Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Getting ready to go

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 26 November 2012

Nostalgic invitation

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

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

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

Sunday, 25 November 2012

A Sunday in St German with St Saviour's

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Flying visit to London

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 22 November 2012


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

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

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Clearing the desks before travelling

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

College Quiet Day

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 18 November 2012

An easy weekend

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

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

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

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

Friday, 16 November 2012

CBS - end of the beginning

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

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

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

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The cloud of forgetting

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

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

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

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Rotas, social networking & meditation standing up

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

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

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

Sunday, 11 November 2012


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

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

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

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

Friday, 9 November 2012

Crematorium video botch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Comings and goings

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

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

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Half term break - part four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 2 November 2012

Half term break - part three

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

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

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

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

All Souls awareness

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

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

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

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Half term break - part two

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

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

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

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

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

Half term break - part one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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