Sunday, 31 March 2013

Early Easter

Back to St John's Danescourt with 'Becca for a nine fifteen Easter morning Eucharist, and Jenny joined us. The sun was bright and the air clear and invigoratingly crisp. I was better for not having lost sleep. 'Becca read the Gospel and Jenny interceded. I celebrated and preached. Every seat was taken. There were fifty people in church altogether.

At Christcurch Radyr, for the eleven o'clock, I sat with the choir and did little apart from joining in with the distribution of communion. Jenny celebrated and preached superbly, 'Becca read the Gospel and also shared in distributing communion. There was a full church, a hundred and fifty people, including children, and a hundred and thirty of those took communion.

Not long after I got back for lunch, Kath, Anto and Rhiannon arrived from Kenilworth in time for lunch, and then Owain arrived on his bike, somewhat tired by two nights deejaying on the trot, plus losing an hour. But that wouldn't make him miss a family meal. We are, drank some good wines and ate chocolate, went for a walk with Rhiannon to see the horses over at the riding school on Llandaff Fields, then it was time to get back to Radyr 

I celebrated the Eucharist on this occasion, and 'Becca preached very well. Eighteen people were present. That meant a total of over a hundred and eighty people made their Easter communion in the Parish despite the loss of an hour, despite the cold weather.

'Becca looked slightly surprised when I said how rarely during my latter years of ministry I'd ministered in full churches. Occasionally a full house in Caerphilly during my curacy, hardly ever in St Paul's area churches, except for some funerals, occasionally in Halesowen apart from bapstims, weddings and funerals, quite often in Geneva, but it was a small church with a big constitutency. At St John's in the city centre, it was only ever full for big civic events and occasional funerals. Apart from that, it was not often more than a quarter full even on the great festivals. The difficulties of getting there were such that people who made the effort were really committed. 

You can get so used to not having a full church, it takes quite an adjustment to cope with scaling up if you have to. A priest has to learn to be grateful that anyone comes, regardless of numbers. To be privileged to offer ministry at all is always a gift, and one I appreciate more now I'm retired and reliant on the generosity and hospitality of colleagues and parishes for the invitation.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Easter Eve - getting ahead

It was good to have a quiet uneventful day to reflect and prepare tomorrow's Easter sermon. We went over to Roath in the morning to shop for organic veggies for the weekend, but the cold wind ensured we were more brisk and businesslike than usual.

I collected 'Becca from College at half past five and we went to St John's Danescourt for the Easter Vigil, just as the sun was about to set. The Paschal bonfire in a bucket was so so hot that it melted without igniting two tapers from which we attempted to light the Easter Candle. A little gas lighter came to the rescue. Why not embrace modernity and bless one of those next year? I thought.

There were thirty of us in a church that holds fifty, many of them present for the baptism of a young girl, old enough to make the baptismal promises for herself. It was a joyous event, which finished with a procession to party at the church hall nearby singing 'We are marching in the light of God.' As I arrived home Clare was just on her way out to the local Parish Easter Vigil. 

I idled the evening away watching telly, then put the clocks forward, and for the first time in living memory, went to bed an hour early to offset the loss of an hour. I don't run too long on reserves any longer

Friday, 29 March 2013

Good Friday night out

Up to Radyr with 'Becca for a ten o'clock start this morning, for a short youth service at Christchurch, then a walk of witness down to the Methodist Church, where we were joined by the congregation there at the end of their service for a prayers around the cross in the public garden opposite the church. It was bitterly cold, and waiting for the rendezvous wasn't much fun, but when the brief prayers were over we went into the Methodist church hall for tea and hot cross buns. I met Aled Edwards, General Secretary of Cytun, who was worshipping with the Methodists this morning and we chatted for a while, then I went home, feeling in need of some quiet solitude before my afternoon preachment. Clare was just on her way out for the service with Bishop David at St John's Canton, so I had the place to myself.

Jenny, 'Becca and I shared the conduct of Good Friday Liturgy between us, with three dozen people in attendance. After I'd preached, 'Becca read a poetic meditation on the Cross she'd written. It was one of the first reflections she sent me after she started in College. I remembered how personally honest it had been, and was delighted she agreed to read it in a service. I felt it fitted well with the conclusion of what I had preached about. It was a fitting introduction to venerating the cross, which we then processed in with. For 'Becca this was an all-new experience. There are few occasions over forty five years when I haven't been at this liturgy and venerated the cross. It means a great deal to me.

Owain came over for an early supper, and then we went together to the Millennium Centre to watch a dance event which brought together sixteen Shaolin monks and a contemporary dance in an east-west fusion performance called 'Sutra', a Sadlers Wells production. 
Everything about it was truly amazing - the use of seventeen huge two metre tall wooden boxes as props constantly moved around on stage and used as a theatrical framework for executing a host of high speed athletic feats. They certainly deserve their reputation for being 'flying monks', they jump so spectacularly high. Many components of the movements performed I recognised from Tai Chi and Chi Gung, although delivered in the dynamic fashion of martial arts.

It was a wonderful spiritual offering from a group of calm focussed recollected young men emptied of egotism, connected to each other so tightly that their movement gave the impression of an active swarm of bees. It was moving and uplifting to watch and I loved the music by Szymon Brzoska. 
There were moments in the performance when the boxes were laid out horizontally and piled up in a four by four array, each occupied by a still performer, suggesting a funerary columbarium of the catacombs . Echoes of the Saviour's death and burial are never far away on this most holy day.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Portable pilgrimage

In the morning, I went into town to the CBS office this morning for an important meeting, then came home mid afternoon to continue preaching preparation. I collected 'Becca from College at seven and we went out to Christchurch Radyr together for Evening Prayer, which she conducted, and I preached. It's just as well I offered to preach in the Parish this week, as Jenny has a chest cold and is on the verge of losing her voice. The extremely cold weather doesn't help, with many extra services to conduct. She has two funerals this week in addition to nine other services before Sunday. Also, Chris her NSM curate, is loaned to Caerau with Ely, to cover services during Fr Jesse's sick leave - a lot of extra pressure.

