Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Getting ready to go

This morning I went into college for Matins and Meditation, led by Luke Curran, the Methodist tutor. He told the story of a Christian Palestinian American businessman, living in Ramallah, whose big project has been setting up the West Bank telecommunications system,. It accounts for 2% of the national economy. He is a prisoner of Israeli bureaucracy, whose complex, sluggish un-cooperative nature makes executive business travel between Palestine and Israel almost impossible, Of itself this is bound to be a hindrance to economic development which would benefit both countries. He doesn't give up, but the frustrations and hindrances to fair growth are immense. A spectacular own goal for the Israeli in-security system.

After breakfast we had a tutor team meeting. Peter received a call from the Archbishop's secretary while we were talking, conveying approval of my appointment as locum Dean of Residential Training for the coming term, by which time an appointment should be made. This will make his life easier which things get frantic in the New Year.

With the information gathered at the meeting, I was able to put together next term's ministry rota afterwards. It's a job I thought I would have to take away with me to complete, so I was very pleased indeed. I returned for lunch, free of all unfinished business, and able to get on with packing for travel. This took quite a while to do complete because of the necessity of checking I had all the vital components of kit to charge and connect various electronic communications devices and cameras ready to travel. It takes longer than tickets and travel documents. A sign of the times.

End of afternoon I returned to College to say Mass in Welsh and meet my tutor group for the last time this year. There was a College enening service to plan for Thursday's Vigil of Intercession for World Mission, which they will have to lead in my absence. I'm sad that I will be missing the last two rather festive weeks of term, but my visit to Taormina was planned before my return to College this term was contemplated.

I returned and cooked supper, then continued packing and checking, feeling incredibly nervous about my trip, although for once I had bags packed, waiting in the hall, and was on my way to bed by eleven, ready for a restless night and very early departure.

From tomorrow I will be blogging from a new address for the duration of my travels.


Monday, 26 November 2012

Nostalgic invitation

Last night I had an email from a church member in Taormina Sicily, where I'm going this Wednesday, advising me of an ecumenical Advent Vigil service in Messina next Saturday. Would I be willing to go? With pleasure indeed. The last Italian ecumenical service I took part in was 1984 in Macugnaga, where we were on a family holiday with Rachel's godmother Angela, whose Sicilian family had owned an alpine second home since World War Two, bought I believe, to be a place of refuge in the event of conflict. Angela, always a keen ecumenist, arranged for me to speak and pray briefly at the service in a local convent. She helped me with translation. She'll be delighted when I tell her about this - taking place near where she was born in Catania.

Another early start with bi-lingual morning prayer in College followed by breakfast, and checking email addresses for officiant rota recipients, delivering a hard copy to the one officiant not on email, who lives nearby. Then I went out to meet Kath and Clare at Kimi's in Pontcanna for coffee. When she went off to her film set job, it was time for me to tackle the Christmas card and newsletter envelope stuffing to get everything ready for posting.

Then, a trip to the office for the last time this year to share the fruit of my effort with Ashley and make final newsletter corrections. Production and distribution isn't in my hands. I'm pleased and also relieved I got everything done as intended. I was able to return to College for a jolly family Eucharist, before spending a more reflectively paced evening, catching up on myself at home.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

A Sunday in St German with St Saviour's

I returned to Splott and Adamsdown today to cover two Masses and Benediction for Fr Dean Atkins, at St Saviour's and St German's. It's the first time I've been back on a Sunday in nine months, and it was an enjoyable experience. I preached on kingship and Christ, according to the theme of the day, but was quite displeased with what I'd prepared when I preached it first at St Saviour's. In fact, I ad libbed a bit around the text, which didn't seem to read right, and that made it long than it needed to be. However, at St German's, the text seemed to read quite differently and using it as it stood was easy. What a difference context and audience can make.

After lunch I went into town to get some Christmas cards and replacements for my Italian language books - I must have disposed of them during the retirement move. Then I went over to the office, and persuaded the duty security guard to give me access so that I could recover a couple of working files abandoned in my Thursday annoyance. As a result, I was able to complete outstanding jobs at home without distraction in the evening after officiating at Solemn Vespers and Benediction at St German's. Evensong is shortened and made part of the Benediction devotions now. 

I found it a decent enough effort, with certainly no shortage of incense. However, I'm sad a chanted Magnificat has been supplanted by Timothy Dudley Smith's ubiquitous 'Tell out my soul'. I gather some folk regret losing the Nunc Dimittis. I'm not unsympathetic to this moan. The change only reflects what daily prayer revision options in England and Wales have added, imitating Roman divine office revision in enriching the scriptural content of worship.

However, the conflation of Vespers and Compline (as with Vigils and Lauds) by the  Book of Common Prayer authors, was one of the reformation's enduring creative innovations. It reflected the desire to simplify worship and make it more accessible. Our generation seems to have abandoned this impulse and is now making a gourmet diet of worship choices available for every occasion, as if it dare not be left to the worshippers' imagination to adapt and interpret internally material from a common core prayer text. Good intentions could make us spiritually lazy consumers of religious words if we're not careful.

Late evening Kath arrived to stop overnight before working as an extra attending a dance class, on the Welsh languages soap opera 'Pobl y Cwm', which is filmed down Porth Teigr, as Cardiff Bay is named on bus destination indicators these days. Due to the extreme wet weather and accidents on the M42 she had more than an hour's delay. It was the last thing she needed after spending a day doing a dance workshop. She is admirably hard working and dedicated to her art. I'm proud of her.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Flying visit to London

Up with the lark yesterday, to get the coach to London at seven thirty to see sister June. It didn't take long to fall asleep. I woke up refreshed near Reading, with my mind buzzing about an article for the CBS newsletter. I got my little laptop out but in addition to the closeness of the coach seats, the guy in front had leaned his back so that he could sleep and there was little room to use it properly. I perched it against his headrest and typed with one finger. By the time we reached Earl's Court I had three hundred words written, to fill in the last major article slot. To my surprise, when reviewed later it read quite well and didn't need much revising. And the bus was early. A triumph!

It's more than half a year since I last made the trip. It was good to catch up with June and perform my usual duty of tidying her Sony laptop and completing its updates. Since I was last there the three year of laptop battery (or its charging circuit) has died. The machine and charger always ran hot, to my mind. Both the original charger and the costly replacement one. Definitely an older generation of technology dressed up in a smart looking case. And it uses Windows Vista, sluggishly. I'd love to replace it with Ubuntu with the Unity interface as I think she'd find it less demanding and simpler for her limited uses. Well ... maybe next time I'm there.

With the weather being so terrible yesterday, some train services weren't running, so South Wales was served by three coaches at seven o'clock, one for Newport one for Cardiff and one for Swansea, where there's normally one coach for all three destinations. Traffic leaving London flowed smoothly. This meant we could look forward to arriving in Cardiff ahead of the scheduled time with no stops to be made en route. No such luck. The M4 was down to one lane for two miles before the Severn Crossing and right across the bridge itself, for maintenance work, and there was a long traffic queue. As a result we lost twenty minutes, and arrived when we should have done. With a further fifteen minute wait for a bus home, I got in at eleven.

I felt sorry for our driver. As his was a 'duplicate' coach hired in to provide spare seat capacity, he was due to drive home to Ludlow after dropping us off in Cardiff, an hour and a quarter on quiet roads. The twenty minute delay meant that he couldn't drive straight home without going in to his enforced rest period after four and a half hours on duty. He would have to stop over in Cardiff for half an hour or so before he set out, and arrive home well after midnight. He was philosophical about it, but I wondered if his wife ever got used to it.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


It's been a horribly dark and rainy day. It started with me saying Mass in College, then eating breakfast there and working on rotas for a few hours. The went into the CBS office in town, to try and complete outstanding tasks. I was less than successful getting the mail-merge done, and gave up in frustration. Some time this weekend I will need to pick up on these, but when?

I was quite tired attending Tai Chi tonight, and while it always does me good, I was not as relaxed and in tune as usual. The stress of deadlines is getting to me and the click ticks faster - I get up as soon as it's light. If only I could discipline myself to go to bed earlier. If only, if only...

