Street Lighting

The remnants of St Francis continue for another week. This time, the church for which he had become patron for 70 years and more in a place far, far away from where he once trod. Assisi and Splott are miles apart. In more ways than one. A few years ago, I was really privileged to celebrate Mass at Assisi with a pilgrimage group from St John’s School, Aberdare. We only spent a day in Assisi and it was enough for me to know that I would like to return. This morning we discreetly remembered the closure of St Francis’ Church in 1969, forty years ago this week. In my reading of its history, one reason for its building was the lack of adequate street lighting which made it difficult or impractical or impossible, perhaps, for people to get to St Saviour’s from Lower Splott. These days we have more than adequate street lighting!

It amazes me how the congregation at St Saviour’s can fluctuate from one week to the next. Today there were 34 communicants, the previous two weeks it was closer to fifty. Somewhere we have lost or missed or missed out on 16 communicants. Where have they gone? Where are they? What has happened? Each one has a different story to tell, each leading a different life, at a different pace, with different challenges and changes. Should I call on the 16? Should I have a marathon week of visiting? Perhaps, yes. Indeed, yes!! And yet ‘the Diocese’ has decided that the Parish of Roath St Saviour is a half time post (three days including a Sunday) If, this week, I should call on the 16 people who have not brightened the doors of St Saviour’s this Sunday (for whatever reason) that would mean, perhaps, 16 hours of visiting (give or take the travelling in between) which works out as two days, which leaves me with Sunday to…well, you get the idea. The nights are drawing in. The visting will continue into the late hours. At least, these days, there is adequate street lighting.

I wonder who decides what? Has there been an audit, a survey, a questioning and pondering, a ‘looking into’ and a ‘looking at?’ Has there been an asking of this question or that, a peering or perusing, an interest or an interesting enquiry? Not to my knowledge – which means little, I suppose. But I’m not aware that anyone (on a Diocesan level, that is) has been illuminated on what the parish would need for the Kingdom of God to be proclaimed in Splott. And so we wait for the 16 to brighten the doors of the church again on Sunday. What a welcome light they will bring. How warming. How lovely. How welcome a return. The Diocesan Strategy, meanwhile, remains in darkness about what is required. Meanwhile, we have more than adequate street lighting.

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It is Dark Now

An early start. The alarm kicks off at 6.00 am and it’s 15 minutes and three snooze buttons later that I eventually rise from bed. Kitty wants to be fed and sniff the cold air, and as I sneak open the front door I hear the squeek or squeal of ‘Blackie’ sitting outside, waiting, patiently, for warmth and breakfast. It is a cold morning. I feed him, and his black fur is cold. His ears are even colder. Half an hour (and a shower and shave) later I am making my way to the station, the lights of the city centre still bright against the autumn dawn sky. The 7.11 train to Aberdare is always relatively quiet and I spend the time reading The Times and writing notes. Today it is Mass and Blessing of Pets at St John’s School, and there are several dogs, three small kittens cwtched together in a cat box, a tortoise called Shelly and a stick insect called Sticky. The Mass is outdoors. It is lovely and frosty, the sun low in the sky, offering only a gentle warmth. It has almost burnt out, it seems. The animals do not seem to mind being splashed by holy water.

I arrive home at One. The afernoon is spent meandering over the keyboard of my laptop, writing school assemblies for the new website, putting together the parish bulletin, arranging the Mass for the October Walsingham Devotions in Aberdare on Saturday and replying to various emails. I escape for an hour to watch TV. Repeats. Replays. Killing time. I have kicked off my shoes. Before I know it, it is after six and time to leave. I splash water on my face to revive me.