I collected 'Becca at nine and we made the same journey to Christchurch for a Eucharist, which I celebrated and she preached, circulating an image displayed on her iPad for the congregation to look at while she spoke about it. Only one person managed to swipe the picture off the screen. Using technology live with a congregation is as risky as performing with children and dogs! I sent my apologies to College for the afternoon Strategy Forum meeting. I needed more time to work on my preaching material. In the evening I collected 'Becca from College again and we went to St John's Danescourt where this time I preached and she led Evening Prayer. The full Paschal moon was just visible through a haze of cloud above the car park, as we left for home.
Maundy Thursday
Although still bitterly cold, there was sunshine streaming in to St John's Danescourt for the celebration of the Eucharist at nine thirty. Jenny decided not to attend the Cathedral Chrism Mass, and stayed on home ground in an effort to conserve energy, assisting as I celebrated and preached. For once, although I'd brought a sermon with me, I decided to improvise, and enjoyed doing so. 

I went into town for a few hours, then returned for supper, picked up 'Becca to drive to Christchurch for the evening's Sung Eucharist at which I preached. Jenny, 'Becca and I stripped the altars at the end. It was a first time experience for 'Becca. Then we went to St John's Danescourt where we kept silent vigil together with others for half an hour, before leaving. This time the Paschal moon slipped in and out of broken cloud, as if it struggled to assert its presence in the moody darkness of this first Triduum day's end: 'Judas took the bread and departed. It was night.'
I love Holy week. Its scripture readings never fail to move me, as they evoke memories of key moments in my journey of faith since teenage years. It's a pilgrimage I can make wherever I find myself, whether alone with a Bible and Prayer Book, or in the company of others, whether it's half a dozen or thousands, giving out or on the receiving end, no matter where I may find myself in the world. I can only be grateful for this.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Holy Week in Radyr

I had a cheering  meeting this morning in College with Chris Bowler a member of last year's tutor group. He's now an assistant Curate in a rural Radnorshire borderland parish. He comes to Cardiff occasionally to visit the library, as he's keen to continue studying. It's satisfying to see a former student enjoying his new life and work up country.

After lunch we had a two and a half hour staff meeting, discussing the Bishops Vision Statement on ministry and mission, as part of the preparation for comprehensive course development in the light of the forthcoming College review. The grand plan is to have a modular training programme whose components can be used for lay training as well as all stages of preparation for ordained ministry, and in service training. Fortunately it won't all have to be put into place in one go, but can be grown according to need and opportunity. It'll be quite a challenge to move from grand plan to detailed design, given that all involved in vocational guidance, selection and training programmes across the six diocese will have an interest in shaping the outcome.

After supper I drove out to St John's Danescourt to give my first Holy Week address to a dozen people at Evensong, led by Jenny Wigley, my former parish colleague. St John's is lovely small thirteenth century church with an ancient churchyard around it containing a thousand year old yew tree. Until forty years ago it was set in open countryside with just a farmhouse for neighbour. Now the farmhouse is a pub next to several small shops, all sitting at the centre of a very large housing estate - all part of the post-war expansion of Cardiff. Tomorrow night, the same again at Christ Church, up in the village with its mix of older early 20th century suburban mansions and artisan dwellings. Such a refreshing change after many weeks of being focussed largely on College life.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Palm Sunday at St Mike's

Yesterday was another dull cold grey day. Apart from a trip to Tesco's for weekend food shopping, I spent the morning in College, writing emails, working on next term's chapel rota and clearing the office of my stuff ready for Mark Clavier's arrival. Then I drove over to Bristol to return James' repaired laptop and visit Amanda in the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

I slept longer and rose later this morning. For once I didn't need to drive somewhere for an early locum duty as I was booked to attend the College end of term Palm Sunday Eucharist, at which Archbishop Barry presides. Having prepared the student team that was sharing in the conduct of worship, I turned up early to give them some support and check on last minute details, and give the Archbishop a quick briefing about the arrangements. All was happily in order.

The chapel was full, and all went according to plan. Wendy's way of presenting the narrative dialogue Passion story from Luke's Gospel took me completely by surprise. Three of the key part readers were dressed in black robes and wearing masks over their eyes, the fourth representing Christ was in white. Other part players were in the congregation. When we got to the crucifixion part, all the players left the 'stage' so to speak, and then there was a slide-show of via Crucis images set to a song (which I didn't know). The rest of the text was on the sheet provided to follow if desired, but the invitation was there to simply watch the images and recall the story.

It was amazing to move from something theatrical in quite a classical manner to contemporary audio visual, in such a conventional liturgical framework. It compelled me to pay attention, but then I know the story well and have been reading or listening to some version or another of this in dialogue form over the past fifty years. I wonder how it would have been received by someone less than familiar with the text?

Archbishop Barry preached well, comparing and contrasting the procession of Jesus with that of Pilate arriving from the opposite direction to watch over the security situation on Passover weekend. Which procession are you part of? He asked. Are you sure?

Afterwards the College photo was taken in the Old Library conference room. It was took cold to arrange to take it outside, as it had been to cold for an outdoor procession. Peter and I sat on either side of the Archbishop, which gave me a rare opportunity for a brief chat. I felt as if I was there in a prominent position under false pretences, as my role this past term has been unofficial. There's also of photo in which I feature prominently on the cover of the College Annual Report, even more embarrassing. I bet many outsiders with College connections will wonder who on earth is this guy?

