Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Beginnings and ends

Yesterday I joined the well-wishers at Dean Atkins' well attended service of induction as Vicar of the new united Parish of St German's Adamsdown and St Saviour's Splott. Before it began, children of the Tredegarville School Choir sang several songs by way of a welcome for him. Dean already knows the children, as he has already started work as a Governor and regular pastoral visitor. The children visit St German's, class by class, to attend a Eucharist each Wednesday of term. There were four staff members I knew with them, but I was surprised not to see the Head Teacher among them. I thought it strange he didn't attend the induction of my successor last summer at St John's either, given that the school was actually in the city centre Parish up to that time. 

All sorts of things are changing. For all I know the Parish boundary map may have been re-drawn to put Tredegarville in with St German's Parish. But to my mind that would be all the more reason for the Head of the school to be there to mark the change. Nobody else remarked on this, so probably nobody else cares. I still think it's odd, but I am grateful to be spared the background politics. It bothers me enough to mention it, but it's no longer any of my business. I got a lot of pleasure from taking services at St Germans' over the past eight months, and accompanying the congregation through a time of change. Being in the congregation last night was being among friends.

I had to get up early today, to be in College by 7.45am to take Matins and give an address - it's one of my challenges, getting up a couple of hours earlier than usual, and I was relieved to make it on time, and join students for breakfast before they dashed off to lectures. Our tutor group meeting was shaped around the preparation of sandwiches for the evening's Paradise Run food distribution to city centre street people, the College team being led by Marcus several times each term. It gave us an opportunity to chat in quite a relaxed way while we worked in the student kitchen - most enjoyable.

I was also back at St German's at lunchtime today for the Solemn Requiem Mass of Patricia Davies, PCC secretary. Her coffin was brought into church yesterday evening and rested in the Lady Chapel during the induction. So, she got to be at an event she'd been looking forward to and working for, in body as well as spirit. So sad for those who knew her that body and spirit are in separation for the time being.

She was a lay representative on the Church in Wales' Governing Body, for over forty years. Father Philip Ursell, who was Chaplain when Pat was a Chemistry student in Cardiff, had suggested that she be put forward as a young persons' representative. He was there, and gave an excellent address, which was both a proper sermon and an affectionate remembrance of a long standing friend. As many people attended her funeral as came to last night's induction - friends with whom she disagreed as well as those who agreed with her principled traditional convictions about women's ordination - a genuine sign of her charitable disposition. May she rest in peace.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Sunday opera

A later than usual Sunday start, driving out in bright sunshine with only one Eucharist service to celebrate at Capel Llanilltern about seven miles from home. It's a small building seating no more than 20 people, built on an ancient site, dedicated to a Saint Elldeyrn said to be the son of Vortigern a 5th century British warlord. Nothing more is known of him. Scholars differ about whether this name is a corruption of Edeyrn, a sixth century monk who left his name in a village on the eastern edge of Cardiff - Llanedeyrn. 

The existence of Llanilltern Church was first recorded in the thirteenth century. When the main road was widened in the mid 19th century, the building was moved further into the churchyard to its present position. There may have been a burial ground with a chapel even earlier than that. In the north wall of the nave is the grave stone of one Vendumaglus, dating from the 5-9th century, as well as several others of 17-19th century in the walls and floor. It's a little gem of local history.
I had a congregation of seven, and unaccompanied by organ, they sang lustily. To my horror, as I was preaching, my phone went off in my pocket, very noisily, as I'd forgotten to switch it off. It's the first time that's ever happened to me - and hopefully the last. It was my dear friend Mike calling to say that he and Gail would arrive later than expected from Worcester for lunch because the M50 was closed. He doesn't relish texting people, I suspect. My apology raised an indulgent smile from the congregation. But did they remember anything I said thereafter? I daren't ask.

After lunch we went to the Millenium Centre to watch Berlioz' romantic opera 'Beatrice and Benedict', an adaptation of Shakespeare's play 'Much ado about nothing'. None of us had seen it before, so we were listening to music which was fresh to us. It was superbly performed, with splendidly localised comic elements, reminiscent of pantomime, albeit more elegant and witty. It seemed strange to be in a theatre on a Sunday afternoon, instead of at Evensong and Benediction, as has been my habit during the past six months. During the interval I bumped into Canon Graham Holcombe, also off duty for once. I imagine his Sunday morning was a lot busier than mine.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Grave humour?