Tonight is Mass at St Saviour’s. As I leave, as I sneak open the front door I hear the squeek or squeal of ‘Blackie’ sitting outside, waiting, patiently. I give him what he wants. He is satiated by a dish food. It is a brisk twenty minutes walk for Mass, there and back. On the way home a woman with red high heeled shoes stands on the corner of Sanquahar Street, waiting, patiently, for warmth and breakfast. She will get neither. It’s been a while since I have passed any of the women who walk (or rather, stand) this way from time to time. I think they move from place to place or, perhaps more accurately, they are moved on from place to place. I keep my head down. Tonight I am not asked if I would like to trade. Across the Magic Roundabout, Tyndall Street is quiet and, for a while, I am trailed by two insinificant significant men who mean no harm but I always have my wits about me. The traffic makes it ways up and down, up and down, the neon lights of hotels glimmering in the night. It is dark now.

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Too Wet, Too Woo!

It’s been a, well, rather ‘wet’ day today, to say the least. So much so that I got a taxi to Mass this morning…although was that more to do with meandering in the house, clutching at ‘work’ and leaving it to the last possible minute to leave, too late to walk?! My afternoon walk from Aberdare Station to St John’s School was even more wet – it always rains more in the valleys, it seems! – and when I arrived at the lower gate of the school I discovered it locked – my short cut taken away from me – and so more battling with rain and a large umbrella which I, alas, after the Governor’s meeting, left in school. My memory is not my stong point! I just hope it’s fine tomorrow! Otherwise I shall put off the whole ‘going out’ thing altogether!

Meanwhile, this evening, I have been putting off the whole ‘going to bed’ thing! I have been using every possible available moment today to get on with a new resource. I’m working, as fast as I can, on a School Assembly Website, which gathers together what amounts to 8 years of delivering assemblies and writing dramas and other miscellaneous items as Youth Chaplain. Unfortunately, I am not the best person at filing things neatly away or even keeping notes at all (most of my homilies and assemblies, originally scribbled on bits of paper, get consigned to the bin) so many of my attempts have been lost in my memory bin, and that takes some sifting! My memory is not my strong point!

Now, then, what was I saying….? Oh yes, bins and filing, which reminds me: behind the closed door of (what I refer to as) my secondary study lies several piles of paperwork, all to be filed. Most of it, I’m sure – if it ever gets to a file – will never see the light of day again! Which makes me wonder how much purpose most of the paperwork we generate ever serves anyway. At the Governor’s meeting today a request was made by several people (including myself) to receive items in electronic form. There is no more group or committee of which I have been a part that does not generate more paperwork than School Governors and I would far prefer it ‘neatly’ filed away on my computer than lying somewhere on my study floor! Mind you, with November 5th not too far way, all the paperwork I have received and created over several months, and which lies around lazily waiting to be filed and attended to, would make a great bonfire. It’s a shame it’s all so wet! It would make great burning. Too-wet, too-woo. Goodnight.

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Cat and Mouse

It’s been one of those days of sitting in front of the computer, I’m afraid, so what better way to end the day than sitting in front of the computer?! I have worked on various websites and resources, trying to get to grips with things that I’ve been mulling in my mind for some time now, pushing my mouse around my pad, clicking and reclicking, trying to get things right. It’s been a game of cat and mouse: attempting to pounce on something that is worth pouncing on; trying to find that one thing that will make it all worthwhile. I think, at last, I have found it, although it will take some time to bear fruit. Another click of the mouse. Ha ha.

A colleague of mine, one who has embraced technology and the internet and blogging in particular as a means of communicating the gospel was once asked by the bishop how he found time to blog. I think that’s a rather narrow minded misunderstanding on the part of the bishop, and I was comforted in a recent email conversation with my colleague to hear him say, ‘No matter what anyone else says (especially those in authority) writing websites and blogging IS work. It’s a form of open public reflective practice – words, images, presentation format, more than just writing or speaking and it does the brain good. Its’ a way of sowing seeds, publicising, starting a debate maybe influencing things once there’s a bit of an audience.’ Another divine click of the mouse. Ha ha.