With Clare being away in Kenilworth, it was nice to sit down to a Sunday lunch with all the College members and families, as it meant I didn't have to cook. Then I went home and uploaded the photos I'd taken during the service to a newly opened Flickr account, so that they could be shared. Some I was quite pleased with, but others, particularly the telephoto ones were less sharp and prone to motion blur. Indoor lighting conditions were quite good, and it seemed as if auto-focus and image stabilisation weren't working as well as intended. They are at their best in bright light outdoors. I daresay my Alpha 55 would have produced better pictures indoors.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Gearing up for Holy Week

I drove Clare to a school meeting early, and said goodbye for the weekend. She's off to Kenilworth to look after Rhiannon, then going on the Selly Oak to see Rachels' Sicilian godmother Angela, and rejoice with her over the election of Pope Francis I. I wonder if she still prays for our conversion, wanting only the best for us?

I went into College for a while, to check if there were any further repercussions for yesterday's session with students, which there were. More choppy water to navigate, but the full time staff are experienced and capable, dealing sensitively with every issue affecting students. It's a privilege to be part of this on a temporary basis, but I don't have the stamina for such intense activity in the long term. Three hours sleep deficit on the trot are as much as I can handle. I have to accept that ageing weakens one's emotional resilience every bit as much as it makes the muscles weaken. The only way to keep functioning well is plenty of activity punctuated by rest. The price paid for skimping on either as you get older is higher.

Once I was fully updated on what was going on, I drive to Radyr to meet with Jenny Wigley to fill in the details of next week's Holy Week services, at which I will be preaching, along with one of my tutees, 'Becca, who'll be preaching a couple of times and officiating at Evensong. It'll be great to work with a former colleague again, especially one who is as full of energy, deep insight as she is down to earth and wickedly humorous. Great also to be kept on our toes by someone who is doing a full Holy Week liturgy programme as a contributor for the first time.

I returned to College for lunch, then went into the CBS office for a few hours, returning for conversation with a couple of students before cooking an evening meal and catching up with myself in the quietness of being home alone.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Dog tired

A lousy night and an early start, and meetings with members of College staff to consider how to address the outcome of yesterday's conflict. Stephen proposed a meeting with a discipline process inviting all present to listen carefully one at a time to any with a grievance, and time set aside for it this afternoon. Having done the Mennonite mediation training programme, Stephen is well equipped to lead this.

The Bishops' statement on Ministry and Mission for the next stage of life in the Church in Wales arrived in my in-box last night. This is to guide the planned review of the College. Well, it's a carefully thought out document of over two and a half thousand words, unpacking some of the findings and suggestions of the Church in Wales strategic review from the end of last year. Decent words but only words. Too many words. In effect it's a report on a report, no executive summary, no images to work with, not what I'd call a vision statement.

The existing College vision statement from years back is concise, imaginative, relevant. If Jesus had used as many words as the Bishops' report does instead of images and parables, just imagine how long the Gospels would have been. By now you'd think I'd be used to this, but I still live in hope of fresh creative sparks that give insight and direction and permit a free response to a constantly changing situation, yet still move in a strategic direction. I'm disappointed.

I went off to the CBS office for the monthly RadioNet user group meeting, to hear the moans of retail security staff about the lack of response and interest in the crime issues they have to deal with. Police websites trumpet the fact that crime is down in the city centre, ducking from the reality that fewer crimes are reported because it's such a hassle to get a policeman to attend and deal with matters as they arise, and little ever seems to happen as a result.

I got back to College in time for lunch, and then  there was the College meeting mid afternoon, attended by staff and students. Several people spoke appreciatively about life in College, how good everyone had been about welcoming prospective students and the contentious service was clearly not a bad experience for some. I expected to end in the hot seat. I didn't expect to be inarticulate and tongue tied when I did. 

What upset me was discovering how little the message of the Port Talbot Passion had been absorbed or influenced watchers, before contention erupted, following an act of worshipping the Crucified One. The connection between message and application, theory and practice seems to get lost in an instant. How little human beings change. Centuries pass, still the same faults and failings that Christ died to redeem. How fragile our hold on what gives us life and sets us free.

Although I was very tired and sad, I was grateful to slide into the normality of the evening's Tai Chi class, and work for a couple of hours at perfecting familiar moves under clear and disciplined guidance in an environment of remarkable mutual trust between people of all ages. It was such a simple refreshment. I even stopped fretting about the fact that it rained all day.
Our teacher Christie recounted working with a group of visually impaired people, one of whom had a guide dog. She worried about how the dog would react, being surrounded by lots of people moving slowly and waving their arms in a way that might suggest command to the creature. The  dog wasn't the least bothered and just basked in the peaceful atmosphere generated by the movement, rolling over on its back with pleasure and then falling asleep.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Community in contradiction

I didn't sleep well and was up early to walk  into College. I wasn't in the mood for Morning Prayer to be turned into an informal prayer meeting half way through, I needed propping up and withdrew into silence alone in the crowd, to let it carry me through. Too many words - just like me yesterday morning.

We had seven prospective students visiting College today. My task was to give a introductory presentation on living and working together in the College community. I had as a starting point a short Powerpoint file from last year, which left unsaid a number of things which were probably said without notes or slides at the outset, so I set to and quickly added some material to to it, reflecting what I should remember to say. I was pleased with the result, and it came easy to present it with enthusiasm.

Today is the deadline for students' self-assessment reports and delivery of their work portfolios, and I had nobody to chase, which is good. There were people to see before slipping home for an Ignatian meditation group at midday followed by lunch. Again I devoured the silence hungrily. I'm not getting as much as I need with all the added pressure of responsibility this time. I'm looking forward to working myself out of a job when Mark Clavier arrives in a month from now.

