She feels a weight like water

As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, here’s a poem written some years ago now that reflects on the moment of Mary’s encounter with the angel, and her solemn ‘yes’ to God.



Somewhere in the world
	there is village.
	
And somewhere in the village
		there is a well.

The well is deep and dark and friendly,
	and at the bottom of the well,
		there is water, 
			cool and fresh.
	
The water is so cool and so lovely
that the villagers say that to taste a drop of water from the well
	is like tasting heaven.

Every day, everyone from the village that's somewhere in the world
	thanks God for the well and for the water
		and for giving them a taste of heaven.





At the well, there is a girl.
The girl's name is Mary.
Everyday she, like every other girl in the village, draws water from the well.
Sometimes, the girls stop and talk to one another
and the words flow as freely as the water.

And at other times, like today, she is alone.

She lowers a bucket into the darkness below.
	The bucket seems to drop for ever.
		There seems to be no end to the darkness.

	Then there is a splash.

The noise echoes,
	jumping from the stones,
		leaping to the sun.

She pulls the rope,
	once, twice, three times.

The water sparkles in the daylight,
	splashing over her hands and feet,
		overflowing.
	It is cold and lovely to touch.
	
	Mary smiles.





She carries the bucket to her home in the heart of the village.

Her home is carved into the earth,
	burrowed into rock.
		It is cool inside.
She loves to be alone inside the earth.
	She plays a game.
She imagines she is the only person alive in the world,
waiting for someone to come and save her from her loneliness.
		 


Mary pours the water into a large, stone jug.
	She loves the noise the water makes,
		like secret words,
			like whispers.
She imagines it is a lost language,
	telling her tales,
		ancient stories from ancient people.

She listens to the water speaking.

It says her name.

	'Mary.'

She smiles.

The water trickles out her name again.
	
'Mary.'
	
Her name splashes into the jug.



She wonders if others can hear the water
as it splashes words into the world.
	She wonders if only she can hear the streaming secrets.
	
She peers into the jug
	and waits for more whispers, more words,
	 flowing,
		splashing.


She imagines a world of flowing water,
	like a fountain,
		where children play
			and laugh and splash,
and old people stop to talk and drink and soak their aching bones,
	and young lovers make promises that last for ever.

She imagines angels cooling their wings
    and breathing over the water.
		



And then she hears the water splash a word she has never heard before.
She listens again.
	She waits.
		There is silence.
		
The word is like a promise,
	like the oldest word in the world.
		
Like the first word that ever was.
	The last word that shall ever be.


She tries to speak the word
	but it is like water,
		running away from her,
	too wet,
	     too flowing,
		too quick,
		   too deep.

She wonders what it means.
and if there is a wise man or woman in the village or the world
		who can tell her what it means.

	



She listens again.

The water tells her tales of long ago,
	of old things and new things,
		the beginning and the end,
			of unbroken promises
				of promises fulfilled.
	
She feels the breath or the breeze of an angel's wings,
	as cool as water.
	
Mary shivers.

	


The angel has a message.
	Mary closes her eyes.
	She imagines the angel is beautiful,
		that his face is lovely to touch and lovely to see.
	She imagines there is so much light,
		so much brightness,
			that his eyes are like deep pools of water.
	His voice is like a stream,
		like a river,
		like ripples of love.
		
The message is clear,
	like water.
	
	The angel breathes again.
	
	His wings cover her.
	
		He tells her she is loved.
	
Heaven, for a while, holds its breath.
	There is no movement.
		No ripples.
			
	All is still.

She feels a weight, like water.




The water is still.

	And silent.

There are no more words.

		She is alone.

She plays a game.
	She imagines she is the only person alive in the world,
waiting for someone to come and save her from her loneliness.
	




She feels life growing inside her,
	like water welling up,
		like a deep well,
		speaking words that only she can hear.
		
	She listens.
	
She can hear the word speaking inside her,
	like a well,
		an echo,
		jumping from stones,
			leaping to the sun.





She feels God is close.
	Closer than he has ever been to anyone before.
		Like water, like life,
			welling up inside her.

No longer does she imagine she is the only person in the world.
	There is no loneliness, no waiting.
		Her Saviour has come.

Moving on: St Mary’s Wild Side and Gardens

The second of a series of articles outlining our plans for the future before we begin seeking over a quarter of a million pounds to bring our dreams to fruition!

We’ve begun developing the gardens on Bute Street

St Mary’s Church stands at the meeting point of Cardiff City Centre and Cardiff Bay, engaging with the immediate residential and ethnically diverse community of Butetown as well as visitors and tourists to the city.  We are surrounded by extensive and rapidly appearing new developments which are transforming the neighbourhood.

In the midst of this new emerging built environment we have begun to create a wildlife and pollinator friendly habitat, which forms part of a wider development of our site, and will provide a rich and varied outdoor area which is sensitive to nature and helps to improve the quality of life of those who live and visit here.

There are two spaces to our Wild Side: a small ‘woodland’ area to the south of the church and a large, more open area to the East on Bute Street, the main thoroughfare between the city centre and the Bay.

Work has already established the habitat to the south, and we are currently beginning to cultivate the area to the east of the building with a butterfly garden and space for growing.  Recent plans by our architect will reorder the boundary wall by moving the two side gates to form a new, large central gateway.

A central gateway will be created from the two side gates presently in place
The date of this line drawing of St Mary’s is unknown but illustrates the original central gateway

Bats and Bees

Pollinators are vitally important to landscapes and people but are in serious decline, and urban areas provide enormous opportunities for habitat creation.  Our gardens will provide a home for nature, particularly encouraging more bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other insects, as well as other wildlife.