Tomorrow will be a very different day: Mass at 10 in the morning, followed by an erratic stuffing of 200 envelopes for a mailing I need to do, and then on the train at 12.15 for a School Governer’s meeting in Aberdare. A day away from the computer. Mass, Meetings and Mailings. It’s not all about mouse-pushing, you know! Meanwhile the black stray cat I have been feeding for some months now is asleep downstairs, curled up on the chair, where he has been for a few hours. Content. The other cat I adopted in May isn’t too happy. She looks at me in disgust, looks at ‘Blackie’ with even more disgust, and then promptly eats his food. Soon ‘Blackie’ will be turfed out into the night. The one and only time I allowed him to sleep indoors the house was left with a, well, less than lovely aroma and I was left to scrub and clean. I feel a bit guilty about evicting him. But I’m sure he’ll find a mouse or two.

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Animal Instinct

So the former French President is poochless. Jacques Chirac has been forced to give away his dog who has now bitten him three times. The aptly named Sumo, a Maltese Terrier, is now enjoying life on a farm after, says Mrs Chirac, suffering from depression on leaving the Elysee Palace. The dog has had problems downsizing, it seems, from the freedom of the large palace gardens to a smaller, more modest apartment. Earlier this year, Mr Chirac was hospitalised after the dog sank his teeth into an unnamed body part. In the latest attack, Mrs Chirac said Sumo was lying quietly at her feet but flew into a violent rage as her husband approached, biting the former French leader in the stomach. “I was very scared because there was blood,’ she said. ‘It’s terrible, the small teeth like that. He was going wild. He wanted to jump up and bite again.’

There were no bites or blood or scrams or violent rages today at St Saviour’s for the Blessing of Animals on the Feast of St Francis’…despite the mix of one cat, three dogs, a hamster, two giant snails, two praying mantis and a dove. There are many stories of saints awash with animals: St Cuthbert having his feet dried and warmed by an otter, St Francis preaching to birds and befriending a wolf, St Kevin waiting patiently, palms up, whilst a bird nested in his hand, until the eggs hatched and the youngsters flew the nest. Holiness and intimacy with creation appear to go hand in hand, it seems. Are they just fanciful pieces of folklore, stories spun out of all proportion? Certainly when it comes to appreciating the natural world there is not always room for emotion or sentimentality. But sometimes, perhaps, there is room for intimacy and well, yes, love.

Whilst spending time (some years ago now!) on my ordination retreat, we were regularly attacked by a seagull who swooped down into the college grounds, its shrill threatening cry ringing in our ears, the flap of feather just a few (webbed) feet away. But the seagull could be forgiven. She/he was just protecting the young who had flown the nest. But I felt far from holy. Where was Kevin, Cuthbert and Francis when you needed them? Glorying, perhaps, in the splendour and wonder of creation, appreciating the flap of feather, the beautifully created bird of the sea. We were just watching our heads.

Link to Chirac Story

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Spinning Saints and Pointless Pirouettes

I love the story of St Francis, standing at the crossroads, accompanied by his brother friars, and not knowing which way to turn. Francis instructed them to stand on the spot and spin and spin until he shouted, ‘Stop!’ The direction in which they faced was the direction in which they were to travel to share the gospel. It’s a pertinent story for me at the moment because at St Saviour’s tomorrow we will celebrate St Francis of Assisi – there was once a church dedicated to the spinning saint in the parish – closed forty years ago next Sunday (and next Sunday we shall remember the church that stood at the lower end of Splott. Not just in a melancholic manner but in order, too, to value the present and, of course, move on). However, the story is personally pertinent for another reason. For some time now I have felt a bit like those confused friars, standing at the crossroads, not knowing which to turn. Spinning, spinning, listening for the ‘Stop’ of a saint to break their seemingly pointless pirouette.

