Thursday, 28 February 2013

Cardiff's and Vale's new crem

I took a funeral for the first  time this morning at the new Vale of Glamorgan crematorium at the far end of Wenvoe Parish, beyond the golf club. It's only been open about a year. Its modest slate and pennant sandstone buildings, landscaped surroundings and fresh white-lined car park tarmac, give it that fresh and clean look of a place where the builders have left having done their job and tidied up properly after themselves.  The family had prepared their own service sheet with only minor help from me, also a picture slide-show of Dad's life, for use during the service. It was well assembled and fitted neatly with the music chosen. The tributes given were well thought out and affectionate, and this made it easy to introduce the scriptures and prayers chosen in an appropriate way. Whilst it was a sad occasion, it was also uplifting as an expression of solidarity in mourning the loss of the head of a family.

I was home in good time to allow me to walk to College and put in half an hour's work before lunch. Then I went in to the CBS office for a couple of hours, drafting documents and discussing details,  that will prepare the way for a meeting with the new Police Crime Commissioner, as well as writing a report on the week's activities. More people are taking an interest in what CBS is doing these days and so we must pay more attention to how we interpret ourselves to others. This is more complex in many ways than simply getting accounts right, and requires a lot more friendly argument before we come to an agreement on what needs to be said to provide an accurate picture of our work that won't be misinterpreted.

Pidgeon's  funeral directors sent me information about another funeral I'd agreed to do next Saturday for a man who lived in Westgate Street and died in Nazareth House, both in my former Parish. Normall this request wouldn't come my way. However, the executor of his estate was an American from North Carolina who'd only just arrived to make the arrangements. I said yes to taking the funeral because I thought the  executor had once been a visitor to St John's whom I'd met after Evensong. When I rang to discuss service arrangements, this turned out not to be the case. A friend of the deceased apparently recommended me to the executor as I'd done her husband's funeral not long before my retirement. I learned the deceased had been interned by the Japanese a few days after he arrived in Singapore, just before it was captured. There can't be many survivors left as witnesses to such harsh war time imprisonment.

As there was no Tuesday Chi Gung session, I went late to the class that precedes the Thursday Tai Chi class, once I'd dropped Clare off early at her study group in Dinas Powis. Having banged my kneecap hard in the morning I was unsure how I'd manage two classes back to back, but it didn't bother me, and I enjoyed the good and gently workout it afforded me.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Route 61 - the other direction

This week I have to take two funerals. For one, I was able to make preparations over the phone with the next of kin, for the other, it was necessary to visit the family at home out in Pentrebane, close to the end of the 61 bus route from town. It gave me an opportunity to ride in the opposite direction for the first time, and this took me into a Parish on the Western edge of Cardiff I'm unfamiliar with. 

Walking the last quarter mile from the bus stop was a bitterly cold experience. I was glad of a cup of tea when I arrived at the house. An hour later I was on my way back, although this time, looking for another bus, a 62  or 102 that would take me back via Llandaff, as I wanted to go into College. This time, a ten minute wait for a 102 at the end of my walk, so I was grateful the bus was well heated.

After lunch in College I attended the monthly strategy meeting of the admin and teaching staff for the first time. I came away with a vivid impression of just how complex College life is to organise, with residential and non residential courses, Chaplaincy Studies courses, in-service ministry training events and conferences - this week the College was welcoming a residential meeting of the National Society (religious education in schools) for two days. The College admin team isn't very big, but it sure is efficient!

After the meeting another bus trip into town for a couple of hours at the CBS office, before supper and a quiet evening at home away from the chilly outdoors.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Trip to Trinity Bristol

As I left for College, just after eight this morning, two traffic wardens were out in nearby Llanfair Road booking cars parked on four of the 'drop kerbs' at the end of our three side streets. Six new 'drop kerbs' were constructed only a couple of weeks ago. It's the first time I've seen the traffic wardens out locally at this hour. At first I wondered why they were bothering to annoy residents who'd had enough trouble finding a place in our car congested back streets to leave their vehicles overnight, and would soon be on their ways to work in any case. Then it occurred to me how fed up people walking with children in buggies to reach a day nursery, or wheelchair users out and about early to get to the surgery or shops would be, day after day, having their access to a safe and easy road crossing blocked by cars.

When CBS shared office space with Cardiff Council's Civil Parking Enforcement team, last years, I remember the phone calls received by desk officers from people complaining about cars parked in the wrong place, or from people complaining that they'd been penalised for parking in the wrong place. Both kinds were often harsh and unpleasant in tone, and I didn't envy those dealing with irate citizens. Very wearing, day after day. Having a car, keeping it and using it on the roads is not a right but privilege all to easily taken for granted. The finer points of the highway code are easily forgotten or ignored. Sometimes paying the penalty is the only way to bring home a reminder of the need to consider others. As I know from my own experience of being 'caught on camera' last year.

Today I went with six other College staff members to visit Trinity Theological College in Stoke Bishop, Bristol to see its implementation of the Moodle content management system. I was glad not to drive, for a change, just navigate to a place familiar to me from undergraduate days. From 1963-1965 I lived in Churchill Hall, one of the Bristol University student residences next door up the hill to a grand property which subsequently became the Trinity campus. The College is located in a noble mansion set in wooded hillside grounds which dates back to 1669. It's been much extended since it was taken over for College use back in 1971, but still presents an elegant face to those arriving.

We were shown around after our meeting and lunched with the ninety students and dozen staff in the refectory. There's a very lively buzz about the place, with spouses and children around. All their University courses are taught on campus, and that's a huge advantage for College life. St Mike's residential students have to travel in to the Cathay campus of Cardiff University, and effectively this loses them an hour and a half of time from each study day, and distorts the timetabling of many in-house activities. Would that it were different.

