Wednesday, January 30, 2008


A day and a half into writing, and six thousand words are done so far. That's not bad.

Are any of them any good?

Day one - yes. Today - has been mixed.

I have lived with these words, with these ideas, with the characters and places that will populate these pages for so long that as I begin to commit them to the page, they are old friends. But they live, they breathe, they have histories and shapes and theologies and futures that take me by surprise. I love this process!

And I have to give them their due. My voice has to rule, but only in order to give life, not to take it. There was a moment this morning when I knew I had to express a thought that was not within my normal expression. It was hard to frame words in that sentence.

I have not put on my skis yet; I have loved writing too much.

I am learning so much, enjoying these days, this journey. What joy.

Even my morning worship is new, with time for songs of worship unlike anything I have experienced in ages. This is a total privilege.

I guess it will get harder; but for now my sabbatical is sheer pleasure, sheer joy. Glory. keep praying!


The very first post I entered here was entitled “Overture”: it was simply to get the ball rolling, to begin the blog by setting the tone for the site.

But now we have the Interval. Not for the blog, but for something far greater in my life.

I’m on a train, just leaving Geneva, heading for Wengen. The rising sun is breaking through the last wisps of morning fog, glistening on the lake beaneath me to my right. We stream past slower trains with less to do, more people to carry on shorter journies perhaps. This train is all but empty as it speeds to Lausanne, Bern, Luzern.

And I speed away from St Catherine’s for my Sabbatical. Always a capital S. I have been looking forwards to this since the idea first occurred perhaps two and a half years ago, and more solidly since I began planning the book I shall be working on – let’s give it a working title, let’s start calling it Forgiveness – for over a year now.

On my left fields, a chateau, tall trees and then forestry covered hills with snow-capped mountains peaking out from behind them.

But not just a Sabbatical. An interval. When I came to St Catherine’s, I set myself ten years and then a review; it soon became apparent that that would not be long enough to do the work I was called to do. So I re-set my parameters to fifteen years. On that basis, this is half time.

Half gone. Now a break. Then the same again, that’s all.

Of course, it also became apparent that fifteen years was a totally arbitary thing. Goodness, I have no crystal ball here, and no idea what the Lord will call me to do. But yesterday as I said goodbye at morning and evening services, I was aware of that idea, and aware too that one day I will leave for good – and it really hurt!

I saw my old theological college principal last week; and I commented to him then that I didn’t remember anyone telling me at college how much I would love my church. It is my family, my home, where I belong, where I see God working and loving people, where I want to grow & grow old.

Half way? I sincerely hope not! But I know I am only there because he has given me the wonderrful gift of being there.

So this is an interval. Between Acts One and Two. Of how many, I cannot say!
Sun, almost too bright now, making reading my screen hard work. Banners flying from buildings. Winter countryside. A ruined farmhouse.
An interval. To breathe, to consider what has happened so far. To take stock. To anticipate what will come. To give thanks.
And then the curtain rises again – for I won’t take aseat for Act two, I’ll take the stage: Christian life is no spectator sport. And where Jesus shines his spotlight, I want to be found standing right there.

Monday, January 21, 2008

In a creative mood

So I'm geting ready for my sabbatical. Seven weeks to produce a first draft of my next book. And this morning as I sat and worshipped in church before the day began (I always go in early on a Sunday) I must have been in a creative mood. For my fingers wandered over the keyboard, my mind settled on the words, and in twenty minutes the following just came to pass.

Which kind of expresses where I am right now. Ready to listen, ready to follow, ready to begin an adventure. Three weeks in Switzerland & four in the States are all lined up - but the big story of writing another book outshines the locations. And for the opportunity, my heart is simply fit to bursting with thankfulness.

And my dreams are filled with images and words from God. I'll try and take time out of the organising of the next two months that has to be crammed into these hours in order to record some of them for you, and for me! For tonight, that song will have to do.

"Take my mind, take my heart, take my all in all,
Take me at my word I pray."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Snow, Scaffolding, and Psalm 23

Which have nothing to do with each other - except they all featured in my weekend.


On Friday I had lunch with Catharine Morris in Cirencester. Lovely - arranged for quite a while in order that we would have a chance to meet up before I disappear off on my forthcoming sabbatical. It was terrible weather, pouring down, indeed so much so that on the drive there I almost turned back.

