Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Run up to Lent

An early start, celebrating the eight o'clock Eucharist of Transfiguration Sunday at St Catherine's, and then on to St German's for the eleven o'clock Mass. After lunch we drove up to Kenilworth, taking Rhiannon home ready to start school after her half term break. Clare will stay for the week to look after her while Mum and Dad complete their final Wriggledance tour dates with 'The Colour of Me' show. It's been a huge success, playing to full houses of parent and their pre-school children all over England.

We had an interesting conversation with Kath and Ant about the variety of responses they received from audiences in different regions of the country. In some places they experienced more responsiveness and greater interaction between children and dances, in others, children were more passive and inhibited about joining in, a variation which suggests that kindergarten educational culture, also possibly child development are far from uniform across the regions. It's a challenge to them as performers. Even so the appreciation of their show was warm and enthusiastic wherever they went, and this despite some of the technical problems they had with equipment on some occasions.

After Rhiannon left for school Monday morning, Clare and I drove over to Selly Park in Birmingham to see our old friend and neighbour from when we lived there, when I was St Francis Hall Student Chaplain at the University of Birmingham, from 1972-75. Over forty years later and St Francis Hall is still open for business as a multi-faith centre with four campus chaplains, an Anglican, a Methodist, and two Roman Catholic, plus a dozen part timers representing the world's faiths and other Christian denominations. In my day, there were six in the chaplaincy ministry team, and less than half the number of students there are now. It's amazing that it continues to thrive, as its web presence indicates. 

Because our two daughters grew up with Angela and Tom's youngest daughters as near neighbours, we kept in touch over the 42 years since we moved on. Angela now 88, came to our Golden Wedding anniversary with daughter Lydia, and it was a great opportunity to go and visit her, as it's only a three quarters of an hour drive from Kenilworth. The houses in Bournbrook Road have long back gardens, and beyond them, a secluded wooded area with a pond. It was wonderful to see that it remains much as we remembered it, having escaped urban development altogether. I believe the land may be owned by the Cadbury Estate and designated as a conservation area. Angela cooked lunch for us, pasta with a tomato and asparagus sauce - which has given me a new idea to try out when I next have opportunity. Her mind is still active and lively. She reads a lot, including the Tablet and the Catholic Herald, and is keen to discuss current affairs and social issues. Being with her was an inspiration, and made me wonder what I'll be like, if I live that long.

It was dark by the time we got back to Kenilworth, and Kath had supper ready for us. We were in bed earlier than usual for Clare and I, simply because Kath, Anto and Rhiannon must be early risers during school terms. After breakfast, I drove back home, to have the afternoon free to prepare for the evening Mass at St German's in honour of Dewi Sant, kept a day early in the Church in Wales because of its rare co-incidence with Ash Wednesday tomorrow.

There were fourteen of us for the Sung Mass, and we sat in choir, making the most of the wonderful acoustic of the church for some unaccompanied singing. Afterwards there was a Shrove Tuesday party in the church hall. I went into the kitchen to see if I could give a hand waiting on people, but at that moment several people were making drinks, and the stove was on with a couple of frying pans heating up with melted butter in them un-tended at that moment. I stepped in and managed the pans to stop the butter from burning. Then a large jug of batter appeared, so I poured some into both pans and started cooking pancakes. More by luck than judgement, the first two turned out OK, so I carried on cooking. Nobody came in to take over, so I just kept going, soon graduating to a third plan, cooking three at a time until there was no more batter left, and I'd done over forty, much to my own surprise. Sure I have cooked pancakes before, but never so many in one go!

An unusual conclusion to my Mardi Gras.

Friday, 24 February 2017

The balancing of time and energy

Kath left soon after breakfast, with a weekend of performances ahead of her. Rhiannon had a long lie-in, so I got on with preparing a Sunday sermon, and a funeral service for next Thursday, before having lunch and being driven to Thornhill for this afternoon's funeral. Despite the high winds of yesterday, the grounds looked immaculate. No fallen branches or other detritus. This service was unusual in that the next of kin booked a double time slot in the big chapel. There were a couple of extra pieces of music, but also quite a lengthy eulogy delivered by the son of the deceased, telling his father's life story, plus a poem written by a grandson, and a video slide show of photos from the last seventy years, so we were in chapel for longer than the usual assigned half hour. Much thought went into the family's preparation, and this made it easier for me to officiate.

I returned to an early evening meal, as Clare and Rhiannon had tickets booked for a performance of 'Pride and Prejudice' at the Wales Millennium Centre. I decided not to accompany them, when Clare booked last week, as I've come to appreciate having 'down time' after funerals, which require a lot of energy and attention to perform well and make it meaningful, as every event is different. Celebrating the Eucharist with an assortment of church congregations I know quite well now is quite different, as each setting and each group is more familiar, and I can receive as much energy as I put into a service, simply because the congregations are 'friends not strangers' (John 15:15). 

Congregations for a funeral or other occasional office are generally strangers to me, if not each other, and that demands a lot more energy to work with. As I get older, I'm more aware of this, and simply need to take time before and after, so that I'm satisfied I've done the best I can to minister to others in public. How hard this can be for working clergy with half a dozen funerals a month, if not more, plus all the other demands, both pastoral and organisational, involved in serving a Parish.

There wasn't much on telly to relax with, after sitting through a couple of repeat episodes of NCIS, I switched off and continued reading the biography of Hewlett Johnston, the 'Red Dean' of Canterbury, which I received for Christmas. I don't read nearly as much as I could, and didn't have much energy for reading when I was occupied with running CBS, and spent much time working on the computer. Now slowly, I'm finding I can read undistractedly and enjoy it. With so much rubbish on TV, I'm glad of a relaxing alternative which feeds my mind in a different way.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

No change but a change of air

During the night I was conscious of the arrival of high winds, not just from the noise outside, but from a perceptible change of air. That sounds odd, but the coastal plain Cardiff inhabits suffers from polluted air when weeks pass without a breeze. It's got worse in recent years with increased traffic congestion. There are times when I'm returning home from a walk in the park, that there's a noticeable difference between the air out in Llandaff or Pontcanna Fields, and the air along Penhill Road, the penultimate leg, which reeks of diesel fumes from standing traffic. 

Cardiff Council's published pollution maps confirm from monitoring data what a healthy sense of smell detects. We're two hundred yards from Penhill Road and our street is very quiet. The scent of pollution isn't so obvious at home from day to day, but when a strong wind blows, the difference quite marked. I wish we lived in the country or near the sea, though I can't see us moving house again. We just need to get out and away more often, to take the air.

I went to St John's to celebrate the midweek Eucharist this morning but Fr Chris Lee turned up to take the service as well,due to a double booking error. I felt glad to sit with the congregation and worship. The only other times I've been able to do that for a long time have been on a couple of weekend trips to Kenilworth to look after Rhiannon. It's so good to be on the receiving end and be ministered to, and it was lovely to chat with Chris after the service.

