Thursday, 30 April 2015

Getting ready for summer

I enjoy not having to plan what I'm going to do every day here. There's always something that comes up, that I need to engage with. This morning I worked on preparing a letter, as if I was in Cardiff at the CBS office. I find that having a quiet workspace is quite constructive, even if I miss out on the social dimension, and the cups of tea.

After lunch, I walked along the Rio Chillar that runs behind our urbanizacion to Playa Torrecillo. For the first time, as the weather is now warming nicely, I abandoned socks with sandals, and very soon regretted having done so. I called in the Super Sol next to the main road bridge out of town, to buy a pair of socks, to reduce the damage being done to my left big toe joint, a long standing vulnerability. It made the continuing journey less of a misery, but a protective plaster will be necessary for a while. Something like this always happens when I get a new pair of sandals. Stupid really. Will I  ever learn?

On the return walk, I paused on the Balcon d'Europa watching a boat making its way up the shore, about a hundred metres out, dropping off occasional yellow marker buoys as it went. I couldn't quite make out what kind of craft it was. It was too large to be an off-shore fishing boat, and I couldn't see any nets flowing out of the stern. Then it dawned on me that the buoys were to establish a no-entry boundary for maritime craft other than leisure boats. Presumably the boat was the guardacostas equivalent of the familiar local Council lorry. It's still early in the holiday season.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Shop Eucharist

A brisk half hour walk down into the centre of town this morning under a bright sunny sky, to get to the church shop in Calle Malaga to celebrate the midweek Eucharist. There were a dozen of us, and it was a nice quiet and relaxed occasion, with several faces familiar from my two previous visits. After a cup of coffee together next door in Rosie's Bar, I walked back to the house, uncertain whether or not the photocopier man had understood that I would be there if he came on Wednesday by eleven thirty. He didn't show up, but never mind. He was due to come from Cartama, which is a good hour's drive from here, so I wasn't surprised.

Walking the length of the main shopping street, I was struck by the large number of triangular white sailcloth canvases over the street, suspended from the building top storeys, 
I imagine this is to give shade in the really hot months of the year, but it's also attractive to behold. It could also be a way to deter the vast population of swifts and swallows I've seen on previous visits diving almost to ground level as they forage for insects in the streets. This could be most un-nerving to visitors. It's not that they attack anyone, but their high speed aerobatics must be very confusing for the unwary shopper. The last time I recall seeing streets shaded in this manner was in the Grand Soukh in Damacus twenty years ago, where the canvases had never been dark in colour to judge by the state of them. I wonder what it's like there now?

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Remembering where the adventure began

This morning the weekly Mercadillo was in full session when I walked out and uphill into the neighbouring urbanizacion of St Juan Capistrano to visit Carol and Lawrence for our 49 year catch up. Their small house is quite high up with a view out and over the sea with a large 18th century watch tower nearby, somewhat incongruously placed in the garden of one of the modern houses. The skies had cleared and we were able to sit out on the terrace to drink coffee and talk, and eventually have lunch. 
It was a lovely experience, as both of them had spent their professional lives in education and are active in the life of their local parish in High Wycombe. Both are committed internationalists, europhiles and liberal multi-culturalists, so we had a great deal in common and much to reflect upon together. Lawrence is a Lay Reader and works on Christian - Muslim dialogue and reconciliation in their local community. He has remarkable stories to tell of good-will and trust building, that give the lie to phobic news mongers whose shrill anxious voices so dominate the contemporary stage. It made me feel proud to have been part of that Swinging Sixties cohort - we have made a difference to the common mind set!

The couple were introduced at University by John, a mutual friend with whom they are still in close touch. Carol insisted in ringing him up and getting me to speak to him out of the blue. He seemed quite bemused initially. John ran a study group for Anglican students, on J A T Robinson's landmark religious paperback book, which was such a strong influence in not simply retaining but developing my faith and vocation at that time - 'Honest to God'. He was the first, indeed the only person to ask me "Have you ever thought of becoming a Vicar?" It all happened from there, in the spring of 1964. Carol and Lawrence return to Britain tomorrow, but will be back again not long before I leave, when surely we will continue where we left off.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Development despite recession

Today was quiet and uneventful, the skies still cloudy with occasional showers. I took a phone call in Spanish from a photocopy engineer who wanted to make a service visit. I understand far better than I can speak, as I don't get enough practice on a daily basis, and my recall is quite slow, but somehow I managed to convince him that neither Tuesday nor Wednesday this week would be convenient for him to visit. 

