Friday, 31 August 2007

Neither seen nor heard - licensing laws in the Capital

Under the 2003 Licensing Act, the City government is obliged to review and revise its licensing policy, touching upon the activities of all pubs, clubs, restaurants, and other places of entertainment and shops where alcoholic drinks are bought and sold. The City Council website has made the draft policy document available for examination from for a consultation period running from 1st August to 1st October 2007, before it is adopted by the City Council.

This is not a controversial document. It is well thought out, and addresses many common concerns arising from the culture of excess and debauchery on which both day and night-time city centre economy appears to thrive today. If it has any short-comings, these may indeed come out during the consultation period, or they may not.

The deliberations that went into producing fifteen pages of the document reflect the wide range of organisations with responsibilities touching upon the safe and effective running of every aspect of entertainment, leisure and public order in the City.

However, the list of consultation partners doesn't extend to other retailers or people who habitually worship in one or other of the churches of the area affected in central Cardiff, or indeed those of different cultures who take issue with the levels of alcohol products being sold.

The views of retailers will certainly have found representation through contributions by the police and Community Safety Partnership. But it is less certain that churches' views will have been represented, any more than those of voluntary agencies dealing with problems of alcohol and drug abuse. These organisations do have an opportunity to comment on the draft policy document, but have played no part in its formation. Whether or not they could have made a constructive contribution to policy formation remains unknown, because they were not asked or, if asked, not listed. People with potentially critical perspectives cannot be presumed to be obstructive in their contribution to shaping a policy, but they do offer a perspective all too readily overlooked, and may be able to offer helpful insights on the containment of social problems arising. But only if asked.


Thursday, 30 August 2007

Community rooted ecumenism - a profile

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Canton Uniting Church is a Baptist/URC Ecumenical Project of about 100 members, on Cowbridge Road East. It was formed in 1995 on the site of New Trinity (URC) and rebuilt with monies from the sale of Llandaff road chapel (Baptist), sold to the Chinese Christian Church. The new church and suite was designed to express the new church’s mission statement to be open to the community by both being accessible and contributing actively to the life of the community around. This has been pursued in numerous ways, affecting some hundreds of people per week:

1. The buildings, both the church and the extensive halls at the rear, are regularly let out to community groups on a regular and one off basis. This includes Weight Watchers, choirs, keep-fit and a counselling service, from any faith and none.

2. Alcoholics Anonymous occupy exclusively a designated suite, including their emergency call line.

3. A Play Group, registered and fully equipped, has met for many years for four mornings a week.

4. A Day Centre for the elderly meets every Wednesday for lunch and recreation.

5. A shopper’s Coffee Morning most Saturdays for the passers-by.

6. Uniformed organisations, long established, Guides, Brownies, Rainbows and Boys Brigade are based here.

7. ‘United by Lights’ is an annual interfaith/cultural evening in November, in co-operation with the Gurdwara in Riverside.

8. One World Week events are put on with the Canton and Riverside Churches Together in October.

9. The Treganna Family Centre is a major initiative, made possible by a generous legacy, in partnership with Spurgeons (a UK wide children and family organisation), started in 2006. With a full-time manager, a fully qualified social worker and nursery nurse, a rapidly growing programme of courses and groups for young, often single, parents and their babies, and others, together with an advice service, which is increasingly being used by incomers to Cardiff from all over the world, is building up. This is done in collaboration with statutory and voluntary groups from Canton and also the adjoining Community One areas of Riverside, Ely and Caerau.

10. Congregational life provides care and support not only for members, but also their families and friends and many strangers at key points in life such as birth, marriage and bereavement as well as at time of crisis. There are also meetings that provide a wider range of people opportunities for social contact. The community embraces those with various disabilities.

11. Charitable donations are raised regularly, in different ways, for international and local causes which can amount to several hundreds of pounds per annum.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Organ donation religious viewpoints- case study

General leaflet on religious viewpoints

Cardiff has been home to the debate on organ donation with leading organisations such as the BMA leading the way recently. The Institute of Nephrology in the UHW Heath leads on kidney research. The Kidney Wales Foundation is based in Cardiff. See http://www.kidneywales.com/

Some people in Cardiff are not sure whether their religion would prevent them from agreeing to donate their organs after their death – yet all the major religions in Cardiff support the principles of organ donation and transplantation.

