Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Looking ahead on the diocesan frontiers

Another struggle against impatience in the face fo traffic congestion to get to St German's for their midweek Eucharist this morning. A class of older Tredegarville school children attended, and I told them about St Hilda of Whitby observed today rather than tomorrow in the Church in Wales calendar. The older group gives me more of an impression of being there on sufferance than the younger kids, and they are not nearly so keen to sing anything. At least the sun shone in to bring a little cheer to the atmosphere. 

We chatted again about Christmas preparations. No sign of Fr Dean's return, it seems, so I continue  stand-in duties with a couple of extra weekday carol services plus Christmas Eucharists to add to the mix. I enjoy offering them continuity of ministry, but hope and pray that I'll work myself out of a job sooner rather than later. Cardiff's 'southern arc' group of parishes needs to embark upon a major exercise in bonding and building together a collaborative ministry with those serving as full time clergy, whether they end up with four or three priests, plus voluntaries helping out locally in the long term. All have an anglo-catholic urban mission history behind them, an advantage in facing community cohesion and development challenges in one of Wales' most economically deprived sectors, but which is also the most religiously and culturally diverse. It's the sort of challenge I'd have relished twenty years ago.

All change may well come in January when Fr Graham retires from St Mary's, having soldiered on five years longer than me in stipendiary ministry. Funnily enough he's going to be living in Splott, and I imagine he'll be more that willing to offer his services there, and I bet he'll enjoy being a voluntary priest just as much as being a full time incumbent once he gets used to the new freedom which retirement brings.

After the service I returned home and collected Clare for the drive to Pontypridd to take part the Ignatian Meditation group in the home of one of the members living outside Cardiff. Finding the house was quite a difficult navigational exercise. The lie of the land on the west side of town, on the way out to Porth is complex, if you're unused to the area. It's fascinating from the point of view of historic infrastructure and townscape, but challenging when the surrounding hillsides are covered with streets of terraced houses whose layout is often obscured by the terrain, its trees and open spaces. It's an urban area that would be rewarding to take time to explore, on a quieter day when it's not raining.

Jill, a local priest in the Ponty group of churches told us how they'd recently completed the process of linking up all the historic neighbourhood parishes of the town into a single new mission area, designated under the diocesan strategic plan, called the Parish of Pontypridd. A new adventure for all of them, learning to appreciate each other's diverse gifts and experiences, learning how to work together with shared aims. Before Pontypridd expanded during the coal mining boom years of the 19th and 20th centuries, its territory would have been part of a few ancient hill top parishes in the surrounding area hardly related to where the new settlements occurred. Coal generated wealth led to a nineteenth century boom in church building and territorial division to produce the pattern of urban parishes prevailing in the twentieth century.

Now an amalgamation of church community resources is occurring, based on the reality of present urban life. Christians are no longer a majority in society, regular worship is more of a leisure option for the few. Yet, the social and pastoral contribution of the church to the common good remains greater than its size or apparent influence suggests. The key question is how the maintenance of such good-will can become a channel of reconciliation that guides the masses alienated from Christian worship and spirituality back to the heart of the church community.

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