Before supper I walked down the steep hill to Burriana beach, and discovered there was another way to return, up another more winding steep hill with different views. This brought me out near the new Mercadona, which I recall being just a wasteland site with a ruined building when I was first here four years ago in May during the Romeral de San Isidro.
The photo below was taken from much the same location. I took another photo here, when I was here two years ago, interesting only for the graffiti it contained,. At that time the site was fully enclosed with a couple of tower cranes, and site excavation was well under way.   
Now that the fully open supermarket has claimed that empty space, it presents nicely landscaped gardens flourishing around the edges of the building. It seems quite low-rise, but is actually dug into the hillside with underground and open air parking below. A polished accomplishment, fitting fairly unobtrusively into the modern if traditionally styled housing of the urbanizacion close to it.

There's a small red advertising panel on the pavement, close to the corner of the building. It was there then too, advertising then as it does now the SuperSol on the opposite side of the road two hundred metres away. It's hard to imagine that the town would be under capacity for new supermarkets at times when it's not inundated with visitors, but I guess there must still be money to be made in providing such swish big convenience stores to big spending visitors.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Surprise meeting at church

Saturday was cool and overcast, so there wasn't much incentive to do much outdoors, apart from a walk to the supermarket for fish and chicken. I spent most of the morning working on a sermon, and the evening in front of the telly. Just outside the barrier on the entrance to this urbanizacion, the road has been blocked off since I arrive, for the construction of a new drainage channel. This requires a tricky deviation through a large tarmacked open area occupied by Nerja's big mercadillo on Tuesday and the Flea Market on Sunday. Thus far I hadn't needed to use the car. I wondered if the work would be finished and the road unblocked in time for the arrival of Flea Market vendors. 

Untypically in this part of the world, there is no longer a permanent daily covered town market. The small late 19th century market building has been turned into a cultural centre, and currently displays an exhibition of large abstract canvases decorated with random paint splashes - the kind of thing you might see filling huge white surfaces in a modern corporate headquarters building. I lasted about five minutes when I went in to visit there, before losing interest at the sight of so many of them side by side, with no unifying theme, and no context to define their signficance.

This morning the exit road was clear, except for one barrier across half the road at the far end where one enters the roundabout, straddling my exit lane. This succeeded in disorienting me, as this was my first outing in the car. The area was still empty of activity and vehicle traffic to give me reminders of which way to go, so I negotiated the rounadabout the wrong way around. The only witnesses being two Guardia Civile officers who stood there and watched without responding. I realised my error and exited by the correct lane, feeling a total fool, and drove cautiously to Almuñecar for the nine thirty Eurcharist, wondering all the way if I would remember details of the route, as these were presented to me. I arrived without further mishap, and celebrated for a congregation of fifteen.

The pattern of local pastoral activity has changed. A small group of Hermanas have returned to work in the district. La Capilla de los Pescadores where our services are held is in the ground floor of a four storey community house, which was formerly their residence, and a place where social outreach activities took place. There's now a Mass beginning at eleven, so there's more time pressure now that there was on previous visits, to finish our service and clear up to make way for the congregation that follows us. We were joined by a Spanish man who arrived early, with his arm in a sling and a bump on his head, hoping to beg some money I think. He might have been a gardener or a farmer, as he told me that he'd been injured either by falling out of an olive tree, or by a falling branch of an olive tree. Like many others this would leave him unable to work with little social assistance or insurance. The plight of agricultural day labourers the world over. I got an idea of what he was saying despite his accent, and spoke a little to him in Spanish, and then introduced myself in Spanish to the Hermana who had arrived to prepare for the service.

Finding a parking place in the barrio de San Miguel on return to Nerja was quite difficult, although the town is not exactly bustling with tourists at this time of year. It turned out to be First Communion Sunday in the church, and there was a huge crowd in party mood greeting the young communicants, all smartly dressed, outside the entrance. The atmosphere was very happy, and our little flock of Anglicans were content to wait a little and enjoy the moment, until the crowd eased enough to pass inside and get ready for our Eucharist. We started a quarter of an hour late, with the diminishing buzz of a dispersing crowd in the background. There were thirty of us. 

In the congregation were several people from South East Wles including one from my home town Ystrad Mynach. Also in the congregation, to my great surprise, were Carol and Lawrence. Carol was an undergraduate in Bristol University at the same time as Clare and I were there, and we were all members of the University Church of England Society, run by the Chaplains. If my memory serves me right, this is the first time in forty nine years that we've met. She and her husband spend time in Nerja several times a year, staying within walking distance of Church House. I'm looking forward to a catch-up session on Tuesday.

Straight after the service, the chaplaincy's annual general meeting took place in the church undercroft meeting room, and there were two dozen for that. It was very well run, and a pleasure for me to be no more than an observer. This was followed by a splendid bring and share lunch, which I very much appreciated, as it was gone three by the time I got back to the house, to while away the rest of the day. I felt somewhat tireder than usual after Sunday duties in such a different context, so I relaxed and dozed while it rained and ventured out for exercise a couple of times in between showers. On one stroll I look down from above on a bird of prey, possibly a peregrine falcon, hunting for food out of the caves in the side of the Chillar river valley below the urbanizacion. But I was too slow getting my camera into action to grap a photo - this time.