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Clearing the desks before travelling

This time next week I'll be on my way to Sicily for a month's locum duties. There's lots to get done before departure. Next term's College Thursday preaching rota is almost done, but I have the regular chapel services rota to get started on. I have the next edition of the CBS newsletter to prepare, reporting on last Friday's stakeholder meeting and the first batch of invoices for 2012-2014 RadioNet subscriptions to generate via mail-merge - always a fiddly job because of the imperfect nature of our database, built up as we've gone along. 

Today I had a look at the Sage Accounts package which is proposed for use next year. I wanted to find out how much (if any) of our historic data could be imported by way of an Excel spreadsheet. Apart from user addresses and file system references, none of the previous information can be absorbed, so it will just have to become a desktop reference archive until all the accounts in it are paid up to date or closed definitively. I'm glad we now have Julie to work on CBS accounts and learn to make the most of a new system. There are new things for me to do instead.

Oh yes, there's one more thing. The annual Christmas round-robin has to be written and printed off, cards bought, labels done and an eGreeting card and letter prepared to be sent electronically to far flung places. Will I get it all done in time?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

College Quiet Day

I returned to Bristol and retrieved my laptop yesterday morning, then worked at home until it was time to go into College for the tea time All Age Worship. We had full house, with all the children belonging to student families in residence attending plus members of a residential course for clerics mid-way through their ministerial career. A sort of mid-life crisis course? I wondered.

Today I returned to College for a Quiet Day conducted by fellow tutor David Hazelwood for students and staff, working with the 2 Kings passage about Elijah on the run, and the still small voice of God, and with the saying of Jesus "Come to me all who labour and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest." He made a strong case from scripture for disciplined observation of time out as part of active ministry. Staff as well students need reminding of this. Me too, certainly, as I easily get carried away by my enthusiasm for getting things done. During the day, a tree on the east side of the College chapel caught my eye and I took this photo. I pondered for ages on why it had not yet lost its crown of leaves.
For some of us, a day of quiet contemplation was just what the doctor ordered, but for others it was uncomfortably dull and uneventful, I suspect. Some optional quiet creative activities were available, and the blessed sacrament was reserved for those who wanted to pass their day in adoration. What I did was to use my time of quiet to think about preaching when I go to Sicily and to prepare the Kimber annual Christmas round-robin letter. Nice to be able to think without interruption.

The day ended with the Welsh language Eucharist, and then tutor group, with 'Becca and Rufus still absent through sickness. I needed to brief the group on preparing to lead a special service for the Vigil of Prayer for World Mission for the day after I fly to Sicily. That kept us discussing today's mission challenges for the best part of the hour available. I guess we all struggle with the question of how to make the church and the real Gospel more believable to our contemporaries. There are some answers, although nothing worthwhile that everyone can unite to pursue with enthusiasm. The problem of our time.

The conclusion I came to about the tree, along with its bare companion even closer to the chapel, was that the grey stone building sheltered them from the wind OK, but that the wind crossing the chapel roof was less chilly than air enclosed in the shadows between chapel wall and hedge. Leaves in the breeze simply survived longer in this case. In tutor group Cath spoke about a bush in her garden at home being cut back to reveal loads of autumn crocuses flourishing beneath. Nature has many surprising ways of adapting to the smallest of changes in environmental conditions.

 "How many are your works O Lord, in wisdom you have made them all."

Sunday, 18 November 2012

An easy weekend

Clare was out during the day Saturday at the school Christmas Fair, so I walked into College to retrieve a file I'd been working on there, so that I could continue working on it at home. I walked back the long way through the park and took some nice autumnal photographs.
Then I treated myself to a big bacon roll and coffee at Cafe Castan, sitting outside in the relatively mild air, enjoying sunshine and clouds, with no need to hurry back to my desk. It's nice being able to start and stop work when I feel like it. And that's how it is organising ministry rotas, when you have to wait for responses from people invited. You send messages, and check for a response every now and then. If you start early enough before the production deadline you don't end up having to phone around. 

This Sunday no locum duty, no sermon to prepare. I was due to hear Rufus preaching in a Monmouthshire country parish, but he's away sick at the moment. Although I vowed I wouldn't watch 'The Killing III' as I'll only see two weeks worth out of five double episodes before going away, I stayed up and watched the first pair of episodes. The storyline has a political layer to it reminiscent of the Danish 'Borgen' drama series of earlier this year (or was it last?). It's getting a bit formulaic, re-cycling ideas. Shall I bother to watch next week?

Clare and I went to St Catherine's together for the Parish Eucharist this morning. After lunch I went over to Bristol to see Amanda and James, and talk Amanda through some computer updating issues she's bothered about. When I returned home, Owain was there, and we sat and put the world to rights over supper, as we are wont to do. After he left, I realised that I'd left my little laptop at Amanda's place. I'd taken it with me in case I needed to download something independently of her computer which seemed to be getting stuck on big updates. I'll have to go back and get it tomorrow morning.

How many people get problems with their computers because they forget to let updates take their course and abort them accidentally by switching off at the wrong moment, or else the don't understand the need to obey updating instructions which pop up, thinking its some kind of spam or advertising best ignored. Nobody likes having to read messages that throw your concentration on other tasks with engaged with. Computers demand far too much maintenance, even the best of them, to rate as good consumer devices, on a par, say, with a washing machine, an oven or a radio set.

Friday, 16 November 2012

CBS - end of the beginning

Today's CBS stakeholder meeting went well, despite my failure to obtain a projector for use in my presentation on finances and constitutional revision. The city centre management office doesn't have one. I had the idea of borrowing an overhead projector from College, and went up yesterday evening to collect, but couldn't find any one on duty to ask when I arrived, pressed for time as usual before Tai Chi class. So, I had to return this morning and collect, then lug it into town on the bus. When I came to use it, I couldn't figure out how to use it to display sheets of paper, having convinced myself that it could do paper as well as slides. So I had to abandon that idea ten minutes before we meeting and work with the handouts instead.

We'd invited Councillor Lynda Thorne to chair the meeting, in keeping with relevant protocol. We received her apology just 22 hours before the meeting. When the date had been agreed, no thought was given to the fact that it's an election day and also an international rugby match day in addition - both suitable alibis for not turning up to duties like our meeting. We were fortunate to have almost a fifty percent attendance on a day like this. Anyway the news sent us into a flat spin yesterday, wondering who to ask instead. In the end, Pastor Gary Smith leader of Cardiff Street Pastors team (one of our RadioNet users) accepted our eleventh hour invite to chair the meeting, and he really did us proud, getting us to an acceptable conclusion that will enable us to move on to the next stage in extending the work of CBS.

I did an hour's work after the meeting but then threw in the towel, unable to do any more, as if I had just completed a marathon. In a way I have, as it's taken three years to get CBS so far along the road to being fit for purpose as an organisation backing a vital operational activity for the benefit of the city. I set out to return the unused projector to College, succeeded in getting on the wrong bus to Llandaff, which took me there via Whitchurch, extending my journey by an extra half hour. I walked home, and switched off, glad to have the meeting and all the preparation worries firmly behind me. I don't do that level of responsibility all that well these days.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The cloud of forgetting

Working at home on the week's tasks this morning, then up to Glyntaff Crematorium for the funeral of a lady who had spent her last years with Alzheimer's disease in a care home on Cathedral Road. His sister is in a care home with Alzheimer's disease up in the Midlands. She'd been married and divorced when she was young and lived alone. Her nephew from Nottingham was the only family mourner. Three of the care home staff came to say goodbye. The smartly dressed young woman solicitor looking after her affairs attended the service but did not take part like the others.

It's difficult to celebrate the memory of someone about whom so little is known. I can recall funerals where what was known about the deceased nobody present wanted to remember. Her nephew had only a few recollections of his aunt from half a century ago when she was young and trendy, an early adopter of consumer gadgets appreciating things new. After the divorce, when he was young and living far away, he'd rarely seen her and couldn't say what she had done with her life. The nurses said she liked to take care of her appearance and was cheerful. That's all.