Before returning for the weekly College Eucharist, I went into the CBS office for a couple of hours. There are always small tasks to be done, decisions to be discussed, and if it's not done in person, it gets done by phone. We've made a lot of progress in the past few months. It's great to have a good secretary with us. She understands what we are about and her methodical thoroughness improves our effectiveness as a team no end.

The Mass setting at the College Eucharist was new to me and very singable. Three of the four hymns I knew almost by heart. It's nice to sing without a book in hand. The last hymn was a Marian hymn, quite orthodox and not nearly as exotic as some of the peculiarities on offer, yet strangely it wasn't a rendering of the Stabat Mater, which is the Passiontide Marian meditation, and I wondered why. Sadly, an inoffensive hymn caused uproar with confrontation and accusations afterwards, revealing how difficult some students find living with differences, let alone understanding, trusting or respecting each other. I found it alarming and distressing, I felt as if the community had lost its senses. Sure, it could be like this in my student days too, times when listening to each other became intolerable. Maybe it's all part of the learning experience.

I had to wait until after supper to rehearse the Palm Sunday service with those who will assist the Archbishop, and reflected on the decline of the church throughout my career, in relation to the perpetual difficulties of Christian life together. Still working at it, still unsuccessful, still making the church less than easy for people to find attractive or credible. I was back in my old weekend nightmare  - appealing to a congregation to get the service under way and being totally ignored.

While people were still at dinner, I wrote this on the College noticeboard, thinking will anyone notice the writing on the wall?

Those whose dogma makes them deaf and blind to others 
risk losing their faith and making themselves useless to God.

It was the only protest I could conceive of in an environment where people have stopped communicating and can only emote. And I know it applies to me too, knowing how close I come to losing my faith. I expect it will offend everyone, but maybe that will prod us to find a way out of this vicious circle.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Gospel of us

When I was a student in St Mike's forty-five years ago the down-turn in vocations and church membership was already noticeable, and made some of us think about what needed to be done by us, as people called into ministry, to continue the offering of service to God and others in the face of the decline and implosion of the institutional church which backed us. I was all for non-stipendiary ministry, but the path which unfolded didn't me in that direction, until I retired after forty years as a full timer. 

What we thought might happen after ten years is now happening noticeably, and the Church in Wales is going through a major adjustment to its organisation as a result. Those coming into College to train are aware of this, so uncertainty about the future is a key contributor to low morale. But then this has always been a feature of College life in Spring Term, along with epidemics of 'flu and tummy bugs. It helps to realise this and focus resolve on enduring in as disciplined a way as possible. Or go down.

It was my turn to officiate at Morning Prayer and give an address in College chapel  today. I compared the testing experience of training in community with the desert and exile experiences of the People of God, maybe comparable with contemporary idea of pressure and discomfort in an army 'boot camp'. It's preparation for coping with the struggles and disappointments of ministry 'in the wild',  doing without the consolations of success and acclaim - as these cannot be relied upon.

I drafted, re-drafted and edited this several times over the past few weeks, and it was still too long when I delivered it. Did I make myself clear? I wondered. It seemed to speak to a handful of people, apart from that there was no feedback, but then it was intended to remind everyone how much we need to look back in hard times to when we were called to a life of faith and service, and see this period of training as equipment for the unique challenges facing the church today.

I chaired our Tutors meeting after breakfast, and then in the afternoon the College gathered in the Old Library for a showing of Michael Sheen's Passion Play, set in Port Talbot, called 'The Gospel of us'. It was arranged by my tutor group, including drinks and popcorn. I felt very proud of them, and so grateful for Phil's organisation and technical skills. The film, involving thousands of people as well as actors drawn from the locality was shot live on location over the Easter weekend two years ago. It's a powerful piece of theatre, interpreting the meaning of the life and death of a Christ like figure in the context of a community torn apart by a motorway and losing its identity. At the end almost everyone left in complete silence.

There was meant to be discussion about it over supper and afterwards, but I wonder how much there was. I didn't stay as I had to return home and then get out for my Chi Gung class. I was late again, but so grateful for the time I had. That was quite a demanding day.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

BCP Sunday and an unexpected travellers' tale

I had a quiet Saturday mostly to myself, as Rhiannon had a theatre performance to attend with her theatre workshop group in the morning, and a birthday party in the afternoon, at which she was introduced to the indoor rock climbing at the Warwick University Sport centre. All I had to do was make her a packed lunch to take with her.

I had time to write two sermons, take a trip to the shops and watch Wales win the Rugby championship match with a thrilling victory over England while Rhiannon was out. She was quite tired when she returned, but stayed up until her usual bed time and explored further how to use Corel Draw, producing a teddy bear picture on her own before asking me to read to her when she eventually retired. Amazing to see how quickly she mastered the basic techniques and employed them in a credible design of her own.

A retired priest was celebrating the eight o'clock at Kenilworth St Nicholas Parish Church this morning. He greeted the congregation, and then commiserated with them on the English team's humiliating defeat in yesterday evening's game against Wales. I sat in the front row grinning from ear to ear.
It was a Book of Common Prayer 1662 service for a change, and having celebrated this rite myself only recently for the first time in years, it was gratifying to be on the receiving end of it in a middle England mediaeval church blessed with a regular early congregation of forty devout souls.

I overheard someone at lunch in College the other day disparagingly describing the use of the 1662 BCP  liturgy as "A nod in the direction of Protestantism". To my mind, it is classic creation of late renaissance thinking which is equally able to contain the interpretation and devotion of both Catholic and Protestant convictions, despite each having their own misgivings as well as assurances about it. In a middle of the road, middle England parish, it represents a reconciling traditional path. For a while in its history (sadly) its use was enforced, but for the most part it was received and slowly adapted, to become a home base for national prayer together.  Quite an achievement.