Following a brief trip to the bank and to shops I returned home for lunch, and then went out on foot to make a bereavement visit at the west end of Canton Parish. As I wasn't sure of my street destination, I checked on Google Maps, which set me the quickest walking route. This proved misleading when, two third of the way through the journey, I was led into a side street, to get to the main road by a shortcut, whose only exit was closed off with a 'residents only access' security gate. One hears of this happening with sat-nav car directions leading to dead ends on country lanes, but don't expect it in a heavily built up area on a walking route! Anyway, it only delayed me by a few minutes, and then an hour later I was on my way home again.

Kath and Rhiannon had arrived by the time I returned. Kath returns tomorrow as she and Anto work this weekend. Rhiannon will end her half term and 13th birthday week with us. The Clare and I will drive with her back to Kenilworth on Sunday. I'll stay for a couple of nights, and Clare for the week to look after Rhiannon, as Kath and Anto have another busy week of Wriggledance touring gigs in parts of the country where next week is half term, not this one. Such is the life of an artistic family. We're just glad to be able to support them, and have time together with them in between engagements.

After tea we went for a walk down to the river Taff. Rhiannon walked arm in arm with me and told me all about her birthday pizza party the night before. It was heartwarming, despite the powerful chilling effect from the strong north wind sweeping through the region. The evening highlight of was watching 'Death in the Caribbean' on the telly, a rather old fashioned detective story reminiscent of another era. And despite our various efforts, none of us guessed who the murderer was.

No news of the election of a Bishop this evening from Llandaff Cathedral. The electoral college was unable to come to a consensus, nor to a 2/3rds majority vote. Nobody knows why, as participants are bound by an oath of confidentiality. Those outside, anxious for a result to gossip about, fantasise and joke instead in Facebook postings. If we have to choose a new father-in-God, this is I suppose as good if not better than any other ways. Public electoral campaigns are to my mind anathema. Discernment has been entrusted to trustworthy electors, themselves elected to office. When discernment fails everyone is bound to worry somewhat. If the electoral college fails, the Bishops meet and appoint someone. How long we have to wait for this to happen has not yet been announced, as far as I know. Let's hope it happens soon. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Publication challenge

I went to St German's this morning and celebrated Mass quietly in the side chapel for a change, as the school is on holiday and no class was in attendance today. The OT reading for the day from the Book Ecclesiasticus extolled the practical dimensions of wisdom. It struck me that it applied to both electors and potential episcopal candidates. I wondered if the electoral college would be listening to the same readings in the Cathedral in their morning worship.

In the church hall after Mass, day centre manager Marisa appeared, all freshly suntanned after a holiday in Montego Bay. I found myself thinking about my study tour there back in 1982. She spoke about the sand being sharp, not just hot, and that sprung a memory from deep down. Some of those gold-to-white sandy beaches have, I believe, a high gypsum content. Its powdered crystals are more abrasive than common silica, and this you can feel, if your feet aren't hardened to it. 

The only time I felt this was when I walked barefoot on a beach in Jamaica on a fishing trip, helping to launch a large balsa wood longboat from the shore, in the company of a nephew of Charlie Smith my Jamaican curate in St Paul's Bristol. The island has undergone huge development due to the holiday industry since then, yet still widespread chronic poverty is never far away, as Marisa observed on her dream holiday, I'm pleased to say.

I came home with a little job to do. Peter wanted to create a template using an existing design of which he had a paper copy, as a frame for editable text for a publication he hoped to email out. He could cut and paste a copy to scan into a pdf by cut and paste, but the file was too big and refused to send. I started by telling him how to change the scan resolution settings, and end by taking the job home to see if I could produce what he wanted, and find out the easiest way to teach him how to achieve this for himself. Fortunately familiarity with a variety of tools for editing scanned images and using OCR made this not too hard a task. 

Nowadays I rarely use anything other than Libre Office, but realised I needed to produce an editable file to load into MS Word and not ruin the layout. I used MS Word on-line for testing as the computer I was using didn't have Word installed. But Microsoft's ODF file format isn't wholly compatible with the internationally recognised Open Source ODF format, and neither is their DOCX file format, so loading them obliges you to re-format work to be of any use. It's particularly onerous when working with text and graphics. Eventually, I switched to a machine which has MS Word installed, plus Libre Office, and confirmed the findings. Then I had an idea, and saved the Libre Office product as an old fashioned bog standard DOC file. To my delight, this loaded perfectly into MS Word. Libre Office has been able to create and to some extent edit PDFs for years. This has only appeared in recent version of MS Word. Previously an extra PDF plug-in was required for MS Word to match up to Libre Office, which is still evolving, getting slicker, more capable with each update thanks to collaboration within the global Open Source software programming community.

Several years ago the government administration of Munich converted to Linux desktop software and use of Libre Office. The majority of networks linking computers run Linux anyway, but this was a major step forward, destined to save tens of millions of euros. Since Microsoft decided to move one of its regional headquarters to Munich, the government has been debating the abandonment of this policy and is proposing to revert to MS Windows 10, at least optionally, no doubt supplied at a bargain discount. 

Major challenges to Microsoft's near monopoly of money making desktop software are bound to be met with moves of this kind. The competitive option, however, is to create free software which works at least as well as the paid version, and meets the actual needs of users rather trying to manipulate users into acquiring new needs, or even worse, forcing redundancy on to perfectly serviceable hardware by refusing to update drivers that are compatible with Windows upgrades. If it wasn't for open source software engineers writing or customising hardware drives Microsoft can't be bothered with any more, a lot more devices would fail to work, and the mound of electronic detritus would be even bigger. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Waiting for news

I had a funeral yesterday morning at Thornhill crematorium to start this half term week the first of three. A retired steelworker in his mid sixties born and bred in Splott. The chapel was full to overflowing, with about 350 people, former colleagues and friends from the community in which he grew up. I gave an obituary on behalf of the family, and his two children also spoke movingly. When I got home I had a call about another funeral for two weeks hence. So it goes on. A funeral director said to me "I don't know how we'd manage without the help of you retired clergy." I don't know how the reduced number of full time clergy also manage at busy times like this. 

Today the diocesan electoral college meets in Llandaff Cathedral to elect a new Bishop. I hope that whoever is chosen is aware pastorally of the great strain funeral ministry places on clergy, and how this can dominate their work and missionary priorities. I believe it's still an important service to offer to the wider non-churchgoing public, part of knowing and being known, maintaining bonds of affection between church and local community. The fact that many non-churchgoing people still request a funeral in church, and that the building figures in different ways in family histories is important. Lay people are involved in welcoming and preparing for services but we need more of them trained and authorised as officiating ministers, as there aren't enough Readers and NSM clergy available. Will it ever happen I wonder? 

At lunchtime, I had my second funeral, this time in St John's, of a woman in her early sixties, and the church was full. Afterwards at the crematorium, the chapel was half full, half the numbers of yesterday, but that's still a lot of people. The family didn't want hymns, but selected some pieces of soul music and reggae to play. Each track was carefully recorded on a separate labelled CD, but none of the would play, as the tracks, presumably MP3s or WAVs were recorded to disc in data not CD format. I had warned them to be careful about this, but maybe I hadn't been understood. Thankfully, their nervousness about getting it right meant that one family member turned up with a laptop and extension speakers, and another with the same tracks on a phone, plus a Bluetooth Boombox. The latter was tried first, but it kept disconnecting and reconnecting with a robotic voice informing the world of its status. The same as happened at a funeral a couple of weeks ago in St Catherine's.

