Sunday, 30 September 2012

Harvest, home and away

As I was getting ready for bed last night, I noticed the full moon in a clear sky right above us - a Michaelmass and Harvest moon - a beautiful comforting sight. I had just one mid-morning service to take today, a combined Harvest Festival celebration for the congregations of St David's and St Timothy's in Ely, at St David's church just a couple of miles from home. I had time for a leisurely breakfast with our visitors before getting started.

I arrived early and the church was already buzzing with activity and anticipation. Among those who welcomed me were a couple of people who attended weekday services in St John's when I was there. By the time we started there were seventy adults and forty children present - both Sunday School groups combined, with their regular helprs and teachers in attendance. It's a credit to the team building efforts of Fr Jessie their Parish priest, on sick leave at the moment. In fact, the entire service was well organised and designed around participation, so that any priest could drop in to Fr Jessie's place and enjoy the liturgy, as I did.

I had to concentrate while preaching as I could just hear forty kids jammed into the nearby vestry, singing fun songs to a guitar, and I wanted to stop and listen. At the end of the Communion, when they all came in for a blessing, they sang us a couple of the action songs they'd learned. All in all, it was a lively and happy celebration, and afterwards many worshippers stayed on to enjoy a buffet lunch together. 

I couldn't help wondering throughout the service, how the combined Costa Azahar congregations were getting on with their Harvest Festival and lunch at Alcossebre. I heard yesterday that plans to get a locum priest in to follow me have had a set-back because diocesan safeguarding and CRB checking, obligatory for new recruits, is on hold until someone is appointed to take charge of and review the procedure. I keep on saying to myself - something will come up, someone will arrive for them in the nick of time.

On my way back, I collected Clare, Heinz and Maria Luisa from Riverside market, then after lunch at home we went to the Cathedral for Choral Evensong. It was sheer pleasure to listen again to live singing of such a high standard. Truth is, I don't make the effort to  go often enough. The mid afternoon timing of the service isn't nearly as achievable if I've been driving out of town to take a couple of services before lunch. Like it or not, I need more recovery time these days, to savour even the most enjoyable of leisurely activities.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Michaelmass book launch

There was a full house for Maria Luisa's talk, over forty people, people from other early years centres around the city, as well as Steiner school staff and parents. The technology worked well, and the talk was well received. Maria Luisa is a masterly story teller with a quiet and gentle demeanour. She held everyone spellbound, and gave everyone lots to think about. Thirty copies of the new English population were sold after the event.

After a late lunch we walked over the fields to the Taff Trail and then followed it to Llandaff Cathedral for a visit, and then had tea at Jaspers. Pale autumnal afternoon sun shone through the clouds, occasionally lighting up the Cathedral, internally and externally in an uplifting way, the golden figure of St Michael atop the conical roof of the sacristy glowed from time to time, as befits this pivotal day in the calendar.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Flight arrival in Cardiff

Today our friends Heinz and Maria Luisa arrived from Switzerland to spend a week with us. Maria Luisa is giving a talk tomorrow at the Steiner Early Years centre about her therapeutic work with children from birth through early infancy. At the same time , the launch of the English translation of her research work, which Clare and I worked on together earlier in the year, will take place at the same time.

They chose to fly into Cardiff from Zurich using Air Helvetica's service. Zurich is only an hour by train from where they live. The flight first called at Bristol, having set out late and there it was delayed even longer, taking all passengers off the plane and putting ongoing passengers through security checks before re-boarding for the ten minute hop across Bristol Channel. Eventually, their flight touched down an hour and a half behind schedule. Instead of short term parking costing us a quid, it cost us six quid, which was annoying. Ah well, they arrived safely, if tired from all the waiting. 

After a meal together Clare took them out for a walk while I went to St Mike's to fetch an overhead projector of the analogue kind, which Maria Luisa had requested - like any sensible presenter with a decent story to tell, she doesn't do Powerpoint, though she does show pictures which she needs to speak about. Fr Mark delivered us a portable screen to go with it, and I took projector and screen over the school and set them up in advance, so we could have a nice relaxed evening catching up, before going early to bed, and making an unhurried start to an important day.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Farewell, good and faithful servant

On Holy Cross Day 'Auntie' Beryl died, aged 89. She married late and was widowed early and although without children of her own, she cherished and nurtured the children of her kith and kin, and also the children of St Agnes Parish Church in the St Paul's area of Bristol throughout adult life. She was there for me as PCC secretary in my time as Team Rector. 

During the time of my successor Fr Peter Barnett, she took early retirement, to work voluntarily as Parish Administrator and his P.A. during a challenging period of parochial redevelopment, and fund raising to adapt St Agnes to be a centre for both worship and community activities. Her long and formidable lay ministry in the place she was baptized embraced five different incumbents and heaven knows how many curates and team vicars.

Her niece Theresa, who is a priest in Bristol diocese got in touch while I was away to let us know, and I was glad to be back in time to attend her funeral at St Agnes today. The present incumbent Fr Barrie Green graciously allowed Fr Peter to preside at a concelebrated funeral Mass, flanked by his predecessor (me) and successor (Fr David Self), along with my first curate and old friend Fr Richard Hunt. 