It is important that people from all backgrounds donate organs, as there is a much better success rate when transplants are carried out within the same ethnic group.

Black and Asian people are three times as likely to need a kidney transplant than white people, so there is an even greater need for more black and Asian donors.

This information has been written by the NHS with the support of religious leaders of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.

Kidney Wales in Cardiff leads on the cross cultural issues that arise from organ donation.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Processions of faith (2)

In February this year, a proposal was made by Ely Churches Together to arrange a Palm Sunday afternoon Walk of Witness with an open air service in the City Centre. Other Cardiff ecumenical groups were invited to take part.
The organiser approached the Police, and an (un-named) senior officer happily granted permission for this to take place. The organiser was advised to check if the City Centre Management team had been informed by the Police that the march was taking place, since the day-to-day organisation and safe running of every kind of activity in the pedestrian area is their concern. The team takes pride in being a 'can-do' organisation. As it turned out, they had not been informed of this decision by the police. As it also turned out, the Walk organisers had also not been informed by the Police that there was a major sporting event on in the Millennium Stadium, involving some road closures and inevitably high demand on parking space within a couple of miles of the centre.

The City Centre Management team considered that despite the crowds expected for the match, there was no reason why the Walk, and open air service should not be able to take place, since a large proportion of the crowd would be in the stadium at the proposed time, and there would probably be fewer shoppers than a normal Sunday afternoon. While big sporting events attract accompanying spouses to go shopping during the match (if they are not otherwise attending it), many more people in South Wales are deterred from Sunday shopping on match days, on account of the noise, mess and crowds and inaccessibility before and after the match, so retailers (apart from fast food and souvenir merchants, also hoteliers) don't generally benefit from Big Match days. City Centre management knows its constituency!

In the event, the Walk organisers, although they had gone to the trouble of publicising it, felt obliged to cancel in the week before, aware that many older people, or parents with young children, who may want to take part, would equally be deterred by the thought of it being a Match Day, and the possibility of having to walk a long way from their parked cars. Public transport is not great on Sundays at the best of times, and gets disrupted by Stadium events. The majority of participants, living 3-4 miles out, would need transport to get within range of the city centre, or else would not have been able to manage to arrive at the rendezvous point for the Walk in good time.

Sunday sporting and leisure activities involving either the demands of large crowds or road closures in the city centre, disrupt 15-20% of regular Sunday commercial and religious activity in the heart of the city each year. There is no shortage of good-will on the ground to allow all activities to co-exist. Any and every major event involves collaboration by a wide range of organisations to ensure smooth running. However, the fact that both commerce and religion both suffer from the disruption, despite representations and protests about not being taken into consideration, suggests that consultation and 'partnership working' in the city is not as effective as it should be.



Monday, 20 August 2007

Discuss religion with young people in Cardiff


Archbishop goes to the nightclub to discuss religion with young people

THE Archbishop of Wales met drinkers in a city centre bar for a debate on the pros and cons of religion.
Dr Barry Morgan led the debate, Is Religion Bad? at Dempsey’s Bar, Castle Street, Cardiff, last night at Solace, the church in a bar.

CARDIFF - MOST DIVERSE PLACE IN WALES

The 2001 Census collected information about ethnicity and, for the first time, religious identity. Religious and ethnic minorities in Wales formed a larger than expected proportion of the population and Cardiff was considerably more diverse.
National Statistics Online