Every attempt at subsequent modernisation of liturgy owes something to the BCP. Glad I learned it by heart 25 years ago, but sad that working with so many different liturgical texts with minor and major changes in them ever since, has corrupted my memory for recitation. I stubbornly resist using the book, for cues, preferring to stumble and mumble my way through with interference breaking in from the more modern language versions in my head. I rough handle this cultural treasure but cherish its persistence nevertheless.

Before leaving for home, I breakfasted with Rhiannon, Kath and Anto, and heard about their weekend gigs in Lincolnshire. They were chatted up in a cafe by a pensioner with a long beard in a wheelchair. He'd recognised them as likely to be musicians, and claimed to be a drummer. That ran bells for Chris the band's drummer, who investigated the interloper via his smart phone. It was none other than Robert Wyatt of Soft Machine and Matching Mole fame, who broke his back falling drunk from a balcony in his youth, but continued his life in recorded music and performance with distinction despite this.

I left in a shower of sleet, and by the time I reached Cardiff the weather was much kinder and the sun was peeping through the clouds. I was back in time for lunch, and we managed a walk around the park and a cup of tea in Cafe Castan (aka Caffi Ty Bach, because of its location in the former toilet block on the corner of Llandaff Fields.), before Owain arrived for a catch up session.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Musical lottery luck

A drive to Kenilworth today to look after Rhiannon while her Mum and Dad are away for two nights of gigging in Lincolnshire. As I was about the leave Kath called with the news that the M4 had been blocked by a crash in one of the Brynglas tunnels at Newport. It's happened before when I've been about to drive out of South Wales, and to avoid traffic standstills, I drove northward, first to Ystrad Mynach, then across the eastern Valleys to Pontypool and Usk to join the usual route to the Midlands via Monmouth. It took me an hour and a half to cover the first thirty five miles, putting me under pressure to drive faster than was enjoyable once I got to open road. I arrived with five minutes to spare and met Kath and Anto just as they were loading the car to leave.

Rhiannon was taking part in a singing event in the afternoon, involving a thousand children from schools around Warwickshire, taking place in the Warwick University Arts Centre. I'd offered to accompany her class on the coach taking them there, and was a little surprised to learn that after a classroom lottery held by the teaching staff, I was one of the lucky few to be chosen out of scores of parents who'd wanted to go along to support the teachers, and take part. I hadn't understood how little room there's be for spare adults with so many children involved.

A team of eight including two musicians led the event, teaching children by singing songs a line at a time and having the children repeat, after the manner of call and response singing. Almost everything was accompanied by physical movements, and there was much standing, sitting, waving of arms and wiggling about. Progressively songs and rhythms and movement became more and more complex, climaxing with a train song done as a four part round. It was an invigorating experiences, and sitting in with the kids  was such an invigorating experience. My word, did I get lucky!

After supper, Rhiannon and I sat together with her laptop, and she asked me how to do some things and showed me without realising, when we started exploring the use of Corel Draw, just how much she has learned in school, in a natural and unforced way. She's a child that loves drawing, writing and painting, and making things. She was in the throes of handwriting a letter to her cousin Jasmine in the form of a scroll on a large piece of paper and an Easter chick with an opening beak from a folded piece of cartirdge paper. I couldn't help noticing how skilful she was using the laptop trackpad mouse. It was such a delight to have this rather special time to ourselves. 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Formative experience

As Clare needed the car today, and I rose in good time, I walked across frosty Llandaff Fields to College with sun peeping through the clouds and making the world sparkle.  There was even enough time to take a couple of pictures.
Only really hardy dog-walkers are out and about by a quarter past seven on a winter's morning.
An email from an early rising friend far away filled me with good cheer, but sadly, a trimmed down 1984 Eucharist left me crestfallen and wondering how students lacking a proper grasp of traditional liturgical form are going to survive when they are in parishes where people know how to pray using this rite and will be confused and disappointed when they no longer know how to 'follow the book' as they've done for decades. 

Confuse people and it becomes that much harder to move them on and introduce them to experiences that may serve them better. Now this doesn't much sound like the young revolutionary me, who was always keen to experiment and did lots of it down the years. But anything achieved was based on recognition of what people valued and honouring traditional ways of doing things as the foundation on which to prepare for change. I have enough experience in diverse forms of worship not to be confused that much when people tinker with familiar things, but it sure does annoy me, when it serves no good purpose.

So, after a cloudy start, I did a fruitful morning's work, I headed for the bus and went into the CBS office for a couple hours tackling thornier issues in another corner of the world I inhabit. I got back to College in time to hear old friend Peter Cox preach at Evensong. Then I walked home in time for supper before going to Penarth for Tai Chi. 

It's quite a comforting contrast to undertake a discipline that never tires of revisiting different sections of the movements within the form being taught and going over them in detail with a view to perfecting technique whilst training mind and body to adopt a right attitude to the whole in pursuit of well being, harmony and inner peace. We're taught the value of the components and how they could be used to get out of trouble in self defence. Conflict/combat always an improvisatory situation, but what we are shown is the stable foundation on which to rely in all times and conditions, and from which to work creatively. I don't think we're quite so disciplined in making sure that all our students have a common grounding and experience, as part of their spiritual leadership formation.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Papal conclave, day two - habemus papam, already

We had the Methodist office of Morning Prayer today, led by Cath in my tutor group. And we prayed for the Cardinals in Rome, along with the needs of the rest of the world. I took Wendy through the liturgical moves for the Palm Sunday Eucharist at which she serves as Deacon for the Archbishop, then I had a meeting with Rhun, chair of this year's student Executive, sharing their interests and concerns about life in College. Then I spent time talking with Rufus, who's been off sick for a week, and now carefully re-inserting himself into routine life at College again. And it was lunchtime.