Friday, 24 April 2015

New sandals and tea towels

It's been a cool and cloudy day, even though the temperature is reported as twenty degrees. My first task, to find a new pair of sandals as the ones I bought in Fuengirola market last October have a sole that's not long or think enough for me and can't be tightened adequately to feel secure in since they'd stretched with use. I had no difficulty finding exactly the pair I should have bought first time around. They'll be good for some tough walking in the months ahead.

I walked around town and visited the church shop to see if I could pick up some tea towels, as there were none to be found in house linen stocks. None in the church shop either, but the volunteer in charge told me where I could find a shop nearby, and I bought a couple of cheery coloured ones for a euro each. I also needed to buy some plastic food storage boxes, as the kitchen cupboards lack these too. I found just what I wanted in the Iranzo supermarket. 

It's an unusual shop specialising in selling scores of different Spanish wines from all regions and spirit, but also sells fruit, veg, meat and cheese, plus an extraordinary variety of international speciality foods, herbs, spices and sauces. Is is a booze shop with a rich delicatessen counter, or a delicatessen with an especially large booze section? One way or another, there's no better place to find the herbs and spices other supermarkets don't stock.

Before supper, I went for a walk from the house along the terrace overlooking the Chillar river valley. At the far end, there's a large old people's home run by a Catholic order, Las Hermanas del Buen Samaritano. I saw a people standing in an open door on to a terrace, and heard sounds of music and applause coming from within, a concert for the residents. Spring flowers here are amazingly colourful and prolific, in addition to flowers that bloom for most of the year. It's just another dimension of rich diversity in this environment.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Stop surprise

I woke up early and had an unhurried breakfast, then headed for the bus station to get the Airport Shuttle bus, I was bewildered that I couldn't find out which platform the bus used. There was no obvious signage. I asked a group of bus drivers and was told that the bus no longer called at the bus station, but now picked up passengers at a stop on the south side of the train station in Penarth Road. 

I walked there immediately, but had to ask again, as there was no indication on the bus shelter on the station side of the road if this was the correct stop. I was directed to cross the road to the bus shelter opposite. This is the one we use to get the Bay Car bus on our way to the Millennium Centre. As I crossed the road, the Shuttle I was intending to catch arrived. Not only had the stop changed, but also the direction taken by the bus in making its way around the city centre. I have no idea of when this change was made, but the absence of obvious publicity is tantamount to sabotage of this excellent bus service, and shows contempt towards visitors and business travellers relying on it.

By ten, I'd checking in my case and passed through security, with two hours to relax before boarding. The flight was on time, but the doors stuck wide open on the transfer to terminal bus, so we had to wait five minutes for a replacement. Just as I reached the baggage reclaim conveyor, my case appeared so no time was lost. I'd forgotten that Judith would be waiting for me in the departure drop-off zone and I took a long way around to reach her, but we were soon on our way. By five we reached Nerja and I was at Church House unpacking and logging on. The house hasn't been lived in for a couple of months. There was a little food in the fridge and freezer, but no fresh fruit and veg, so the first thing I had to do was visit the nearest supermarket and stock up. Feeling the need for exercise I walked the kilometre there and back, an uphill and down dale route. I certainly got what I needed on the return leg with two heavy bags. It's good to be back in a familiar house and environment, with plenty of interest to look forward to in the coming months.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Disclosure received - vote cast

I had a funeral Monday lunchtime out at the Vale Crematorium. Apart from that, it was time to gather all that I need to take with me to Spain, and start packing. Clare can't get over the fact that I've started far earlier than she can ever remember me starting to pack before. I should be well practised by now with all my comings and goings on locum duty this past few years. Truth is I still get nervous. Life is much easier when I don't forget to pack all I need. I've also been working on preparing sauces and chopping veggies for individual freezer packs, to make it easier for Clare to make the meals she wants while she still has limited use of her right arm.

I took a trip into town on Tuesday morning to get some new cotton pyjamas, and bumped into a loss prevention worker who contributes information to the RadioNet DISC system. She said she had some material for me in the office, but didn't start work for an hour, so I arranged to meet her when her shift started, after I'd completed my errands and bought myself a snack lunch. Rather than take the material home with me to work on, I slipped into the office to process and upload the material and update other data that was ready to add. It took longer than I expected, so it was gone four when I left for home, and an evening of food preparation and packing.

Much to my delight, the morning mail today delivered my CRB Enhanced Disclosure certificate for the diocese of Llandaff, and my Postal Vote documents, bang on time. Two things I now won't have to deal with by remote control from Nerja, as the former could be posted straight to the Archbishop's Registrar and the latter to the Returning Officer straight away. 