It's not unusual for clergy to perform funerals for people of whom little is known, or about whom much has been forgotten - those who lived alone by choice and slipped out of family and community awareness. I was reminded of a story by Milan Kundera about a woman plagued by her inability to remember what her dead lover looked like. Their love had been so intense, would she too fade away as his memory faded? A little of us is lost as memories fade of those who have gone before us, because our relationships help to make us who we are. All we can do is remind ourselves that God knows and values us for who we are. God holds us in the communion of his love. We can only entrust them and us to Him in love, accepting how little we understand of the mystery of person-hood, and the mystery of God.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Rotas, social networking & meditation standing up

Monday was an office day for me in both places - CBS at Motorpoint and in College. I still have work to complete for arranging the stakeholder review meeting for this Friday. Two dozen people invited and no idea how many will turn up until the day.
I also made a start on creating a chapel ministry rota for the two terms ahead of us. Last years' template on the College network didn't easily reveal its secrets when I tried to edit it, due to my ignorance of MS Word 2007 gizmos. Getting the dates correct by switching back and forth to the relevant MS Outlook took more attention to detail than I am used to or find enjoyable. Thank goodness I'm ahead of schedule with this, and with inviting the next group of Lent Evensong preachers. Satisfaction with this kind of work only comes when it's completed and delivering the goods.

I was up at the crack of dawn on Tuesday to be in College to conduct Matins and give a brief address. I chose to follow on from the last one given by Andrew Todd before Reading Week. He guided us through a session of silent meditation seated. I gave an brief introduction to meditation standing up. I'm not sure what most people made of it as I received only a couple of comments afterwards. I gave a copy to Christie our Tai Chi teacher after our evening class, confident that she'd recognise some of the phrases I'd borrowed from her. She emailed later to say that it had made her smile.

I also said the afternoon Mass in Welsh again, to cover for an absent staff member. Clare came along, increasing numbers to six. This week two of my tutees are away from College recovering from serious maladies. This threw out our session plan, so we we had a free ranging discussion instead about how ideas of community and meeting as church had changed due to social networking. We talked about the pastoral value of 'virtual church' for isolated and housebound people, about the challenges of keeping it all stable, secure and up to date, about including people who have trouble with maintaining any kind of computer use, due to age or disability. It's great that students see such potential, but I wonder if they see the sustainability problems as clearly as I do.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


We've had Kath, Anto and Rhiannon with us for the weekend. Anto was playing a gig last night at Chapter Arts Centre just down the road from us. It was a night of re-union for 'The Third Uncles' a Cardiff 1980s rock band in which Anto had been bass guitarist before he and Kath married. This was their first gig in 23 years. The band was good enough to be signed by a big record label, then later dropped. This experience of the music business in those early days of electronic sound samples being added into live performances gave Anto a taste for making and recording his own music. This was how his post teaching career, running his own library sound track production company AKM Music began.

Clare and went to the gig, played to a packed house in an upstairs studio, a hundred or so of mostly middle aged people, re-united around their youthful memories, of bonding over loud music. The band played their hour long set with their hallmark tight precision. Either the protective earplugs I was wearing or the sound system balance muffled the vocalist, so the sounds retained their indistinct unfamiliarity. It wasn't really my kind of music, to be honest. I much prefer the Latino music Kath and Anto are performing these days with their group 'Lament', soon to be more cheerfully re-branded as 'Sonrisa'. I can even sing along to some of their songs. Thankfully, the gig didn't finish too late, so I was able to walk home and watch the first half of  the last series two episode Inspector Montalbano on iPlayer before bed.

I was up early for an eight o'clock Mass at St David's Ely, followed by the nine fifteen Mass at St Timothy's. As it's Remembrance Sunday, I considered going into town for the Cenotaph ceremony, but by the time I was ready to leave church, it was already too late to arrive on time, so I listened to the Whitehall Cenotaph ceremony on the car radio as I drove home. Strange to miss out, after so many years of habitual attendance at Remembrance parades. But, if things had worked out differently in the summer, I might still have been out in Spain, where remembering victims of past conflicts is still a painful little mentioned issue for many.

After a family lunch and departures, I drove out to Tongwynlais to attend Evensong and hear Philip, one of my tutor group members preach his first sermon since arriving in College. He did well with both content and delivery, a promising start. The service was the much loved Prayer Book Evensong, seventeen people present, with four of the hymns sung traditionally sung at Remembrance-tide. I enjoyed it, not least because I found myself remembering my father who had attended my first ever preachment at St James' Taff's Well, the other church in the Parish, just a mile away. He'd spent some of his childhood living and going to school locally. It was easy to imagine his presence, and casual enjoyment of worship in this way, hardly changed since he was a boy nearly a century ago.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Crematorium video botch

By the time done seven letters and twenty three emails with attached letters to invite people to our CBS stakeholder meeting next week yesterday morning, my brain was scrambled. I couldn't face doing more, so I went home and did very little until it was time to eat supper and drive to Tai Chi class. The preparation tasks are not yet complete so I counted on a physical workout to re-balance me, and was not disappointed.

This morning I had a funeral service to take at St David's in Ely, concluding at Thornhill Crematorium's Briwnant chapel, the smaller of the two. Since my last visit there, some months ago, a video display screen has been installed above the altar, suspended in front of the curtain serving as a decorative backdrop. 

I understand this building is used by people of all faiths and none. A video screen can be used to show religious symbols (or not). It can be used to show a photo of the deceased, play a last music video request, or even a video message from the deceased at the service. These days, the range of bereavement consumer choices is immense and goes far beyond the simple dignified reticence of traditional rites of passage. A municipal facility needs to keep up with what rate payers ask for.

What irked me was the aesthetic incongruity of this innovation. The alignment of the screen was not perfectly symmetrical in relation to the curtain it was hung in front of. Indeed the folds in the curtain would have made this difficult to achieve, so the outcome looks ill-considered. Was the architect/interior designer consulted about this? As there's blank wall to the right of the curtain, above and behind the officiating minister's head, there was sufficient space for a less intrusive but equally visible installation.

After saying farewell to the mourners, I raised the matter with the crematorium attendants, and was told it had been installed without soliciting their ideas about location suitability. Nothing could now be done, as a hole had been cut in the (very expensive) curtain hanging for the screen's mounting arm and cables. 

In a year's time I shall ask a local councillor to enquire of Bereavement Services how often funeral arrangers have requested use of this screen, and how often staff have displayed palliative default images on their own initiative, because they found the empty screen above the altar in distractingly poor taste. All in the interests of learning if this is value for money - of course.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Comings and goings

With a landmark meeting to prepare for in eleven days time, it's been necessary to spend time in the CBS office as well in College each day this week, since we got back from East Anglia lunchtime on Monday. That evening, I drove out to Rhiwbina to do a bereavement visit in a place I hadn't been before. Finding house numbers in the dark is always something of a small adventure. Tuesday evening I went to Chi Gung class as usual. Wednesday I spent the morning in College and had lunch there before spending an hour in the CBS office. I went home early because Owain was coming around to supper.

In the meanwhile, during the day, our next door neighbours moved away, and we had no chance to say goodbye to them because we were both out and buusy all day. They sold their house several months ago and bought a larger one, anticipating the arrival of another child in the New Year. For the moment there's no sound of two year old protesting as he is put to bed penetrating the wall. It's the kind of sound you get to appreciate - knowing you don't have to get up and do anything when you hear the sound of crying. We shall miss not seeing him grow up. Who will take their place I wonder?

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Half term break - part four

Last time we stayed with Eddy and Anne, we made an abortive visit to the Sutton Hoo ship burial site, owned by the National Trust - it was closed. One fruit of recent tourism development enterprise here is revised seasonal opening times. The demand may have been there for ages, but there must be resources to ensure they can be met. This Saturday morning, we made a return visit

There is an excellent exhibition and interpretation centre, a restaurant and a shop serving visitors, run by a team of employees and volunteers. We visited the exhibition, lunched in the busy restaurant, walked around the perimeter of the Anglo-Saxon burial mound area, and then looked at Tranmer House, home of landowner Edith Pretty. Her archaeologically inclined estate manager Basil Brown instigated the investigation of those burial mounds, leading to discoveries that have transformed our understanding of the Anglo Saxon world and its culture. It was a fascinating afternoon of discovery.

We recovered at home from the chilling wind with tea and cake, and dined out at Bencotto's exemplary Italian restaurant in Felixstowe's old fire station, adapted for new purposes. We talked at length about the skill of seventh century craftsman and speculated about how they could achieve such intricate work without the aid of later technologies such as the magnifying glass.