My second funeral of the week this morning at 'the Res', with a good turnout of Cardiff Bay Yacht Club and fishing colleagues of the deceased. As part of the tribute to his garmpy, one of grandsons, a university history student, wrote a well crafted poem which was both affectionate and humorous. He hadn't written this by Monday evening when I visited the family, but none of them were bothered as they were confident, justifiably it turned out, in his ability to deliver.

Interment in Western Cemetry followed, and while we were waiting to get started, I noticed among the tombstones in an adjacent plot the grave of Fr Frank Begley, complete with a little photo vignette of him smiling in his clericals. I wonder if this was done tongue in cheek. I get the impression it's not considered kosher in Church in Wales' graveyards, (which Western Cemetery is not) and Frank was a Church in Wales priest, although he converted to Roman Catholicism in retirement. He was also celibate, yet the inscription declared he was lovingly remembered by Edwin and his family. Edwin was a young student from Malaysia whom he befriended  decades ago. Edwin stayed in the UK, married and had a family, and Frank remained an honoured paterfamilias to them, right to the end of his life.

After lunch I went in to town and did a couple of hours work in the office, before supper and my usual Thursday outing to Penarth for Tai Chi.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ash Wednesday

I had intended to get up early enough to go into College for the Quiet Day, conducted by theologian the Rev'd Marilyn Allen, recently settled in Pontypridd in her retirement, but I didn't wake up early enough, so I spent most of the day quietly at home instead.

Clare came with me for the afternoon penitential liturgy and Eucharist in the College Chapel. We were treated to some nice singing, and caught Marilyn's last address. She'd been working with several striking images of Christ entombed in all three of her discourses. The last one she discussed was a bas relief on a modern altarpiece. My mind was quickly drawn back to the Cathedral and Chapel Royal of St Florent in Liechtenstein, where I took this photo when we visited there last July.
It's a strong reminder that when we receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, we feed on the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ - 'like cannibals' Marilyn said, in a wry aside - referring back to the allegations laid at the door of the early Christian church by its pagan detractors.

Afterwards we made our way home for supper, rather than stay and socialise. As today is Rhiannon's eighth birthday, we wanted to call and greet her before bed-time. We managed to hook up with Kath and Auntie Rachel over in Canada for a Skype conference call, and sing happy birthday to her trans-continentally.

Ah the marvels of the age!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Shrove Tuesday

We had a tutors' meeting in College at lunchtime, and then a tutor group meeting at tea time. In between time I went home - that's the benefit of living nearby, and feel the need of being in my home study. After this, I returned home again for the first course of supper, before my Chi Gong class, saving the pancakes of the day for later. 

Over the next six weeks I'm looking forward to reading the book of daily Lenten poetry readings and comment - 'The Heart's Time' - by Janet Morley, received as a gift from the Bishops a few weeks ago. What else will I do, apart from give up drinking alcohol and eat less? This last six months my habitual intake of wine and food has reduced somewhat, in order to lose weight and normalise my blood pressure. And it's worked - the weight loss has not been as slow and steady as the settling in my blood pressure readings, but I get the positive feeling of being more comfortable in my skin, less sluggish and more clear headed, with modest effort. The combination of Chi Gong and Tai Chi classes twice weekly with contentment in work and leisure seems to be bearing fruit. I guess if there's anything I should be doing, it's giving thanks more consciously, more often, for everything about my new life.