I had a message to say that I wasn't needed to celebrate the Eucharist at St David's Ely this morning as Father Jesse has returned from sick leave, good news indeed. So, after a visit to the GP Surgery to get a medication prescription for the duration of my stay in Spain, I attended the Eucharist at St Catherine's and had a chat with Fr Mark afterwards. After lunch, there was another funeral, this time at Thornhill Crematorium, with more mourners in attendance than I had been led to believe was likely, given the unfortunate and sad history of the deceased. Then, back home to complete packing by adding my alb and stole to the suitcase, just about ready to go.

Early evening I had an appointment for a special haircut with our friend Chris, who is currently doing a specialist hairdressing course alongside his apprentice, Michael. I was to be his model to experiment on, with a hair and beard trim. Chris is the only person in my life I have trusted with trimming my beard, and I was well pleased with the outcome, at the end of a long and relaxed session at the training salon in Coleg Glan Hafren. I was long overdue for a haircut, and it was great to have one of South Wales' top hairdressers working on me, the last step in getting ready to return to Spain.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Auto-electrical serendipidy

Sunday duties this morning took me St Saviour's Splott for a nine thirty start. It's eighteen months since I last took a service here. A nave altar is now in regular use there, bringing the Eucharist close to the congregation. As the service started, the radio mike detached from my belt, fell to the floor and spilled its batteries at the very point where I was meant to be censing the altar. I had to abandon it and talk louder, probably excluding users of the hearing loop in the process, as I couldn't get the batteries to stay in their compartment. I have never loved radio mikes. Unnatural noisy horrid things. At least the church acoustics made good use of natural voice projection.

From St Saviour's, I went to St Germans to celebrate Mass there. It's a much bigger church in which a radio mike is a necessary evil when you're not at the lectern or in the pulpit. Fortunately it worked well, although it was over-loud for my taste, making vocal restraint necessary, rather than facilitating natural projection. Even so, it was good to be back in familiar churches, among friends.

I met Clare in the Riverside Market after Mass. As we were leaving, I realised that the car indicators weren't working and drove straight to Kiwk-Fit in Canton, to see what could be done about it. Getting the car off the road in safe place was my priority in an area dominated by double yellow lines. I was able to park in the work-shop car park. I suspected that it might simply be a blown circuit fuse, as this happened a year ago. 

At the time I learned that our 21 year old Golf has a non 'standard' fuse box, and it took a day to source the appropriate fuse. The mechanic who dealt with me acquired a couple of fuses then, and I remembered that the spare one has been in tucked in my wallet ever since. I'd hoped that the mechanic in charge would be able to find out easier than I where the blown fuse was located, but it was less difficult to locate and replace than I'd initially imagined. In a few minutes we were on our way rejoicing, but not before raising a laugh with the duty mechanic to whom I told the story. Without doing a thing, Kwik-Fit was responsible for fixing my car a second time around.

After lunch, relieved that fixing the car was less of a problem than I'd anticipated, I drove over to Bristol to see Amanda and James, a belated Easter visit.

Saturday, 18 April 2015


I drove Clare over to the University Opthalmology centre in Cathays yesterday morning for a routine eye test. After dropping her off, I did some shopping in the neighbouring Lidl store, then went over to Newport Road in Roath to do a bereavement visit in preparation for a funeral Monday next. I had difficulty finding the address, as there was street signage on one side of Newport road, but not on the other - the street I was looking for crossed the main road - thankfully I had my Blackberry phone with me to help establish exactly where I was.

This afternoon we went to Penarth and walked along the coast path for a mile. It's Clare's longest since the operation. Progress has been slow but encouraging. With less than a week to go to departure for Nerja, I started preparing for the trip by collecting all the necessary travel documents and putting them in the rucksack where I expect to find them when I'm ready to go.

Part of my preparation to leave is preparing food to go in the freezer for Clare to use as she needs to, in the period while she is recovering full use of her right arm. It's amazing how she's adapted to using her left since she's been strapped up. It's been a pleasure to cook a series of meals with enough to eat plus an extra portion to freeze. Portion control is always a challenge when cooking if you're down-sizing after a family visit, or trying to moderate food intake and lose weight. The next challenge will be when I get to Nerja, reverting to cooking sensibly for one, or else as has previously been my habit, to cook for two days at a time, and eat the same thing twice in a row.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Visit from Romania

I took Clare over to Llanrumney this morning to have her hair done, and while I was waiting for her, visited Curry's PC World on Newport Road to check out the latest kit and special offers. Nothing of interest, but it's a way of killing time. After I'd taken her home I went into town to the National Museum to meet with Dr Laura Ciobanu from Bucharest. This must be the third time we've met during one of her short stay visits to Cardiff. We talk about our respective work and families. Her English is excellent, and she enjoys meeting and chatting with a variety of English speakers to extend her ability.