It was a very interesting session, encouraging us to think that adopting it would be a positive development for St Michael's. Nice to know too that experienced help and support is there as we figure out all the questions we should ask about our information needs, prior to setting up our own system.

After a quick cup of tea on our return, I went into the CBS office and had another go with the BT duty software support team at rectifying the remote access problem for our network drive, but with no success. Time to get in touch with Iomega, I think. No Chi Gung class tonight, so I had time at home to catch up on a few tasks waiting for my attention. The list never seems to get any shorter, however.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Reading Week diversion

No need to get up early this morning as College routine is suspended in Reading Week. I walked there across Llandaff Fields mid-morning, and was rewarded with the distant sight of scores of gulls and crows, some pidgeons and magpies searching busily for food on the grass, suddenly all rising into the air, as if disturbed by some invisible force. Then I heard a handful of gulls above and behind me, high in the air over Penhill, crying out as they wheeled round and round. Then I noticed in the midst of them the larger form of a buzzard in a hunting mood, or so the gulls thought. It's the first time I've noticed one in such a built up area. I should keep a lookout for them in future.

This afternoon I joined the College administrative staff for a hands on learning session about the Moodle content management system, beloved of many in the educational world. It was developed as a free Open Source learning support tool by teachers for teachers, and it's an excellent resource for managing the complexities of courses that involve hundreds of students and scores of teacher throughout the year. It was a brief introduction prior to a visit tomorrow to Trinity College Bristol to see how their Moodle system operates.

At teatime, I took the bus into town and the CBS office to install the network drive and get it running to serve the three computers in use there. It's a sophisticated piece of equipment which permits remote access to its contents from computers away from the office. The installation routine was easy, but the rest was a problem, due to the BT modem we use. Later in the evening when I was at home, and Ashley was in the office, as neither of us knew how to enable port forwarding on the router, Ashley spent more than half an hour with the BT tech support team trying to do this without success, so it'll have to be tried again tomorrow. So annoying that it didn't 'just work'.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Better than telly

An uneventful Saturday, apart from a brisk afternoon walk across the fields for tea at Jasper's in Llandaff. It was bitterly cold, albeit just above freezing, but a persistent wind chilled us to the bone. I took my camera, but only managed a few photos of a heron hunting for fish just below Blackweir bridge. I wasn't too pleased with the result, but at least I have an indication of what settings I might try out next time I go out snapping wildlife at 50 metres with a telephoto lens.
I drove to Abercanaid to celebrate the Eucharist and preach this morning. At the end of the service a bright eyed old lady came up to me to tell me about the snowdrops under the tree behind the church, urging me to go and look. So I went out, camera in hand, and shared in her delight.
On my way back into Cardff to pick up Clare from St Catherine's and go to the Riverside market for veggies, I called into Staples and bought an Iomega network drive at a bargain price for CBS office use. It also has a facility for remotely accessing files over the internet, invaluable for me to keep up to date when working from home, and for Ashley when he is out and about. 

The forthcoming review of the life and work St Michael's College has been on my mind a good deal of late. With time and leisure on my hands after lunch I, worked on a brief reflection to share with students about the life time value of a diverse and holistic education for ministry when it's my turn to speak at Tuesday Matins. The coming week is reading week. I thought I was due to speak the following week, but it turns out that I'm not due until the last week of term, so there's plenty of time to refine what I want to say. I enjoy tasks like this. It helps me to find out what I have noticed, and to develop what I think. Getting to a place where I'm satisfied can sometimes be a tortuous and lengthy process. I find this more satisfactory than watching telly, even if it's less relaxing.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Work and prayer

After Morning Prayer and breakfast in College, I went straight down to the CBS office for the Steering Group meeting we've been preparing for all week. We covered a decent amount of ground and I came away with a couple of assignments. Now that the accounts side of the operation is set up and in good hands, I'm free to take on new tasks that will enhance our role as a crime reduction organisation. It's a lengthy painstaking task, like building and then furnishing a house. 

All the essentials are running well, so now we're 'building capacity' as bureaucratic jargon calls it. In our case that concerns data gathering and sharing which relates specifically to the area served by CBS RadioNet. Procedures are quite straightforward, but when those involved in security and crime reduction are constantly busy and under pressure, reporting and gathering information is the challenge, and that's what I have to work on in the coming weeks. 

It's something of a contrast to the other half of my life doing pastoral work with seminarians, but I find the contrast stimulating, and enjoy the switch between sanctuary and workplace. I cope well as long as I can get enough sleep and exercise - so I'm thankful for all those stairs I have to climb every day. With the Steering Group meeting to prepare for, this week has been busier than usual, commuting daily between my two offices, in order to fit everything in that needed to be accomplished, and without panic. 

A couple of times this week it has disrupted my personal prayer routine, and I've found myself reading the Daily Office from my smartphone app at the bus stop or on the bus into town. I've done this often, at leisure (and usually from the Breviary) while travelling long distance with hours to wait, or in the air, on bus or train trips. This was the first occasion I could recall doing this on the move during a working day. I can't say I'd recommend it as a regular practice, but I found the contrast between the familiar words of Psalms and prayers against the backdrop of a routine bus journey int town was stimulating and refreshing.