People say I haven't stopped working. That's right. Nor have I stopped taking leisure. I retired only from being a licensed public office holder. The vocation to work at being a missionary priest stays with me for life. It's part of my exercise of freedom, rather than a choice of duty in professional life. This sense of freedom is delicious. It means that when I have nothing to do, I enjoy it and don't feel useless. I found it hard to feel like that when duty dominated my calling. Now 'down time' is extra time to relax and just be with God, who asks nothing and returns affectionate glances gladly.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Re-living recent history

After a quietly lazy morning, I was collected and taken to do a funeral service at 'the Res' this afternoon for an elderly lady who was for over 25 years a local lollypop lady - school crossing patrol officer - on Cowbridge Road West. As I read the 23rd Psalm, the words 'thy rod and thy staff comfort me' took on unexpected meaning. I mentioned this in the brief account of her life which the family had asked me to give on their behalf, but I didn't see many smiles of comprehension from the congregation. I guess that for most, familiar words wash over them on an occasion like this. 

The drive to Thornhill just at the height of the school run traffic peak took double the usual time. We arrived punctually, but the outgoing funeral was running late, so we had a delayed start anyway. The Crematorium attendant seemed to be looking after two chapel services at the same time, whether from staff absences or cut backs I do not know, but the usual atmosphere of calm and comfort prevailed.

I was dropped off at St Michael's College on the return journey, as I was scheduled to preside at a Family Eucharist. I tried out an experimental children's eucharistic prayer draft, tabled at last week's CofE General Synod, which contains several phrases of a dialogue between child and parent, reminscent of that used in the Jewish Passover supper ritual. This was received with appreciation by many. I'd like to think that the concept could equally be adapted for use in other Eucharist Prayers for children - that it might go viral?

I had supper in College and sat next to a student from Ystrad Mynach, my home town. I found out that he was born the year I left for University. That made me feel rather long in the tooth! After supper I walked home across Llandaff Fields in the quiet darkness - so much more pleasant than enduring the heavy evening traffic on Cardiff Road. I then drove over to Ely for my second bereavement visit of the week, this time an old man who had driven a crane in Cardiff Docks throughout his working life. This is the second crane driver's funeral I've done in the last few months.

I finished the day watching a BBC4 dramatised documentary 'Love of books - a Sarajevo story', all about the rescue of a collection of 10,000 old islamic books from a Madrassah library while the city was under siege in the 1990s. It was movingly told recreated through video clips and staged drama portraying those war torn years. 

At the time, when we were living in Geneva, I was profoundly shaken by the Bosnian war. It seemed such a devastating and barbaric assault on the great twentieth century project of making a modern multi-cultural society work, and showed what people risked doing to hold on to their culture, identity and dignity in the worst of circumstances. It took me a trip to Sarajevo, in the year after the lifting of the siege to start learning about the struggle of many of its citizens to hold on to the kind of society they had achieved and valued, and come to terms with my own deep feelings of crushed liberal optimism.

Islamophoba and different kinds of equalities prejudice are still present in Europe and Britain today, poisoning relationships, promoting power hungry ideologies and distorting the political endeavours of mainstream politicians. The world said 'Never again' after Auschwitz, then after Sarajevo and Srebrenica, but unless we learn the lessons of history, expose the bullies and stand up to them and their ideas, unless we teach about justice and reconciliation and fight for it with liberating truth, we may well see history repeat itself. 

Memories of that time haunt me still. I shall not sleep easy tonight.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sunday pleasures

I drove out to Penllyn west of Cowbridge, for my first Sunday Eucharist of the day. It must be six months since I was last there. I was delighted to glimpse roadside swathe of double headed snowdrops at the top of the hill in the grass verge under the stone wall. I saw only crocusses yesterday in Bute Park, and single a daffodil open already among the thousands growing on Llandaff Fields. 

The service was followed by a congregational meeting to appoint representatives to various parochial offices, as happened in other churches last week. There's a lot of preparation for the annual Parish meeting to be done with eight active congregations needing to report first. But, it's good to see lay people in each of these little churches pulling their weight and taking responsibility for their affairs, even if they openly say how much they miss the leadership and encouragement of the clergy, perceived as necessary to take them in a single direction, rather than them feeling they are going around a bit in circles.

