Sunday, 29 April 2012

Rainy Sunday

A wet and windy start to my journey into the Vale for Sunday duties in Llanbleddian and Ystradowen this morning. The surface of the A48 was strewn with leaves and twigs and I saw one large tree close to the edge of the road that had fallen recently. There was a safety vehicle in attendance and a long traffic queue in the Cardiff direction. I was relieved not to encounter any delay on the westward carriageway, to eat away at the extra time margin I've learned to give myself on these journeys to ensure I enjoy a leisurely start to the morning's worship. Having to drive against the clock to get from Barry to Llanbleddian last Sunday was a rare and unpleasant reminder of how much my preparation to say Mass now involves properly pacing myself to arrive - something I could have benefited more from thirty years ago when I drove the length and breadth of Wales Sunday by Sunday preaching for USPG.

It was still raining when I got back to Cardiff, to collect Clare from Riverside Farmers Market, and then collect Owain as he was set to join us for lunch. It was necessary to go by car to collect him, so that he didn't get soaked riding his bike over from Gabalfa.  He's still unemployed after a year, despite success in getting interviews. Competition is very tough. He looks for suitable work diligently, and so far is undaunted his situation. It helps that he puts a great deal of the time on his hands into making digital music and quietly, persistently promoting it to techno fans across the internet. He sees it as 99% hard work and 1% luck, and the act of creation itself preserves him from despair. In my chosen vocation I have never lacked work to do, even now in retirement. I can't imagine how I would have coped with the circumstances he finds himself in, and I admire him greatly.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Rainy Saturday

We got up too late to go out for breakfast, and instead drove to Penarth and both ate fresh whitebait with salad for lunch in a nice little French style bistro café which has recently had a makeover. A cold blustery wind was blowing, so neither of us fancied a walk along the promenade, although we did visit long enough for Clare to return to the foreshore a bag full of collected pretty stones and limpet shells from Jasmine's her last visit to the sea below Penarth head - the ones too heavy to fly back with her to Canada.

Then we drove to the big B&Q at Culverhouse Cross to buy some plants, compost and a strawberry pot to make ready for summer - if it ever arrives. The weather has been more like early March than late April this week. With sermon prepared and printed out, and supper cooked and eaten, there only remained the latest pair of episodes of the new-less-than-believable Danish crime drama 'The Bridge' to watch before turning in.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Life together

I had to rise early this morning to go to College and celebrate the Eucharist. It left me feeling tired for much of the day. In part this was because yesterday, we drove to Monmouth in the pouring rain, to meet our friends Mike and Gail. Although the journey there is less than an hour, I find concentrating on the road in the rain is more demanding than prefer. A speeding ticket arrived in the post today - caught on camera - a souvenir of my rushed early Sunday morning journey between Barry and Llanbleddian. Serves me right for putting myself under too much pressure in the name of helping out and making myself useful. I'm glad I don't have much distance driving to do these days.

We had a pleasant lunch in a small restaurant Clare and I had visited before on a bus outing with St John's congregation. It was strange - I remembered the location of the restaurant but Clare didn't. She recalled the occasion of our last visit which I couldn't. Afterwards, we spent a couple of hours dodging showers, wandering the streets, and visiting the town's two ancient churches, ending up chatting in a coffee shop before parting company. 

Clare came home hatching a plan to order a custom made mirror from a small shop she found. Part of this morning was spent debating the right size to look right on the peculiarly shaped dining room wall begging for a mirror. Then we did some more editing out errors on the translation publication Clare is preparing on the influence of mobile technology device usage by adults in the presence of babies. Working together is something we do rarely, apart from domestic tasks. We each have different strengths, and this is an advantage in achieving things neither of us would do as well on our own - like so many aspects of of life together.