The congregation seemed quite relaxed about it, and thankfully the guy with the laptop quickly stepped in and stopped the whole occasion developing into a farce. I announced and commented briefly on each track, wondering if I sounded like a Radio 2 deejay doing a prayer sandwich. It all worked out in the end, and I found myself walking, first out of church and later out of the crem chapel, swaying gently to the reggae beat. It's actually easier to do that than walk against the catchy rhythm. It reminded me of being back in St Paul's half a lifetime ago. Several people noticed and commented with a smile. I was already remembering church processions in Jamaica and in black Pentecostal churches back here in UK where this was just the way it happened naturally. Ah happy days!

At the end of services which are painfully difficult, due to a perceived untimely death, I can feel some satisfaction abut my role, if I see people visibly relaxing and smiling as they walk out, even if they have tears in their eyes at the same time. It's an important moment of closure, a chance to draw breath before grief returns with a stinging sense of absence, and the loneliness often associated with it. Yet again I was glad that I had little else to do for the rest of the day, apart from go food shopping with Clare. And wonder how the electoral college was getting on. 

When I learned, late afternoon that there was no election news today, I thought about ringing my old friend Martin, to discuss the possible candidates but before I could, he rang me and said what I'd meant to send him in a text message - No white smoke today.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Authority in contention

An early start this morning with an eight o'clock celebration at St John's. As I was finishing, Fr Jesse from Caerau with Ely Parish arrived to take the 9.00am. He was a colleague in the Central Cardiff Team Ministry when I started there back in 2002. It's ages since we last met, although I took services in his Parish when he was on sick leave four years ago. So good to see him looking well now.

With plenty of time to spare after breakfast, a brief visit to Lidl's on the way to St Germans's for Mass, rather than call there on the way home for a grocery top-up. Clare had slow-cooked a fillet of lamb in a spicy tomato sauce for my lunch, enough for two days, as I don't eat much meat at a time, no matter how delicious it is. I returned with the last bottle of Baturrica Taragona Riserva 2010, Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon on the shelves, a family favourite vino from Catalunya. We over-bought for our Golden Wedding party in the summer, and enjoyed the rest for months after. We gave a few to Kath and Anto to take home. Days later we received a photo from them on the Bilbao Ferry, featuring one of the bottles they'd taken with them in their picnic basket for the road trip to Sta Pola. Talk about coals to Newcastle!

It's been an interesting week, with the CofE General Synod rejecting the House of Bishops report on sexuality, to put it at its simplest, falling short of the expectation that discussion and the report should include the voices of gay Christians, rather than discussion about them and their witness, not to mention the unsatisfactory conclusions it reached. Behind the ongoing debate on sexuality, is a conflict between adherents of different understandings of the bible and how it should be interpreted.

Christian tradition has always affirmed the central authority of scripture, but just like Judaism, it has never insisted exclusively on one approach to interpretation. This hasn't prevented conservatives of all kinds from affirming their views in church debate in a way that hints of trying to impose a dogma, rather than acknowledge mainstream Christianity's reluctance to do so on this matter. There's a great study of biblical passages that have anything to do with homosexuality, in both Jewish and Christian tradition and how ideas changed and diversified over millennia by American theologian Walter Wink. It thoroughly analyses and challenges conservative and liberal suppositions on evidence presented of continuing adaptation and change in attitudes and practice. To those who have adopted entrenched positions, it probably makes disturbing reading. I wonder if it was available to those involved in the recent conversations and episcopal report?

The church's Episcopate strives to build a consensus on matters of faith in a changing world,around which all can unite. On matters of sexuality this has proved hard to achieve, and shows just how divergently Christian communities are responding to change in the world of which they are part, due to different ways of reading and obeying scripture. I don't think there's any easy way out of this. During my lifetime, secular society has undergone a radical consensus shift about human relations and sexuality, more readily than the church. It's a stumbling block for some who want to believe and belong. Acceptance and respect for each other's positions and refusal to persecute and condemn those who disagree is vital, but can only mitigate the pain of division. Is all this upheaval a precursor to a real paradigm shift in understanding that will lead to reconciliation and growth? Time will tell. 

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Travels Ahead

A quiet Friday, not going out anywhere, with a Sunday sermon and funerals for the coming week to prepare. Just as well, as the weather was glum. Clare and I started discussing a holiday break after Easter. Although we'd mooted the prospect of spending time in Santa Pola, what both of us had been thinking about was the possibility of another cruise, this time on the Rhine. It's probably too late to get anything in May now. Last time we booked nearly a year ahead too. We can but dream ...

Well, this morning, we decided that the Koln-Basel was what we wanted to do, and sooner rather than later, so we went ahead and booked a very expensive cabin on a mid May trip, which was all they had left. Again we'll go with Riviera Travel, as last May's Danube experience was so enjoyable. Perhaps that week of total photographic indulgence made the memories extra vivid, but on dreary days, I think of many things I enjoyed and the insights gained into Eastern European history and culture, without needing to open a Google Photo album to refresh my memory.

The Rhine has a history with which I am more familiar, largely because of our past travels in Eastern France and Germany, also, having grown up after World War Two with all the stories recounted in the family, the documentaries and movies on telly. It's one period of history, perhaps too raw to have been covered in Pengam Grammar School classes at that time, which I read several thick historical books over the years. This cruise will put some of that narrative into geographical setting, but much more, because of the amazing history of Rhineland cities over the past millennium of European history.

I shall resist feeling guilty of extravagance. Working away so much over the past year, we haven't had a lot of time for holiday leisure travel, so it's a matter of quality time together rather than quantity, doing something we both delight in. I feel privileged to be act as a locum pastor abroad, to be able to live in Spain, and discover another language and culture in more depth than I could if it was holiday. Nevertheless, it is work. I'm on duty when I'm there, no matter what else I get to do when I don't have work things to do, and sometimes loneliness is the price to be paid in order to keep on working in this particular way.

Much cheered by our decision, we drove out to Dyffryn House and Gardens for lunch and a winter walk. Much work done pruning bushes and trees, and renovation work on ponds, since our last visit. With so many flower beds cleared, the seasonal contrast is vivid and helps me see things about some vegetation I wouldn't usually notice, just because there are so many flowering plants and bushes attracting the eye. I got some great photos of coal tits, blue tits and chaffinch feeding at the bird table, perfectly placed outside the restaurant. I just can't believe it's six months since we last came, judging by my photo albums, though Clare thinks we may have come for a walk one day before Christmas when I forgot to bring a camera, or brought a camera without SD card or charged batttery. I believe her, though I can't pin down when. Put it down to memory lag.