Generally the buses are fairly quiet and it's not hard to sit and meditate on a journey, when not needing to plan one's next move. Many of the Psalms it seems to me are rooted in everyday experience and emotion even though they were written two and a half thousand years ago. Many Psalms come from an urban setting with all the challenges of people living together not always in harmony often in conflict using and abusing each other. The appeals they make to God for sustenance and protection, their flashes of anger, resentment and despair, are part of our real life experience still. Perhaps out in the traffic with a deadline to meet is a good place to connect with them, in sharp contrast to tranquil reflection in the sanctuary.

After the meeting, I returned to College, but missed two of the four buses which go through Llandaff and had to wait in the cold an extra ten minutes, and be late for lunch. Fortunately, traffic on the road was light and the bus made few stops, so I just about made up for lost time. After a meeting with a student I went home to a quiet house, Clare being in Kenilworth taking part in Rhiannon's ninth birthday party. Both she and Kath sent me photos of the part while it was going on, and after supper I called to sing her Happy Birthday, and hear about the freezing cold outing to a farm she'd enjoyed with her friends, parents and grandma. This was one visit I just couldn't fit it - such a shame. Here she is with her friends at their farmhouse birthday tea.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Thursday cramp

As I was due to celebrate the Eucharist at St John's Canton again this morning, I didn't go into College to  join the Eucharist there. No lie-in either. I awoke at the time I've been pushing myself to rise at since term began, and wrote for an hour before breakfast, as there was material to prepare for a CBS Steering Group meeting due to take place tomorrow.

There were eleven of us at St John's and I drank tea with members of the congregation afterwards, being in no rush leave. Eventually I took the bus into town to the CBS office and continued working on other elements of meeting preparation until it was time to quit and get back to College for Evensong. Tonight's preacher was our local parish Incumbent Fr Mark Preece, reflecting thoughtfully on the meaning of Lent and spiritual discipline.

Clare had gone off to Kenilworth earlier in the day to celebrate Rhiannon's birthday tomorrow, so I was under no pressure to return home quickly in order to ferry her to her study group. I had enough time to walk home, cook a meal, and listen to the Archers before driving over to Penarth for Tai Chi.

During the class I had an attack of cramp in both feet, which stopped me in my tracks for a short while. Christie our teacher quizzed me about the cause, and observed how tense my calf muscles were. The reason for this? My second floor office in St Mike's is reached by 42 stairs, which I go up and down three or four times a day, sometimes more. My third floor CBS office is reached by over fifty stairs three or four times a week. I'm so used to it that I hardly get out of breath ascending these days. With two or three miles walking each days as well, I get so much exercise I have little need to go to a gym.

I've noticed how this only happens on Thursday evenings after I've driven to class, whereas on Tuesdays I generally walk the mile there and back. It's clear I need to warm up more before the Thursday class, to loosen up the muscles if I'm to avoid cramp.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Ember day thoughts

Instead of the routine office of Morning Prayer today, we had structured but less formal kind of worship which Judith, one of  the students wanted to experiment with. She prepared it well and it was received with appreciation by many. In the evening, I presided at a Eucharist which started with the singing of the Litany. The service was conducted eastwards facing with a vested Deacon and Sub-Deacon, and using incense, all very traditional, as it was in my youth, before liturgical renewal and innovation became wide spread and commonplace. Few of this generation of students will be familiar with this way of worship. So, for Sam, the student who prepared the liturgy, arranging this was also something experimental, albeit in quite a different way. 

College is one place where it is safe to experiment and learn from mistakes and get feedback from one's peers. We fail to teach students effectively how to continue to experiment with worship in the Parishes they are sent out to serve, in order to find out what best meets people's spiritual need. It's hard enough getting congregations to accept any change in their regular liturgical routines of worship, whether these are informal or formal, traditional or contemporary. Only with the most careful preparation can any kind of worship experiment prevent participants from feeling insecure and less than confident. With so many other pastoral demands on the minister, it can be very hard to give proper attention to being innovative and creative. Is it any wonder many experience worship as lacking freshness and unable to stimulate and feed those who are still hungry for an experience of the divine?

Today is one of those in the church calendar when prayer is offer for vocations to ministry and those preparing for ordination, called an Ember Day. My prayers are laden with such questions.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Mysteries on Monday

This morning's frost was sharp enough to harden the soggy turf on the football pitches across Llandaff Fields, so I was able to walk to College for Morning Prayer avoiding the noise road  and  without getting muddy shoes. Out in the middle, a large flock of little gulls was finding it hard to roost and feed off the grass, taking it in turns to settle, then wheel around silently. They looked like leaves eddying in gusts of wind, quite enchanting to watch.

After breakfast I attended my first senior staff team meeting, which took up the rest of the morning. Then I went to the CBS office for a couple of hours in the afternoon and returned to College for the Family Eucharist. It's one of the special collegiate occasions each week, when students, spouses and children are all together. The smallest ones love the space and freedom to run around and play, and this is fine unless they get tired and fractious. There are always plenty of familiar grown ups around to pick them up and cuddle them, however. 

Communion shared in a circle around the altar is always moving and devout, with older children being absorbed by the atmosphere and younger ones being playful or nestling into someone standing waiting to receive. Would that every Parish Family Eucharist could be like this. But, it takes time and persistence to develop. Students are together day by day, children get used to being comfortable with other adults they see regularly. It'll be one of the things missing when they start work in Parishes, something to aim to recreate in an altogether different setting in their endeavours to breathe new life into an ailing church.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Sunday transgression

This morning I drove to Abercanaid to celebrate the Eucharist. When I returned, we went to the Riverside Market. It was very crowded, as the sun shone brightly. Many cars, including our own parked on double yellow lines as all the marked bays were full. It's often like this a peak period on a Sunday morning and rarely are any traffic wardens to be seen. Just as we returned to the car one was booking transgressors. We sprinted past him and escaped as he still had two cars in front of ours to book.