Sunday morning, we got up early and went to the nine o'clock Communion service together at the Parish Church of St Ethelbert, King and Martyr in the neighbouring village of Falkenham. As with Kirton Parish Church in the old joint benefice, before they were grouped pastorally with three other neighbouring villages, Falkenham's history goes back at least to the eleventh century and the Domesday Book.

I say 'at least' because Falkenham Church is located on a mound one metre above the adjacent marshy plain, inviting speculation that the site may have been a pre-Christian burial ground. The church has a prominent tower with a ring of six bells. The 15-16th century roof beams are decorated with figures of angels and crowned humans, overlooking present worshippers, and who know who else, buried beneath.

Being there in prayer was a great way to celebrate the All Saints/Souls weekend, followed up with meals to remember, and more talk of the wonders of Sutton Hoo.

Photos of our half term journeys you'll find posted here

Friday, 2 November 2012

Half term break - part three

We checked out of our hotel after breakfast and headed east towards Newmarket, then north past Exning where my Auntie Ivy and Uncle Phil were employed in service on the Landwade Hall estate for most of their lives until they died at great age - one of my few connections with this part of the world. We didn't stop to re-visit, as we were heading for Wicken Fen, one of the oldest National Trust properties, and its first Nature Reserve, dating back to the 1890s.

It's an inland domain two metres below sea level, with bog and wetland areas, some of which remain little changed since before the 'development' of East Anglia by Fenland drainage after the English Civil War. Other drained land areas were used for brick making or clay mining. These  have been allowed to revert to their earlier condition, restoring bio-diversity adding to the re-creation of typical regional wildlife habitat - great for bird life, and as a wild life bonus, there's a herd of wild horses.

We were blessed with cold sunny weather, and spectacular clouds, so we didn't stay too long in any of the several birdwatchers hides on our brisk three kilometre walk. Both my Sony cameras were put to good use and some photos I was quite pleased with, albeit disappointed with the quality of the birdie closeups. I think I have much to learn about optimal DSLR zoom lens photo technique.

From Wicken Fen, as the sun dipped low in the western sky, we drove to Kirton, near Felixstowe, to a warm welcome from Eddy and Anne, for a happy relaxed family weekend reunion together.

All Souls awareness

Today being All Souls Day, with us on the move, I realised I wouldn't have any opportunity to join with others in worship, let alone say a Mass for the Departed in thankfulness for those gone before us whose lives have shaped mine - family, friends, mentors, colleagues, inspirational public figures etc. This is something I learned long ago to see as a duty of faith. 

There was a time when this kind of ritual was widely interpreted as an effort to appease or influence the opinion of the Almighty on behalf of the dead, to be traded and marketed as a religious commodity. Daft heterodoxy. What sort of existence is a life without gratitude for its own foundations? 

Well, if you can't attend, let alone say Mass on a day like this, you can still remember with thanksgiving that circle of people whose lives helped to make your own, as far back as you can honestly recall their names and faces. That's what I did today in my morning prayer time. There are many more people there in our past whose contribution to our lives, from ignorance or forgetting, we have yet to understand, or may never know. They are there in background obscurity. Our specific prayers may shed no light on them, but without them we would have been nothing.
God's grace at work, since the beginning of time, before history, throughout evolution. Well worth remembering.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Half term break - part two

There was a conveniently located bus stop near the hotel, with only a quarter of an hour's journey down the A14 from Barr Hill into the heart of Cambridge. The weather was good enough to enable us to spend the day mostly walking around sightseeing. It gave me an opportunity to try out my new DSLR, alongside my little Sony Cybershot W690 pocket camera, which has a versatile wide angle and telephoto lens, actually better for townscape pictures, even if its performance isn't quite as brilliant as the Alpha 55.

We went to King's College chapel - my first return visit since attending the annual University Chaplains' conference thirty seven years ago. We had to pay to get in this time, instead of being shown around by a colleague. We also visited Gonville and Caius college chapel and met the Dean, Rev Dr Cally Hammond as she was re-organising the chapel vestry. She is one of three women of thirty clergy student pastors in Cambridge. Thirty seven years ago there were none, yet it's nearly twenty years since the first women were priested in the CofE. This is hardly natural progress for such an elite place of learning. No wonder the ordaining women bishops in the CofE is proving to be such a contentious issue. So hard to break into the boys club it is.

In other ways, Cambridge churches seem to have made an effort to be more open and welcoming to their public, whether locals or visitors. It's a town of many churches and chapels and most are open during the day. Being All Saints Day, several churches were advertising an evening Sung Eucharist. The buildings are well looked after, many have staff on duty within during opening hours and are attentive to accessibility and aesthetics in a way that reflects changes in worship and the way preaching and teaching is done today.

I was impressed by the conversion of St Michael's Church nave into a restaurant with balcony, (after the manner of All Saints' Church Hereford), with its chancel enclosed by a glass screen. As we queued for lunch, I noticed a group sitting at a trestle table between the chancel choir stalls, starting a Communion service together. Their priest wasn't robed, but the pottery chalice, lit candle and service sheets showed what they were doing. It was too late to join without disrupting their quiet moment in a busy environment. With the ad hoc Communion table located in that position, I wondered if a conveniently sized space had been chosen for it, or if homage was being paid to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer rubrics, which directed this as the place for the Holy Mysteries to be enacted. It's funny how history can repeat itself.

We took the bus back to our hotel as the sun was setting, tired after five hours walking. Clare went for a swim, and I just lazed around, as my ankle joint was giving me grief. After dinner in the hotel restaurant I got on line and caught up with the preparatory work I needed to to, wishing I didn't have to get on with it quite so urgently. I also wished we'd been closer to town, to allow us to attend one of those Sung Eucharists on offer there.

Half term break - part one

The week began with a funeral, end of Monday morning, at the Stone & Ham funeral home followed by burial at Western Cemetery. The organist, a Tongwynlais parishioner, told me how the congregation was enjoying having Phil, one of my tutees on placement with them. Nice to have this to feed back to him. Then after lunch, I went into the CBS office for a few hours before going into College for the Family Eucharist, at which Phil gave the address. It was his first since arriving. He said he was nervous about it, but in performance he was relaxed, confident with a straightforward message and engaged the children's interest in an original way.  

Tuesday I spent working in my new office in College, getting started on devising rotas for next term's staff involvement in running worship and preaching before the tutor group met. Being half term week, there was no Chi Gong class to attend, so for a change, Clare and I went out together to dine at Stefano's Italian Restaurant just around the corner from home, in Romilly Road.

Wednesday morning I went over the St German's to celebrate the ten o'clock Mass, as Fr Dean is taking a much needed half term break. I get to stand in for him again, at St German's and St Saviour's, the Sunday before I leave for my Taormina locum duties. I'm looking forward to that, as it's nine months since I last spent Sunday in the parish, before he was inducted.

I went straight from the altar, down to County Hall, to a meeting called by senior officer Martin Hamilton to review the work of Cardiff Business Safe after three and a half years of digital RadioNet operations. The Business Crime (prevention) Partnership of which CBS is the public face is due soon for a constitutional overhaul. This meeting was the first opportunity since setting up the new service, for us to be able to report properly on the development of the organisation from scratch. I felt my presentation on finance and strategy was well received, and reassuring to participants. 

There'll now be a further meeting in three weeks time, assembling original stakeholders, to obtain their approval for the constitutional revision. It means more preparatory work to get done on a tight schedule, which is rather unfortunate since, after the meeting, I returned home to collect luggage and set off with Clare for a few days of a half term break in East Anglia.

Our cross country drive via Gloucester and Oxford to stay at the Menzies Hotel north of Cambridge on a two night bargain break special offer. It took all of five hours, the last hour and a half was in the dark. Clare was able to swim in the hotel's spa pool. I forgot my trunks and went to a nearby Tesco superstore to see if I could buy some, but there were none in stock - out of season I was told. So, I settled for half an hour's Chi Gong/Tai Chi at the side of the pool instead, and then we dined in the hotel restaurant. 