The other good thing about today is that I've received requests for locum duty in Malaga for June and July, and Mojacar over December and January. That's a lot to think about, all in one day, and a great deal more to look forward to.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Unexpected operatic premiere

I was back on duty, celebrating the midweek Eucharist at St John's Canton this morning. Clare has been doing battle with the internet, trying to obtain confirmation of tickets booked on line for a string quartet concert here tomorrow night, thankfully handled by an agency, not by the Parish! She had trouble with the ticketing website, which sent confirmations and info relating to password changes that ended up in the Spam folder, as often happens, except the spam folder wasn't in evidence. I looked for it and missed it, as for some reason it requires scrolling to find, rather than being near the top of the display, which would be a more useful default, given the common need to manage spam messages frequently, or go crazy, unable to tell the wood from the trees.

After lunch I had a bereavement visit out in Danescourt. Now I am fully briefed on the three funerals at which I have to officiate next week. At six we took the X1 bus to town, then the Bay Car to the Wales Millennium Centre for an evening at the opera. I knew nothing about what we were about to see, and nothing about Frank Martin, composer of 'Le vin herbé.' We were surprised to discover that he was a 20th century Genèvois, and that it first saw the light of day in London with an English liberetto by Hilaire Belloc, seven months before it premiered in Zurich, either in French or German, both in 1948.

Le vin herbé translates into English as the Love Potion. The story told is that of Tristan and Iseult, also used by Wagner in his opera of this name in the late German Romantic mode. Martin, on the other hand, was musically in a similar vein to Benjamin Britton, wonderfully rich creative use of dissonance, but not atonal, nor making use of fractured rhythms. It's not a long opera, short enough to be delivered with no interval in an hour and three quarters. A spell binding hour and three quarters, as the production did not fail to retain one's attention throughout.

First - no scenery, minimal staging. Costumes? Black and black. Tragic Iseult alone appearing in white and later in gold. The libretto makes use of the fifty strong WNO chorus, as the means to tell the story, with chorus and individual voices, just a handful of roles being distinguished by the movement required of them. Belloc's libretto is a simple rendering of a classic story with group narration and passages of quoted speech from key characters delivered by individual singers. Group choreographed movement of the storytelling chorus was also an important element of the presentation. It made us think of Greek tragedy performances we last saw fifty years ago.

The stage is bare, minimal furnishing. A string sextet plus piano and conductor are centre stage throughout, the cast move around constantly. The backdrop is black, everyone save Iseult is dressed in black. So much depends on stage lighting, and it works superbly, from the start. There's no curtain, and the lights don't go down immediately either. The cast take their positions and stand still looking into the audience until they have everyone's attention, a bit like a teacher with a distracted class of pupils.

When all are settle, out of complete silence, the music and voices emerge. The audience is sitting at the feet of a storyteller, in this case a group of fifty. It's intense and engaging from the outset. As ever the singing by principals and chorus is excellent. Only as it was starting did I learn that it's the premiere of this WNO production.

The house wasn't totally full as it often is. I suspect that this 20th century opera lacks the glamour and pull of Mozart, Verdi or Puccini favourites, yet, it's music of our lifetime, and an inspiring effort made by Martin to connect with the ancient tradition of storytelling, which transcends culture and keeps being reborn in the artistic endeavours of rising generations. This production, and all who take part in it are a credit to our other major Welsh national past-time, the difference being that great opera always wins.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

A welcome diversion

I awoke just as my phone alarm went off, in good time to get Rhiannon to waking up and get ready for school. As she ate her breakfast toast, she was revising for a French test. I'm delighted that she has the opportunity to learn Spanish in school as well as French. Indeed, it may now be easier for her to learn French from scratch, as she's had several years of absorbing Spanish vocabulary passively and using simple phrases to order things in shops and restaurants on situ, on their visits to Sta Pola. Her friend Mollie turned up at ten to eight, as she does every school day for them to walk the mile across town to Kenilworth Comprehensive, now in the throes of turning into an Academy. Let's hope it continues to offer courses in more than one European language through to exam level for those who are motivated to take the opportunity.

After the girls left at eight, I said morning prayer, and meditated for rather a long time, meaning that I fell asleep while doing so. I hadn't arranged to do anything else today, and was expecting to drive back in the evening, but Kath mentioned they'd be back from their gig just a couple of hours after Rhiannon came home from school, and that they'd be comfortable with her being home alone for a short while. So, by eleven o'clock, I'd packed, locked the house and was on my way back to Cardiff, but without a deadline to meet. On the first leg of the journey, I debated with myself about whether to visit Evesham, en route, or Tewkesbury, not far off route. It's over forty years since I last visited Tewkesbury, and thirty since visiting Evesham. Both have fine churches worth a visit, but Tewkesbury is the one I have a sense of connection with.

St John's City Parish Church, my final incumbency, was a Chapel of Ease serving Cardiff Castle, in the Parish of St Mary the Virgin built on the banks of the river Taff as a Priory Church of Tewkesbury Abbey around 1180, a time when the Abbey itself was flourishing, and its present building was starting to take shape. Sadly during my eight years at St John's we never managed a parish visit to Tewkesbury, perhaps because it was deemed to be just a tad too far an outing for a mainly elderly congregation, a hour and a half away. A pity really, as we would have lacked for nothing. 

The town is lovely and full of interesting historic buildings, including a very early Baptist chapel and cemetery near the river Severn. The Abbey has developed a splendid visitor centre in the grounds and a church shop inside. It's the title church of the Suffragan Bishop of Gloucester, itself a post reformation see of the Established Church, and thus a place of significance in the life of Gloucester Diocese. These days, the Abbey is the keystone of an area of rural Parishes as well as the town, served by a team of clergy, some of whom are designated as Pioneer Ministers, free to take new initiatives in relation to rural and urban ministry, after decades in which the life of the whole region has changed radically.

I stopped there for just over an hour, spending most of my time in the Abbey, which was preparing to welcome mourners for a funeral, having held a Burial of Ashes service before I arrived. The place is in good repair after major fund raising campaigns in recent decades, culminating in the recent overhaul of interior lighting, which now showcases the wonderful vaulted roof atop thick Norman circular pillars. My memory of that previous visit was awakened by the sight of several huge cast iron heating stoves in the north and south aisles, relics of efforts made a hundred and fifty years ago to heat the building, still far from successful. What's different about them now is that they've been converted from coke to gas, so the smell of combustion no longer lingers in the building. What a funny thing to remember. 

All the medieval side chapels have been restored to use, and several of them feature an altar reredos in the form of a painted triptych. I don't know if any of them are ancient and acquired from elsewhere, but what I did notice was that at least one of them is a modern rendering in an ancient style - and why not? Byzantine icons are still being 'written' today in the same forms and with the same techniques as they were a thousand years ago. Beauty is timeless in its ability to inspire awe and wonder. So, if any type of art in any era is beautiful enough to inspire awe and wonder, it can be said to be successful.

Thus far my journey had been in overcast but dry weather. As I left the Abbey, it started to rain, and rained all the way home. But never mind, I have photos to remind me of just how splendid Tewkesbury Abbey is. You can find them here.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Musical journey

While the romantic world thinks of this as Valentine's day, the churches' calendar celebrates Sts Cyril and Methodius today. Two Greek brothers born in 9th century Salonica, educated in Constantinople, capital of the eastern Byzantine half of the empire. They became missionaries to the Slav tribes of the north eastern borderlands of the empire, learned to speak the language, invented the Glagolithic alphabet based on Greek letters, with extra characters, and produced the first written version of scripture and liturgical texts in Old Slavonic, still widely in use today in Eastern Orthodox Churches. They are regarded as cultural heroes to all who speak Russian and other Slav languages, religious affiliation notwithstanding. The written script is often described as Cyrillic after its inventor.