After supper, I drove Clare and a friend to her study group meeting in Dinas Powis, as I usually do, and then too the opportunity to do a bereavement visit on my way to the first Tai Chi class of the new term. Yet again I have to officiate at two funerals in the coming week.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Reflecting on students and studies

Yesterday was spent finalising reports on three students in my College tutor group. Today we had a long tutors' meeting to discuss reports submitted, particularly those leaving to be ordained at the end of this term. A great deal of care is taken to ensure the reports are a rich reflection of each individual and how they have responded to the challenges encountered in training. This is helpful not only to their bishops, but also those responsible for further training after ordination.

After a break at the end of the session, tutor groups met for the first session of term, but it will be another week before all the reports are done, discussed with recipients, and then prepared for dispatch. Meanwhile, when they don't have lectures to go to, students are finishing off study project assignments, or else preparing for exams if they have them. Summer term isn't as busy or as long as the other two, but nevertheless intense for those being ordained and moving away to a new job and a new clerical identity, as it is for those looking ahead to long vacation extra mural projects and more studies in the autumn ahead.

I remember being quite unsettled at the end of my first year in St Mike's, unsure of the value and relevance ( a big word often used in those turbulent times) of much we were studying. Although I did quite well at Greek and Hebrew, I wondered when we would really start tackling the philosophical and theological material that would help us to engage fruitfully with the contemporary world. Our curriculum then was academically traditional and formal, not nearly as broad or attractive as the subject matter covered by today's students. I expressed my frustration to my Bishop Glyn Simon, and much to my surprise, he let me switch to another course and promised to ordain me a year earlier. It meant I had to spend the long vacation preparing for a few extra exams, to compress my studies into two years in College instead of three. 

I left with the standard ministerial qualification, but not with a theology degree, and got on with 'learning by doing' on the job, my preferred option. I didn't want to be a scholar, but a pastor experimenting with ministry in a fast changing world. I'm not sure what sort of discussion and confidential reporting went on among the staff behind the scenes in those days. Permission to engage my enthusiasms early made a life-long learner of me, but not always a rigorously disciplined learner. With the hindsight of someone now overseeing other learners, maybe it would have done me good to have endured, and overcome the frustrations of that extra year. I see the value of language training, and wonder if I'd stuck with Hebrew if that would have led me earlier to explore the Christianity of the Middle East and Islam, as I did in mid-life. In the end I guess you can only do what you're ready for.

At the end of a real thinking day, I was grateful for an evening in which Chi Gong classes recommenced.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Extraordinary Kimber first

I was booked several months ago to take the eleven o'clock Eucharist at Holy Cross church Cowbridge this morning. Then a few weeks ago I was asked if I could celebrate an eight o 'clock interregnum Eucharist at St Mary's in Barry. Then, last week I had an additional request to cover the nine fifteen at Llanbleddian church, as the priest who normally looks after that service is currently recovering from a cataract operation. It should be possible to get from Barry to Llanbleddian in the half hour between services, I thought.

Yes, it was - as long as you remember to collect your robe after the eight o'clock, and not have to double back from the top of the hill into Barry town centre to collect the forgotten article... Llanbleddian had been warned that I might not be arriving long before the service, but nine fourteen is enough to make the most trusting of church officers nervous! By five to eleven when I arrived at Holy Cross, the church warden there was starting to get nervous too. It seems as if I am usually regarded as turning up reliably early, although I'm not quite sure I deserve such a measure of trust.This is not, however, the story of the day.

Back in St Mary's Barry at ten to eight I was greeted by my cousin Gareth Kimber, one time Parish Warden, and for many years, server and assistant lay minister. He read the lessons and intercessions and assisted at Communion. He's five years older than me, and we are both 'cradle Anglicans', yet in our six decades of life, this is only the second time we've worshipped together, and the first time in the history of the Church in Wales that Kimber cousins have led worship together.