My second Eucharist was at the church of St Owain in Ystradowen. Google Maps indicated that it was quite unnecessary to go back down the hill to the main road, drive along the bypass and the go north up the valley towards Pontyclun in order to arrive - there was a good direct route east over the hill top straight down into the valley instead. And that was where I regretted having forgotten my camera, as the views on the descent to the moor in bright morning sunlight were breathtakingly delightful. St Owain's is a charming little village church with a pub to the right of the churchyard, and a huge mound covered in giant beech trees to the left - apparently the remains of an ancient fortification atop a glacial moraine. Most impressive.

The congregation was very welcoming, and blessed with a good (if a bit loud for my taste) electric organ and they (12 women and 2 men) sang lustily both hymns and a Eucharist setting. The building has a small modern hall attached to its north side, with unimpeded views of the charming local scenery. What a gem! I look forward to returning here in March and on Easter Day, with my camera! There was a 20 minute delay driving home for lunch due to road works on the A48 in Ely, and I had some top-up shopping to do before cooking myself a late lunch. Then I picked up Clare from the station, returning from her half term week in Kenilworth (plus a family visit to Cadbury World). Glad to be re-united again.

Then it was time for my last trip of the interregnum to St Germans for Solemn Evensong and Benediction, with the usual dozen people in church (mostly men). Although I'm usually pretty tired after Sunday morning duties, I've really come to appreciate this hour, with all its devotional quirks. It's great to have a liturgy of Word and Prayer with the additional element of solemn ritual and symbolism to lift it out of the ordinary. I wish we experimented more with non-Eucharistic services containing a ceremonial nature - we might be surprised at who was attracted by them.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

More mourning

I said the Saturday morning Mass for the last time as an interregnum duty today. Fr Dean Atkins' induction as priest in charge takes place a week next Monday, and is taking charge of worship at St German's as well as St Saviour's on Ash Wednesday. Last Saturday I learned that Pat, St German's PCC secretary had died in her sixties a few days earlier. This Saturday I learned that Gwyn, nearly ninety had died. Until just before Christmas he had still active as 'doorkeeper in the house of the Lord'. He was there at the back for almost every service, welcoming people and giving out books. 

Fr Dean will have the funerals of two people whose support he would have valued within a few days of taking charge. His predecessor, Fr Roy Doxsey, used to remark on how large a proportion of the congregation he had laid to rest during his time, many of them at great age. But as in so many churches, their numbers have not been replaced by as many newcomers. Affection and respect for the local Parish Church doesn't translate into loyalty and commitment as it used to. Will sustained hardship and uncertainty cause people to think again about what they value most? Come to think of it, I have two funerals this coming week, covering for Jan at 'the Res', while she's on sick leave. Caerau and Glanely still look to their local Parish Church and attend in good numbers for 'occasional offices'. While Sunday congregations are above average, getting them to grow with sustained regular commitment is dauntingly difficult.

Having finally made up my mind about the most desirable specification for a new laptop, I visited a few computer stores on my way home, to check for bargains and found what I wanted at Staples, a HP Pavilion G6 with Core i3 processor etc etc. I was delighted at how easy it was to set up, even if I did have to spend half an hour uninstalling unwanted bundled software, and setting up free open source programs I use all the time instead. 

As the weather cleared up I went for a brisk walk along both banks of the Taff after lunch, took a few photos of the club Rugby matches, to experiment with using different widescreen camera settings.
The G6 displays them impressively. I also used it to watch Whitney Houston's funeral streamed live from New Hope Baptist Church, New Jersey. Quite apart from all the star studded tributes in words and music, her home church's Gospel choir singing and praying were an impressive witness to the maturity and power of black Christians, rising to this sad global public event. Even local criminal gang leaders, out of respect for the local girl, issued dire threats against anyone considering taking advantage of the situation by stealing from the hundreds of cars bringing the 1500 mourners into the district.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Motorpoint move

Apart from a couple of hours in the office each day, and a College Tutor group meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the first half of the week has been uneventful and quiet at home with Clare away. Yesterday was  quite the opposite, starting with a busy RUG (Radio Users' Group) meeting in the Motorpoint Arena, with the best attendance for some time, and as usual, I acted as scribe. 