Methodius was for many years a Deacon but was made a Bishop in Hungary, and died in the Czeck Republic. Cyril was ordained priest. After a career as an imperial civil servant, probably the reason why his literary and scholarly gifts were put to good use, he returned to Rome at the end of his life. Reading part of his story in the Breviary office of the day this morning, I learned how he fell ill, and finally retired. He dressed in his priestly vestment and declared joyfully "I am no longer a servant of the emperor or of any man, but only of God Almighty.", and spent his last days exclusively in praise and worship. If a missionary doesn't get killed on duty, there can be no better way to leave this world, focusing on the one thing that is essential.

Not a romantic sort of Valentine's Day for me this year, but a trip to Kenilworth and overnight stay to look after Rhiannon, while Kath and Anto are away performing the Wriggledance show in Stamford, at the venue where we watched them perform their first show three years ago. How hard they've worked since then to get funding, create a new show and tour it around the country for twice the number of performances, especially in the present economic climate.

First, however, I had a bereavement visit to make out in Coryton, fortunately not far from the north Cardiff M4 interchange, so I was soon on my way up the motorway afterwards, listening to albums of CD recordings by jazz virtuoso pianist Oscar Peterson, from a box set of ten given me recently by my sister June. The second of the two that provided the sound track for my journey came as a surprise, as it featured an All Star band which did a world tour back in the sixties and seventies, accompanying Fred Astaire, singing songs by Irving Berlin, some of which were made famous from their use in his song and dance movies with Ginger Rogers and others.

Two thirds of the nearly two dozen songs on the album were songs I remembered well from my upbringing in a musical household with very eclectic taste, classics, jazz and the great American 20th century songbook. I knew at least half the words of lots of them, and could sing along with. They all conjured up happy memories of childhood and youth in a household never lacking in song.

I arrived Kenilworth just as the schools were coming out, and Rhiannon arrived just after I did. After supper and before setting out for Stamford, all were busy with engagements, so there wasn't much for me to do. At nine Kath and Anto set off, and had a clear run all the way for their hour and a half trip. They'll return in time for supper tomorrow, having done two afternoon performances. For once they'll be in a venue where I can imagine them in action.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Blog restored, operas booked

The man from SSE came to read our gas and electricity meters this morning. We chatted briefly about how smart meter introduction will affect his job. It seems they've not yet been told. I told him my concern about how data was to be harvested wirelessly from our side of the street, suffering as its does from such a poor phone signal. He didn't say much except that uneven reception happened in all sorts of places. I wonder if there is a Grand Plan, or if it's a case of hi-tech trial and error?

Thankfully for Owain, the blog failure crisis is over. It was nothing more than a broken SQL database link. No hacks, no data loss. Immediately he set about installing a site backup plugin on his WordPress software, and has learned how he can do his own repairs in future. There was a time when I was keen to learn all the technical details to be able to build and manage websites, but I was never well pleased with the results for the effort invested. I used Google sites to build web pages for several years, but in the end, got daunted by the enhanced security measures and difficulties encountered in linking pages to URLs I'd purchased, and gave up altogether. Now I concentrate all my effort on journal writing, and minimise the amount of time I spend on design or tweaking default settings.

Over the weekend I received two more requests to officiate at funerals, so that I have three next week, none this week, and so have enough time for preparation. After several days in succession without a good walk, I got out at the end of this afternoon, and walked around Llandaff Fields and then Pontcanna Fields, covering three miles as the sun was setting. There was an east wind, but the temperature rose to eight degrees, so the wind didn't bite quite so hard as it has done since new year. Not that spring is yet in the air. Snowdrops and crocuses are out, and a few prodigious blossoms among the abundance of daffodil shoots growing taller by the day, but few signs of buds swelling yet, ready to burst. But who knows what a few days of milder weather might bring?

Early booking for the 2017-18 season of opera performances at the Wales Millennium Centre started today. Rather than buy on-line, Clare went down to the real world booking office and obtained perfect seats for four operas in our usual place, the middle of the few rows of front seats behind the orchestra pit which are at subscriber discount prices due to the steep line of sight to the surtitle screen. There are three Russian operas in the schedule. We decided we could cope with one, 'Eugene Onegin'. Then there's our old favourites 'Tosca' and 'Don Giovanni', and Verdi's 'La Forza del Destino', which we've not seen before if my memory serves me right. Plenty to look forward to.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Sunday Wagner

When the skies are overcast, the weather is mainly damp and cold, and I have nothing in the diary, or no shopping errands to get me out of the house, life becomes very uneventful indeed. It becomes an effort even to get out and walk for a breath of fresh air. I suppose a time of quiet inertia counts as rest and recuperation from the demands of other activities, and earlier this week was fairly busy, but I'm glad to have Sunday duties to look forward to, and a sermon to prepare each week.

This morning I was up early to celebrate the eight o'clock at St Catherine's for a dozen of us, which is double the usual attendance. The Parish has, for the time being, gone to having just one early Eucharist each Sunday instead of two, on rotation between St Catherine's and St John's, hoping that worshippers will travel to where the service is held. I was pleased to see that people were willing to make an effort to go somewhere different. Services on rotation between churches are difficult an alternative to adjust to. I find it harder, as I'm always having to look at my diary and check where I have to turn up next. Yet, in a way, this inconvenience makes the decision to attend regularly much more a conscious one, which can't be bad, failures notwithstanding.

Clare came to St Catherine's too, and got some croissants, pain chocolat and pain au raisin for free on her way home, by using the accumulated points on her Co-op card, which meant we could have a continental breakfast together before I set out for St German's.

When I arrived at church, the grand daughter of one of the regulars arrived with her new born daughter, just 48 hours old. She'd been in church with her other daughter at the midweek Mass several times, as this was normally more manageable for her. On this occasion she made the effort to come, so Grandma could see baby Gayla. I was delighted to have the opportunity to bless both at the end of Communion, and to pencil a date for the Christening into the parish diary. It should be just before the interregnum comes to an end after Easter.

After the blessing at the altar, on impulse, I took mother and baby with me down into the nave, where Communion is given to St German's eldest member Gwyneth in her place, so that she could greet this youngest new churchgoer. One of those irresistible special moments of blessing for the whole church to be part of. Catholicity breathes continuity, across the world, across the generations.

After lunch, I had a quiet afternoon to myself as Clare was attending her study group in Bristol. I switched on too late to watch Ski Sunday, so watched an earlier episode I'd missed, and the latest one on iPlayer. After supper we watched Wagner's 'Das Rheingold' in a fine performance recorded at this year's BBC Promenade Concerts, beautifully produced, wonderful singers and orchestra, and to my mind benefiting from all four scenes being done in continuity, without an interval. The performers were not in period costume but dressed in variety of semi formal attire, which served to distinguish between their roles. The TV production cleverly and judiciously added some atmospheric graphical backdrops to suggest context and mythical environment, but it was left to the skill of the actors to conjure up the scenes with body language and minimal mime. Absolutely marvellous! Gorgeous music, compelling to watch. The whole Ring cycle is to be broadcast. What a treat!