Now this information may not make the pages of the Church Times, nor be worthy of recall in the minds of most interested in our family history, but from my perspective there was an unique pleasure in this early morning moment,

Thursday, 19 April 2012

More city centre building work

This week Heras fencing has been erected enclosing the green space between the Motorpoint Arena, the Job centre and the St David's Centre East side entrance and car park. Work is about to begin on excavating the site to prepare for the construction of a new head quarters tower block for Admiral Insurance Company. 
Eventually, the building will gather their 4,000 employees from various city office locations on to one site. Hopefully Admiral will benefit from this and continue to prosper. The company is, after all one of the city's major private employers. It will result in there being even more empty office accommodation in the city. Cardiff has not yet succeeded in attracting many large new corporate business to make Cardiff their head quarters, despite the obvious attractions of life in the city.

Quite apart from the two years worth of traffic congestion that will be result from building in the middle of an area busy with visitors to the Motorpoint Arena and St David's-Dewi Sant, the city centre will lose a green open space in an area dominated by tall buildings. The flowering cherry trees planted there three years ago when the shopping centre opened will, we are reassured, be removed and replanted on other sites locally. I hope it's true this time. I was much aggrieved by the brutal treatment of trees in blossom bulldozed in the early course of the redevelopment of 2007-9. 

Photo taken 6th Feb 2007
Such measures contribute to alienating public sympathy. A blunt reminder that we don't own the city we belong to, and despite all the show case consultations, ordinary folk have little control over what happens. We are only allowed to come in to trade or consume - so long as we pay, and behave ourselves.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Checking always necessary

As Father Dean is away on leave in Berlin this week, he asked if I'd do the ten o'clock Mass this morning, which I was glad to do. On the lectern I found a big shiny new edition of the new Roman Missal from which the prayers and antiphons were to be taken to match the weekday Lectionary readings. Here I stumbled at the first hurdle, as I read the Collect for the Day containing a fat subordinate clause and a grammatical error revealing that either the book had not been proof read properly, or those who'd prepared it for publication were not first language English literati. Our friend Mike on Friday last was lamenting its quality of content, and speaking about the poor reception by both Catholic press and many clergy and laity. It seems many still wonder what was wrong with the old translation once they'd got used to it. Although not without faults in the eyes of some, you'd be hard pressed to find grammatical errors or typos in the superceded edition. Doesn't the Vatican go in for grammar and spell checker plug-ins when text processing?

After Mass, I took friend Diana to Newport where we took part in the monthly Ignatian meditation group meeting at the house of the Deaf Mission Chaplain. After lunch there it was a matter of getting back home, parking the car and hading back into town on the bus to the National Museum to rendezvous with Dr Laura Ciobanu, who's here from Bucharest on her annual visit. We met at St John's one Good Friday seven years ago, while she was working at Llandough hospital, and have kept in touch ever since. She brought three beautifully decorated Easter eggs as gifts, plus some special Easter cake and a Romanian smoked cheese! Eating this will be something of an adventure in taste.

After the Museum closed, we parted company and I went into the office for an hour, as there were some financial queries from the auditor that needed checking against other records. Life is a lot easier these days, since CBS business banking internet archive access has been made available for reference in a way which ensures it cannot be misused, with an additional security layer to that provided by the bank. That's the only way I can feel comfortable about using it at all. If all goes well, we'll have all our business affairs audited and fully up to date by the end of this month. It's taken me exactly two years since I retired to achieve this. I'm pleased with the achievement, as it means we can demonstrate to all comers that the business rests on a sound and stable footing.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Farewell memories

Another full church at 'the Res' this morning for the funeral of a young man who came from a large extended family, whose members occupied half the available spaces. After I'd read out the tribute written by his mother, his partner gave a tribute in the form of a letter to the man she'd loved and accompanied through his terminal illness. She was very brave to have done so, for not only was she fighting back tears, but also, I noticed, trembling all over as she stood at the lectern. I wondered if she'd make it to the end, but sheer determination and courage saw her through. She didn't seem to be used to public speaking, but for his sake, she was tremendously brave in public, though not in a 'stiff upper lip' kind of way.