I went into the CBS office for a couple of hours after lunch, to draft some letters with Ashley and then send them. I was back at College in good time for the tea time Eucharist. By the time I got home to cook supper, news was breaking of white smoke issuing from the Sistine Chapel chimney. An election so soon? After eating, I drove to St Mary's Vicarage to do some maintenance work on Father Graham's computers, and learned on arrival that an Argentinian Cardinal, member of the Jesuit order had been elected, and would be called Francis in honour of the Saint whom God called to re-build his church, a holy man and missionary who went to Egypt during the crusades to share the Gospel with the muslim Caliph. 

Jorge Mario Bergoglio SJ is a man who, back home, travels to work by bus and lives in a one room apartment, an advocate on behalf of the poor of the world. Wow! What an inspired choice! Apparently he was a runner up in the election which chose Pope Benedict, but evidently that wasn't his moment. Now is, and now his particular witness to Gospel faith is really needed. I've been hugging myself with delight since I saw the news footage on TV and heard the commentary about him.

Thankfully, what needed to be done on Graham's computers posed no problems and didn't take too long. Being Fr Graham Francis a well known Anglican fan of the papacy, I was with him when he started to receive his first jokey text messages about the papal election. I bet they'll keep him busy over the ext few days. I was in Rome when Albano Luciani was elected and named himself Pope John Paul the first, but have no recollection of where I was when John Paul the Second and Benedict XVI were elected, but Francis I, I'll have not reason never to forget.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Papal conclave, day one

After breakfast, a three hour College planning meeting this morning, working mainly on designing a new integrated model for ministry training. It's gratifying to find that people engaged in ministry training from different angles find a common mind about the way forward. It's a positive way to start a lengthy painstaking process to create a learning process that will serve the church in response to changing times.

After lunch I drafted a rota to cover next term's chapel services, then celebrated the Eucharist in Welsh before the weekly tutor group meeting. Three members were away, two of them off sick. There's been a succession of student absences this term due to bugs of different kind doing the rounds, circulating not only in College but also in the wider community. Spring term is, in the recollection of staff past and present the time when both bodily immunity and morale seem to be at their lowest.  I can't believe just how fortunate I've been so far, not catching one of the bugs, as I was often vulnerable in the past. Perhaps it's because I've been eating lots of fresh fruit every day since I returned from Sicily - our consumption of fruit has soared. Both of us seem to have developed an appetite for it. Curious.

I'm amazed at how much interest the news media are taking in the Papal election conclave. This afternoon I set my Twitter feed to receive news tweets with the conclave hashtag. It was fascinating to see what people all over the world were saying about the event being broadcast. Lots of silly and irreverent jokes, some prayers and expressions of good will, occasional political and polemical comments, also a surprising number of appreciations expressed about the prayerful seriousness of the occasion - such a contrast to worldly political elections. The Cardinals' singing the 'Veni Creator' in particular seemed to move people. Some expressions of prayer, on the right occasion, never seem to date or feel irrelevant. They speak to those familiar with them and to those for whom they are strange and new.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Picasa demise

Back in College to start the working week with bi-lingual Morning Prayer as usual, then a learning hour after breakfast on using Moodle, a meeting with the Principal, and a student before lunch and another student after lunch, then another hour's work on getting Moodle to accept user data alongside the Residential Training administrator. In between times I found that the March edition of the diocesan newspaper 'Croeso' had published an article about my Taormina ecumenical experiences and one of my photos. I scanned it and emailed to to the FMM sisters and St George's Church secretary. It's a pity the article wasn't attributed to anyone - an unfortunate little editorial omission.

By mid afternoon I was tired, desperate to stop, despite a good night's undisturbed sleep, but that's how I am after a spell of distance driving these days. I don't recover as well as I used to. Last night, I drove home from Bristol with an acute spasm in my rear ribcage, due to sitting awkwardly. It diminished to an ache by bedtime and didn't stop me from sleeping, but it was there all day, goading me to slack off a bit. 

I'd intended to go into the CBS office in the afternoon, but thought better of it. I went home, missed the Family Eucharist for once, and rested. Owain came around for a belated Mothering visit and supper. It was good to be indoors with that chill wind at freezing point making life miserable outdoors all day, as it has done for the past couple of weeks. Yet, daffodils, snowdrops and crocuses all seem to thrive on it, giving a splash of colour to parks, gardens and hillsides, to compensate for frequently grey skies.

Pottering around in the evening, with time to explore, I opened for myself a Flickr account for uploading photos too. It's highly spoken of by many, but I find that I don't like the user interface as much as that of Picasa, soon to disappear into the less than friendly over-complex Google+ Facebook challenger. I've started to find others complaining in web forums about the demise of the Picasa way of doing things, so it's not just me and my sister June who are resentful about this.

Before logging out for the day, I found an email from Suore Tarcisia thanking me for the article and returning my ecumenical greetings and promises of prayer for the election of a new pope, which starts tomorrow.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Mothering Sunday

Sunday morning in Kenilworth. I rose early and walked briskly against a chill wind to attend the eight o'clock Communion, as I do when I have a weekend off up here. The service was taken by the Suffragan Bishop of Warwick. Vicar Richard Awre has just gone on sabbatical, Kath told me later. The Curate has also just left, so maintaining the pastoral round in a busy parish is going to be challenging for someone to organise. I don't imagine they'll get the Bishop every week.

Everyone apart from Rhiannon were late rising. Rhiannon prepared the breakfast table and put one of her special hand made cards out for Kath, as it's 'Mother's Day' in their world. It was a modest meal, as it was to be followed by an early lunch before our departure - Clare had a meeting to attend in Bristol at tea time, so we had to be disciplined about our timing. We had an excellent celebratory Italian meal at Zizzi's, now a family favourite, although it was my first visit there. In Kenilworth, the restaurant chain has taken over a large pub and modernised it as a stylish dining space, nicely done.