Nearly three quarters of the Welsh population described their religion as Christian (72 per cent). The White group contained the highest proportion of Christians (73 per cent), and majorities of Black Caribbeans and people from Mixed ethnic backgrounds also identified as Christians (70 and 51 per cent respectively). After Christianity, Islam was the next most common faith. Cardiff had the largest Muslim population (4 per cent of the local population) but in the country overall Muslims accounted for less than 1 per cent of the population (22,000 people). Most Muslims were from Asian backgrounds, including 7,000 Pakistani Muslims and 5,000 Bangladeshi Muslims, although nearly 3,000 White people also described themselves as Muslim.Among other faiths the next largest groups were Indian Hindus (over 4,000) and White Buddhists (3,000), followed by White Jews and Indian Sikhs (both about 2,000).Age structures of the different religious groups reflected their ethnic composition and the secular trend among the White population. Between 5 and 6 per cent of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were pensioners, compared with 24 per cent of Christians and 30 per cent of Jews.Across Wales 19 per cent reported they had no religion and a further 8 per cent did not record an answer.

Muslim Scouts- A surprise to some even after 30 years



Welsh, Muslim and Scouts

CARDIFF PROUD OF FIRST MUSLIM SCOUT GROUP

The Scout Association set up its first Muslim group in Wales in Cardiff.

It is not a surprise that Islam integrates with the principles of Scouting and the activities and ideals that the group promotes enhances the young that that have joined.

The Cardiff-based troop is the 10th Muslim Scout group to be formed in the UK and although it has taken seven years to reach that figure, it is expected soon the number will have doubled as more and more Muslims turn to Scouting.

It isn't generally known, but the Scout Association has a long record of working within the Islamic community and there have been individual Scouts from a Muslim background for more than 30 years, which may come as a surprise to those that thought Scouting was securely tied to Christianity.

New perceptions

Mark Waghorn, programme and development adviser to the Scout Association, says the general perception that the movement is for Christians only is wide of the mark. "Scouting is not a Christian-based movement," he says.

"As with many of the world's faiths, Christianity encompasses the main aims of Scouting."
As does Islam, according to Nazeed Rahman, leader of the 1st Cathays al Huda group. The Cardiff-based group was officially launched in March 2006 but has actually been operating for a year and has 90 Beavers, Cubs and Scouts.

"There were four or five of us that had been in the Scouting movement." he says. "We thought it would be good for our youngsters to be involved as well. The movement teaches much of what is central to Islam, such as discipline. We wanted something other than a youth club to occupy our young people's time and we thought setting up a Scout group would work well."

The Scout movement has always been welcoming of different faiths, says Waghorn, with an emphasis on the exploration of all faiths and general spirituality. "Part of this is about respecting and working with these identities," he explains. "There is always room for cultural and religious differences in the Scouting movement. When young people from other groups meet at activities, as they do regularly, they are able to explore their differences."

Rahman stresses that although the present members of 1st Cathays al Huda are all Muslims, the group is open to boys and girls from any religious background and the language spoken is English. "Obviously there will be times when we are apart from the rest, such as with prayers and only eating halal food, but this is a group for all."

Indeed, relatively few activities are specialist to any particular Scout group, according to Waghorn. "A group in a predominantly Muslim area would fundraise for Islamic Aid, or would help tidy the grounds of the mosque," he says. "But the majority of activities would be the same because young people enjoy discovering new things."

A broad base was the trigger for 1st Cathays al Huda. Rahman says: "We were attracted to being part of a large youth organisation, one that is open to everyone and sets high standards. It offers a range of skills and disciplines and being out in the countryside is brilliant as it offers a new experience for many young people."

BILAL DISCOVERS SCOUTING
Bilal Hussein is 13 and joined 1st Cathays al Huda when it was originally formed. "At present we are all Muslims," he says. "And we have the opportunity to discuss our religion. Scouting fits in very well because it teaches good manners and to be kind to your friends. It also says there is great quality in teamwork and that is very Islamic." There is a serious side, says Bilal, but the emphasis is on playing games and taking part in other activities such as tying knots. "We will soon be going for our badges and that will be more fun," he says. "And I can't wait to go away to camp again."

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Public, private, and religious social space

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Churches, Chapels, Mosques, Temples - if they're lucky, there'll be more to their domains than just a building. It'll be a forecourt, a parking area, a garden, and in the case of Christian communities perhaps even a cemetery. In some cases graveyards around churches are managed by the City Council, as subjects of long standing formal agreements, though not always.