It started to rain as we lowered his coffin into the earth up at Western Cemetery, and I had to take shelter under the trees nearby while the mourners paid their respects. As well as earth and flowers cast on the coffin, I saw a Liverpool F.C. shirt and a club banner, plus half a dozen Liverpool supporters' club ties, which had been worn in church for the formalities of the day. One mourner cast a few cigarettes into the grave as he muttered his farewell - a unusual oblation I thought. Then, as I stood there, my mind rolled back forty years remembering my surprise at the sight of my dear friend Frank throwing his wedding ring into his young wife Barbara's grave, following her untimely death from a brain tumor, after just five years of marriage.  Funny, I hadn't thought about that for decades.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Low Sunday

Low Sunday duties took me out to Llandough again for my first Eucharist of the day.  The sun shone, bluebells and harebells were out in the churchyard and the primroses are still going strong. After the service, as seems to be customary, the congregation of a dozen was served with coffee and home made Welsh cakes. Sun streamed in through stained glass windows, and everyone seemed happy to be there. Such a delight.

Then I went north, and crossed the A48 highway to reach the village of Aberthin, for a Eucharist held twice monthly in the village hall. In former times the hall had been a Wesleyan chapel, but it had been bought and developed for social activities by the local community association. A pre-school play group runs there on weekday mornings, the village pantomime is held there in the winter, and numerous other groups meet there, including the Parish congregation. 

The hall is laid out decently with church furnishings normally stowed away in a cupboard between times. Again, a dozen people attended, although I was told this was half of what it was a few years ago, when there was a priest living in the local Rectory. Apparently their organist had died a few weeks ago. I don't think they much felt like signing, but I led them unaccompanied in a few cheery Eastertide hymns. It's planned that the new team Vicar will move in to the Rectory in the summer, so there are high hopes that he will take a pastoral interest in helping the congregation to grow again.

I returned home for lunch a little later than usual, having chatted longer than intended with people after the Aberthin service. Later I went to visit a family preparing for the funeral on Tuesday of a thirty three year old son who'd died of cancer. He'd spent his last years in England, but was being brought home for funeral and burial where his large extended family could more conveniently mourn his loss. Two funerals for me within a week, and both with the same funeral directors. An unusual co-incidence, now that I'm only on the list for casual occasional offices.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Personal technology breakthrough

After Mike left this morning, I went into town with a few errands to accomplish, and ended up buying my very first Smartphone. I've been dithering about doing this for ages. My Sony Walkman phone has not been quite the quality experience that I'd expected it to be, but I have used it for two years and put up with a certain level of irritation about its user friendliness. Recently the sound has become cracked and tinny, adding to the irritation, so the question was, should I just get another basic phone with limited but useful functions, or make the effort to learn how to use something new and  much more capable?

In the end I plumped for a Samsung Galaxy Mini, at a fifty percent discount using my Orange PAYG phone fund. Getting started with it, as a complete ignoramus was a lot less onerous than I expected, though I suspect I shall never exploit the full range of its features. Most importantly, it's easy to handle even if I still need specs on to read messages clearly. I guess occasionally it may be useful to to access emails, display e-tickets etc,  but I'm not sure how much web surfing I'll be tempted to do on such a small screen, even with a free allowance of 250MB a month for a year. Give me the luxury of a fifteen or twenty inch screen any time!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Ecumenical perspective

This afternoon, our good friend Mike Buck from Bristol University days came to stay overnight, before driving back to Scotland, after a holiday walking week based in Lampeter. It was lovely to catch up and reminisce, as we hadn't met face to face in twenty years. Mike came to Birmingham University when I was Chaplain, to do a post-graduate course, then he moved to a job in Bristol. He settled in Montpellier on the edge of the St Paul's Area, and started attending St Agnes Parish Church. He called us to say that the Parish was enduring a lengthy interregnum and jokingly asked if we  might be interested in a Team Ministry with an ecumenical dimension. At that time I was thinking of moving on, made a few inquiries of the Bishop of Bristol, and within a month or so, had been sent to Downing Street to visit the Lord Chancellor's Ecclesiastical Patronage secretary, whose office was a top floor room in Number Ten in the days of Harold Wilson's government. I was the ninth candidate, and the only one not to turn down the challenge of the job. 