The City Centre Management team is moving to a new office accommodation in the Arena building in March, and this week it has been confirmed that Cardiff Business Safe is to move in with them. After the RUG meeting Ashley and I were taken by Ray the building manager to see the hundred foot long open plan office where we will be housed, hopefully in a corner. The room has a full length balcony and a view south towards the Bay over the main railway in between two tower blocks. Fine for the summer. I wonder about deep midwinter though.

We were shown how to navigate our way through the service areas beneath the arena itself to the main gate, a route we need to use for late access. Here's a place I never got to visit when I was the local Vicar. The arena is currently decked out with a bandstand and dance floor for this week's Strictly Come Dancing tour show. The staging travels the country packed into large trailer lorries. Last week an ice skating show was here. This week a couple of parking bays are filled with melting ice from the refrigerated floor installed upstairs last week. It takes a couple of weeks to melt in situ, unless it needs removing to free space. The basement also gets used as a film set in between times. It's never a dull moment for building manager Ray, who's in his early sixties. He's full of energy, and thrives on the diversity and challenge of everyday life at work.

I had to depart in haste to catch a bus home, and then take the car to Dinas Powis to have a lively lunch with Russell and Jackie, and was only five minutes late, due to the panic ensuing from losing track of my house keys. I'd not put them in the usual jacket pocket, and they'd hidden in the far recesses of my top coat pocket and I had to phone Clare, not being able to recall who had the spare house keys. Thankfully I detected them with great relief after I'd started driving. Then I had a funeral preparation visit to make to a family in Caerau, prior to one of the two funerals I've been asked to do next week in 'the Res', as Jan the Vicar is on leave.

I got home in good time to cook a meat eaters' paella for Owain and myself, with excellent Tesco spicy chorizo and slivers of chicken breast to add to the usual vegetables and rice. We washed it down with a decent Valencian wine blending Tempranillo and Monastrell grapes and talked of politics, the economy and work. We agreed the paella was one of my best efforts to date. Owain left, just as the prequel Star Trek movie was starting, and as I hadn't seen it before I watched it, while writing up my notes from the morning's RUG meeting. The film was good enough to slow me down considerably, and it was very late by the time I emailed them off for approval and crawled into bed.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Poets of the Word

I had a very early start this morning, due to an urgent request to fill in for another retired colleague who couldn't do the 8.00am Mass at the Church of the Resurrection. Since I was travelling west to St Marychurch for my first booking of the day, I had to pass that way, so it was only a question of setting the alarm and hoping for the best. As well as two St Mike's students in attendance, there were  fourteen in the congregation. That's a good early turn out for an urban Parish these days. At St Marychurch there were the usual eleven and at St Hilary twenty one. Then, there were eleven of us for Evensong and Benediction at St German's.

I got my sermon done quite early this week. Then three of the five students preaching this weekend sent me sermon drafts on the same texts to discuss with them before preaching - others would be hearing them in situ. That was an interesting experience, and it helped me realise what diverse gifts and backgrounds contribute to shaping someone as a 'poet of the Word' to rob a phrase I first heard from Bishop Freddy Temple, back in the eighties, making a pun on the Greek 'poeitai lógou', (doers of the Word) from James 1:22. Even if the vast majority of people are disinclined to listen to anyone preaching nowadays, it's still to my mind, a creative art, to speak freely and offer wise insightful, but also beautiful and inspirational commentary on the mysteries of the Gospel. I'm glad that I'm still able to preach regularly, and receive by giving.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Photo expedition

I took Clare to catch at train to Birmingham first thing this morning on my way to say Mass at St German's. She's spending the half term week with Kath and Rhiannon, with some added babysitting. I have a week of solitude to put to good use. So, after lunch, with the first sunny blue sky day for ages, I got out my best cameras, caught the bus into the city centre, and then walked down the riverside to the Hamadryad Park and wetland nature reserve, snapping as I went. It's a whole year since I last walked this way, to try out my newly purchased Sony HX5. This time I walked on, across the Bay waterfront, on to the Barrage all the way into Penarth. I'd never seen the tide quite to far out - it was an amazing sight in the evening sun. Photographs here.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Reunion and remembrances

We ate a cooked meal lunchtime today, as both of us had early evening engagements. After several hours in the office, I went to St Michael's College to hear Prof (now Sir) Dairmuid McCulloch speaking about the history of western European Christianity from the fifth century to the reformation, a subject about which I know little. He was honoured in the New Year List for 'services to scholarship' - indeed, he has an original and insightful perspective on many things. I followed his BBC TV series on Christianity with interest, particularly when he visited Middle Eastern place I also visited in the nineties.