Any religious building with a modicum of open space around it will at some time or another, if not constantly, suffer from the problem of casual litter dropping, sometimes even dumping of larger kinds of rubbish - chairs, sofas, old bikes, and so on. This is inevitable when, for the most part, caretakers no longer live on site. Rather than take stuff to the tip or ring the Council to come and take unwanted things away, the prevailing anti-social habit is to leave them in the nearest unattended open space, public or private.

When a religious building is adjacent to a pub, or in the case of the city centre, set in the very heart of party-land, the amount of rubbish discarded daily, can be huge - packaging, bottles, cans, fast food wrappers (and uneaten food), publicity flyers, plastic bags, condoms, discarded clothing, shoes, syringes are all commonplace items needing to be picked up, especially after Friday-Saturday nights, and after Big Match days.

It's clear that the consumers are responsible for the mess, fuelled by the lack of expectation on the part of vendors that they have a responsibility to manage the rubbish their trade generates outside their premesis. However, it's those responsible for religious buildings that have the task and pay for the cost of clearing up other people's mess.

Sometimes, the sheer good will and pride of local council bin men and street sweepers leads to a rubbish strewn area around a religious building being cleared unofficially. If the amount of rubbish cleared and put out in bin bags by community members exceeds what officials presume and expect, charges can be imposed. The rubbish is often very mixed, and there have been occasions when fines have been threatened for not sorting waste material in the prescribed manner. Volunteers are bearing responsibility for clearing up mess which is a direct result of the city's social and economic development policy, and bearing costs which are nothing to do with the activities of their membership.

But when the Council's Cleansing department is approached at senior management level, the dogma is simple and fundamental. 'The Council is responsible for cleansing the public realm. If an area is not in the public realm, it's in the private realm and cleaning it up is the responsibility of its owners. Therefore, your problem is not our problem.'

A large corporation working in the city with economic muscle is able to negotiate and get the results it desires. If it doesn't get what it wants, it has the resources to sue the Council for having policies, which compromise the corporate bodies' domain. But religious communities, even large denominations, don't have that kind of resource, or at least are not prepared to use it in that way. The source of the problem lies in the depths of the philosophy on which city governance rests.

According to the dogma, there is the public realm which the City Council manages, everything else is private. Religious communities, great and small are neither private bodies, nor are they businesses. The vast majority are registered charities. They are governed and managed for the most part by volunteers, and their paid workers are supported by voluntary subscription. Their realm of operation is the public domain, and they are subject to legislation regarding health and safety, fire, insurance, child protection for public bodies, just like businesses. However, they are not 'owned' by shareholders and directors who benefit from an economic activity. They are sui generis.

Ownership of religious organisations passes from one set of elected trustees to another. They are responsible for the properties belonging to them which are located in the public realm, and are open to the public. Religious organisation trustees are not-for-profit office holders in bodies collectively 'owned' by volunteers in a way that distinguishes them from private households and commercial enterprises. But this fact is not recognised by city government or its administration as being significant, despite the large contribution made by religious bodies to the social weath and welfare of the city.

The major exception is where religious bodies own and run schools -around 28% of those run by Cardiff LEA have Church Aided status, and there is a well run working partnership between religious and local government officers which manages these. There is a Council for Voluntary Action which has recognition and partnership agreements with the local authority which operate in other specific areas, like community safety, sport and leisure, health education and youth work. Indeed, particular religious community projects participate and benefit from this arrangement like others. But, when it comes to public religious buildings, owned and used for sacred, cultural and social purposes by voluntary led communities, there is a serious policy blind-spot. Not only in the area of cleansing. Also in the realm of public accessibility.

Many religious buildings are rendered increasingly difficult to access due to traffic controls and parking regulations. Issues of crowd management in the city centre on weekend Big Match days and other leisure and sporting events can bring major disruption to ordinary citizens attending worship, or weddings, or just socialising. Rights of access are not infrequently suspended, with sketchy and sometimes disparate public information available, and there is no proper discussion of principle or practice. Only those who are skilled and experienced at negotiating access to religious places are able to arrive at their destination easily.