As she said in an email that she hoped to attend a festa at St Nicholas' Greek Orthodox Church tomorrow, I gave her a copy of a bi-lingual English and Greek translation of the Liturgy of St John Crysostom, which I've had for the past fifty years. Another interesting register of English language usage, reflected in that old and formal translation, I thought it would be of interest to her. She brought me a small florally decorated ceramic cross from home, and a huge Romanian Easter cake, as she did last time. It was so big that half went into the freezer for future consumption. There's enough for us to enjoy meanwhile, up to the time I leave. I tastes great with white wine, I discovered, when I was making a risotto for supper.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Language drilling

We've been blessed by several warmer and sunnier days this week, and not a lot to do apart from housekeeping, and taking Clare to appointments. No pastoral assignments until this morning, when I celebrated the mid-week Eucharist at St David's Ely. Fr Jesse popped in to say hello, as he lives quite close to the church. He is on his way to recovery from his shingles attack, and looking forward to resuming light duties soon.

Lunchtime Clare and I attended the Ignatian meditation group at Diana's. I led the session, as it's the last time I'll be able to attend until the autumn. Then there was a bereavement visit to make in Radyr, and the funeral service to prepare for the day before I leave for Spain. I have another visit to arrange now for a funeral on Monday next, and a sermon to prepare for Sunday cover in Splott and Adamsdown. So, I've been glad of having few appointments of my own, to be able to work on these matters in a leisurely way.

I had an email from a Norwegian bride to be, whose wedding blessing I shall be doing in Nerja on Kath and Anto's 23rd wedding anniversary date. Their service will be bi-lingual, English and Norwegian hymns readings and prayers. I look forward to the challenge of learning how to pronounce a new language in order to make my role fully bi-lingual. 

Meanwhile, I continue to do 15-20 minutes of Spanish practice most days using the excellent if sometimes quirky and irritating 'Duo Lingo' Android app, on the Asus Transformer, much more on tablet than on phone, as touchscreen keyboard typos produce more unintended errors than programming tolerates, so it forces repeats of learning modules. Curiously, it accepts minor typos in Spanish, but is intolerant of typos in English. It's offers progressive language drill practice, but often leaves one guessing about words and phrases out of context or just bizarre in their intention to a UK English speaker, leaving me asking, when on earth would I ever say something like that? Well, it keeps me working at it, and looking forward to being soaked again in an environment where I can listen, speak and learn what works in practise.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Low Sunday

After a late night, I had an early start, up at seven to get to Radyr to celebrate an eight o'clock Eucharist at Christchurch and then another at St John's Danescourt. Clare also got up and went to St Catherines. I got back home just as they were all having breakfast, after enjoying a lie in. 

Rhiannon then borrowed one of my cameras and set about recording a series of video clips for her to take home and turn into a little news programme, just for fun. She's getting the hang of camera use and programme making, and so young! Clare's iPad was playing up. Kath couldn't sort the problem and handed it over to Rhiannon who diagnosed and sorted it in a matter of minutes - another testimony to the technical confidence that seems so natural to children of this generation.    

Owain left for Bristol before lunch and the Kenilworth crew left mid-afternoon, leaving Clare and I both tired and happy after a lovely festive weekend.  

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Three score years and ten

Apart from a couple of local shopping trips to pick up forgotten elements of my birthday meal menu, I was able to spend much of the day cooking at a leisurely pace. Earlier in the day I received an email from her with a little video she'd shot and edited, featuring Grandpa and Grandma (disguised as teddy bears). So imaginative. Clare went out to collect a chocolate cheese cake with orange coulis ordered from The Cook Shop in King's road. Kenilworth contingent arrived mid-afternoon, bearing a birthday cake Rhiannon baked and decorated with a figure of her guitar playing grandpa all on her own. A very impressive effort for an eleven year old. 
I cooked two dishes for tapa portion starters - green lentils and chorizo, then a risotto with mushrooms samphire and smoked trout. I was very pleased with the outcome. Then, I baked the salmon in foil at a low temperature, with black grapes and strawberries stuffed inside - no condiments, to let the flavour of the salmon with the fruit speak for itself. The sauce I made to go with it was made of red pepper, strawberries, onions and garlic. Owain arrived at six and the last phase of cooking got started, and was on the table by seven. Right on time. We took our time, enjoying the various wines brought or provided and sharing a guitar duet with Anto. It was just the sort of celebration I'd hoped for - homey, relaxed.