I was taken by his view that while the Councils of Nicaea in 325 followed by the Council Ephesus in 451, benchmarked the Orthodoxy of Rome and Byzantium, excluding those Christians whose belief in Christ were Arian, this didn't hinder the Arians from persisting in mission in regions where they enjoyed the patronage of the rulers. They were successful among the Visigoth tribes which invaded the West from Eastern Europe, and Arian Christianity was dominant in the West in the Dark Ages.

Like much ancient Christianity, Arian mission went in for baptising local culture and custom, using indigenous language in worship. Generally, it seems to have been tolerant of diversity. Little historical evidence remains of its churches or its liturgies, due to the inexorable rise of the church of Rome, with the imposition of its rule of law, Latin language and a culture of compliance. When the reformation came, it was seen as the calamitous break up of Christendom. Dairmuid points out how diverse ancient churches were, agreeing on doctrine, but co-existing with differences. The Reformation marked a resumption of this, even if marred from the outset by power struggles and violence - a legacy of imperial rule by force. Unlike Eastern Orthodoxy, Latin Christianity  is tainted by persecution of those who do not comply.

My friend Martin was there at the lecture. He and Dairmuid have known each other for forty years, and it was at Martin's house some years ago that I was introduced to him, well before I had any inkling of just how eminent a scholar he is. I've never been a great reader of historical scholarship, but having heard Dairmuid in the flesh as well as on the little screen, maybe it's time to make the effort.

At the reception afterwards, I met up with Fr Roger Balkwill, who had been senior Curate in Caerphilly when I served my first Curacy there 1969-72. I confess that I didn't recognise him. The last time we met was in 1989, when he attended my Induction as Team Rector of Halesowen. He's been retired a couple of years, having stayed on until he was 69 in the West Midlands Parish of Albrighton where he'd been Vicar for 29 years. He reminded me that when Clare finally went into labour with Katherine, I was absent on duty, so he'd driven her down to St David's maternity hospital, where I caught up with her in good time an hour later. 

I admit that little reminder gave me a twinge of ancient guilt - being off somewhere on ministerial duty when I was needed at home. It happened many times, but by the grace of God, we survived it all.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Winter funeral

We were indeed fortunate to arrive in Scarborough, with an evening free to greet Peter's family, and then catch up with our friend Yvette, who arrived from Geneva just after us. She shared an off-season hired holiday apartment with us during our stay. We had supper together in the Tex-Mex restaurant attached to the holiday apartments, and found half a dozen others dining there who'd come down from from Scotland, also staying for the funeral. This view greeted us when we rose on Monday morning.
We had an improvised breakfast in the apartment kitchen, and then went out to look at the shops and drink coffee as we whiled away the morning, as the funeral was at one o'clock. It took place at their local much loved Parish Church of St Martin's on the Hill.
About a hundred people were there, two thirds of them from around Scarborough - a measure of how much Peter and Andrea became part of the local community in the years since they left Geneva. Several of the Scottish contingent, some of them friends since his schoolboy days, wore kilts, as did Peter's two sons. Andrea's RAF reservist pilot son wore his full dress uniform at Peter's special request - a Royal British Legion wreath was on the coffin, along with family flowers. Although not a military man, Peter had been a long standing supporter of the work of the RBL. We sang the hymns he loved most: 'Guide me O thou great Redeemer', 'And can it be that I should gain..', 'Thine be the glory', and One Corinthians Thirteen was read. I was glad to be in the congregation on the receiving end of an affectionate farewell and sitting with Clare for a change. My turn will come later in the spring, when I have been asked to help arrange a memorial service in Holy Trinity Geneva.