Good will is rarely lacking on the part of the people on the ground following orders, but leadership and management is often fragmented and hard to communicate with for anyone who is an 'outsider' to those in control. This generates feelings of frustration and resentment, as many in religious communities feel the Council did not consult them, or advise them properly, or if they did, found their wishes ignored.

Local government officers close to the situation are often not unsympathetic to the problems. It's at the level of executive leadership (elected and employed), that decisions are made which lead to a sense of alienation from public life on the part of some religious communities. Even if City leadership is sympathetic, when the matter is passed down the chain of command to be dealt with, implementation proves to be inadequate, as service managers are accountable for budgets and year-end balance sheets. This is used as an alibi for refusing to re-visit plans and priorities.

Secularisation is a widespread process in which religious life and institutions disappear from the public domain and are regarded as only belonging in the private realm. In some critical aspects, Cardiff City Government's world-view enforces this by a policy that has crept in without public consent. It is not an issue on which political campaigns are yet fought in Britain today, although Welsh church disestablishment in the early decades of the 20th century was indicative of things to come, and open hostility to 'faith schooling' on the part of militant Humanists increases in its vehemence. Whilst independence of church and state is mutually beneficial, the weakening of religious community participation in public life has come about as many established religious communities have defaulted upon their civic responsibilities, being preoccupied with their own decline. As a result, the City does not benefit as much as it could from the kind of creative moral and spiritual input that can enhance public life.

Meanwhile the welfare of the City is not well served by the crude public-private dichotomy which holds sway in the Local Government official's mind-set. Anti-discrimination and social inclusion legislation won't make much difference. It will just extend the playing field upon which major issues can remain avoided. A change of philosophy is needed that will result in a change of culture amonst those who are paid to serve the needs of the whole community of communities that is the Capital City.



Friday, 17 August 2007

Compromised Cathedrals

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In 2004, a plan to improve the public realm in the 'city' which is Llandaff village, was brought to residents by the City Government. This involved stopping through traffic, by extending the grassed area of Cathedral Green. This diminished available parking a little, and meant that those living on the north side of the green, and the south side would henceforth only be able to access their properties from one direction instead of two. The aesthetic improvement is noticeable, but this is totally offset by the added congestion caused by the elimination of through traffic.

At the end of school during term times, the reasonably adequate existing car park overflows into the High Street and around the adjacent parts of the Green with the vehicles of parents picking up children. The main through road, Cardiff Road, is a commuter route in and out of the city which has seen its traffic multiply exponentially as a result of recent satellite housing development, so the junction of High Street and Cardiff Road is a major traffic jam blackspot.

This is everyday normality, when there is not a wedding and funeral or other big ceremony involving hundreds of people going to the Cathedral.Whenever there is a Cathedral event, the chaos and delay, not to mention distress caused when a cort├Ęge has a crematorium rendezvous to make after a service, are the cause of complaint. All who live in or visit Llandaff City are affected by this and remark upon it. At a time when Cardiff tourism has undergone major expansion, its fine ancient Cathedral has seen no increase in visitors. Despite the proliferation of brown and white tourism traffic signs, coach companies know all to well the difficulties of taking people within short walking distance of the Cathedral. Things are worse, since 'improvements' to the Green were imposed by the City Council. And imposed they were, against the wishes of local residents, the Dean and Chapter.

There were consultation meetings at which the plans were explained. The Llandaff Society and the Cathedral Chapter and its Council registered strong objections and warned the impact of these measures would have on the village. Nevertheless, the measures were voted through by the City Council, and implemented with surprising haste, thereby rendering objections futile. The Cathedral and village is not lacking in skilled and expert people to engage in policy debate or help formulate plans that from the outset are bound to have consequences for all residents as well as visitors. There is no evidence to suggest that this resource was enlisted to help shape an improvement plan that would genuinely make the village more accessible to locals and visitors, and enhance its environment.

