Sunday, 28 October 2012

Kenilworth Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Powerpoint economics & Mass in Welsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Connections in sorrow

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

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

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

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Ty Mawr Associates in their element

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 19 October 2012

Smart but not so smart

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A working St Luke's Day

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

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

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A pentecostal funeral

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A perennial problem

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 15 October 2012

Documentary launch day

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 14 October 2012

On the receiving end

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 13 October 2012

A Dare worth taking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 12 October 2012

Preparing a pastor's farewell

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Publish and be blessed

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

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

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


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Back to class

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 8 October 2012

Welcome to St Michael's world

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Nearly lost in Cardiff

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

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

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

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

Friday, 5 October 2012

Farewell & back to routine

Up early yesterday morning to celebrate the Eucharist at St Michael's and eat breakfast in College. Clare had to go work, so after our guests had breakfasted, I  drove Maria-Luisa out to Dinas Powis to have a chat with Russell, following on from her talk last Saturday. Heinz and I went down to the sea opposite Sully Island. Before we had coffee in the caravan site canteen, we sat on the beach in the sunshine, watching the tide go out and swallows swooping over the water. We collected Maria-Luisa in time to return so I could cook a paella for lunch when Clare got back from school. Late in the afternoon we walked over Llandaff Fields into Bute Park and on to the new Royal Welsh College building for tea, enjoying autumnal colours and sunshine in the view of Bute park from a table inside the atrium.

The return flight to Zurich was early afternoon, so after a leisurely cooked breakfast with our guests, we drove them to Cardiff Airport. There was a long delay at roadworks near the South Glamorgan crematorium. It didn't make us late, but it gave us the incentive to take an alternative route homewards using ancient country lane, through Penmark, across to St Hilary to the A48. It's the first time I ever recall travelling in this direction, and was delighted to discover yet another hidden gem of the Vale.

We got home in good time for me to go into town and spend an afternoon at the office investigating a couple of problematic accounts, with Julie and Ashley. My next big task will be setting up a Sage accounting package, and finding out how much of our existing database content can be imported into it. Not something I am looking forward to! It can wait until next week.

I spent the evening preparing a sermon to preach at the parish of Caerau with Ely. It's all about marriage and divorce this week, and comes at a time when the sexual antics of the late Jimmy Saville and others yet to be named at the BBC are being exposed by the press. I find it surprising it's taken this long to make the media, as I recall youth gossip about the rock 'n roll lifestyle behaviour of public figures in entertainment when I was a curate at the end of the swinging sixties. 

The revolution brought about by the invention of The Pill was trumpeted as the key to sexual liberation. It seems to me with perfect hindsight that for some men, this so called liberation was nothing more than a pretext to behave abusively towards women who had not yet learned to insist that 'No' means no. I'd like to think we live in a different world nowadays - although I none too sure about this.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Cheating the rain in Gower

With every weather forecast promising rain during the day, I thought I was losing my argument that it would be still worthwhile driving to the Gower because the rain would only be short-lived. In the end, we set out with boots and rain gear on board, and headed out west on the A48, to have a peek at the Vale of Glamorgan on our way to join the M4 at Kenfig. We stopped briefly en route to look at St Hilary's twelfth century Parish Church, and admire the views over to North Devon from the edge of the village. Knowing well the congregation there, I was certain the church would be open for us to look around, and my faith was justified.

The roads right through to the Gower were not busy, and no rain came until we got to Arthur's Seat/stone, on Cefn Mawr, the backbone of the peninsula. We had a five minute shower, and that was it for the day. Sun, wind, clouds, and it wasn't too cold to walk on Oxwich Bay beach for a couple of hours after a good lunch in the Oxwich Bay Hotel. So good to be able to share our favourite local places with good friends. All that fresh air made us very sleepy, and I had to fight against dozing off at the wheel all the way home. Although it was gone six when we arrived, everyone went and had a snooze except me. A cup of tea in front of the telly was enough to keep me going until late supper time.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

An opera re-visited

Yesterday, as I had some catching up to do at home and at the office, I first took Clare and our guests to Penarth so that they could walk the coastal path, returned and then spent the afternoon at work. This morning, was our first College Tutors' meeting of the year, but before I could get to it I had to take Clare to her eye clinic appointment straight after breakfast. Accessing the University Hospital of Wales campus at peak commuter traffic time meant queuing queuing, whichever way I went, but despite the congestion, I dropped her and made it to the meeting only five minutes late.

The big news of the day is of the screening on BBC2 of the first of a TV documentary series of four on student life at St Michael's on 15th October called 'Vicar Academy'. The structure of the series bears an uncanny resemblance to a TV soap opera, in the opinion of the Principal, Dr Peter Sedgewick - even so, no publicity is bad publicity, and who knows what interest and debate the series might spark off?

Our guests went into town on their own, and returned mid-afternoon, likewise Clare. Apart from being early for her appointment, she'd endured a long delay in being seen and more delay in waiting for additional eye scans to be performed. To be sure she got home on time, she sensibly took a taxi. I went off to St Mike's again at tea-time for this week's tutor group, of worship and bible study. A good session, followed by a quick departure, as we had tickets for the WNO's 'La boème' evening performance at the Millennium Centre.

It's the same production as we saw last season, once again superbly sung and visually it's a remarkable enhancement of the theatrical character of the story. Yet again, we loved it and more importantly our guests loved it. They go to lots of concerts back at home in the Rhine Valley region of Eastern Switzerland, but seldom go to opera, so it was a special evening for us all.