For more than a year I have been thinking about where to go next. Surely I can’t remain as Youth Chaplain indefinitely. Where can I go? What shall I do? Since reducing my Youth Chaplaincy duties to half-time and adopting (or rather being adopted by) the people of St Saviour’s Splott for another half-time post I thought, perhaps, I should return to parish ministry full-time and leave someone else to do what they can do for Youth Ministry in the diocese. Things appear to be going well at St Saviour’s and there is so much to do and (accompanied by my ‘Diocesan’ naivety and my commitment to the parish) I thought perhaps it would be possible to stay there. Alas, the process hasn’t been as easy or as quick as I thought. Spinning, spinning. Four months after attempting to arrange a meeting with the diocesan bishops I have finally received an answer to my very straightforward suggestion: the answer was quite easy to understand once I spelt it out! ‘Stay as you are with the two half-time posts or apply for a job elsewhere.’ I have paraphrased, of course. All along I have been dancing a pointless pirouette.

Here I was, after much spinning and standing still, not so much at a crossroads but at a T-junction. I even had a little list suggested by one of the bishops as to why it’s really not so bad to leave your home diocese. I felt frustrated, overlooked, undermined and undervalued and, most importantly, as though I was going nowhere (apart from spinning on the spot). However, since the only two options available were to stay as I am or leave altogether, I have now reached my own turning point (as opposed to a ‘spinning point’ – the ‘spinning’ has stopped). So I have decided to stay as I am, in a manner of speaking of course. My decision doesn’t mean that I’m not moving on – it means making the most of the few options available to me, looking at things differently, and taking things in a different direction. I have heard the ‘Stop’ of a saint and closed my ears, for now, to the bureaucratic banalities and parsonic perambulations. This is the turning point. There is no more spinning. I just have to cope with the dizziness now.

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Time for One More?

I spent the day at home yesterday. Not a bad place to be after six days away. And yet the holiday mood still clung closely. Still a good holiday read waiting to be finished, still the lethargy and laziness hanging around. I spent a lot of my holiday time reading, relaxing, walking, eating, drinking, meandering and musing, enjoying the pleasure of nothing to do. I took exactly the correct number of books. Two volumes of the ‘Chronicles of Narnia'(one of which I completed on my arrival) a little children’s book called ‘Once’ by Morris Gleitzman, a larger teenage read called ‘Twilight’ by Stephanie Meyer, and ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’ by Patrick Ness (which I completed last night). Each of them was a good read – for very different reasons. I am, at the moment, still immersed in the genre of young people’s literature, which is a far more subtle, complicated, demanding, creative and creatively profound genre than many people may imagine!

Yesterday, I caught a video trailer on Stephen Fry’s website abut the stories of Oscar Wilde, where Stephen hails Wilde as so many different things and describes how discovering his works when he was young changed the way he viewed literature and language. He was particularly enamoured by his children’s stories – they are indeed a moving example of parables, powerfully crafted, language cleverly mastered, delivering truth through story and words. It would be such a waste to think that many adults miss out on what this genre offers! For me, reading a novel, is as good a spiritual read as any devotional book! And children’s literature features very strongly in that!

The best Children’s literature does indeed deal with important issues, and sometimes rather surprising issues and images emerge. ‘Once’ deals with the real horrors of the Jewish Holocaust. Aimed at 9 to 12 year olds it is written with sensitivity and fragile honesty. ‘Twilight’ – although dressed in the fantasy horror world of vampires – really deals with love: what it means to love and be loved, and what it means to be human. ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’ has all the ingredients of a book that I really shouldn’t enjoy (with talking dogs and spaceships and all!) but it worked beautifully, which meant that I found it difficult to put down: it deals with issues of choice and repsonsibility, what it means to grow up and become a man, what it means to know the truth of who we are, and how we discover and understand the world (and there isn’t even a happy ending!) Now that I am home I am very tempted to pick up one or two books that have been lying around the house for some time, waiting to be read or waiting to be completed. But alas there is work to do! A long list has already emerged on my note pad of things to do today. Or do I have just time for one more parable before work really begins?

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