delay. It meant I could meet with my tutor group at St Mikes, and lead a session with them on prayer and the body, which I'd been mulling over for the past week. By sheer co-incidence they'd had a meditation on a similar theme during morning worship.

Poor puss Ben's injured eye looked a lot worse after our week away. It looks as if an abscess has developed and burst. He's a bit subdued, but active, and pleased to see us, as he always is. Another vet visit tomorrow. I fear the worst.