As we took our leave, the chilly wind continued to send scattered flakes of snow, but no enough to cause any travel anxiety. I delivered Clare in good time for her meeting in Stoke Bishop, in the Helios medical centre just opposite Trinity Theological College, where co-incidentally I visited last week to look at their use of Moodle. I was only a ten minute drive from there to Southmead, so I went over a spent a couple of hours with Amanda and James before driving home, arriving just a few minutes after Clare who'd been offered a lift back with a colleague. Tomorrow morning James' laptop will be collected from College to be repaired, assuming the courier has no problems finding the place. Better there than finding one of us at home for the pick up, as we're both pretty busy these days - if anything too busy.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Farewell to a surviving POW of WWII

I spent an hour or so in College yesterday morning working on forward plans, then went into the CBS office in the afternoon and stayed until quite late. Then I had to go back to College to pack up a laptop for a courier to pick up on Monday morning and take ti away for repair - this is James' Sony Vaio, which got dropped, cracking the screen, but as far as I could ascertain by inspection, no other damage. It's taken me months to get around to finding a repair company, and in the end it has meant shipping it out. Having prepared by packing it swaddled in a re-enforced laptop bag, the company told me it had to be sent in a package, and this is what took me back to my College office with spare packaging from Ashley's supply at ten o'clock at night, to make sure it was ready for Monday.

This morning I had the funeral of the man who lived in the Westgate Street flats in my old parish, a veteran survivor of an Indonesian Japanese POW camp, having arrived in Singapore the day before it fell. The funeral was in Pidgeon's chapel and was attended by a Royal British Legion standard bearer, the chairman and secretary of Cardiff & Vale branch, of which I am chaplain. The chairman spoke the Act of Remembrance and the Kohima prayer as part of the service. I was very glad that the branch honoured one of its oldest members in this way. Nobody came to Thornhill Crematorium for the final prayers and committal, so I did these accompanied only by the funeral conductor. They'd have been happy to do it themselves, but I wouldn't consider that, having been engaged for the last rites of an old soldier, I was committed to see it through. No half measures. 

Straight from the crem, I drove to Kenilworth to spend the rest of the weekend with Clare, looking after Rhiannon overnight, and looking foreward to a Sunday off-duty tomorrow.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Valuing our renaissance spiritual roots

I was thankful for a longer night's sleep as I was on duty celebrating the morning's College Eucharist, with the liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer 1662. It's a while since I used it, but it's resonant with rich memories stretching back right into childhood, attending eight o'clock Communion with my mother in Holy Trinity Church Ystrad Mynach. I learned to celebrate it when I was Team Rector of Halesowen, nearly twenty years after my ministry began and used in in Geneva too. I wanted to speak to students present about the abiding value of this ancient and traditional expression of liturgical worship, but there wasn't time for an impromptu homily, so I spent most of the morning after breakfast writing a BCP eulogy to email to them. 

We think of the 1662 Prayer Book as a key English cultural and religious document, but it's more than that, having been translated into so many languages, half a dozen in its first century and half of life alone. Reflected in the BCP is the influence of several European reformers, yet it keeps faith with the worship framework of both Eastern and Latin Roman churches. It's interesting to discover how other British post reformation churches adapted the BCP Communion rite for their own use, and how its influences are traceable in the worship of some European protestant churches as well. So I think of it not only as a key European renaissance text, but also as an ecumenical text. The variability of its use in practice gives it the feel of almost being a work still in progress, despite its nature as piece of our past. Though we don't use it that much nowadays, so much of the variety of forms of worship we have owe their existence to the remarkable innovation which the BCP was in its time.

After lunch I went home, but tiredness caught up with me again so I didn't go into the office as proposed, deterred by the rain and the lethargy it instils in me. Thankfully the rain had all but stopped to enable me to return to College for Evensong, with my former colleague Jenny Wigley preaching. She's invited me to preach at services during Holy Week, as well as cover for her when she takes a post Easter Sunday break. It'll be good to share Holy Week with her again. It must be seven years since we worked together in the old Benefice of Central Cardiff. By the time I'd cooked and eaten supper and driven to Penarth for Tai Chi, the lethargy lifted sufficiently for me to benefit from a good work-out.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Another kind of preparation for study

I woke up an hour earlier than usual with a discussion going on in my head, and couldn't get back to sleep so I got up, prayed and figured out what this was all about. Following a chat with Peter after Matins and breakfast in College, I spent the morning working on a paper to contribute to thinking about preparing incoming students for entry into College, especially in relation to the new Core Skills programme to be taken together by all students whether residential or part timers. This is the vital learning dimension that embraces all kinds of pastoral work, community building and parish ministry placements. It has to sit alongside University studies and relate to life together in a learning community, whether you live in, or come and go. It's complex to organise, essential to get right, and dovetail with academic work. 

I recall from my days in College forty five years ago how often we questioned the relevance of things we were meant to learn. Since then I've found that nothing was wasted, and experience of life and ministry has forged a sense of relevance to all we learned that wasn't there at the time. Many more students nowadays come for training having already established themselves in a career earlier, so they may well make the vital links sooner than I did, though this isn't true of all. 

The wide disparity of life and religious experience of those arriving to study can pose obstacles to personal and community development. It's not a matter of intelligence, it's a matter of some having long deep roots in the life of the church, and others being adult converts with limited background, even if well versed in a discipleship that reflects their sending church community. I'm keen to find ways to prepare people to engage in their training and bond with each other in ways that make the most of what they are given. This could take some of the strain away from entering into the intense life of a seminarian.