The opera overlapped with the second episode of 'Good Karma Hospital' on ITV, but I discovered that we could watch it on the ITV+1 stream on channel 33, something I'd not done before. It saved having to fiddling about to find it on ITV Player, useful though it is on other occasions. These digitally available repeats make a considerable difference to life, freeing one from the necessity of adhering to the live programmer's broadcast schedule. The telly is made for man, not man for the telly, after all, to borrow the Lord's own phraseology. It wasn't like that forty years ago, when the early evening broadcast of 'The Forsyte Saga' was cited as a factor contributing to the death of evening services. Well, it seemed a good excuse at the time ...

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Blogger's nightmare

While I was writing my Sunday sermon yesterday morning I had a phone call from a worried Owain. He'd got back late last night from a week off in Berlin, and had just got around to checking his music and media blog for the first time in a week, only to discover that the homepage wasn't delivering any content. All his content is hosted on a web server we've been sharing for the past ten years. He needed to check the access details before logging into the server, and it was quicker to ask me than rummage through his paper document hoard. I was soon able to verify the information, and left him to investigate.

Later in the day he came to Cardiff to have supper with friends and called in to leave his overnight bag as he was stopping over to watch the Wales v England rugby match, and have a drink with us first. He was still waiting to hear from his mate who designed and built his website, and set it up for him using WordPress on our shared server. He suspected a broken link to the SQL database, but didn't know how to fix it. I couldn't help him as I never had occasion to learn how to use the software, having used Blogger exclusively since I started in November 2005, so it was a matter of just waiting. I enquired about site  back-ups, and he admitted he didn't really know much about what happened where his own site was concerned, a thought which gave me the horrors.

Owain writes and edits copy for a living, daily uploading stuff to an assortment of sites with  more experience than me of different content management systems. I hired server space for us to share not long after I started blogging, and he's used it more than I have, both of us using the excellent CuteFTP browser based app for server file management. I thought he was better acquainted with back end stuff than I am, but apparently not. 

At the time we got started with the web server, I hadn't checked he knew about backups or made this part of his discipline when it came to managing his own web based publications. So, I feel as if I am partly responsible if this glitch turns into a catastrophic failure, and Owain loses the past three years of blogging output.

Part of my evolution as a computer user meant that twelve years ago, all my data was kept on hardware which lived with me, some of which, if needed on-line, would be 'backed up' to the web server. My, how things have changed with the advent of Cloud based computing in the past five years. I still keep hardware backups of everything, and that's a bit of an effort when Windows 10 with OneDrive is the ever so handy default. I'm still reluctant to entrust my entire digital life to web storage. If things can go wrong they may well do, sooner or later. And there's also the threat of getting hacked, and ransomware attacks out there to insure against as well.

I'm crossing my fingers this'll be easily resolved. It's taught me another lesson about being those who seek my help and advice about computing matters both understand and are properly informed. There are some good aspects of this troublesome situation, however. It's the first time anything has gone wrong for Owain with his blog since he got started. This shows how reliable, easy and user friendly it has become to make and run a custom website. Also, he now has the motivation and need to know more about troubleshooting and tackling server issues when his helpful techie friends are un-contactable. But it's not over until it's over!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Developing residential Cardiff

I was asked to do a funeral this morning, so I wasn't able to celebrate or attend the St John's midweek Eucharist as the times coincided. It was an occasion when the son and grandson of the deceased both gave tributes, and I didn't have to tell his story on behalf of the family. It did mean that the service was five minutes longer than usual, however, and though I didn't rush to finish I was conscious that it might have created problems for another funeral following immediately. It turned out that the regular service time slot is longer than I thought, and has been for some time, since the second chapel on site opened some years ago. 

Strange to think that I wasn't aware of this change. It happened in 2000, and my memory of shorter service slots harked back 25 years earlier. In my experience, it's rare for such services to go on longer than I expect. Content and some elements of the form of a funeral service have certainly changed, over the years, but my sense of timing and pace in delivery remains shaped by the experience of my first Curacy, and trips to Thornhill from Caerphilly to take services, often nervously. 

Straight after lunch I had to make a bereavement visit in a newish housing area in Leckwith, west of Canton. Finding it looked straightforward from Google Maps. I memorised the route and set out, but I couldn't see street signs directing me to a housing estate, set back from the highway, close to where Sanatorium road starts. I found myself driving along the boundary of the new housing development on the industrial site which once contained a huge paper mill, alongside the river Ely. 

The route of Sanatorium road itself is being changed to link up with Cowbridge Road West at Ely Bridge, so I had to turn around and retrace my steps. I stopped to check the car's A-Z street directory, but there was no sign of the housing estate on the map. The edition pre-dated the construction of the estate! I took a chance and turned into a housing area at a set of traffic lights and this proved correct, although it was still difficult to identify the street and even hard to find the right house, as it was offset at right angles in a street, which was otherwise straight and unbroken.

After the visit I returned home, charged with telling the story of the man who'd died not long after his retirement, after four decades on the front line of production in a steel works. Evidently a dangerous job, but some of the real risks are hidden from sight. It's not the first early post retirement death of a former steel worker I've come across in the past few years. Health and Safety regulations are often a subject of mockery and contempt, due to what some people think is excess attention to detail, but if you look at the big picture, it's no hard to see how hazardous some industrial work places still are.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Waxing eloquent

For once, no road works congesting traffic in the city centre as I drove to St German's for the 'class Mass' this morning. Once more it was very chilly in church so we did some 'action singing'. Even so I was feeling very chilled by the end, and glad to wrap myself around a radiator in the hall with a coffee afterwards. I taught the children to sing a simple Sanctus melody in the form of a melody that can be sung as a round. I'll try and teach other classes to sing it simply first, then try to make it work as a round thereafter. I have about six or eight more sessions with them before handing over this treasured spot to Fr Phelim, when he takes over as Priest in Charge.

As my blocked ear was giving me much discomfort, I returned home for lunch I spent much of the rest of the day languishing and annoyed that I hadn't been able to find relief. Yesterday, however Dianne had told me about a specialist clinic dealing with ear wax removal by microsuction technique up in London. With a little encouragement from sister June who's been talking to Dianna about this, I googled and found there's a clinic offering this in Llanishen. I have noticed over the years that GP practice nurses are increasingly reluctant to work ear wax removal. I've now learned that it's not done at all in some practices because it's not considered a cost effective use of time. This forces sufferers to pay for private treatment, or just keep suffering. What would Nye Bevan have made of this I wonder?