There was a good attendance, about fifty people, more congregation than family, more black people than white, for that is the nature of this wonderful community. I saw people I haven't seen in twenty five years. Some of them didn't seem to have aged at all, just grown in confidence. Each priest arriving was greeted by people remembering them with much warmth and affection.

It's the first time I've been to worship at St Agnes since the work on the building was completed, it must be twenty years ago. Half of the original church is now a worship space with some congregational seating in the raised chancel along with two bays of the nave with backs to the east wall. The third bay of the nave is taken by the sanctuary and the entrance on its north side. Those ministering at the altar are facing eastwards, looking up at the beautiful Victorian stained glass window, and 1920's reredos - interesting because of the implied social comment it contains.

The Eucharist was a good Catholic mainstream affair, with the value added presence of a man who signed the service from start to finish. Quite a feat, as three people spoke unrehearsed. The clergy all wore the red vestments which Beryl had donated in  memory of her husband Bernard, who had been the St Agnes sacristan, a role she inherited from him. 

It wasn't an inappropriate liturgical colour, as she'd been a woman full of the Spirit, with an intense but never ostentatious devotion to the Eucharist and our Lady, as well as managing dull detailed church affairs purposefully, and looking out for the church's children. I cherish the memory of her at Mass escorting our kids from Communion rail to votive stand at the foot of our Lady's statue to light a candle with them, even if it has faded from their childhood recollections.

After the service over lunch in the hall next door, there was plenty of time for meeting and greeting, plus reminiscing together. The interment had been sensibly booked for mid afternoon to allow for this, so we made our final farewells right outside the door of the church she'd loved so much and worked so hard for. Then I drove up to Southmead to see Amanda and James on my way home, and tell her about the funeral, as she was confirmed in St Agnes (on the night of the 1980 St Paul's riots), and remembered Beryl well as a familiar figure in church and among the comings and goings at the Vicarage.

On my way home, I crossed the Severn Bridge under a high canopy of cloud floating in a blue sky, tinted orange and brown by the setting sun. It was very beautiful but impossible to photograph while driving, so it had simply to be enjoyed. 

James' Sony laptop got dropped and has a smashed screen, with about 15% of the display area still visible. I took it home to see if I could retrieve any data from it, and make enquiries about costing a replacement screen. After lots of trial and error, I was able to extract all the documents it contained, and burn them on to a CD. Will it be cost effective to repair I wonder?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Festivities anticipated

I slept for a long time, still catching up after travelling home. It takes a couple of days to adjust. Then I prepared a short homily for this evening's Mass before going to get the car from the garage.  Despite its great age it sailed through its MOT. I could then go to the main Post Office and tax it for the year, before visiting the office for a CBS catch up business session with Ashley. Although we've stayed well in touch via Skype while I've been in Spain, there are still some account enquiries best tackled hands on at the office computer.

The afternoon flew by, and soon I had to return home to collect Clare and go up to St Mike's to celebrate and preach at the Patronal festival Eucharist, with full solemnity, in a nicely balanced mix of English and Welsh prayers and hymns, to set a bi-lingual tone for such high holy days. I thoroughly enjoyed the liturgy, and felt that I was in a way paying homage to priests and teachers who were there in this place helping to shape me for a ministry that has been my life's work over the past forty years or so.

We returned home, and Owain joined us to take Clare out for supper at the Conway in anticipation of her coming birthday, as he is off to Cologne to a deejay gig this coming weekend, and will miss the day. The food was good, so was the beer, but I don't enjoy eating with a high level of background noise, even if the pub renounces the din of background music in an effort to make it congenial for diners.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Back to normality

I'm getting used to everyday rain and cool air again. It's sorefreshing after Spanish summer humidity. This morning I drove the car over to Splott for servicing and MOT testing, and only attempted to change gear with the window handle once. I went into St Mike's after lunch and spent the afternoon catching up with people, and preparing with Rhun and Tom for a College Eucharist to celebrate St Michael and All Angels, the college's heavenly patron tomorrow afternoon, rather than Saturday, the proper day, as College chapel routine is suspended on weekends, with students going home or out on placements.

Then at five I met my new tutor group. There's 'Becca and Rufus from last year, Cath and Rachel (same names as my daughters!), also second year students. Cath is the only Methodist student at the moment. Then there's Philip, a mature first year student, coming to College from a background in engineering apprenticeship and training. So good to have someone who can remind us of the challenges to the Gospel in the industrial work place! 

It was a good first session, and we ended up agreeing to starts session this year with bible study, and let issues for reflection arise from that, rather than letting individuals select a reflection topic and start from there. This is a right move, since apart from classroom endeavours in relation to scripture study, no bible study group activity takes place in College community life. I think it'll make a valuable difference, taking us back into the roots of our dialogue about the meanings of faith for life in training together. I look forward to seeing this develop over the year.