But I had booked a ticket to go on to Hereford in the evening to see the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, and I did want to see Catharine, so on I drove.

I left Cirencester at 4pm, the rain having turned slightly sleety. I looked at my fuel guage - quarter full. Should I put more diesel in? No need - I'd fill up in Hereford later. But ten miles or less out, on the A417 towards Gloucester, I am stuck in snow. There's no snow on the forecast. The radio is only talking about flooding. But for the next FIVE HOURS I move one and a half miles. Quarter of a tank of fuel. Am I going to be here all night? Slight panic. It's a dual carriageway so I can't even turn back. I have a blanket, & snow boots in the car - though my mobile is dying fast.

When I can turn off the dual carriageway, I do - only to get stuck in those floods!

I eventually reach home just after midnight. A journey of 70 miles took eight hours, and I missed the concert - though so apparently did Chris Dean, leader of the Syd Lawrence band, who was also in the same snow drift as me, though he found a pub to hole up in. There's a committed musician for you.


Ian, site manager on the car park next door to us, rang yesterday (Saturday) afternoon.

"It's late notice, but we're a bit stuck, it's a money thing for us now, we have to work through this weekend, and we're pulling the scaffolding down off the site, so I'm just letting you know."

"Which side of the site?" I ask.

"Yours," he replies, embarrassed. "We don't want to disturb you obviously on a Sunday, so when are your services?"

"8 till 9, & 11 till 12.30," I reply.

"Oh, that's most of the morning," he says, unhappily. "We're going to have to do it I'm afraid, as I say it's a costs thing, we're behind and have to make up time. We'll try not to make too much noise."

And I'm thinking, they are pulling down a mountain (eight floors) of scaffolding right next to us. That ain't going to be quiet. Plus I know the planning permit for them, so I have a question:

"Ian, doesn't the planning permit have a condition on it that you don't work on Sundays?"

"Er, yes," he says.

"And have you sought an exemption from that for this weekend, cos I haven't seen any of the bills around the place that I'd expect to see if you have?" Because if they want to change any of the conditions of planning they have to put notices around the site and get permission to do so.


"Well, then I don't think we have a problem, do we?"

"Is that it?" he asks plaintively, hoping for mercy. And we chat a very little more, and that is how it is left.

Till 8am today, when just as I start the service, the scaffolding starts to come down. So I leave the service in Richard's hands, whispering to him "I'll be back", and I go outside. Because as far as I can see, the business of the construction of a car park has made a choice: their money is worth more than the people sitting in front of me coming to worship. And I disagree, and actually so does the Council who gave the planning permit. These people have rights. Money isn't everything.

You have to get the picture. It's still semi-dark. We are a Victorian building with a spire. Next to a building site covered with scaffolding. I am robed up - cassock, surplis, stole.

I call out to the nearest worker - "Excuse me!" He looks at me, shocked.

"What's the matter?" Irish accent.

"It's a Sunday, and by planning permission you can't be working here today." I was not at my most eloquent and most charming. I was straight to the point.

And then this guy was brilliant. Motioning with a cutting action across his neck, he called up to all the workers and told them to stop. "Guys, stop, stop!" he called, "the priest's here! Stop!" Then he turned to me: "I'm going to have to call the guy in charge, can you wait?"

"Sure," I said.

He gets his mobile out. "Kevin, get here now, the priest's here & he says we've got to stop!"

And I'm thinking - Irish Catholic. You've got to love them. I'm one picket line he is not going to cross.

Kevin comes: Ian has told him it's OK to work today, he told him on Friday. Which makes me slightly irritated that Ian waited till late on Saturday before mentioning it to me - in the hope that I wouldn't do anything, I guess. And that he then didn't get back to these guys. And now he isn't answering his phone (he never does on Sundays - I could have told Kevin that).

The scaffolder says: "Would you mind if we worked on the other side of the building, on Mill Street?" He's not upsetting 'the priest'. But he's got men there & he wants them to work. I admire his style.

"Technically you are still breaking the planning permit," I said - "but if I can't hear you, you can do what you like." And the scaffolder took control, and moved his men to the other side of the building, leaving me to arrive back in church just as Richard had read out the Gospel & I was due to begin my sermon. It is possible that Ian will be calling me in the morning...

Psalm 23

After Ian's Saturday phone call I headed out to the hospital. Gladys was very ill. At 92, she was diagnosed with cancer last year, and has been failing for a while. She was taken in to the Royal Glamorgan this last week. A lovely faithful lady.