I was just thirty, with hardly enough experience to lead a team and work effectively in urban mission, but the challenge seemed irresistible. It proved a rewarding educational experience of urban mission influencing everything I did thereafter. Mike was living in the Parish. He was on the PCC and churchwarden for a while. Ecumenism worked as long as team members (Anglican and Methodist) were young and liberal minded, but it slowly stagnated when they were replaced with older conservative clergy, unwilling to modify perceptions and expectations of what team work entailed. It's easy to be philosophical with hindsight, but it was frustrating and disappointing at the time. For Mike, a great ecumenical enthusiast, it was deeply disillusioning. He moved eventually to work as librarian for Christian Aid in London, and felt displaced by the metropolitan Anglican conservatism (of all churchmanships) he encountered there. In the end, he found contentment and a spiritual home in the post Vatican II contemplative renewal emerging in parts of the Roman Church. An evangelical among Papists, he now struggles with the neo-conservative trend of his church under Ratzinger rule. His comment on the Ordinariat was: "I went to Rome to get away from that sort of Anglicanism!"

Thirty to forty years ago there was much enthusiasm for the prospects of reconciliation between the churches leading to eventual organic union. It was a well intended vision, but I wasn't ever sure that a monolithic organisation was capable of doing justice to the cultural and religious diversity of world wide Christianity - which more resembles an organism which mutates as it propagates than it resembles an organisation which can be replicated. What was needed, I thought, was effective joint action issuing from better communication and resource sharing between Christian denominations.

Some effective instruments to achieve this has been achieved in areas like social justice, peace-making, reconciliation, aid for under-developed countries, and even in common prayer and worship. But in areas of lifestyle, values, personal ethics, authority and relationships, there are still major disagreements - some are embedded in the denominational institutions inherited from past history, others reflect the continued divide between liberal and conservative impulses which cut across denominations. This means living together with differences, by those united in confessing  allegiance to God in Christ Jesus, is still far from universally achieved.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Birthday memories

On Monday, I was treated to an early birthday lunch in a Penarth seafront restaurant before Kath, Anto and Rhiannon headed back to Kenilworth through the Bank Holiday traffic congestion. Then on the day itself Wednesday, we had a birthday breakfast and present opening, followed by a trip to Swanbridge, lunch at 'The Captain's Wife' and a walk over to Sully Island as the tide was going out. It was notably colder than my last visit with the Tai Chi Class three weeks ago, so we had a brisk walk around and then headed back to shore and drove home.

Thursday I took a funeral in the village church of St Cattwg in Pentyrch of the brother of a man whose funeral I had done only two months ago at 'the Res' in Ely. Both were keen sailors, members of Cardiff Yacht Club, and that guaranteed a large congregation. St Cattwg's is a Victorian rebuild of a mediaeval church on an ancient hillside site. The churchyard was circular before neighbouring houses encroached on its boundaries in another age. It dates back possibly to the sixth century. Cattwg aka Cadoc is very much a local saint, born c 497. He became Abbot of Llancarfan, not many miles from Pentyrch, a key Celtic monastic settlement. Both forms of his name are to be found in the dedication of churches all over South Wales.

The burial following the service in church was at the Vale Woodland Natural Burial cemetery, where we laid our friend Moonyeen to rest last summer. It rained as the coffin was entering and leaving church. We had intermittent sun and rain as we travelled across country through back lanes to the cemetery,  and as we arrived for the interment. There was a wet two hundred yard walk across an open field for friends and family carrying the coffin to a grave excavated on the edge of the escarpment, with a spectacular view across North Cardiff. 