A post funeral reception was held in 'The Highlander', a local Scottish hostelry whose high shelves are crammed with a formidable collection of whiskeys, a favourite meeting place for exiles. Apparently, in times past there were strong commercial links between the east coast of Scotland and Scarborough forged by the fleets of herring drifters, and the regiment of women who followed them from port to port to fillet the catch wherever it was landed. Some stayed and intermarried. Others have retired locally, hoping to benefit from a less harsh climate. Peter was certainly very happy to spend his latter years there.

We made our farewells at half past three and headed west with the sun right on the horizon in our eyes through Rydale before turning south down the M1. In darkness, we found the motorway traffic far busier than it had been yesterday. We headed for Kenilworth for an overnight stop with Kath, Anto and Rhiannon, and after just four hours on the road, I was much tireder than I was after driving up all the way. After breakfast we drove straight to Cardiff, in good time for a lunchtime Tutors' meeting and afternoon tutor group. I was very grateful for my evening Chi Gong class to help me unwind and re-balance, after a compressed couple of days.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Christingle at Creigau

My Sunday morning preaching engagement today was at a Family Christingle service in the church hall in the village of Creigau, part of Pentyrch Parish, currently waiting for the arrival of new Vicar in Eastertide. Thankfully, yesterday evening's snow had all but disappeared and the roads weren't icy, otherwise it would have been an uphill struggle to arrive on time. The service was well organised and mostly led by lay people, with the music provided by a group comprising a 'cellist, a fiddler, a guitarist, a keyboard player, a couple of recorder players, and tambourine, paying for a congregation of about thirty people. 

The service was organised 'in the round', and for the second week running, I delivered my prepared message from memory standing among the people, not behind a lectern or in a pulpit. The congregation was welcoming and responsive  making it easy to work in a relaxed way - a bit like a stand up comedian, I couldn't help thinking secretly. Although it wasn't the Sunday Eucharist which I regard as the core of my personal prayer life, it was nevertheless an experience of life giving community in the Spirit, which is all one can hope for, no matter what kind of worship takes place.
As soon as I arrived home, we set off by road for Scarborough to attend the funeral of my dear friend Peter, arranged for Monday lunchtime. Along with food, blankets and a shovel, I packed the little laptop and a 3g MID dongle in case we needed to check local travel information en route, but we didn't need it. The roads were fairly quiet and free of snow and ice. Temperatures were just above freezing nearly all the way on the five and a half hour drive, including a stop for a picnic lunch.. The landscape throughout was under a mantle of several inches of snow, and the roads were wet. We had clouds and sunshine on the journey, but it neither rained nor snowed. We were fortunate. Had it been a day earlier we might not have been able to travel, and we judged that driving up on Monday morning would have been too risky.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Update blues

On Wednesday last my Firefox Browser auto updated itself to version 10 on my little Windows 7 laptop, but when I came to watch the news I had no sound. I went through my list of browser plugins and updated them all, but it changed nothing. I checked various tech forums and found a few complaints about Flash Player not working with v10, but no working solution, nor an official acknowledgement of the problem. I posted a tweet in frustration, but this evoked no response. Google's Chrome browser continued to provide services Firefox no longer could. Several times in the days following, I have re-run my basic fault finding diagnostic procedure to no avail.

This morning, Linux Mint on my desktop machine offered the equivalent Firefox v10 update, and I refused it, just in case it should break Flash Player. Then I took another look at my broken Windows 7 Firefox. This time I ran a silent video clip, and investigated the laptop's sound production software. On the surface, it was working normally, except for Firefox. Why?  The answer was annoyingly simple. The Firefox sound output channel was registered as muted, and when toggled to on, Flash worked as designed.