It's rare for parking enforcement to occur on a Sunday morning, and no doubt this will generate much ill-will from market users. Given the market precedes imposition of the present parking regulations, you'd think some Sunday trading exception would have been written in to the traffic order, but nobody in Cardiff Council does that kind of joined up thinking that understands the social and economic value of properly allowing traders and customers to enhance the value of a city centre visit, and not penalise those who come and go quickly by car. Why not send a traffic warden to facilitate this safely rather than punish users?

Owain came over for lunch and afterwards we drove up the Garth to take a walk in the sunshine, a brisk walk as it turned out as there was a strong icy wind up there. It was quite challenging holding a camera steady while being buffeted by the breeze. Nevertheless, we both appreciated the exercise.
Here's the view over the Taff Gorge towards Cardiff. The turrets of Castell Coch are just visible, left of the centre.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Camera quandry

We went out for Saturday coffee n' croissant' breakfast at the Fat Pig Deli on Romilly Road this morning. Then I took my Sony DSLR camera into town with me to visit Cardiff Camera Centre to buy an additional lens, to work with especially in shooting street-scapes. I've been meaning to do this for a couple of months, but just been too busy to make the special trip, even though I walk past the shop on my way to and from the CBS office several times a week. It's a great shop, with knowlegable and enthusiastic staff, and often lots of customers.

The telephoto lens I bought with the camera in November last has a narrower field of view when unextended than I expected. I can't afford a really wide angle lens, but the standard entry-level lens at a reasonable price will do me for a good while to come. I now have a sophisticated camera with two lenses whose combined capability is now roughly the same as the lens of the little pocket camera I bought in Spain, to replace the one I lost there.

The quality of DSLR photos is meant to be far superior, although I should add to that 'properly taken'. So far, both cameras are set to run on 'auto'. This setting on the pocket camera seems to deliver as good an image, save for a little distortion around the edges as the big one. I have much to re-learn about how to get the best from the manual controls of a digital SLR camera. Will it be worth the effort I wonder?

Clare went to school for a few hours, still working on classroom preparation with others. At midday I went to College to attend the baptism of the four children of Carl and Lorraine, outgoing Senior Student. It was a beautiful relaxed participatory family celebration in which the primary school age candidates spoke for themselves. Readings used were from Welsh and English versions of bible stories for children and this made great sense with so many other children present as well as the candidates. I wish this could be done more often at our Monday evening family services in College.

I didn't join the party afterwards but went home to spend some time with Clare. We walked our usual afternoon circuit of Llandaff Fields and Bute Park, ending by leaving by the Castle Lodge gate, and going over to House of Frazer in St Mary Street for tea and a survey of the special offers. Everywhere seems to be in permanent discount mode these days. We came away triumphant with a king sized linen duvet cover for a third of its opening price. We've had a king sized bed and duvet for long enough for the original covers to have just about worn out. A side effect of being married for many happy years.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Transformer death

Yesterday, after Eucharist, breakfast and conversations in College, I spent the rest of the morning preparing a sermon for Sunday. Then, after lunch I went down to the CBS office for a few hours of 'tech support' before returning for Evensong, at which Caroline Downes was the preacher. She made superb work of 'Renunciation' in our Lenten series, and clearly relished giving a serious message with occasional flashes of gentle humour. As it was Valentine's day, I walked home via the Llandaff Village Spar mini-market, to buy some flowers for Clare. For once I didn't have to rush home before going out again as I had no Tai Chi class. I was glad of the night in to recover. 

Ashley called me to say his new Asus Transformer Infinity had died since last using it earlier in the week. He thought that battery had drained and that it would no longer re-charge. Hooked up to the mains and switched on, it displayed the Asus logo but nothing more. Another job to do tomorrow.

We slept in, and rose an hour later than usual, all in the name of redressing the sleep deficit, and I went to the CBS office after lunch to meet Ashley and inspect the Asus. Sure enough, the boot up routine began with the logo displayed brightly for a few seconds, giving way to a black screen. No other sign of life. Charging circuit failure? Maybe not, given the brightness of the brief logo show. Maybe not a motherboard failure, as that would rule out the slightest sign of life. A solid state hard disk failure seems likely, so it couldn't load its Android operating system. Such a disappointment.

When I was due to leave for home we went across the road to the John Lewis Store and exchanged it for a refund, since for the moment supplies of this model are rather scanty. We'd still like to have one, as it seems the best choice for our working needs.

It was my turn to cook, and I made an experimental dish with black eyed beans, veg and quinoa. Clare rang to say she was bringing Leila, one of the Steiner teachers, home for supper. They've been working on preparing class rooms for the re-start of school on Monday, following the premises move over half term. We had just the right amount and I was pleased with how my new dish tasted and the approval it got.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Ash Wednesday

Today has been a quiet day for staff and students at St Mike's. It was overcast and rain fell all day long, so five visits to chapel left everyone just a little damp. To add to that, I walked to and from College both ends of the day in gloom and rain. 

University Chaplain Trystan Owain Hughes gave three addresses, and staff led and read Morning and Evening Prayer and the eucharistic Liturgy of Penitence.  Trystan used a laptop and projector for visual aids supporting his talk. He had to switch it back on at the start of the midday service. It's the first time I can remember being called to prayer by the sound of the Windows start up chimes.