Fortunately the rain stopped long enough for the Committal, and to allow us a glimpse of the scenery as we listened to 'Sailing' from a CD played on a ghettoblaster. For me, it gave the moment a surreal theatrical feel, like a scene from a post-modern movie you come away from feeling unsure whether you've really understood it or not - as if the silence of a windswept hillside was inadequate to gather up all those memories and feelings of one much loved but no longer with us. I remembered that today is my mother's birthday, the day after mine. And it's nearly forty years since we laid her ashes to rest in Thornhill cemetery.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Feast of Feasts

I was delighted that Father Mark asked if I would celebrate the eight o'clock Eucharist at St Catherine's this morning, as it meant that Clare and I could worship together on the Feast of Feasts. There were just eight of us in a church seating several hundred, including a dad, granny and two children - perhaps their only opportunity to attend together. No everyone can cope with the hour or the occasion of a big Easter Day Mass, when there are conflicting demands on family life.

By the time we returned, Rhiannon was already up and about, and had completed her Easter egg hunt, bright eyes and full of excitement at the magic of the Easter Bunny. There was plenty of time for breakfast with the rest of the family before I set out to drive to Ystradowen for the Sung Eucharist there at eleven. The church seats about three dozen, and it was nearly full. There were little children, teenagers, men and women, a really mixed age congregation. We began by blessing the Paschal Candle and singing as we did last night in St Marychurch, a creditable metrical version of the ancient Paschal Proclamation, the Exsultet, written by Richard Hanford. He was a priest Vicar in Llandaff Cathedral at the time I was ordained. He's now retired and has returned to South Wales again to live.

It was sad to see that the pub next door to the church has now closed and has a 'To Let' sign fixed over the sign board on the forecourt. Such a loss to the village. At least on this day, people arriving by car for church were able to take advantage of the unused car park instead of blocking the narrow lane and main road nearby.

I was home again after the service in good time for a family lunch, and more Easter egg exchanges. Much as I enjoy chocolate, I find this single minded consumerism rather overwhelming, so remote from what this day means to me. The joy of the occasion is tinged with sadness that its true meaning is not shared with my offspring. All I can do is entrust them to the One whose love embraces and liberates us all.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Easter Eve

After a late breafast, Anto disappeared for a band rehearsal, and the girls went into town for shopping, leaving me free to take some quiet time to pray and prepare a sermon for Easter Day. After supper I drove out the Vale, bathed by evening sunshine, to attend the Cowbridge Benefice Easter Vigil Eucharist at St Marychurch. With twenty in the congregation, the church was nearly full. The Easter fire blazed in a cast iron barbecue tray in front the south porch, as the sun went down. Four church representatives presented their paschal candles for blessing and one of them was processed into church for the rest of the service. Once again, I was glad just to savour this occasion as a member of the congregation in such a beautiful setting. 
My mind went back to Easter ceremonies at St John's with half the number of people attending, having to shout out the prayers of blessing against the sound of a garbage truck manoeuvering a few feet away in the street, or the over-amplified sound of a busker or the night club across the road, touting for early evening passing trade. There was no question of starting any later when the centre got a lot rowdier. Such a sweet joy this night to be at prayer in a naturally quiet place, with only the wind in the trees and occasional birdsong to bless the twilight before the Easter dawn.

Yet, there is no more vital a place to proclaim the Resurrection than in the centre of the city district dedicated to the forms of self indulgent dissipation which pass for leisure in this passing age. The voice of prayer, albeit swallowed up by noise or drowned by a tide of indifference is still the presence of a spiritual pulse a beating heart of faith that connects across the landscapes of town and country to many more tranquil places like this, where the same proclamation is made to the love that remains eternally stronger than death.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Good Friday - home and abroad