Getting on line to check mail afterwards was a nightmare, as my BT wireless dongle would only deliver data at old analogue modem speeds for no reason I could fathom. This is the same dongle I used for skyping and surfing in Spain this time last year, via a third party service providor at broadband speed, albeit slowing. The BT blackberry office phone worked OK, but it was much to small and fiddly to use to respond to as well as read incoming mail. In the end I gave up and went to bed, leaving it to the morning to collect the wifi password from reception, as it hadn't been included in the room's hotel handouts.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Kenilworth Weekend

After a Friday morning of errands, we drove to Kenilworth to spend our first free weekend together in many months looking after Rhiannon two evenings running, while Kath and Anto were out performing in far flung places in Worcestershire and Staffordshire. We spent most of Saturday and Sunday with them and made the most of the extra hour's sleep due to the clocks going back. I strolled out in Abbey Fields and practiced with my new DSLR camera. Getting the best out of it is going to take some time. I managed a few decent bird shots down by the lake, including pictures of the tamest moorhens I have ever seen. I saw a green woodpecker flying fast and straight as an arrow between groups of trees, but was unable to switch on, let alone raise or focus the camera quickly enough to capture the moment.

This morning Clare and I went to the eight o'clock Communion at St Nicholas' Parish Church. Why bother, why not have a weekend off? Enquired Kath. Surely we can say our prayers wherever we are? She still doesn't get it - the one who demanded to be confirmed at age eleven. What a failure my confirmation classes were! Also she was raised and nurtured in worshipping communities, but it left no impact on her. She is a strong sensitive creative caring individual, and a great team player, yet she doesn't see the nourishing value of being, listening, offering and receiving together at the heart of regular corporate worship. Her experiences is simply different from ours.

As ever the eight o'clock was attended by three dozen people and not all enjoying the early quiet were pensioners. The Vicar invited regulars to notice who sat where, who might be missing and who came and went around the year, pointing out the value of remembering who's who in the church community, always being ready to welcome newcomers. A good  point, if rather diffidently put. It occurred to me how good a thing it was to remind people to be aware of their pew neighbours are. Most of us tend to sit in the same place habitually. I know I do when I go to a church. It's near the front and on the left. Church congregations are more mobile in our era than at any other time in  history. It affects both where and how often people attend. Nowadays, they can make their spiritual home and support the church in several different places separately. So really, we're having to change our sense of what belonging to Christian community means.

We all went for a brisk walk on a newly discovered cycle track while Sunday lunch was cooking. As in so many places, it runs along the path of a former railway line, and it has some fine Victorian black brick bridges to admire as well as woodland and open common land. Rhiannon took her bike and cycled ahead of us. She's grown so much since she first had it, that I needed to adjust the seat height for her when we returned. Hopefully, that'll make sure she isn't quite so tired at the end of her next ride.

Our drive home was in the rain and in early darkness. No pleasure at all.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Powerpoint economics & Mass in Welsh

I went into College Monday morning and worked there a while, before heading into town for a Cardiff Business Safe planning session, which didn't happen as intended because the person who'd called the meeting didn't turn up. In addition, our accountant was late arriving due to motorway traffic congestion, but by tea time, four of us sat down to discuss next week's inaugural meeting of a reconstituted Board of Management for CBS. I came away from the meeting tasked with creating an introduction for new Board members, almost all of whom will have little or no background to the origins and day to day running of the business.

I worked on creating a Powerpoint presentation by collecting facts and figures from CBS operational reports and annual financial statements, doing calculations and turning them into charts. It meant a couple of really late nights from Monday evening until Wednesday night, as well as  spending time in College for a few meals, meeting a couple of students, and saying Mass on Tuesday afternoon before my tutor group meeting. I was so pre-occupied with getting it done that I forgot to watch the delayed part 2 of 'Vicar Academy' live and had to catch up on iPlayer this evening.

First thing this morning, I made a brief visit to College then went out to Ely for a bereavement visit. I've been asked to take a funeral service on Monday next. The lady who died, aged 89 had only one child, a daughter, who'd had seven children. Between them they'd produced twenty five children, and that generation had already produced three offspring of their own, so the deceased lived to see her great great grandchildren born. That's remarkable - and from what her daughter told me, they all gave her much pleasure. 

On my way to the CBS office to get the finished presentation approved by my colleagues, I stopped off at Cardiff Camera Centre in the Morgan Arcade and bought that digital SLR camera I've been thinking about getting for ages. Not what I'd been contemplating in other stores, but a heavily discounted Sony Alpha 55 with telephoto lens for bird-watching photos. Blame it on my Spanish sojourn days in the Delta de 'Ebre.

That was a busy few days one way or another, but I didn't feel under pressure as I was creatively occupied, and two weeknights were taken up with Chi Gong and Tai Chi classes. This kind of exercise seems to release energy for patient concentration and endurance when I need to get things completed. My mind stays clear, and things don't bother me the way they once did. I still need to rest well eventually though. It doesn't work by magic, but by re-balancing the self.

Tuesday afternoon's Mass was in Welsh. It was the first I'd celebrated using the new 2004 liturgy and twenty five years since I said Mass in Welsh the first time using the 1984 liturgy in St John's Church Ystradmeurig. Both of these were deeply moving. Even more so than saying Mass in French for Geneva's Old Catholic community back in the nineties. Celebrating the Holy Mysteries in another language makes you think about the meaning of what you're doing and saying in a different way, highlighting the sense of 'the Other'. I've been rota'd in for more Welsh celebrations as the year progresses. I look forward to this, and being taken by the liturgy deeper into the spiritual roots at the heart of my native culture. 

Sometimes I am amazed at the rich variety of the strands which make up my life, both active and passive. I'm so happy, so blessed to be given health and strength to enjoy retirement ministry as much as I do.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Connections in sorrow

My Sunday duties took me out as far as Cardiff International Airport this morning, to the Parish of Porthkerry with Rhoose in which it lies. Being only a dozen miles from the centre of Cardiff, it has developed as a commuter village in recent decades. The church of St Curig at Porthkerry is 13th century, has a ring of six bells and seats forty. It was the second church I visited, with a congregation of just a dozen, and an old Prayer Book service. It's been restored recently, so the Google Street View doesn't do it justice. It's been lime-washed a brilliant white and now looks as it would have been prior to zealous efforts by Victorian restorers to strip the surface and reveal its stonework. They didn't understand that the limewash exterior was an ancient means of waterproofing the building. Many places paid dearly with ingress of damp as a result.
My first service was in the village of Rhoose, which before it grew substantially used to be served by the incumbent of Porthkerry in the 'tin tabernacle' of St Peter's mission church. It has been replaced by a modest brick building in recent years, which has skilfully re-cycled wooden classing from the old interior of create storage space in the roof. There is a lively Sunday school meeting during the service in a hut squeezed into the small space beyond the east end of the church, pending the addition of a permanent building extension, much needed by an evidently lively Parish community.

There was a congregation of over forty adults and a dozen children who worshipped with vigour and enthusiasm. When I had finished, the church warden beautifully de-briefed the children about their Sunday school activities. I had the lingering feeling this was something I should have done, but it worked so well there was no need for me to be up front. The leader of the teen group is Dave, a Cardiff postman. He did a funny sketch with the group about the frustrations of his busy round, in which he always felt under pressure as he served others. Then he dropped a sombre reflective note into his talk. Karina Menzies the mother of two killed in yesterday's van hit and run was one of the people to whom he delivered mail on his round. "I wish could deliver her mail again this week, like last week." he said movingly.

On the way home along Cowbridge Road West at lunchtime, I saw a crowd of a hundred or so on the forecourt of Ely Fire Station, one of the places where the hit and run driver had struck. There were TV cameras as well, and later it was reported on the news that an impromptu memorial gathering had taken place there. Jan had an evening service at 'the Res', and was interviewed several times. I remember what that was like from the time of the St Paul's riots - simply exhausting. I feel for her.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Ty Mawr Associates in their element

Up early for me on a Saturday, to drive over to Ty Mawr Convent for the Associates' day meeting at the community's Michaelgarth house of hospitality. There were more than two dozen of us present to hear Mary Lewis speak to the theme of Creation and Christian Spirituality. Mary is a priest who was ordained in the diocese of Swansea & Brecon, who now lives on the Outer Hebridean island of North Uist, as far north as you can go and still be in Great Britain. She ministers there to the small Episcopalian congregation of the island. Her talk was a fruit of deep learning and reflection added to her experience of life on that bare island out in the North Atlantic.