Two rooms were set aside in the main building, one for a free prayer group and the other for adoration of the Holy Sacrament. Half a dozen men donned traditional black cassocks for the occasion. Interestingly, none of the women wore theirs. Two women and a man had to stay and look after children, kept home by the half term holiday - such is the challenging nature of College life for some students. Thankfully the student body is very good at being inclusive and supporting those with conflicts of interest in their lives. I just hope Parishes will prove as good in the College hereafter.

I enjoyed the corporate silence, maintained respectfully by everyone, even those not very comfortable with this expression of common Christian discipline. Trystan had invited us in his first address to open our senses to be aware of divine beauty in creation around it. But he didn't pick the weather. I took a few photos, which is often what I do when I have silence and time in which to look carefully. I spent four months of last year mostly doing that to my great joy. Today I missed the light. A real penance. Not much of a stimulus to Lenten joy for this poor soul.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Call to repentance

Slowly it's becoming less of an agony to get up early. Slowly, despite low cloud most days, it's a little lighter before I get out of bed and the blackbird in the back garden sings a little longer. Peter reflected on what makes for authority in the exercise of ministry during his address at Morning Prayer, quoting what Ignatius Bishop of Antioch (martyred 117AD) about the value of silence on the part of those called to the oversight and spiritual guidance of others. He also affirmed the appeal of a contemporary theologian whose name I didn't catch, to Bishops of today, calling on them to stop being church executive managers, re-claim their biblical apostolic role as pastor and guide to the faithful. This was received with general sympathetic approval.

I mused on what he'd said, recalling how often church at all levels suffers from poor communication and organisation unresponsive to needs of the age. Skillful efficient administration is vital. It entails a degree of vision, leadership, flexibility and enterprise to serve its purpose. But what about the role of management? It concerns supervision, understood as regulation and control. There's always a proper need for mutual accountability in any organisation or community, but over-regulation inhibits responsiveness to change and creative freedom. Church still reflects society at large, and there is no need for this, especially as church as a social entity is a small fraction of the whole. Yet it behaves as if it's much larger than it really is. Will this change as resources and numbers are further depleted? Regrettably, nobody with power relinquishes it without a struggle.

We had some lively and insightful discussion at our fortnightly College tutors meeting, stimulated as ever by consideration of our individual students, but also on this occasion engaged by the annual student survey report on College life. St Michael's is blessed by its teaching and administrative staff. Here all the year round serving conferences, and many different in-service learning groups as well as residential students, it has strong character as a community in its own right, one that builds community though its service to others. If only local and national government could be as efficient and effective in what it offers!

Before the tutor group meeting, I celebrated the Eucharist in Welsh, then joined the others in a half term outing to Coffee #1 in Pontcanna. I arrived late and found them fizzing with ideas and good humour, as they relaxed in a normal social setting. We should do this more often, I thought. Half term meant no Chi Gong class this evening so I cooked paella, then Clare and I watched 'Mamma Mia' again on TV, (even though we have the DVD), and ate chocolate. We didn't have room to eat pancakes for dessert.

Monday, 11 February 2013

The day of the Pope's resignation announcement

My first Transfiguration Sunday Eucharist was at St Michael's in Cathays, one of the four churches I took charge of when I became Rector of Central Cardiff back in 2002. It was lovely to see so many familiar faces in the congregation, and some new ones too, I went on from there for the Eucharist at St Teilo's, another of the those churches. If anything there were fewer familiar faces in this congregation. There's been more of a turnover here in a studentland congregation. This time around, 'Becca, one of my tutees, preached, much to my satisfaction. I got back late for lunch, in time to take Clare to a train to Bristol for her monthly study group. I spent the rest of the day enjoying doing much apart from tidying my photo archives, glad of free time to recover from busy week.

Back to College early for the Eucharist and conversations with several students and the Principal. This is the time of year when a new College student council is elected, and students run an opinion poll on every aspect of College life. The report is always thought provoking reading and offers staff plenty to think about when it comes to improving the College offer to students.

What a surprise to learn over lunch that Pope Benedict had announced his resignation. Nothing like this has happened for six hundred years. His blunt and humble honesty about his advanced age and increasing frailty making it impossible to continue meeting the demands of his office is impressive. He may be a notable theological conservative, but this hasn't meant that he's merely continued doing exactly what his predecessors did. It's being said that there'll be a new Pope by Easter. I wonder who? And what difference this will make - not only for Catholics, but all Christians.

I took a couple of hours out in the afternoon, before the evening Family Service, to go into the CBS office to see if my old network drive would run on our system and be available its different computers, but had no success. Regrettably a more up to date versatile low maintenance solution is needed.

The Family Service was a cheery affair, led confidently by 'Becca and Wendy involving several others. For once it wasn't a eucharistic service, so what they did was something of an experiment. College needs to be an environment where ideas can be investigated and tried out as well as somewhere that imparts conventional ways of worship. Tradition and innovation are both essential in preparing ministers for what lies ahead of them.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

No tunes to hum on the bus

After another early start and a morning in College yesterday, I went into the CBS office to spend time with Julie our administrator and Jane, our Sage accounts trainer as together they worked at entering financial data from our existing accounts system into the new set up that I've been preparing this past few weeks. I was glad to discover that my work was not in vain, and that it had given them a head start in the work they had to do. Some of the questions I'd raised yesterday got answers, others will get answered in due course. It's a lot of work, but worthwhile for the control and understanding it gives of how the business is moving.

Ashley collected the Asus Tranformer Infinity he'd ordered by phone from John Lewis as soon as we knew supplies had arrived at their warehouse, but we were too busy even to admire it. At the end of the afternoon it came home with me and went on charge overnight.