Seventy already. It's hard to believe, expect when I'm tired and under the weather. I'm so fortunate to enjoy good health, a happy family, and opportunities to do things I love most in life. So blessed. People wonder why I'm still keen to continue in voluntary ministry, disinclined to wind down and take more extended leisure. It's great to be able to give back, having received so much in my three score years and ten.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Preparing to celebrate

Yesterday, Clare had her first post-operative appointment with her physiotherapist, who said that the thought she's made good progress. The exercise regime is very gentle, gradual, with no nasty surprises, but it does take time, months in fact. After the session she walked into town and visited the shops for the first time since surgery. We ended up having a snack lunch in John Lewis' before heading for home and a second lunch of soup. Later in the afternoon I made a second trip into town to visit a specialist wine merchants on St Mary Street, with a specific purpose in mind.

Today, I went down to Ashton's the fishmongers in the covered market, and bought a salmon, and some samphire and smoked trout, plus veggies from another stall, all in preparation for the birthday meal that I intend to cook for the family on Saturday, when I turn seventy. The wines, bought yesterday, are to go with the meal. 

I just didn't fancy going out to one of our many excellent local restaurants and being waited on, whilst trying to make conversation against background noise, if not background music. My hearing is far from poor, but modern restaurants are too often echoing places, stripped of soft furnishings that absorb noise, making it an effort to socialise and eat. Besides, I thought it would be fun to treat everyone to a meal with good wines in a space where all could relax and enjoy being together without constraint - i.e. home!

Late this afternoon, I had my second funeral of the week, starting with prayers in the house in a dwelling opposite Thompson's Park, which was where a late retired ranking officer had established a home doubling as a guest house in later years. Unusually, a family member brought along a keyboard to the service at Thornhill Crematorium, to accompany the hymns and other musical contributions during the service. It's the first time I've been asked to say prayers in the house beforehand since I was a curate over forty years ago. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Plugging the gaps

After a couple of quiet, uneventful, relaxed Easter Octave days, a visit to St German's to celebrate the Eucharist for a congregation of a dozen, as Fr Dean is on sick leave. It's hard to believe that it's over three years since I was here last, taking services during the interregnum, after Fr Roy Doxsey retired. How good to worship again with old friends in a familiar place!

After lunch, I officiated at a funeral in Pidgeon's chapel, followed by yet another burial, this time in Thornhill's new Cemetery section. Some mourners got lost and attached themselves to another burial service in the north section, before realising their error. The weather was fine, so we waited for them to catch up before starting the committal. We were burying a man who, in retirement, began to make bird houses for his grand-children, and ended up making them for local primary schools, as well as for friends and neighbours. Good enough reason for a decent turnout for his funeral.

Admittedly it's Easter week and many parish clergy are on leave, which places funeral arrangers in a difficult position, when they need to plan, nowadays ten days to two weeks ahead to meet family needs. As a result I've been asked if I can officiate at another three funerals before I leave for Spain in two weeks time.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

An Easter to rejoice in

Yesterday evening I walked across Llandaff Fields and joined the congregation at the Cathedral for the Easter Vigil, presided over by Archbishop Barry. The fire was kindled and the Paschal candle lit just outside the west door, as daylight faded, and the first part of the liturgy of the Word, as darkness descended was done by candle light, just as it should be whenever possible. 

The service included confirmation of one teenager and thirteen adults, mostly people of mature years. One of the younger adults was also baptized. I was seated near the font, and was much moved by the gentle inward smile of the candidate as she lifted her head after the water of baptism had been poured over her. It's a look I've seen before when I've baptized adults - there's nothing it can be compared with. It's great to see a group of grown-ups making a commitment of faith, in a ritual that has unintentionally become associated with being an adolescent church graduation and leaving ritual. 

For the most part, the baby boomer generation and those who followed after disengaged from the mainstream church struggling to re-engage pastorally and spiritual as secularism began to overwhelm every aspect of contemporary life. Even a modest return to faith by the older generation will prove influential in the longer term, as dialogue across the age gap is made less awkward by the advent of social media and other boundary changing means to exchange ideas. Much necessary time has been spend engaging with disaffected youth. Equally vital for the future is re- engaging with disaffected older people that have much to offer to the life of the church from their experience.

I appreciated the recent modest changes made to the Vigil and Initiation rites. It's a lengthy service at the best of times, and more complex than a normal Eucharist to execute. The quiet self effacing discipline of the team of servers and officiating ministers made something elaborate feel simple, unfussy, relaxed. It's a great model of teamwork - what you get when everyone believes in and loves what they are doing. A good example for the wider church. I was so glad that I made the effort to go at the end of a busy day.

This morning was bright and sunny, just a little warmer than earlier in the week, blossom in the trees just that bit more advanced than last Sunday, fitting for an Easter Day. I was on duty again with Eucharists at St Michael's Tongwynlais and St James' Taff's Well. There were about seventy at the former and thirty at the latter, and good cheer abounded, a fitting conclusion to my recent spell of locum assignments with the parish. I'll be in Spain when their new priest arrives.