I was particularly touched by her account of the visit of a BBC wildlife photography crew who arrived and established themselves quite close to her house, to film golden eagles that make their home in this wild environment, devoid of trees and bushes. She said that they stayed in silence all day long, cameras at the ready, waiting in hope of spotting the birds and being able to film them. She regarded this activity as a metaphor for the work of contemplative prayer, seeking the presence of divine life in the created order.  This struck a chord with me. Often, I think we fail to realise  how scientists and artists discipline their lives around searching for truth in seeing what's there. Rather than laying interpretation on to an environment, they wait and let the environment speak to them and give them insight into the truth.

After a picnic lunch, we were given several exercises to attempt, inviting us to look carefully at nature around us, in this most beautiful rural Gwent setting and respond to it an some creative way, drawing or writing. One of the exercises was to look at the sky and write three lines about it. At the time there was low white cloud from one horizon to another. I felt this was the kind of challenge I would find less uncomfortable than having to tray and draw something. It always takes me ages to feel at ease with a pencil and paper to hand, whereas it's hard to stop words bouncing off the world, whizzing around in my head and gathering up into phrases in ways that are occasionally worth writing down. 

After forty minutes my three line written observation and reflection grew into three Haiku verses.
Overcast sky - a random tapestry
filaments of white and grey

Sombre does no justice to the mood
when heaven's glory is concealed

Not in the cloud, but
is where we wait
consoled by errant sunbeams

That's something I've not done for a while - a pleasure indeed. I took some photographs too. You'll find them here.

I value my connection with Ty Mawr greatly. The community is half the size now that it was when I went there first in the late seventies, yet it's still attracting vocations. Today was most memorable for me as it was the first time I had been there when a priest member of the community celebrated the Eucharist. It's not a sign that Ty Mawr is becoming in any way self-sufficient, but rather that it has embraced and welcomed the reality of people with vocations in the contemporary church of which it is a pivotal part. It's one of the religious communities which is most open to honest compassionate understanding of the modern world it's possible to find anywhere. It remains a key place for the future life and mission of the Church in Wales.

I return from a tranquil day to learn more from the news about yesterday's incidents involving a van driver running down passers by in a series of locations in Cardiff West before being apprehended outside Asda in Leckwith. The eyes of the media are on the Parish of the Resurrection, Glanely tonight, where the one fatal victim of this outrage lived, as well as some of the injured. I feel for my friend and colleague Jan Gould who is in the thick of it, and will be throughout the weekend and beyond.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Smart but not so smart

I went into the office again today at lunch time to finish off work on the business plan and circulate it. A parcel arrived in the mail from British Telecom. It was meant to have come yesterday along with a replacement phone for Ashley, but the promised item didn't turn up. The BT help line worker swore it had been mailed - a computer said so after all. In the ensuing investigation, prompted by Ashley nagging them, a store keeper was dispatched to check reality against the computer record and found our unsent package. Apparently the office work isn't done in the place from where goods are distributed, indeed the office work isn't always done in the office, as some of BT's staff work from home. Remote administration clearly has its draw backs.

Anyway the missing parcel was a freebie, part of a bigger compensation package for the messes made serially during out three office re-locations over the past two years. We'd asked for a SIM card that could link my phone to the CBS BT account, to replace my PAYG package for work purposes. BT gave us an expensive Blackberry Bold plus a SIM card. Now I'm faced with having to get used to a bright new piece of technology with an unfamiliar user interface and a keyboard equally as fiddly as an on screen virtual keyboard. And I'm only just about accustomed to that after six months of use.

The Blackberry is great at internet functions and has copied both my email contact lists into its memory and merged them, which means I  have scores of double entries as the two accounts have gradually overlapped over years of accidental misuse. How on earth I get my real working phone directory from one set to the other I have yet to work out. There a few phone numbers in either of my Gmail contact lists, as I have never needed to use them to store numbers. So, I have a big mess to sort out before I go much further.

These big smart clever guys only think they know what we insignificant if paying users want to do with our data, and always give us too many options, confusingly presented, therefore time wasting, therefore less than useful. I confess that I am deeply ungrateful for these anonymous efforts to hog my time with menial tasks. We were better off when we used just a paper note book to store our numbers and made the effort to look them up and dial each time, but I don't think we realise it, as we've got used to be enslaved by inflexible information systems.

As I was on my home from work Ashely and I spoke on the phone about something I'd forgotten to tell him earlier, He told me there was an emergency in progress with streets blocked off after someone had run amok in a white van and knocked people over in several different locations. The seriousness of this only became apparent when I got home and listened to the news before heading off to St Luke's to say the evening Mass. It had happened only a mile or so up the road from church. Although we didn't know any detailed information, we offered the Mass for all involved, aware of the disturbing impact this would have, especially on Glanely's Parish Church of the Resurrection, our nearest neighbour in Canton.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A working St Luke's Day

Following a brisk walk to the doctor's surgery to get my annual 'flu injection, I went into town for a CBS RadioNet user group meeting - my first since returning from foreign parts. I was no longer required for minute taking as our secretary Julie was there, so I looked after tea and coffee, and then sat down to listen to catch up on local security affairs. The city centre neighbourhood policing team membership has, over the summer, changed personnel completely, but no member was present at the meeting, nor was there any apology. How they expect to get to listen to what their partners on the commercial security 'front line' have to say, if the only time they ever meet is when there's an emergency going on, I don't understand. Thankfully. there was a police officer from the CCTV camera room present - putting a face to the voice was much appreciated.

After the meeting I worked on a business plan report for much of the afternoon, and then left for College in good time to prepare to celebrate the St Luke's Day Eucharist, at which Rosemary Aldis preached about one of her favourite saints. As it was a feast day I stayed for supper and chatted to senior student Lorraine and her kids over the dinner table. Then it was time to drive to Penarth for my Tai Chi class, thankfully none the worse for the 'flu injection. So, after class, it was back to work until late, revising the CBS business plan in the light of up to date financial information.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A pentecostal funeral

Lunchtime today I officiated at Pastor Bassey Esien's funeral in St David's Ely. The church was full with family old friends and congregation members. A bus came down from London, with a choir of four, and organist and a saxophonist, but they were delayed by an accident on the M4, and arrived three quarters of an hour late. So instead of singing while the Pastor was brought in, they sang on the way out instead. 

A black woman pastor former colleague and friend preached, two of his children spoke, two others read lessons. We sang three conventional hymns in church, albeit with gusto, another family member sang him a farewell solo and everyone joined in the chorus. I welcomed everyone and led prayers. Although mine were traditional in content, the occasion moved me to offer them more energetically rather than reflectively, as pentecostals normally do. 

Back in my days at St Paul's Bristol, I gained much from worshipping with black church communities, learning how to relax and work with the natural vocal responsiveness of the pentecostal way of praying. To me, it feels 'liturgical' even if it's improvised. It's because everyone knows their part and is confident and grounded in reaching out to God. I cherish this openness and spontanaiety just as much as I cherish reticence and silence in God's presence. I regard worship as a privileged performance art of the highest order, sensitive to circumstances, to be offered wholeheartedly in the best way possible.

The 'liturgy after the liturgy' at the graveside, followed from my brief committal prayer and blessing. A back matriarch stepped from the crowd of mourners and led the assembly in singing unaccompanied well known songs from Redemption Hymnal while male next of kin and their friends, kitted out with new wellies and shovels, filled in the grave. She called out the lines of the verses beforehand, and the people sang in sweet harmony, tight and strong as any Welsh, Russian, or South African choir could render. The call and response way of performing testifies to the deep African roots of this 'liturgical' musical culture. 

Strength, confidence and conviction abounded. The song leader introduced each hymn with homilies about death and judgement, heaven and hell, exhorting all present who hadn't given their lives to God to do so while they still could, and taste the divine mercy. This is still the tradition at black pentecostal funerals. It was the same in St Paul's thirty years ago. It's a vital part of the way the community works through its grief and begins the healing process. 

I stayed and sang for a while. There was nothing more for me to do. Before they finished, I had to slip away and get a lift back to College for a general meeting to review the provision of Chapel services, and then attend the Eucharist in honour of St Ignatius of Antioch. By such contrasts I am so wonderfully fed !