When I arrived, her son Stuart was still there, and I chatted to him briefly before he left me alone for a while with his mother. Stuart was one of my church wardens when I first came here. He's always been a member of this church. Gladys tells stories of them coming up from her home when Stuart was a lad, of choir trips to Barry Island, of church days gone by.

When it was just the two of us, Gladys said, "I've lived long enough now". And so I told her I was going to read her a Psalm & pray with her. Those Irish Catholics would have a name for this; as a Protestant, we don't call it "Last Rites", but that's what I was doing.

I'd pulled an old, tiny white King James Bible off the shelf & popped it into my coat pocket. I think it was my Gran's, or maybe Dad's from school days. It seemed the right version for the occasion. And I opened it at Psalm 23.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

"I learned that as a little girl," Gladys said, as I finished reading it, "I could say every word with you." And we talked about the Psalm briefly.

Then I took her hands and blessed her, assuring her of forgiveness & the love of Jesus. We prayed the Lord's Prayer together. At the end she added, "Thank you Lord for helping me".

We sat in silence a while. Her breathing altered, and for a moment I wondered if she was going to go there and then. Eventually I took my leave. I told her I would see her again, but we both knew I meant in heaven. She blew me a kiss. I squeezed her hand and said thank you - for the delight of being a friend.

I walked out, & turned back in the doorway to see her waving.

It was lovely, peaceful, wonderful. We said goodbye, and knew what we were doing. I committed her into God's care, and she was ready to leave. This job has so many sides to it, but being the gatekeeper is the most sacred, precious thing.

My phone rang again at 9am to tell me she had passed during the night.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Christmas Memory

This is a song I wrote for our choir at the Pontypridd Carol Service this year. It's not what you expect on this site - no jazz, no worship band. Just a choir & organ. And a bit of Christmassy nostalgia with candles and a far-too-big tree stuffed in the pulpit!

And it's a little thank you for all the folk who worked hard to be involved in what we did at Christmas this year - trying to use where we are & who we are to reach out to as many as we can with some real Christmas hope & love. There's enough of the fake stuff that shines & sparkles & disappears with your bank balance & the decorations & the gifts that get forgotten or taken for granted within moments. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy the fake stuff as much as the next bloke; not for a moment would I stop it. It's just important to know the difference & to make sure that as Christians we put the real in the mix. That's what we were trying to do this year.

Did we get it right? Well, I've no great conversion tales for you... I wonder if the wise men asked this question after Herod ordered the slaughter of the innocents. Our "getting it right" is often a confused thing; there are different levels - who am I to judge? At times I was too stressed out to know! At times, I was thrilled with what was happening. But I would far rather the confusion of the attempt than that we didn't try at all. We had a go! And next year we will again.

And people heard about Jesus.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Or as Gethin said on TV last night, Blwyddin Newydd Dda.

Chris, Ruth, Eleanor & Tim Holmwood have been staying, and for New Year's Eve we had a super party with Dan & Kirsty, Rhian & Gill as well, with much wine & pork casserole consumed by all. Charades from the Radio Times were duly performed, though "Masterpieces of Vienna" took some doing.

Today we went to Cardiff Bay, which delighted Tim as we saw site after sight of Doctor Who filming. "This is where the Slitheen had a meal with him..." or "this is where Mickey said it was cold..." or "this is where the rift opens up" and so forth. (Though at one point I whispered to C& R, "for adult Torchwood audiences, this is where John Barrowman had his civil ceremony...")

Unfortunately for Tim, he & Chris had just walked into the cinema to see The Golden Compass as Eleanor & I were sitting at a table by the Doctor Who exhibition outside, when Russell T Davies, writer of the new DW shows, walked right past us.

Unfortunately for me, Eleanor & I went to see the St Trinians movie.

The photo? C,R,E&T (not in that order) silhouetted against the afternoon sun in the Bay.

It's an homage to this photo, taken at Penarth four years ago to the day. Only four years. My computer assures me this is the case. But the kids do seem to have grown somewhat in that time!

And now to prepare for the year ahead. What are your hopes? I'm going to write a book this year. Murder, rape, betrayal, hope, loss, and ultimately forgiveness - and that's just the first chapter. Like all first novels, it's a thinly veiled autobiography really...

Now, back to the bubbly, I think we have some left -

Iechyd da!