Owain was gigging in Cardiff last night and stopped over for the weekend. He cooked lunch for us, swordfish steaks, spinach, roasted artichokes, spuds and beetroot, with raspberries and cream or yoghourt to follow, washed down with a decent Rioja Joven. We finished in time for me to walk again across the fields to the Cathedral for Solemn Evensong with Handel's Hallelujah Chorus and a Te Deum to conclude. A most enjoyable conclusion to the Easter Triduum.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Holy Saturday

The day of waiting, and thinking about the shock of sudden bereavement, such a common feature of life in this troubled age. Thinking of the families of plane crash victims. Thinking of massacres by the forces of Al Shebab, Boko Harram, Al Queda, ISIS or whoever else is convinced that redemption is possible by means of violence. The whole world knows there is a better way, based on justice peace harmony, co-operation and sound reason, though not without debate, argument, even dispute to get to the necessary truth that gives fullness of life to all who receive it. But for whatever reason there are still those who refuse to accept this, and strive to force themselves and their ways on others. 

Will this ever change? Let's hope so, and keep striving in hope, patiently, sometimes in dark days for humankind, to see an end to all violent ways that lead to untimely death and destruction, and so often for innocent victims. After the crucifixion of Jesus, Christians dare say "God knows, God is dealing with this in God's unique way" The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ proclaims that 'death is swallowed up in victory' - victory of goodness and truth over evil and falsehood, of new life over mortality, of the eternal Spirit over the transient illusions of this material world. The consolation of these thoughts today, prepares us for the celebration of tomorrow, starting as it does when this day passes into the darkness of night.

No sabbath comfort or idleness for us however, not even a late breakfast. Two necessary food shopping expeditions, and kitchen cleaning were necessary, but to start with, writing the last post of the Lenten Blog which has been my self-imposed discipline over the past forty six days, Sundays included, to keep me awake mentally, and alive to the mysteries of God's grace at work in our world. 

It's been an unusual experience, relying each day on noticing something different, connecting to a symbol, image or word from which to draw insight and learn something new, never knowing in advance what may present itself for consideration.  I've delved into scripture using search engines in a way I never would normally, often just to take a slender thread of memory detached from context, and weave it back into place as part of a biblical theme explored. This has been most enjoyable on times, although knowing what to omit and what to include has always been a challenge.

Very early on, with some difficult days to get through, days of uncertainty and frustration, I came to the task quite late in the day, bordering on regret and resentment at having started something I was unsure I could finish. By the end of searching the scriptures, writing and reflecting, I found that I felt cheered, not so much by the achievement, but by the pleasure of re-connecting with the Word in the simplest of ways. It reminded me of what St Ignatius had to say about the good cheer he found in his reading of hagiographies and the Gospels, after having been bored out of his mind and made even more depressed by his regular literary diet of sex and violence. Ignatius spoke of this good cheer as symptomatic the work of the Spirit that draws us into relationship with God. Knowing the difference this makes is key to the discernment which his form of spirituality seeks to cultivate. I think I can say much better now from personal experience, that I know what he meant.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Good Friday

I went to the Cathedral a little later than I should have done. Trust me to get it wrong twice in 24 hours! Dean Gerwyn was leading the Way of the Cross for a family congregation of about fifty adults and three dozen children. Some of them were dressed for a re-enactment of the Passion, but I missed their early dramatic presentation. It was just good to be there, sitting quietly in the morning sunlight, hearing Gerwyn engage with the children, drawing out of them what they knew about the story of this day. The Cathedral is an environment that lends itself as well to informal and interactive services as for grand solemn ritual, even if not every kind of worshipper appreciates this enormous asset to Christian witness.

Clare went off to a midday service at St John's Canton, and I cooked lunch for her to return to - my version of our usual Good Friday chick pea soup. I arrived at St Michael's Tongwynlais a good half hour before anyone else and sat on a churchyard bench in the sun, enjoying the waiting. There were twenty for the Liturgy of the Passion. 

A small cross previously used for the veneration had been lost behind a wardrobe on top of which it had been kept. In a previous year an 'Old Rugged Cross' had been fashioned from the trunks of old Christmas trees, but this had ended up being parked outdoors in a corner of the garden where it eventually fell apart and became unusable. So, with a few minutes to spare, a successful attempt was made to recover the previous cross from behind a wardrobe, and all proceeded as intended, more or less. 

There's always a need to adapt such an occasional liturgy to the circumstances at the time. I wasn't exactly sure when we started where I would be inviting the congregation to venerate the cross, but it worked out fine, just parking it on the corner of the Easter Garden already installed, just in front of the pulpit.