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A perennial problem

I got up early, attended Morning Prayer and had breakfast in College before a tutor team meeting. Nobody talked much at breakfast about 'Vicar Academy'. Some involved had previewed it earlier, many stayed up and watched it together, and probably discussed it before going to bed, so the atmosphere was somewhat subdued, as the students steeled themselves after a late night for the dash into town for lectures, armed with their picnic lunch bags - many have afternoon classes, making return to College impracticable. University based theological education, albeit desirable, is a hard taskmaster. It may just about teach people to think in fresh ways, but I'm more concerned that it will turn them into busy workaholics who don't feed themselves properly.

This morning I was assigned a room to use as a study at the west end of the top floor corridor, with a view over the perpetual traffic congestion down Cardiff Road. On a sunny day it looks great. I have a desk and Core i3 Toshiba laptop from which I can access the College network for material I need for supporting students. The desk and shelves are all empty and the room needs some decoration, before it becomes congenial. Despite the rumble of traffic below it's a quiet bare little monastic cell at the moment, and I quite like that.

I lunched in College, configured the laptop's Chrome browser to suit my needs, read a superb essay about the influence of media on the presentation of the Gospel, sent me by one of the students, popped home to get a book, then wrote a few emails I would have otherwise done at home. Then it was time to meet the tutor group. Cath led us in study and reflection on Psalm 40, which turned into a conversion about the disturbing experience of spiritual barrenness which seems common among students, and is often barely understood or mis-interpreted. It really took me back to my time in their situation.

The struggle to cope in an unfamiliar environment, without the comforts and consolations which may have been instrumental in awakening one's vocation is much the same now as it was forty five years ago. To my mind, it's the fruit of imbalance, an excess of head learning (made worse by having to reflect and work with computers and other electronic devices so much of the time). There's not enough proper physical activity, space for creativity, silence or solitude. Too much stressful activity and background noise to allow the mind to settle into the heart in order to restore the balance. The positive exposure to pastoral life that comes through parish placements and domestic family elements of College life compensates to a degree, but how can more space be made for all kinds of people to allow them to find themselves afresh, and irrigate barren devotional lives? It's a perennial problem.

I was late leaving College and arrived late at my Chi Gong class, which I hate doing. However, the conscious and deliberate nature of the exercises themselves disciplines the player to 'drop in at any time' as Christie our teacher says. So even while I was tying my shoes, the training to unwind and stretch was already starting to function. It's ten years since I started to acquire this habit. Would that I had known about it, let alone learn to do it back in my student years.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Documentary launch day

I went into St Mike's this morning to meet another of the candidates for the Vice Principal's job, being shown around, and introduced to staff and students. On my way in I met Archbishop Barry, arriving for a College Committee meeting, with  Trever Willmott, Bishop of Dover his guest. Both remarked that they'd just seen me in a preview video of tonight's 'Vicar Academy' TV documentary. I wondered when that was and what I was doing, as the cameras were rarely around when I was in College last year. 

When I watched the programme, I was relieved to find I was only in background of an opening shot of a procession into chapel one day when I was celebrating the Eucharist - that's just where I'm happy to be these days, delighted to see our admirable ordinands willing to open their hearts to the interview camera, and   deal with the inevitable scrutiny that arises from being broadcasted. It's a pity it is only being shown on BBC Wales (and iPlayer thankfully), but I guess if it's a ratings success, it will go out on the network eventually.

Let's hope it stimulates fresh interest in vocations to ministry. That's certainly what people in College, if not elsewhere, are praying for. This is an era in which the impact of decline in support for the Church is causing heart searching with more than a tinge of panic about it. Yet, in College I see so many gifted people, with a strong desire to serve and not too many illusions about the challenges they will face. Many of them have conflicting ideas about what ministry will mean in the very varied settings where they'll be exercising it, so College life isn't sweetness and light by any standard.

At the core of the spiritual formation students get at St Mike's is learning from experience how to live together with their differences, and finding the common ground they share in the life of faith. Sometimes it all seems like it's miles away from the communities they'll end up working in, struggling to survive, fearful of losing their identity let alone their kind of religion. Yet, as I found when I was a restless and questioning student in this College forty five years ago, nothing I learned or experienced was wasted once I was let out into the wild. 

Perhaps it's gratitude for that gift more than anything else which persuaded me to accept the invitation to be part of the College's formative community life. And however dire the state of the Church may currently be, both staff and students, encourage incurable optimism in me.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

On the receiving end

No Sunday locum duties today, for the first time in ages, so I went with Clare to Saint Catherine's for the Parish Eucharist, and met Fr Phelim O'Hare, recently appointed as honorary assistant Curate in the Benefice Team Ministry.  He's also Chaplain to the Cathedral School and an RE teacher by day It's good that Fr Mark and Fr Martin have such experienced support in this very busy Parish.

Afterwards we went to the Riverside Market to shop for organic veg for the week before we ate lunch at home. Clare then went over to Bristol for a study group, and I acted as chauffeur taking 'Becca and Mair over to Christchurch Roath Park where 'Becca preached and Mair officiated. Altogether there were twenty of us there, quite a good number for a Parish Evensong these days. I don't suppose there was anyone in the congregation under sixty, apart from the two ordinands. 

They both performed in a relaxed way, with clear diction and good projection in an acoustically awkward environment, attracting appreciation from their audience, as the twin microphones dominating the lectern used were accidentally left switched off until after both Office and Sermon were over. 

In the congregation were at least two retired teacher trainers, who were both full of praise for what they had received. I had read 'Becca's sermon when she emailed it to me Tuesday last. She'd written it the thirty six hours since she was asked to preach, in an amazing flush of original inspiration. I loved the look of sheer enjoyment on her face as she delivered it, with lovely relaxed gestures and good humour. 

Near the end she opened her arms wide in mid statement. The 'wings' of her surplice hanging from her arms mirrored the gesture of the robed Christus Rex on the banner behind her in the sanctuary. One of those visual 'aha!' moments, when I wished I had my camera at the ready. I bet the congregation will remember that, consciously or otherwise. I was so glad to be there and on the receiving end - twice in a day for a change - and to witness the encouragement given to a congregation not having the easiest of times at the moment with its Vicar off sick again.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

A Dare worth taking

After our Saturday stroll into Pontcanna to breakfast out of the house, with the prospect of favourable weather, we headed north on the A470 to find a place for a more vigorous walk. We were aiming for Ystradfellte, and went from the A470 up the Cynon Valley to Aberdare. Here we noticed tourist signs for the Dare Valley Country Park. Curiosity diverted us, and we soon discovered this beautiful side valley off to the north and west of Aberdare, whose river lends its name to the town.

This valley was one of the earliest to be exploited for coal mining, with four pits, the earliest dating back to 1850. All had closed by 1970, and a huge effort was put into reclaiming industrially ravaged land for community use. The result is an impressive landscaping project which has matured to the point where you must scan the hillsides carefully for the scars caused by old coal tips. The valley floor now has two lakes, an abundance of trees and wildlife.

The upper reaches of the valley were less damaged by industry as their steepness have made them much harder to exploit. The valley slopes rise 4-500 feet above its lakes and unite in a rugged rock face, excavated by glaciers in the last Ice Age.
It reminds me of Creux du Van in the Swiss Jura, and my winter expeditions there with my dear friend Pastor Valdo Richard.
Apart from scale - Creux du Van is three times the breadth, four times the height and made of Jurassic limestone - the modestly sized Tarren y Bwllfa outcrop is of Pennant sandstone.

The Dare Valley Park visitor centre boasts accommodation for outdoor educational activity groups, a restaurant, a gallery, a theatre and an intepretation centre which tells the story of local mining history and of the greening of the valley which has made it an exemplar of environmental work which has been done in all the mining valleys of South Wales over the past forty years. Significantly, the Pennant sandstone buildings are also re-cycled from the mining era, and were erected by the Parish for the welfare of miners, to judge by the inscription on a foundation stone.

We took the four mile round trip to the top of Tarren y Bwllfa, enjoying sun, and rain, plus rainbows that had one foot in cloudy moorland above and the other in Cwmdare village. More photos from the walk here.