Meanwhile, St David's Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral in the city centre cul-de-sac of Charles Street is seeing significant growth in attendance due to recently arrived Eastern European and Asian immigrants. It suffers problems of traffic congestion at service times caused by the conflicting needs of worshippers who need to arrive by car, and shoppers displaced from recently demolished multi-storey car parks, wanting to pick up goods from the neighbouring Queen Street pedestrian area shops. Existing provisions to regulate parking are frequently flouted, making it impossible for vehicles to turn around or pass each other. Traffic wardens, if there are any to be found are prone to penalise worshippers and shoppers with complete impartiality.


Plans to 'improve' the situation on the street, as a key gateway to new shopping developments and pedestrian areas, will affect businesses in Charles Street as well as the Cathedral and Ebeneser Chapel opposite. The Cathedral is working on a development plan for its ancilliary buildings to serve better the expanding social and cultural programme. Any 'improvements' to Charles Street could either be the kiss of death to these ambitions or the breath of life. At the moment, disruption caused by commercial re-development means an inevitable struggle for both local authorities and the Cathedral to cope. It is not yet apparent whether there is sufficient will to ensure future 'improvements' will work to everyone's benefit.

One thing seems certain - the functioning of two major religious institutions of the City Borough of Cardiff, with throughput of at least a thousand people every week, has been seriously compromised by local government in action.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Schooling story

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A decade ago St Monica’s Church Aided Primary School in Cathays struggled to stay open in a rotten old building with half its capacity of children. A new head teacher invigorated the staff and developed the activities of the school in such a way that it soon commended itself anew to local families, and the intake grew back up to its normal size.

The problems of a century old building in need of repair proved to be insurmountable. This did nothing to prevent high standards of teaching and pastoral care being maintained at great cost to the well-being of teachers and support staff who sacrificed themselves for the children. The head and governors worked for several years without success to raise funds for renovation. The Church in Wales could not afford the 25% of capital costs outlay on repairing or rebuilding on the site, running to an estimated total of two million pounds which was its statutory obligation to provide.

Meanwhile, pupil numbers of enrolled in other local schools began to fall, for demographic reasons, although numbers at St Monica’s did not fall away, because the school’s socially inclusive and multi-cultural policy rooted in Christian understanding of justice and hospitality motivated parents from a much wider area to seek admission for their children to a school in which they had confidence. The school includes children of all learning abilities and special needs, children of several different cultural and language minority groups. It has pupils of Muslim and Hindu backgrounds, as well as a non-Anglican majority.

Finally an acceptable solution emerged, a proposal was put forward to re-locate the school in the buildings of neighbouring Gladstone Primary School’s Infant block. Numbers there had reduced to the point where it was possible to consolidate all school activities in the Junior building and divide the playground and out-houses. This plan offered St Monica’s significantly more space in a better building, and was gladly accepted by staff, governors and parents.

It was not well received by the Gladstone School community, worried about its falling rolls. Some its members conducted a local political campaign opposing the proposal. Despite the excellent reputation of St Monica’s, some elected political representatives were unsupportive, reluctant to challenge or criticise this negativity. One cited difficulties around the poor reputation of church schools in other parts of England to justify reservations about the plan and reactions to it, deliberately ignoring the success and good repute of a church school in their own area.
The decision, supported tactfully by the LEA officers involved survived the Council Scrutiny committee process, and was finally implemented after more delays in the summer of 2005. St Monica’s re-opened in its new buildings for the Autumn Team and continues to flourish in its new home, receiving an ‘outstanding’ citation in the 2006 OFSTED inspection.

Local people were apprehensive about the fate of the old school buildings, lest they be demolished to make way for more student residences or be turned into yet another pub. However, the buildings weren’t empty for long. They were bought from the Diocese of Llandaff by the Cardiff Muslim Education Trust, for use as a special primary school for Muslim children, and apprehension turned to bewilderment on the part of some. The building’s entire roof was replaced before the school was opened.
The local Islamic community was able to raise funds to cover both the costs of repairs the Diocese could not afford, plus costs of purchase, due to aid from the Muslim community in the Middle East. It is not a state aided religious school, as is St Monica’s, but a private foundation. The two schools enjoy cordial relationships with each other.