I'd finished writing down my ideas by lunchtime, so I went into the CBS office to work on preparing Ashley's new replacement Asus Transformer, acquired yesterday and left on charge overnight. I stayed longer than intended and missed the evening Eucharist at College. I felt incredibly tired and hungry when  got home, but cooked a paella to launch a very quiet soporific sort of evening. Subdued by my mental exertions early in the day, I had no drive to complete the configuration of apps for the Asus. |It'll just have to wait.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Moodle progress

Students are back after reading week, so it's back to an early morning start for me. It's getting lighter and now the blackbird is up and singing before I leave the house. Yesterday was fairly undemanding, but today I had a tutors' team meeting to chair in the morning, and another staff group meeting to attend after lunch. This was to plan the first stages of developing the use of Moodle for managing courses and students' work output. 

It's potentially a large complex entity that will need to be prepared and grown piece by piece. The first step will be to use it to arrange a joint Summer School on Key Pastoral Skills for all students, full time and part time. After the meeting I spent an hour and a half exploring properly this time, doing things like adding a photo of myself and expanding profile details, starting a blog record of what I learn as I explore its functions, to record my trial and error approach to learning how to use something new. I also set up a dummy course containing details about the sermon series I've organised at College Evensongs this term. I didn't know how to when I started, but soon got the hang of entering the information. Quite satisfying really.

With one student in bed poorly and another out on an assignment in her placement Parish, there were just three of us to celebrate with Cath her fortieth birthday, with another trip to Coffee #1 in Pontcanna. We had another lively chat in a rather noisy environment - nice and relaxing but not condusive to serious reflection, but we did end with a birthday prayer. Then I dashed home and went off to my regular Chi Gung session before supper.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sunday listening

I collected 'Becca from College at eight this morning to drive to up Abercanaid where she'd agreed to preach. She was warmly received by the congregation and preached well. It was good to be able to share my enjoyment of this visiting ministry with one of our students.

In the evening I drove to Tongwynlais, where Phil was officiating and preaching at Evensong, his final appearance there. He too preached well to an appreciative congregation. The Parish has evidently enjoyed having him there on placement. 

I wish we could do much more to get students out and about preaching whenever the demands of placement parishes don't tie them down, so that they have even more opportunities to develop their communication skills and confidence sharing the Word publicly.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

End of winter walk above the Wye

Once our individual Saturday tasks and errands were complete, we collected Owain and drove out to the Wye Valley for lunch at the Anchor Inn restaurant opposite Tintern Abbey, followed by an afternoon walk. It's still a family favourite venue, as a result of our children growing up in the area, as we lived in nearby Chepstow. There were plenty of people out and about, many of them walking their dogs. Traffic was light, and the place wasn't swamped with tourists. It doesn't begin to get really busy until Easter.

Although Cardiff was cool and cloudy, the sun was shining through haze when we arrived. A topcoat wasn't needed during the hour's brisk ascent to the Devil's Pulpit view-point overlooking Tintern on the English side, where the Offa's Dyke path runs. The most common sign of spring under the forest canopy of leafless trees is the appearance of  garlic leaves, though it'll be a few weeks longer before white flowers appear and their aroma flavours the air. No wonder witches and vampires were said to be repelled by garlic. In dark woodland places it's one of the early natural signs that wintry death is being overwhelmed by new life.

Before driving home we had tea in the gift shop tea room opposite the Anchor. The setting sun was in our faces as we travelled, less of an annoyance because of the haze and more of an enjoyment, to return after five and still be in broad daylight, not driving by headlamps for the first time in four months. A blessed relief.  For once, no sermon to prepare, as I've invited 'Becca to preach tomorrow at Abercanaid.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Dydd Gwyl Dewi and rites of passage

It's St David's Day, our patron saint. Daffodils are emerging and bursting into bloom all over. They don't seem to mind cold weather. Prince Charles attended the national Mayoral service at St John's, with Council religious advisor Stuart Lisk steering the occasion. St John's, without a Vicar again, was unable to raise a choir for this occasion and so Stuart arranged for his own Parish choristers to come and sing. With or without a Vicar. This is a great initiative, and I hope it won't be the last. St John's is a church that should be used much more by worshipping communities across the city as a place of worship and witness at the heart of the city, a place of place witness where so many people from all over Wales and the world come and go daily.

I wasn't invited, and couldn't have gone anyway as I had a funeral to take in Ely, substituting for Fr Jesse who is still off sick. It's unusual these days for me to have two funerals on successive days, even more unusual to have two in a row at a crematorium entirely new to me. I was taken to St David's Parish Church for the funeral office - again it was a service thoughtfully prepared for and contributed to by family members. A lad of nineteen confidently delivered an affectionate eulogy to his Grandfather. Later I learned he'd been Head Boy of his school. A boy half his age read a poem he wrote, as his own tribute - another grandson. Four grandsons carried the coffin in and out of church. The family's sadness was cradled with affection and pride.

There was a time when families opted to do little apart from choosing hymns and accepting a rather traditional way of performing the funeral office passively, placing a big burden of responsibility on the pastor, whether he was known to the congregation or not, for the success of the occasion. Reform of the funeral liturgy and development of active ways of dealing with bereavement are increasingly making a difference to rites of passage. 

Personalisation of expressions of mourning and marketing of consumer options in the performance of funerals are leading to families wanting to take ownership of the event in what it to my mind a healthy way. More are prepared to do without a cleric altogether, expressing honestly their dissatisfaction with religion or the manner in which religious funerals are presumed to take place. Many neither wish nor expect to have their wishes contradicted, but invite the pastor to express meaning and values they are less than confident about voicing themselves. They'll accept guidance, but don't want to be dictated to. They have ideas about how a life might be celebrated in a social ritual, but need help with raising its level of meaning. The pastor has to be sensitive in seeking to add value to what mourners wish to express in saying farewell to someone. How vital it is to remain a servant of a process in which others are deeply engaged.