Where better to be invited to preach Jesus crucified on Good Friday that in a church dedicated in honour of the Holy Cross? It's unusual as church dedications go. This is the Parish Church of Cowbridge, although strange to say it hasn't been designated Parish Church for long, just a decade or so of its nearly eight hundred year history. The fourteenth century church of  Saint John the Baptist Llanbleddian, a village just outside the market town was originally the Parish Church, a foundation of Tewksbury Abbey. Holy Cross, although larger was a chapel of ease with a Chaplain appointed by the Abbey to serve the townsfolk. This was a similar arrangement to that of St John's City Parish church, itself a chapel of ease for Cardiff Castle, established by Tewksbury. It became a Parish Church after the reformation, but Llanbleddian retained its status and Holy Cross remained a chapel of ease until the creation of the Rectorial Benefice of ten churches in recent times.
Here's the nave and long chancel, all stripped bare of decoration (apart from the red carpet) ready for the noon-tide Liturgy, before the congregations started arriving. I drove early to Cowbridge, to have some quiet time in church, and work out how to arrange the ceremonial side of things beforehand. Just over thirty people came, with very few of them under fifty. Most younger people would be with their families and making preparations for Easter, if not already on vacation. Church doesn't seem to figure much in the idea of a holiday weekend any more.

When I got home, I took my daily internet dose of RTVE 24/7 news channel in Spanish to help develop my capacity for comprehension. I was amazed at the news round up of Holy Week and Good Friday public events taking place all around Spain - not only the length and variety of reportage, but also the fact that it came before the sports news! There's such a lot of sport and politics on Spanish TV that this surprised me. But then, despite Spain's secularity these days, there's still a huge place in cultural life for public religious theatrical ceremonies. Little compares with it in the colder climate of northern Europe.

Kath, Anto and Rhiannon arrived at supper time, and we spent the evening enjoying ourselves around the table, somewhat anticipating the coming festivity maybe, but so appreciative of the opportunity to relax and be together as a family.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Maundy Thursday with friends

The last few days I've passed the mornings quietly at home, absorbing Spanish from TV-Espagne's 24/7 news website, and the BBC's web course 'Mi Vida Loca', which is entertaining and educational. Having spent the equivalent of a month in Spain last year means there's quite of lot of familiar experiences to draw upon, and vocabulary to be raised out of hidden memory to the surface of the mind. Reading and making sense of simple written texts is already possible, but I need to do a little spoken work every day so that when the time comes I'll be able to open my mouth and be confident of being understood.

During Lent I've also been reading a Gospel passage for the day in Greek as well as English, to reconnect with a pathway into the meaning of scripture which regretfully I didn't follow after I left St Mike's. It's harder to revive the memory for words I can still read, but whose meaning I seem to have forgotten, but habitual reading restores the links piece by piece like a jigsaw, along with the memories and associations of theological study over forty years ago. I always liked the study of languages, with all their nuances of expression, but I was too preoccupied with trying to make sense of my role as a Pastor to make a real effort, until we went to Switzerland and it became a daily pastoral necessity. Now there's no excuse. I have the time, and can feel pleasure accompanying the effort.

I've continued walking to the different churches to join in the local Parish evening Masses following afternoon sessions in the office. It's rare that I don't have to go somewhere by car to take a service, so I've appreciated the feeling of being quietly grounded for once. Clare and I have talked on the phone while she's at the conference in Basel, enjoying her involvement in this thoroughly international gathering of Steiner educationalists. She's travelling home today, and will arrive late tonight. So, I've had time to complete by Good Friday sermon, and clean the house thoroughly, to prepare for the Paschal Feast and the welcome of Kath, Anto and Rhiannon tomorrow afternoon.