Muslim pupils have not moved away from St Monica's to the new school. The private school is catering for a different range of children, some of whom need to retain strong connections with their parental country of origin and its language and religious cultural traditions. The confidence shown by parents of other faiths and none at all in the quality of education provided by St Monica's church school is as high as it ever was.


Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Persuasion

It's night on an oil rig in the Persian gulf. The three engineers on duty are up on the top desk enjoying the clear night sky. There's a Brit, and Egyptian Coptic Christian and a Jordanian Muslim. "Glory to God for the beauty of the heavens." says the the Copt, "Indeed, praise to Allah", says the Muslim, and to the silent Brit he says, "Well, don't you think it's wonderful, worthy of praise to the Almighty?" Well, says the Brit, "I'm not too sure about any of that stuff, whether there's anything apart from what we can see for ourselves and investigate."

Then begins a conversation until dawn in which the Christian and the Muslim together earnestly and warmly strive to persuade the Brit to open his heart and mind to 'things unseen' (or unseeable) . It was the Brit who told me the story, some years later, after church one Sunday afternoon, still in search of 'things unseen', persuaded at least on a previous night, that it was worth the effort.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Processions of Faith

March edition 2007 of the 'Capital Times' free news issued by the City Council carries a brief article on the local history exhibition running in the Old Library entitled 'Roots ot Cardiff. There's photograph of the 1911 Corpus Christi procession passing in front of the Castle, no doubt under the patronage of Lord Bute, a prominent Roman Catholic. Many of those processing through the streets then would have been Irish immigrants.

Today, another summer day religious procession passed by the castle. Hindu monks usually seen in small numbers singing and dancing their way along Queen Street or Working Street, singing 'Hare Krishna'. On this occasion they were surrounded by supporters, and pulling a large handcart with a tall and ornate tower shrine on it. This is the Rathayatra or chariot festival, originating 2000 years ago in Jagannatha Puri in Orissa, on India's East coast, and brought to the West in 1967 by the founder of the movement His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

They include devotees of both Western and Indian origin. As well as practising their worship on the streets, they are keen to explain and publicise their faith like any of the groups of Christian evangelists which appear. There are even Muslim preachers on Cardiff streets nowadays. All find a measure of public acceptance and tolerance. Public Corpus Christi processions moved off the streets into the Arms Park stadium in the 1980s, then into the Cardiff International Arena before ending for lack of support.

Sunday School Whitsun walks of witness amongst protestants fizzled out for lack of support in the seventies, in line with the phenomenal decline in Sunday School and church attendance. Around this time the slow erosion of religious contribution to life in the civic realm also began. When the administration of law and order was re-structured, Quarter Sessions were no longer marked with a procession from the Law Courts to a service in the Parish Church or anywhere else.

The Mayor, however, still has an honorary Chaplain to say prayers before Council meetings and devise services for special occasions - nowadays Interfaith occasions, sensitively assembled.
Capital Times, March 2007 also reports on January's Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in City Hall. No matter how much some politicians and civil servants might find such religious and inter-religious occasions a personal imposition, they express a need for rituals that bind citizens and their representatives together. Events of this nature have evolved in the light of social change, but don't fit comfortably with some perceptions of modernity. Tradition is something to be negotiated with.


Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Spiritual Capital - Cardiff



This new project to be launched officially in September 2007 in the Capital City of Wales Cardiff aims to promote the contribution that faith makes to the City.




Objectives of the Project


Provide up to date research, a directory and details of organisations and case studies of how religions and cultural groups work with institutions and governments across civic life in Cardiff.

Provide a setting for a vision to establish interactive networks within the City of Cardiff and project the advantages of living in a City with intimate cultural and religious diversity.

Convene and hold a landmark conference in 2008 which focuses on key matters arising from the research together with the emerging themes for the future.

What is Spiritual Capital?

The effects of spiritual , cultural and religious practices, beliefs, networks and institutions have a measurable impact on individuals, communities and societies. Cardiff is developing as City and the emphasis must be on how its inhabitants live and work together as the City develops . This Project is about what spiritual resources Cardiff can draw upon in 2007 and its aim is to help indicate how it should look to the future for communal prosperity.