In today's post a notification from our energy supplier arrived about the roll-out of Smart Metering in our street, with an invitation to make contact and arrange a date for installation. All well and good, I suppose. It promises economies, but will it deliver? The information states that it relies on available wi-fi or mobile signal strength to send consumption monitoring data to thee company's data centre for processing. This makes me curious. Mobile signal strength our side of the street is very flaky, and we rely on a phone signal relay device which is attached to our domestic router, to be able to make mobile calls inside the house. So, will this metering device be utilizing our internal signal relay, or even our wifi? This is what I hope to find out when I get around to making that first call to the action line. How secure would this be, piggy-backing off a domestic router I wonder? Given the range of security concerns raised as a result of hacking and malicious misuse of 'Internet of Things' networks, all kinds of possibilities are imaginable. Will the booking personnel and/or help desk people have answers? Will they understand the questions? We'll see.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Marking the passing of a generation

Today Auntie Ivy's funeral took place at Cardiff and Vale Crematorium outside Barry. I was relieved to have nothing else in my diary, as it meant I could go to the Funeral home down in the town to take some flowers and pay my last respects to her beforehand. The service was conducted by a Humanist celebrant, as Ivy never went to church and declared herself an atheist, even though both her husbands were churchgoers, and she brought her children up to attend church. Her son Alan, accompanied by four of his cousins Ros, Dianne, Lindsay and me, led mourners into the chapel, followed by the relatives of her second husband Bill and friends. About thirty of us altogether.  

Ivy was an intelligent, capable, independent minded woman. Recounting her life story took about half the service time. It was both interesting and informative. It was delightful to hear about the way she kept young in spirit, mentally and physically active until her last few years. Always a ballroom dancing enthusiast, she started tap dancing classes in her late eighties. It was a salutary reminder to me to work at overcoming the problems I've had recently and keep up a regular regime of physical activity, and not be discouraged.

After the service, there was a reception with an amazing finger buffet held at Mr Villa's Fish and Chip restaurant and Oyster Bar. The style of the place is plain simple old fashioned sit down chippie with blue and white chequered tablecloths with salt 'n vinegar pots on the table. It's actually a sophisticated sea food restaurant, serving a wonderful variety of locally sourced fish and meat products from South Wales. It's a real foodie's delight and already popular with locals since it launched a year ago in its current form. I seem to recall there was always a seafront cafe in this locality, but now it's reaching out to a wider range of customers with its new offer.

The cousins ate together and talked for an hour, such a rarity to spend any time together nowadays. Then I took Dianne to Cardiff Central station for her train to London. With all but Auntie Mary, in her nineties, of our parents generation still alive, times of family gathering get fewer and further between. The older we get the less mobile we get, as well as living further and further apart from South Wales where most of us grew up. How spread out we are! A couple in London, a couple in Berkshire, a couple in South Wales, one in North Wales, one in the West of Scotland, one in Cambridge, one in Warwickshire, one in Somerset, one in Hong Kong, one in the South of France. It gives the notion of 'extended family' a meaning it didn't carry in quite the same way a century ago.

All this is thanks to life decisions made by our parents half a century or longer ago. So many different stories interacting. So much we don't know, as well as know about each other. Life is never long enough to find out everything about, and no family tree however expertly traced can do more than convey an outline. Only Ros still lives in the Rhymney Valley a mile or so from where half the cousins were born and bred. With Ivy's passing, the default territorial link of the extended Kimber clan to South Wales is just about broken.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Questions about Christian learning and initiation

A quiet uneventful solitary Saturday, with a long walk around Bute Park to the city centre, rather than driving to the coast. This past few days my hearing has been impaired both by catarrh and a build up of ear wax, which hasn't responded to treatment with a proper removal fluid. It's very unpleasant and saps enjoyment from normal activity of every kind.

This morning I went to St John's Canton to celebrate their Candlemas sung Eucharist and was taken aback by just how difficult it was to hold conversations with people, let alone take the service with ease. A setting of the Mass was used which I am not very familiar with. I could hardly hear the congregation singing my hearing was so impaired, and this made it impossible to give a lead with singing as I usually do.

Seven children, all around seven years old were admitted to Communion for the first time. Dominic, one of the students on Parish Placement has been working with the children in Sunday school over months past to prepare them, and he asked if he could give them their first Communion, and I readily agreed. From there, I went on to St German's for a repeat of the Eucharist and ceremonies of Candlemas. I remembered how this feast gave me one of my first experiences of Anglo Catholic rites and ceremonies when I was a chemistry student, in the church St Mary Tyndalls Park in Bristol, which closed forty years ago. It was a church on my route home from the lab, with an open door and people like Simeon and Anna there with a welcome smile for a stranger.

Later in the day, I started thinking about the admission of children to Communion before Confirmation, now increasingly commonplace, although it has met with mixed reception, within parishes and in Anglican churches across the world. In some Provinces like USA and Canada it has become the new 'normal', whereas in more traditional African and Asian Provinces, no matter what church leaders think or say, it's not been 'received' unanimously by church members.

Anglican tradition makes much of Confirmation as an expression of informed personal commitment, and has long made it a requirement of those receiving Communion although the Book of Common Prayer states that reception is for those who are Baptized and Confirmed, or ready and desirous of being Confirmed by the Bishop. In the age before railways and modern roads, when it was that much more difficult for bishops and laity to travel distances and gather for a Confirmation, it gave a degree of discretion to parish clergy about giving Communion to those considered to be ready, no matter what their age. 

For centuries the Roman church has admitted young children to Communion before Confirmation, as I have seen on several occasions on holiday or working in Spain, where First Communion is a big event, requiring a gathering of the clans for far and wide to recognise and support candidates. In some regions where the difficulties of travel remain a hindrance, senior Catholic clergy are licensed to confirm suitably instructed candidates. 

Catechism and Confirmation at the end of the process are duties of the local Pastor in Lutheran and Reformed church parochial life, and early admission to Communion before Confirmation has become part of their regular churchgoing life in recent decades. There's a good deal of variety among Christians in the way Christian initiation and learning connect to the life of discipleship for both children and adults. 

In Orthodox Churches, Baptism, Confirmation and admission to Communion are inseparable parts of Christian initiation, no matter what the age of the candidate, infant or adult. Understanding faith is a continuous process of growth, and no matter what formal catechetical process may be undertaken in Christian schools or parishes, the prayer, liturgy and iconography of the Church are the basis of all that needs to be learned, through belonging and participation. 

There are so many different approaches, but at the heart of the matter is the question of how to ensure people get to know and understand faith in God through Jesus Christ and engage in Christian life in a way that is appropriate to their maturity and ability, their context and need to grow. In many secular westernised countries, each strand of Christian tradition finds it is facing different challenges these days. Patterns of church attendance are more irregular as established community life gets disrupted by economic or social issues which force migration on settled people. Lack of nurturing continuity is a feature of common experience. 

When families are on the move, from one place to another in which their traditional community life is not replicated, it can be difficult for any child or adult to follow a course of Christian learning, let alone participate in regular worship, or fit into a routine parochial pattern of Christian initiation. This is quite apart from the competitive distraction of Sunday sports and other entertainment, which can undermine participation in church life altogether. It takes great determination as well as suitable opportunities for parents to see their children fully catechized and initiated. How is it possible to acknowledge this need and work to meet it?