We went down to the Millennium Centre by bus after an early supper to hear the WNO production of Alban Berg's 'Lulu'. After a tiring week and a challenging day of Q&A about recording anomalies in the old account system, I wasn't much in the mood for going out again, and not looking forward to an evening of avant-garde early 20th century music. Both of us were surprised at how engaging and listenable Berg's richly dissonant orchestral music was, and how powerfully it supported the dramatic action of the story.

Lulu's story is a powerful melodrama, recounted in a theatrically mannered way, of a femme fatale, whom men and women fall helplessly in love with, yet she admits she doesn't know what love is or if God exists or matters. She's not like a spider that consumes its mate, yet those enamoured of her end up dead. She does evil things in order to survive, but seems enmeshed in a web of relationships which she accepts as if inevitable, although they lead to her eventual demise. There's a good deal of sex and sexuality in it, but not a hint of the 'redemptive' procreativity of which the Old Testament scripture speaks. 

It's about a woman whose downfall is determined by the desirability of her body, quite a philosophical reflection to arise from a few decades before the social critique of late 20th century feminism. I'd have loved to take a group of students to see it, just to see what kind of discussion would emerge afterwards. We came away feeling refreshed, stimulated to deep thought, even if there were no tunes to hum on the bus going home.

This morning I spent configuring Ashley's Asus ready for use and took it into the office for him. It was all locked and quiet with no Big Match on this weekend. Clare and I met up at the bus station afterwards and went to Penarth for lunch. It was too grey and damp to go for a walk, so we returned to town and did some shopping before heading home for a quiet evening, getting ready for Sunday and the week ahead, also browsing over next year's WNO brochure to consider what operas we want to book ahead for. In 2014 they have several operas grouped in themes, one of which is 'Faith', featuring Verdi 'Nabucco' and Schoenberg's 'Moses & Aaron'. Music and God, without going to church! Whatever next?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

College generations

Even after a good night's sleep I was tired getting up today. Clare needed to car to get to school, so I walked to College. With just moderate gusts of wind it was bitterly cold. After the Eucharist, there were mini croissants for breakfast along with toast, and that made a comforting change. Porridge might have been better for the weather however. I chatted with students over breakfast, worked in my office  until Peter returned from a meeting at the Baptist College, then after a brief conversation with him I went into town on the bus with a few tech tasks to perform in the CBS office and bring Julie up to speed on preparations to switch over to a new Sage accounts package. 

Tomorrow we're having a training session on aspects of account set-up. After my long conversation with Ashley last night, there were lots of preliminary questions to be asked about what we can and cannot achieve with the new system, so I spent an hour brainstorming and writing them down on a large piece of paper - I know I will arrive after our trainer and it's vital to get as many of our basic questions as possible answered in advance of tackling the hard stuff. By the time I'd done that, I had to return to College in time to welcome Canon Robert Donkin guest preacher for Evensong in the series I prepared for this term. He was in St Mike's three years after I left. We got to know each other when I worked for USPG in Wales a decade later. Now he's Rector of Caerphilly, where I did my first curacy. So, it was a special pleasure to welcome him and introduce him to students before the service began.

In the sacristy beforehand, he admitted he was nervous about preaching in College, his first visit since he left. I told him that was how I felt when I started as a voluntary tutor eighteen months ago. He delivered a beautifully crafted address that stated with great clarity and directness all that I could have wished he might say about formation for a 'Discipleship of Sacrifice' our theme for the term. Back in the eighties, I preached for him several times and looked after Sunday services in Aberaman when he was on holiday. This was the first time I had ever heard him preach. He's a credit to the College, as it was in my era. 

Despite all the flaws and limitations of training in those days, (it's so much better now than it was then) we were blessed with some great mentors and role models.Their influence helped to sustain us through decades of ministry. Many things we learned, we questioned in those days, only later realising their value and feeling grateful we hadn't been spared them.  Now we're the ones mentoring and influencing those in the position we were forty years ago. It's a bit awe inspiring and nerve wracking for us oldies, but what a privilege to share the same vocation and the same passion for mission and evangelism with people shaped by such different environments.

Nobody in this generation of ordinands chooses to engage in Church ministry as a secure option. Very few did forty years ago too, the change of ethos in the world we inhabited put an end to that idea. In my college time, we began learning anew the meaning of mission and evangelism. We were just awakening to the fact that the centuries of established 'Christendom' were over, like it or not. We were still digesting the assertion Paul Tillich made a generation before us, that Christians now had to "earn the right to speak of God"   We were slow learners. You could say were were too late, considering the demise of the church since we were young and full of zeal. What's so humbling is a new generation, eager to continue on the same path, despite challenge and discouragement.

God never leaves Himself without witness.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

A taste of Palestine

The only Methodist student remaining in College, Cath, who's in my tutur group, led us in Morning Prayer from the Methodist service book this morning - a refreshing change. I didn't plan to work for long after breakfast, but there was enough new stuff to last me several hours.  I also received email from the Team Viewer software company in Germany, aware of the antics of software scammers mis-using their freely available product to access people's computers for no good purpose. They cannot easily prevent a few from doing this as free availability of their product is a channel for them to make known and offer paid service, support and business software licenses around the world. 

The message was a response to the one I sent them reporting what I found on my sister's laptop. It described how to recognise the modus operandii of several common scam enterprises, and who to contact to spread the word when there's an outbreak. If a pattern of fraudulent sales is detectable, the internet financial service provider processing the transaction will be contacted with a request to deny the misuser banking access. It's complex, but not impossible to tackle the problem, as long as people know what's happening and bother to co-operate.