Before Wednesday evening, Firefox Flash had worked fine, and I'd changed none of its settings. Somehow the upgrade seems to have been accompanied by the sound output channel switching off, whether the two events were were related or not. It was good to track down and correct the problem, and that gave me the confidence to permit the Linux Mint Firefox upgrade. Thankfully, it worked without a hitch. Nothing is as disruptive as when something you rely on stops working, especially if resolving the problem becomes an added distraction. How important consistency is in the tools we rely on to manage our daily lives.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Nunc dimittis day

Candlemass Day, last day of Christmastide - like Lent and Eastertide, another symbolic forty day season in which the church dwells on its core teachings. At best Advent, as presently constructed, is never more than twenty-eight days. In some traditions, Advent also lasted forty days. I'd value the symmetry of a return to that in our liturgical observance. The secular commercial world makes its season of preparation for winter festivities a good deal longer. There's no good reason why the church shouldn't give more time to assigning Advent counter-cultural significance to late November. Why the so called 'Kingdom' season needed to be invented to cover the latter half of the month of Holy Souls when the potential of extending Advent was already there, I'll never understand.

My day started with a meeting in College, then a visit to St Luke's Canton for the Funeral Mass of Fr Allan Jenkins, another priest who had made the Benefice his home. There were over a hundred people there, many of them clerics, plus three Bishops. Bishop David Wilbourne presided. His predecessor Bishop David Yeoman was among those assisting at Communion. Sitting in front of me was John Hind Bishop of Chichester, my diocesan Bishop when I was in Geneva. It took me a while to recognise him, as he had an overcoat on, and his episcopal garb was not visible. It's thirteen years since we last met. 

Opposite in church was another familiar face it took me a while to identify, Fr Richard Hunt, who as Curate of St Agnes welcomed me to Bristol St Paul's Area in my first incumbency as Team Rector there in the 1970's. He and his wife Jo came to visit us last summer. Seeing him in St Luke's was unexpected until I realised the Chichester connection with Fr Allan whose last job was in Fr Richard's Area Deanery under Bishop John's jurisdiction. Canon Richard Hanford, a boyhood friend, gave a homily of reminiscence and reflection on Fr Allan's ministry, somewhat less concise than the liturgy Fr Allan had devised for the occasion in his dying months, but pardonable in the face of age and grief.

After a brief re-union with Fr Richard, I headed to the office for a couple of hours, and from thence back to St Mike's for the College Candlemass Liturgy. I arrived from the bus in rush hour traffic just too late to join the candle-lit procession from Common Room to Chapel, but instead of annoyance and  disappointment, I had an exquisite moment of sitting quietly in chapel preparing, listening to the congregation as they made their way by candlelight across the cold damp dark quadrangle singing the Taize chant:

'The Lord is my light my light and salvation: In God I trust, in God I trust.'

At the end of the Eucharist, the 'Nunc Dimittis' was sung, as is customary. It had also been said earlier in the day in farewell, as Fr Allan's body was taken from the church. That's the way to go.

As it was Thursday as well as Candlemass, I had a brisk walk home, and an even quicker supper before heading out to Dinas Powis with Clare for her study group, then on to Penarth for Tai Chi, with the big challenge of setting aside a day of powerful impressions in order to focus on being in the moment and in the body for this vitalising learning session. Unusually, we finished with a period of silent meditation. After an hour and a half of conscious physical concentration, it was like swimming in deep warm water.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Cautious sustainability

At lunchtime today we said goodbye to Jasmine and Rachel, as they set off by train on the first stage of their journey home to Canada next weekend. It's been lovely to have them around so much this past few weeks. The house seems very tidy and quiet without them.

I had to go straight to a meeting in the office with a representative of our radio equipment supplier, and then knuckle down to the task of checking December '11 account entries against long awaited bank statements now at last in our hands. This enables us to get the VAT calculations done and the year's balancing payments made as soon as possible, as we will then have a clear picture of how we manage our finances for the rest of the year. 

This last couple of months, I've written scores of letters chasing up late payments, and finally this is bearing fruit. By the end of this year we may be able to afford to pay for office help without risking the stability of our general finances. We have to move with caution, because without external backers and only subscriber income to rely upon, it's vital to ensure our operations remain sustainable. We're still in recession, yet fortunately the number of new subscribers still balances the number we lose through business closures. Too many bad debts, which may accompany businesses bankruptcy, could compromise us, so we go forward with care.

I hope my financial risk-averse tendency learned from decades of ecclesiastical shoestring finances, will serve us well, and keep us running as are committed to run, as a sustainable not for profit social enterprise.