Fifty years ago I met Orthodox Archbishop Anthony Bloom at a baptism in a house in Bristol, and in the course of conversation he said that one of the things he appreciated about Anglicanism was the devout seriousness with which people were prepared for and received Holy Communion. It took me a long time to realise he wasn't just talking about our prayers and devotions, or the quiet seriousness with which Anglicans tend to approach the Holy Table. This was about instruction and preparation for Confirmation, the effort made to lead people to informed and conscious commitment, as a means to fuller participation. It makes sense, though in reality it's more haphazard and less systematic a process than it appears. Assimilation of tradition through worship and preaching also play their part. How we learn and grow spiritually is a rich complex process. It's true regardless of religious origins and background.

The Church in Wales still regards Confirmation as an important sacramental expression of informed commitment to Christian discipleship, though I think it needs working on to establish what the right time and place in life for this should be. It has however, recently reaffirmed that Baptism is the sole requirement for admission to Communion, enabling adults from other Christian traditions as well as children to receive the hospitality of the Eucharist in its churches. This is a positive move in response to the need of a faithful people to find a welcome wherever they are, or decide to settle in this world of uprootedeness. 

Believing, belonging, participation are essential to the growth of individuals in Christian community. But what of the initiation that takes place through learning, catechesis? If you look back over the past couple of centuries you'll see lots of different kinds of initiative for children and adults. Despite immense effort made by teachers and pastors to reach out and meet the need, those who remain committed and active at the end of the process is but a small fraction of the numbers that have disengaged and fallen away. How can we nurture a sense that believing, belonging, participation in worship are an essential aspect of who we are and what we do with our lives today, as it ever was? Is there one answer to this question? Or many? I just don't know.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Home alone weekend

This morning, it was Clare's turn to travel to Kenilworth by train to look after Rhiannon over another busy working weekend for Kath and Anto. I drove her to the station for a train, just before lunch, and then spent the afternoon doing nothing much of consequence apart from updating to the latest version of Libre Office on various machines. 

I continue to be impressed with the incremental improvements which appear. It's an outstanding project in Open Source Software development, a real flagship for free collaboration in producing apps that address many key user needs. Since I finished working for CBS RadioNet, I no longer need to use MS Word to ensure my files are seamlessly compatible with office use, I don't need to use anything other than Libre Office, which is installed on all the PCs I have in use, with MS Office now kept in reserve for emergencies on my mothballed former study workstation.

At tea-time, I drove over to Roath for a bereavement visit in relation to a funeral next week. Yesterday I was asked to book a date for another funeral, details to follow. That'll be my sixth in the past four weeks, and I know Fr Phelim, our parish priast has done even more. Other parish clergy are also reporting larger numbers of funerals than is usual for this time of year. It's not extreme weather, nor a reported 'flu epidemic, although there has been a pernicious and long drawn out virus which has hit many people with chesty catarrh this year. I thought I'd escaped it, but seem to have had a milder version of the same over the past two weeks. Heaven help anyone with a weak immune system!

Most worrying, to my mind is the impact this has on work load for the diminished number of working clergy that get called upon to do this. I wonder who is keeping an eye on this at a diocesan level, and taking into account the additional stresses and strains this imposes on clergy.

By the time I was finished my visit, traffic was heavy in all directions, so I drove back across Roath and into Cathays, so I could do some weekend shopping at Lidl's near where we used to live. Since I was last there, some months ago, It's undergone an internal makeover I think, although not expanded. It can't get any bigger on this site. Now, two ranks of self service tills replace a couple of manned checkouts, as in other stores around the city. I'd rather queue and speak to a human at checkout, so I avoid these. Nevertheless, self service tills shoten the queues as they get well used by the young - and this area is still a student ghetto, so the store is always busy with youngsters from around the world.

When I have to cook for myself, I still can't cook just enough for one meal at a time, so I ended up after supper with another meal ready for tomorrow. But what shall I do with tomorrow on my own, I wonder?

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Midweek ministries

Yesterday morning we welcomed two classes to the midweek Mass at St Germans instead of the usual one. It happened because one of the class teachers was called away without warning on compassionate leave, and recruiting a supply teacher at very short notice proved difficult. For one or other of the classes, this was a change in routine. Thankfully all were in a good mood and sang well. A chill wind defeated the effort of the heating system to make the building comfortably warm, so I got the children doing actions to the Peruvian Gloria and stamping their feet during the Alleluia, hoping that a little movement would be beneficial. I read them the Candlemas Gospel and kept my commentary brief, so they wouldn't have to sit for too long and get cold. 

After the service over a cup of coffee in the Day Centre, we started discussing plans and timetabling for Lent. Later in the day, I started to put all the liturgical engagements in my diary for the school and church services up until Easter. There's a lively hope that Fr Phelim will be licensed to the parishes as soon as possible afterwards. At that point, I'll have to shift my attention as a locum priest to my home parish, again, with the hope that the appointment of a replacement for Fr Phelm will be made very soon. It's important, given that three churches and a heavy urban pastoral workload is more than one full time priest on his can bear. If later in the year I go back to locum duties in Spain, if previous experience is anything to go by, it will seem very quiet in comparison.

This morning I celebrated the St John's midweek Eucharist for the Feast of the Presentation, 1984 BCP style, with ten people present. Straight afterwards, people started arriving for a funeral due to take place half an hour after we'd finished. There was just enough time for me to prepare for the service and drink a cup of tea before the hearse arrived. There were about fifty mourners present, a fraction of the attendance at Tuesday funeral in St Catherine's. That's just how it is, no two occasional offices are the same, each has to be prepared for separately and carefully. Doing half a dozen funerals in a week, as is often the case for fully time clergy in a Parish like ours can be very demanding, as well as disruptive of all other activities. I just hope that pastoral reforms now under way in the diocese and Church in Wales generally will address this. I'm not sure the church is as concerned about clergy health as it should be.

I was driven to Thornhill Crematorium in the latest Jaguar XF saloon. The fleet of funeral company cars recently exchanged diesel for petrol models, the diesel ones having proved less than satisfactory for technical reasons. Paul, my driver, proudly showed off the car's state of the art technology. The vehicle has its own internet connection and can receive a wide range of digital radio and TV channels (the latter only when stationary) as well as sat nav and other aids to navigation and parking. The car can be paired via USB and/or Bluetooth to any kind of digital device and even has its own built in web browser. It is, in effect, a three litre V6 supercharged smartphone one wheels! 

The car has heated seats with a built in massage mode, something I found quite disconcerting, since it reminded me of having small kids in the car kicking the back of the front seat, bored with containment. These cars do big mileages whether in long trips or a multitude of short ones around town. For those who spend half of their working lives behind the wheel, it must make a difference to drive a vehicle that is designed for creature comfort.

After a late lunch, I walked into town, and took photos to record the progress being made on the Central Square construction work, and to visit the CBS office to have tea and a chat with Julie and Ashley, but Julie had already left by the time I arrived, feeling unwell. Ah well, another time. Discussing current Company affairs, I don't think I'm any longer capable of coping with the worries and responsibilities of running a business, on top of the pastoral duties I get to undertake. I value the experience I had over six years of being a voluntary priest with a day job, something I hoped to do a lot earlier in life, but never got around to. Now I need all my inner resources to respond to the increased flow of duties that has come my way lately to the best of my ability. Who knows what the future holds?