We returned home in good time to dress up and go out to a preview of an exhibition of paintings by our friend Brian Gardiner, who asked if I could give a speech to open the show. We met when I was at St John's City Parish Church, where we staged an exhibition of his. I find Brian's work inspiring and was glad to enthuse about it publicly. Photos of a selection of his paintings can be seen here, although only a few of them are in this new exhibition. His output is prodigious. This is one of his more recent paintings, on view at the Inkspot Gallery Newport Road in Cardiff

He has a way of looking at everyday urban environment and revealing its character and beauty which is truly contemplative. I'd love to work with him on producing a book about his artistic work.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Preparing a pastor's farewell

This afternoon I planned to go into the CBS office to work on some budgetary  for forthcoming meetings, but first I had to do a funeral preparation visit in Cyncoed. The time constraints of achieving this meant using the car to take me where few buses go, then leaving it on the St Mary's Vicarage forecourt, and walking into the town centre from there. The plan worked fine and I stayed in the office from four until seven. 

Getting home however, took three quarters of an hour from the time I got back to the car, instead of the usual ten minutes. The roads around the edge of the centre were congested due to an international football match, which brought hundreds of kilted supporters from Scotland to play Wales. I wonder how much good these events really are for the local economy?

The funeral I'll be officiating at next Wednesday in St David's Ely (standing in for Fr. Jesse Smith) is of a black Pentecostal pastor Bassey Esien, formerly of the Restoration Church, who died in his mid-eighties, a post war immigrant from Nigeria, who was converted and called to ministry here in Britain. His daughter is organising the service in the place where she got married, to have somewhere big enough to accommodate mourners from communities her father served. 

It'll be the first time for me to preside at a 'black church' funeral since I was Rector of St Paul's Bristol in the eighties. My job will be both to pray and hold together the various contributions from family friends, church pastors and singers. I'm looking forward to it, especially as this is a local church group about which I have no information - unless they are known by a name which is already in the Cardiff database of churches which I researched and created six years ago.

I'm amazed at the way experiences from my very varied past still continue to be of value, given how much the world has changed during my adult life.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Publish and be blessed

Wednesday, I lunched in College and worked there during the afternoon, before celebrating the Eucharist. I went in again today to work and then for a meeting over tea with one of the candidates for the Vice-Principal's job, visiting to meet staff and students before the interviews take place next month. It's lovely to see how everyone takes an interest and makes an effort to welcome and put people in the hot spot at their ease.

A large banner notice has gone up on the perimeter fence on Cardiff Road, to tell the world to watch the 'Vicar Academy' documentary series on BBC1 Wales next Monday. And why not indeed promote it shamelessly? There's a strong desire in college, backed by lots of hopeful prayers to see this programme arouse interest in ordained ministry, as did last year's documentary series about monastic life and retreats revived interest in vocations, particularly among Roman Catholics in Britain. 

The church is blighted by contemptuous media stereotypes of religion and the ministries which serve faithful communities. I'd love to see us having to rise to the fresh challenge of public dialogue about discipleship and spirituality that could be both corrective and inspirational, and have our vocations advisors working overtime for a change. In fact, I think our students from so many and varied backgrounds are well placed to sustain such an exchange.


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Back to class

Having first taken Clare over to Llandough for a hospital appointment, I spent several hours this morning cleaning up Fr Graham's laptop, since neither Lotus Smart Suite uninstall routines would run without an error message. It meant hand deleting all files, then combing the Registry to remove hundreds of erroneous entries to a non-existent drive location, one at a time, since the best of Registry cleaners couldn't identify the faulty entries. Quite mind numbing, but vital for a clean re-install of the latest version. It still didn't work however. The reason for this I concluded, was that this particular suite of programs was incompatible with a 64 bit Windows 7 operating system, being five years out of date, and may never have been adapted for this purpose. It's not the end of the world, just inconvenient when switching between machines.

I came home late last night with Graham's enthusiasm for the iBrieviary app encouraging me to give it a try. I found it and downloaded it easily. It runs well on my phone, and will also work on Google Chrome. I imagine many  students have been running it since it came out. It's such a useful and comprehensive reference tool for daily offices, Eucharist and occasional offices and prayers, even if reading it from a smartphone is a bit of an effort for old eyes.

Another afternoon spent in College, extending my familiarity with the way things work, and getting to know staff better. Before our tutor group session I joined the staff for tea. It was quite hilarious as most had just returned from a Welsh language class for College members, and had stories to tell.

In Tutor group, after saying the evening Office together, Rufus led us in a carefully prepared study of passages in James and Romans on the theme of justification by faith. The discussion was quite thoughtful, but as ever it seems to me that despite the centrality of this theme in the New Testament the way we speak about it still stands apart from everyday discourse, as it is rooted in a culture with a different way of talking and thinking about the Law, so we're always translating and in the process sometimes losing the real point, so its impact on us is blunted.

From College I went to my first Chi Gung class of the autumn. I was so good to be back in class and have an engaging work out, after months of working out on my own. Still, I miss being able to do my moves on a balcony in the warmth of morning or evening sunshine. As Christie our teacher says, we now need to put extra effort into expelling the autumn damp from our bones to move well.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Welcome to St Michael's world

As this College term unfolds I'll be spending more time there, minding a few gaps resulting from the departure of Vice Principal Stephen Roberts for pastures new. The hunt for his replacement is on but  with the timetable for this, someone new wouldn't be able to start work until early in the New Year. I spent the afternoon in College before presiding at the five o'clock family service, which was a real delight, with three dozen present, including eight children.

Just after we started, I heard a brief wail from a tiny baby at the back of chapel, it was Ivy, the latest addition to the community, daughter of Josh and Rachel. It was an opportunity not to be missed. I slipped out during a hymn and went through the liturgical bookshelf until I found  the new texts of the pastoral office for Thanksgiving after Childbirth - the Canadian Prayer Book in fact - with a couple of suitable prayers for the occasion. I called them out after the intercessions, and we prayed with them and blessed Ivy, nestling in her proud Dad's arms.

This really moved me. I haven't had the occasion to perform this office for the best part of a decade. Only recently when I was in Spain on the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin, I watched a Romanian Orthodox priest blessing a young mother and infant after the church's Saturday morning liturgy, and I found that inspirational and also moving. Wherever there is new life, there is fresh hope.

I was so relieved to learn that replacement locum clergy have been found to look after the Costa Azahar chaplaincy, to cover November to January, by which time (third time lucky?) another chaplain's appointment process will yield results. That means they will only have been without a resident pastor for a fortnight. Even so, getting recruitment moving at all proved a nightmare for church leaders on the ground. For their sakes I'm glad they now have a respite.

After supper I went down to St Mary's Vicarage to do some computer troubleshooting for Father Graham, occasioned by his main machine breaking down and needing both repair and a Windows XP re-installation, along with his main working programs. Somehow the newer version of Lotus Smart Suite he had installed no longer faithfully reproduced complex documents from his archive, making a lot of extra work for him. We spent ages looking for a work around without success, and I ended up bringing his laptop home to complete working on, as a newer version had been installed over an old one which didn't automatically uninstall, rendering both useless. This kind programming weakness may well have contributed to Smart Suite's demise. There's nobody for whom backwards compatibility of programs isn't vitally important.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Nearly lost in Cardiff

For a change, we went out for a Saturday morning breakfast at the Cameo Club, then went over to Roath to look for a birthday present for Clare in a small shop selling things produced by local craft artists. We found an acceptable necklace, which may well require choosing a new blouse to go with it in due course.

For the second time this week we went to the Millennium Centre - this time for Mozart's 'Cosi fan tutte', imaginatively and humorously re-located to a Welsh seaside town. Aberystwyth or Llandudno? It's the second time I've seen this production. The last time was when Rachel was home from Canada and I took her with me instead of Clare, who stayed home and looked after Jasmine.

This morning I was out early, celebrating the eight o'clock at St David's Ely, then going on to St Timothy's Caerau for their nine fifteen. I nearly came unstuck, as I couldn't remember how to get to St Tim's from St David's. Yesterday, I made a mental note to myself to check the address, but after the opera I forget to look. I had a map and rang Clare in a panic, but she couldn't find it, as the organisation of the diocesan directory which she was able to find in my office doesn't make it as straightforward as is desirable. 

At five past nine the streets were still empty and shops were shut. I spotted a couple of men chatting outside a chip shop, and discovered from them that I was nearer to the church than I'd imagined. It's tucked in a side street not far from the landmark Caerau pub, but it's not very visible from afar, unlike most churches around the city. I wasn't late, only nearly late. Kicking myself inwardly for not being properly prepared. I'll know better next time I come, the second Sunday in November.