After  lunch at home I was driven to Thornhill Crematorium for the funeral of a sixty year old who'd died of drink - an occupational hazard of those who've worked in the licensing trade. A friend gave a brief and respectful tribute that didn't mention alcoholism as such, but wrly referred to his genial optimism saying: "With him, the glass was never half empty, it was always full." Afterwards, I was dropped off at College in good time to complete my morning tasks before the Eucharist started. 

In giving out a few notices before the service, senior student Lorraine mentioned that the wine to be used came from a bottle Tom and Sam brought back from their pre-term Holy Land visit to Cana in Galilee. Sam raised a smile declaring "It was water when we left!"  That tiny sip of suntanned Holy Land Merlot instead of the fruity Port ordinarily used for Communion was special - the smallest taste of land in which the Lord walked. "I didn't know how much water to add." Lorraine exclaimed afterwards. Instinct guided her, nevertheless - just a few symbolic drops for the commixture. As Port is so much stronger, it can take dilution without losing character.

I didn't get into the CBS office today, but Ashly and I were on the phone for an hour dealing with the details of decisions needing to be made. He's still chasing after an Asus Transformer Infinity to use on his rounds, and maybe at last has tracked the rare best down.  A great product, but the marketing and delivery of supplies is very poor. You'd think a product as slick as the iPad and more versatile would merit more competitive promotion, but at the moment the company seems to be playing it as a best kept secret and letting word of mouth do the rest.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Raison d'ĂȘtre

Stephen Adams gave this morning's meditation at College Morning Prayer speaking about the journal of an American pastor in his twilight years, reviewing his life in ministry with all its joy, sorrows, doubts and hopes. He gently challenged students to wonder what their journal might contain at the end of their ministerial life, whether that be twenty years from now in the case of some late vocations, or fifty. It's about getting ones aspirations and ambitions in perspective, illuminated by one's faith, as it is now, as it might develop through ministry.

I find that an interesting challenge, having made an effort to compose a vocational biography of my own some years ago, and now in retirement, finding myself often being reproached "You're supposed to have stopped working now, aren't you?" I don't get it. My career as a cleric working full time for the Church in Wales has ended, but a new way of life as a voluntary priest has developed, thanks to good health, and no diminishing in my desire to participate in mission and evangelism, in season and out of season. It's part of the reason why I write this blog. 

I thrive on the thought that I am not yet finished, and still have no need to call it a day stay home and take my ease. I prefer being able to work just at things I love doing freely, and at a leisurely pace, so it's possible to get the taste of what one does rather than gobbling up tasks, rushing, achieving, surviving. It means I'm happier with what I can do, and no longer worry about what I can't

I spent most of the day in College reading reflections and sermons from students, and writing some of my own before the Tutor group met. This week Rufus talked about his summer placement in a large Church Aided junior school, and drew out some very interesting observations for us to discuss. Then it was time to dash home, and grab a bite to eat before my Chi Gong class. I'm still tired because I haven't fully adjusted my sleep pattern to compensate for earlier rising but the class did me good. 

Clare and I went to see the 'Les Miserables' movie afterwards at Chapter. It was a full house and the queue was long, even though we had tickets. I found it an polished powerful piece of work, with a striking 'theological' storyline, although the final cheery set piece on the barricades lamed it a bit, for my taste, when so much of the second half of the movie illustrated the futility of violent revolution.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Landmark day - for someone else now

When I dragged myself out of bed to go to College, a blue sky greeted me with the sun rising behind the houses to the south of us. Such good cheer to start a |Monday with! The BBC Today programme told me Justin Welby would be ritually elected as Archbishop of Canterbury this morning. I wish him many blessings, but the wish doesn't carry the same energy as it did when former Archbishop of Wales Rowan Williams was elected to this post. I knew him personally when he was Bishop of Monmouth, and he ministered to me compassionately when I was having a hard time in Geneva.

After Matins and breakfast, there was a student to converse with, some office work to do, lunch, and conversations, then off to my other office in town for a couple of hours and more conversations with a potential new volunteer. It was less easy to work here as loud rehearsals for tonight's Motorpoint Arena show from a band called 'Plan B' made the walls vibrate with the noise of heavy rock music. 

I was glad to get back to College for a Family Service which had two groups of children engaging in a handwashing competition to see which could wear down a bar of soap quickest - linked to a soapy reference from the prophet Malachi. Lovely. Then home for supper and a quiet evening, already thinking and preparing the arrangements for the Ash Wednesday College quiet day a week and two days from now.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Not a dull Sunday

I drove up the A470 early again this morning for another visit to Abercanaid to celebrate the Eucharist. Although there was a layer of cloud just above the heights of the Taff Vale it didn't drain the landscape of its rich saturated colours. A joy to behold. My arrival brought a surprise. Another priest had arrived ahead of me, only to discover he wasn't expected, but that I was. A communications mix up between Area Dean and Archdeacon, apparently. Too many cooks I wonder? With so many vacancies to manage it must be a nightmare organising cover.

I met Clare from St Catherine's and we went to the Riverside market to shop for veggies, cheese and now olives of several varieties from a specialist stall. We chatted to the guy who runs the Cothi Valley goat cheese stall, discussing the economics of developing different kinds of cheeses from the same input of milk. Would that Wales had a banking culture that could store food assets the way happens in France, Switzerland, Italy and Spain, where quality products are used as collateral for development loans.

Clare had afternoon and evening engagements, so I spent the rest of the day finishing the transfer of the CBS dataset to the Sage Accounts package, emailing people about College business. Ashley and I spent a good while figuring out by text message and phone calls how best to buy an Asus Transformer Infinity tablet computer with a keyboard docking station, which he could use to remote access the SafetyNet server, and also use as an account file repository when visiting RadioNet users. 