This evening I drove to St Hilary Parish Church to join the Cowbridge Benefice celebration of the Last Supper. The Liturgy included the elements of the Jewish Passover ritual as well as the usual scripture readings, footwashing, transfer of the sacrament after Communion, followed by stripping the altar, done by several lay people while the celebrant read the story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before we stepped out into a cool spring night illuminated chiefly by the Paschal moon, village street lamps being a discreet distance away, beyond the churchyard boundary wall.
The service was beautifully crafted and well executed with lots of congregational participation. How refreshing it was to be on the receiving end, to start the Paschal Triduum worshipping in a lovely twelfth century church among people I've got to know over the past year from my Sunday visits to their local churches. I really felt that I was among friends.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Holy Week Monday

After a quiet morning at home preparing a sermon. I'm not taking any services this week until Good Friday so I can take my time. After lunch visited the office to prepare a data CD for the annual audit of Cardiff Business Safe finances. The opportunity to tidy up the records I've kept inevitably reveals small things left incomplete from busy periods. Everything must be examined to ensure that whoever prepares our financial statements has a record that cross checks bank statements, invoices and receipts with a fair degree of accuracy. 

A short afternoon turned into a long one. In the end I opted not to drive to Cowbridge for worship, but to go nearer home and not have to rush to church. I walked over to St Luke's Canton which had a later starting time, and attended a Solemn Mass with forty attending. The liturgy was beautifully crafted with plenty of silence and not a wasted word. Father Mark used the poem of the day with his own commentary woven in to that from Janet Morley's fine Lent Book 'The heart's time'. It was altogether most refreshing.

The fact of today's date falling in Holy Week had me reminiscing again about the Saint Paul's riots which erupted this day in 1980. The second was a Wednesday, and we had a Confirmation Mass at St Agnes, presided over by Bishop Freddy Temple. It was all happening in the couple of hours before and during the service. Girls in white dresses went up the road afterwards to gaze with innocent amazement at Lloyd's Bank on fire, and police with riot shields in the distance. Amanda our foster daughter was one of them. I wonder if she still remembers that bizarre evening?

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Up country Palm Sunday

Yesterday I took Clare to the train to start her journey to Dornach near Basel in Switzerland, where she is taking part in a world conference of Steiner kindergarten workers, interpreting for her friend Marlies, who  is speaking about her book on babies and electronic communications devices, whose English edition Clare has been working on recently, and I've been assisting with print layout. So, I'm  home alone, in retreat for most of Holy Week.

It was again this morning, a bright and early sunny Spring Sunday drive out into the Vale to take two Palm Sunday services. First for a dozen people at Llandough, and then for another dozen at Llansannor about four miles away. It was my first visit to the latter, and although it was well signposted, I had little idea of where it actually was, enfolded by wooded hills, a few miles west of the Llantrisant-Cowbridge Road. It wasn't easy to see from above before descending to the Ddaw valley floor, as it is surrounded by large old trees set in the middle of farmland next to an old manor house up a  tree lined rough metalled track away from the road.
To my delight I've discovered the second church in this Benefice with an intact circular walled churchyard that  justifies this domain being called the 'Llan' of Saint Sennwr, an obscure Celtic Saint first mentioned in the twelfth century. And what a well cared for gem of a church building it is. This was possibly a sacred site long before the first church was recorded in the annals of Tewkesbury Abbey, along with Llanbleddian a few miles away and my former church of St John's in Cardiff.

Set into the floor of the sanctuary is the thirteenth century stone effigy of a knight in repose, with legs crossed in the 'Crusader' fashion. It's not clear who it represents or how it came to be there, except that it may have been brought from elsewhere, possibly St John's Priory in Carmarthenshire. Or, may even be parts of two similar effigies joined together when it was installed.
The congregation was very welcoming and obviously shared my delight in their place of worship. Both here and at Llandough, people took part in reading the Passion, and I preached a brief extempore homily about participating in Christ's story, and in the life of the Gospel. I don't usually preach on Palm Sunday as the service is usually elongated by the procession with palms, but on this occasion, neither congregation wished to venture outdoors, weather notwithstanding - something to do with the age of the congregations and uneven terrain away from the churchyard paths outside. We sang 'All glory laud and honour' uncomfortably from Mission Praise - not a happy experience as it doesn't correspond with the traditional rendering with repeated chorus most are accustomed to from other hymnals. It was a bit of an April Fool joke to my mind.