Why is it important?

The concept of spiritual capital builds on recent research on social capital, which shows that religion and cultures are a major factor in the formation of social networks and trust. In addition, the impetus for focusing specifically on spiritual capital draws on the growing recognition in economics and other social sciences that religion is not an epiphenomena, nor is it fading from public significance in the 21 st century, and the importance to social/economic dynamics of human economic intangibles. Recent developments in the social sciences suggest a growing openness to non material factors, such as the radius of trust, behavioral norms, and religion as having profound economic, political, and social consequences (Source the Metanexus Institute).

Who is involved? Funding and Delivery Framework


The Community Development Foundation in Cambridge funds the Project and will monitor the progress.

A Steering Group, appointed by project sponsors, Cardiff City Centre Churches Together and the City Parish of St John the Baptist, is led by the Project initiator, the Rev. Keith Kimber, Vicar of St John's.

The Public Trust Partnership (PTP) through Roy J. Thomas, manages the Project .

Cardiff University -Regeneration Institute Dr Robert Smith and Rebecca Edwards will provide the research and will write the Report with PTP.

The Steering Group members are Professor Paul Ballard; Rev. Monica Mills; Malcolm Thomas; Chris Daley; Dr Keshav Singhal; Mohammed Jabbar and one other member who has been extended an invitation.

The work undertaken should be placed in the context of what is currently happening in the City such as the re-development of the City Centre and other parts of Cardiff, the emergence of a new private/public company Cardiff & Co. to promote the City and the economic and the community plans of Cardiff Council.


"It is my belief that no greater good has ever befallen you in this city than my service to my God; for I spend all my time going about trying to persuade you, young and old, to make your first and chief concern not for your bodies or for your possessions, but the highest welfare of your souls, proclaiming as I go, ‘Wealth does not bring goodness, but goodness brings wealth and every other blessing, both to the individual and to the state.”
—Plato, The Apology

Monday, 6 August 2007

Birmingham sets the tone

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British Universities do well at catering for the welfare of staff and students. Despite the secularity of their modern constitutions, spiritual needs are catered for by the establishment of group of pastoral and spiritual advisors drawn from the full range of world religious backgrounds. They are known as 'Recognised Chaplains'. As staff and students have come to be drawn increasingly from all over the world, representatives of all great faiths have been recognised as University Chaplains. Cardiff, and the other Welsh Universities have their lists of 'Recognised Chaplains'. Usually, religious communities provide their own base for their chaplain.

In Cardiff, Anglican, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches have special Chaplaincy buildings. In some institutions, Chaplains are offered use of an office on campus, in a way that avoids compromising its secular constitution, often related to general 'welfare' provision, as a service to students.


Birmingham University is exceptional in having a Chaplaincy Centre on campus, right next to the Students' Union. St Francis Hall (pictured left) was a gift from Quaker philanthropist Edward Cadbury, a mid twentieth century multi-culturalist. His vision was that the place should be welcoming to people of all faiths. Thus, for the past seventy years, regular meetings for worship of Jewish, Muslim, and different Christian groups have taken place there.

A cross is fixed to the wall in the rooms used for prayer, but curtains can be drawn in front of it, when other faith groups use it. It's a statement about the Christian venture of hospitality this building represents. While this willingness to conceal the symbol of faith offends some zealots, it is generally understood to be an act of courtesy, in the spirit of the the original gift.

Pass from here to Edgbaston Crematorium, and you find in the lobby of the Ministers' Vestry a small selection of exchangeable religious symbols, cross, crucifix, crescent, wheel of life, which the officiant can ask to be placed in the funeral chapel for the ceremony in question. It's an indication of the religious variety found in a great city. Although it's also a secular institution, the City welcomes and accepts its spiritual diversity, and understands it as part of its strength, not as a quirk to be ignored or at best tolerated.

How fares Cardiff?

Telling the story

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This blog will focus on telling stories about religious communities in Cardiff in their somewhat complex relationship to civic society in all its varied manifestations. For better and for worse !