On the way home I called at Tesco's and bought a couple of packs of Hot Cross Buns, aware that this was something Clare would not be baking one handed this year, even if there are things she's already succeeded in doing with her right arm in a sling. Needless say, Clare had bought a pack of buns on her way home from church. Thank goodness Owain is coming for the weekend!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Maundy Thursday

I didn't go to the Chrism Eucharist in the Cathedral this morning, as I reckoned I wouldn't have enough time to return afterwards, prepare lunch for Clare and be ready to get picked up to take an early afternoon funeral. 

Just by chance I came across a tweet from the Vatican News Service with a link to the text of homily of Pope Francis at the Chrism Mass in Rome. I found this a most inspiring read, made a digital copy and sent it to several colleagues He is reflecting about the tiredness so many clergy experience from giving out in so many different ways, an experience he is unafraid to admit that he shares. 

Yet, he sees this as something not to be resisted but accepted as an opportunity for God's graciousness to work its renewing power. What he says is applicable to anyone in a caring profession working with people. He is sometimes poetic and his text is rich with scriptural allusions and quotations. Missionary spirituality of the highest order.

The funeral was in Pidgeon's chapel followed by Western Cemetery burial, my fourth visit here in a row here over the past three weeks. The chapel was packed with mourners, as the deceased, Bob Virgin, was well known as a cartoonist. His work had been published in the local community newspaper Ely Grapevine for the past thirty eight years. The editor added his own tribute to the one from the family which I delivered, ending up by saying thanks for 'the many colours that flowed from your pen'.

After an early supper, I drove out to Taffs Well to celebrate the Eucharist of the Lord's Supper. I left in good time, to allow me time to sit quietly and say Evening Prayer beforehand, and arrived dead on seven, only to see Graham the Lay Reader standing at the door looking anxious... I'd put the same time in my diary as for the other three Holy Week services so far, seven thirty, not realising that tonight was at seven. We were only five minutes late starting, and the dozen folk present were very understanding.

It was a simple said service with address, and we processed silently into the hall with the sacrament reserved at the end, to a makeshift altar, where we spent 15-20 minutes keeping watch. Nobody wanted to stay longer, worshippers just wanted to get home as darkness fell.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Holy Week - the first half

There was an hilarious April Fool prank on the Diocese in Europe Website this morning. An item about a new EC directive on standardisation of candle sizes to comply with Health and Safety requirements in European churches. It's worth a look. You'll find it here

This week my locum ministry duties lie in the familiar territory of Tongwynlais and Taff's Well. Fortunately, a new priest has already been appointed, Zoe King, moving from the far west of the diocese, but she won't arrive until June. Under the new strategic ministry plan for the diocese this parish is grouped with Radyr, Pentyrch and Groesfaen. It's a suburban district of Cardiff adjacent to the M4 corridor that will see a lot more fresh housing development in the next decade, but which is unlikely to get more than the present number of three clergy when it would be best served by double that number.

Already the existing clergy are starting plan and work together with the future in mind. For the first three days of Holy Week the have invited the congregations of the three Parishes to come together for an evening service in a place of worship belonging to each one in turn. As locum priest, they invited me to join them, taking a turn in preaching, leading worship and sitting in the congregation on the receiving end.

As none of these services were planned as Eucharists, I took myself to Llandaff Cathedral three mornings running for the 9.30am Eucharist, each celebrated by a retired colleague. The numbers attending varied between a dozen and twenty, also mostly retired people. Each of the three evenings there's another Eucharist with address, and I would imagine, no shortage of people to attend. Cathedral attendances are rising here, as in other parts of Britain.

On Monday evening, it rained and there was a very blustery wind for Evening Prayer at St John's Danescourt, yet there were twenty people present. The sound of the wind roaring intermittently through the trees in the churchyard outside sounded like that of waves breaking on the sea shore.

On Tuesday the weather was bright and sunny all day. I drove out to St David's Groesfaen for Compline and Address, graced by the setting sun streaming in through plain glass nave windows in this delightful country church. This time there were three dozen people present.

Tonight we were in St Michael's Tongwynlais for Evening Prayer at the same hour. Quite apart from the return of clouds and light rain, the position of the village at the entrance to the Taff Gorge means that dusk arrived earlier than it did at Groesfaen. Even so, twenty eight people were present. All three occasions, I'd say, were occasions of enouragement, both for the Jenny and Mike, the clergy and to their congregations. Both of them preached very well indeed, and I much enjoyed being on the receiving end.

This morning, Clare had the stitches removed from her wounds, all very healthy and neat. Six days since the operation, and I see progress in her every day. On the way back from the surgery we called into the Apothecary's shop on Llandaff Road, to seek out a herbal remedy to help her dispel side effects of anaesthesia. We returned home with several bags of herbs, seeds and berries for boiling up into a strange tasting concoction to drink. These things have a way of being quite efficaceous, so long as you have the right mixture. No harm in trying it out I guess.