We've been mulling over this problem for quite some time, but finally a piece of kit has come up which fits the bill - and it's darned hard to find out who's got them in stock. The trouble is, neither of us are particularly keen about shopping on-line, and would rather talk to a sales person face to face, and that limits what we can easily get done.

A quiet sort of Sunday, and despite some dull routine stuff to get done, few dull moments.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

More security compromise

After a nice lie in and breakfast, Clare and I both went to our computers to check email and found we had difficulty getting on-line. Then she succeeded, but my problem persisted, so I went through an equipment fault finding check, to no avail. When I attempted to access our router to check the settings, my access password was refused. Thinking it might be a hardware fault, I rebooted. Same result. Then I visited each of the computers in the house in turn, and discovered none of them could access the router using neither this password nor the original default setting. Switching router on and off made no difference. 

The only conclusion I could come to was that the password had been changed overnight from outside, as  the router had been left on. In other words, I'd been hacked. Uh oh? Any relation to my sister's scam, as my Gmail address was on her computer, with my warning message emailed during the event. Maybe that enabled someone to track my IP address and start an attack on me.

Thankfully, I have a spare router at home set up for my account, and another spare in the CBS office. I switched them over and changed the access password, making it harder to break, plus the wireless access password. That'll do for now, hopefully. But what of my sister? I phoned her and told her to call Talktalk Care to tell them that she believed her router security had been compromised. Later she rang back to say she had spoken to someone who when she said this replied: "Compromise, what is compromise?" Neither a first language English speaker nor trained in security jargon, it seems. She couldn't make herself understood and rang off in disgust. It means her computer is still potentially vulnerable, until her router cannot be accessed and its password changed. I should have checked it !

It took me three hours to go through all the internet enabled devices in the house registering password changes in all of them, just in case, well, ten out of eleven so far, there's still Clare's Kindle to do. Rather later than expected, I went into town, temporarily quiet because the Wales Ireland rugby match was in full swing. I watched the miserable Welsh defeat up on the top floor of John Lewis, where I met up with Ashley before we went to the CBS office to finish off what we didn't get done yesterday. It was seven o'clock by the time I left, and made my way to the bus through heaving crowds eating or queuing for fast food in scores, blocking Caroline Street with bodies and litter. Not an endearing sight. What slobs we are with our unhealthy public eating habits.

A strange unsettling day.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Security breach probe

A walk into town for the seven thirty coach to London freshened me up nicely. The man charged with dispatching the coach had a smartphone rigged to scan passengers' tickets. Those printed from an internet booking contain a QR code which can confirm the place assigned. Official National Express tickets don't (yet), so require visual checking and a photo taken, I think. The two add up to the number of seats available. An interesting development. I commented on the innovation to him, but he remained unsmiling. Obviously it was too early in the day for him to rejoice in anything.

My brisk awakening didn't prevent me from snoozing for a while on the coach, before saying the Divine Office, then writing a blog post and a brief report during the journey. I remembered to stow my BT wireless dongle in my little laptop case. It worked a treat on the M4, only on the last leg through West End London, did the signal get wobbly in between high buildings. 

I was with my sister June by midday, cautiously going over her compromised computer to see in which ways it had been interfered with by the IT telephone scammer of last Friday. I found 'system optimiser' software that she'd been tricked into paying for installed, also 'Team Viewer' a reputable program which enables secure remote access of another computer, both on the date of the call. Funnily enough, last year I considered installing this to allow me to troubleshoot her computer problems remotely, but I didn't, as I had no experience of how to use it securely.Its presence meant that someone could access her computer and install things on it remotely while it was on without her knowing.

Once it and its settings were uninstalled, I connected to the internet, updated the anti-virus, performed a scrupulous scan of the system, taking three hours. There was nothing malicious detectable. The anti-virus program log showed it had last updated before the scammer called, finding nothing malicious to quarantine. June's bank account had been debited for the software sold to her fraudulently, but she'd just received a letter informing her the amount had been refunded to her account. Well done NatWest!

Certainly, some clean-up work had been done, as browser history and the recycling bin were unusually empty. There were few redundant files and links to files scattered around as usual. On the surface, some sort of job had been done to justify the remote access visit as a 'client service' - except that it wasn't asked for, and was achieved through an outright lie. The remote access portal had not been removed, and  Gmail password handed over by trickery. Free access rights to my sister's computer could then be sold on by the invader to anyone wanting to add it to their botnet, or use it as a spam server.

June said that just before the scam call, she'd had an odd virus alert pop up. As there was nothing logged, I wondered what happened. Had the router been hacked to provide an opening through which to send an Instant Message fake alert via Google Chat, while she was reading emails? I wondered. Microsoft IM was banished from her computer long ago for (in-)security reasons. The router stores the phone number to access broadband, so it could provide the vital link for a scammer to call, once hacked. Or did one of the many circulating emails containing jokes and stories carry a nasty payload to open a hidden backdoor to her machine? Maybe I'll get to the bottom of it one of these days.

The best thing about the day was the arrival of our cousin Dianne to spend the afternoon with us. It was such a delight to meet up, as I haven't seen her since we dedicated her mother's memorial stone in Sunningdale churchyard two years ago. She's retired since then, so there was plenty of fresh delight in new life to be shared. The coach was packed on the way home, and on time despite the Friday evening rush hour crawl leaving London. I'm still mulling over June's router - I didn't change its administrator access password. She didn't have it. Hmmm. Not finished yet, maybe. A call to TalkTalk Care should be able to do something about that tomorrow.