The gardens currently attracts over a dozen species of birds, as well as a colony of pipistrelle bats in the Church Tower. The site will also help to improve habitat connectivity, making pollinators more resilient to changes such as development, climate change and pollution, allowing their movement across a city.

Work has already taken off in our gardens

Building around Butetown

Butetown is an amazing community with a distinct and significant history and heritage. We are also a neighbour to Cardiff Bay and the city centre which, through vast development, has emerged shoulder to shoulder with Butetown and St Mary’s Church.

At the north and north west, Central Square and the new Brains Brewery development along with Callaghan Square and Tyndall Street an array of offices, student accommodation, hotels, retail units and restaurants is beginning to emerge, as well as plans for Dumballs Road, and a large Arena in Cardiff Bay. Bute Street also welcomes a significant number of tourists who walk between the city centre and the bay.  Poverty and social deprivation stand alongside affluence and business.

Whilst we await the outcomes of the recent census, looking back to the last Census Butetown 1 Ward reveals an ethnically diverse community with a a large Muslim population of 42%.

A third of residents have no qualifications, and the unemployment rate is higher than the Cardiff average and stands at 8.4%.  7.6% of households have adults in no employment with dependent children.

St Mary’s Church in Wales Primary School which neighbours the church has a fascinating make up of religions, making it a unique school in Wales, with a pupil population of 82.2% Muslim, 6.4% Christian, 4/2%  Hindu 4, whilst 5% declared no religion.

There are also three homeless hostels close by, and the impact of homelessness, the rise in rough sleeping and the often associated drug use and anti-social behaviour has impacted greatly upon Butetown in recent years.

Alongside St Mary’s Church in North Church Street is a housing project developed by Cadwyn Housing Association and Cardiff Council which consists of 13 Shipping Container Homes.  Originally designed as short term accommodation for families in danger of being made homeless, it is temporarily being used to provide a home to rough sleepers during the COVID pandemic.


Community Cohesion

We hope that the gardens will provide inclusive opportunities for volunteering which will strengthen community cohesion, confidence and self-esteem, build relationships between people of different cultures and backgrounds, encourage physical activity which will improve physical and mental well-being, and provide a means for learning new skills and gaining new knowledge. In short, through St Mary’s Wild Side and Gardens we aim to:

  • increase levels of community ownership and engagement
  • provide benefits for local biodiversity and improve the local environment by providing a home for nature
  • deliver activities to help more people engage with nature, and help them learn new skills, and acquire new knowledge through activities, workshops and training, and by exchanging resources and ideas
  • empower more young people and families to take independent and local action for nature
  • increase physical and mental well-being by encouraging people to spend more time outdoors with nature alongside others in their community, and provide opportunities for volunteering
  • strengthen community cohesion, resilience and confidence by enabling people to develop new relationships by working together for a common purpose
  • Reduce social isolation and loneliness especially amongst older people
  • provide an open and inclusive environment, and nurture Global Responsibility

The enclosed space provides a safe environment for activities which will involve children and groups of vulnerable people of all ages. As well as being accessible to the general public, we aim to work with children, young people and families, older people, local residents, – particularly those experiencing poverty, low income or social inequality – residents of Social Housing, Refugees, those not in employment, and those experiencing social exclusion, such as homelessness. 

We’ve recently created a QR Code Trail through the gardens and wildlife habitat for learning and enrichment, providing information and opportunities to learn about and encourage care for the natural world.

The project is and will be a visible and working example of how to care for the natural world in the midst of an extensive and rapidly growing built environment, whilst caring for people and responding to many presenting needs. We’re buzzing about it!

In our next article, we’ll be moving inside the church, and sharing some more of our plans!

Moving on: A window on the world

St Mary’s has ambitious plans as we make the most of our resources to create a sustainable Church that makes a difference to the wider community. This week, we received the final document and drawings from our Architect for some interior and exterior reordering. As we prepare to begin the process of seeking grants, our series of articles ‘Moving On’ shares some aspects of our plans.

Bute Street is a busy street with many people coming and going between the city centre and the Bay

Bute Street is a well-trodden path.  Visitors and tourists use it as a means to get from the city centre to the Bay.  Cardiff has been called a ten minute city and yet, on one particular Tourist Map widely available across Cardiff, between the city centre and the Bay is a rather undetailed part of the map, a ten minute walk, which doesn’t highlight any point of interest.  We know this area as Butetown but we don’t know it as an area of no interest!

Part of our development work is about celebrating the community of Butetown, its past and present, its history and culture, its life and loves!  We believe that Butetown has much to share with the world, so let’s share it!

Until now

The façade of St Mary’s Church on Bute Street is fairly misleading to modern eyes.  At times, it may look as if the church is closed and closed down.  No lights are seen through the windows, the doors are locked.  In fact, the central doors are not doors at all – they never have been – they back on to an internal apse, as do the tall windows.  Meanwhile, the two side doors, long ago used as one of many entranceways now lead nowhere. Until now.

Our work to the East end of St Mary’s, and to the boundary wall and entranceway, as well as the gardens will provide a colourful interaction with all who pass by, making the church building and gardens more accessible and inviting.  Amongst many other things!

The two central doors are not doors at all – they back onto an internal apse, as do the windows above which allows no light to shine from the inside out!

Wild Side

Our gardens are beginning to emerge with a sense of creativity and colour, carving out areas for nature to flourish, and provide opportunities for us to get close and closer to the natural environment, caring for the world and for our own health and well-being.  There will be volunteering opportunities, a chance to share and learn new skills, to be active and work alongside others, as we seek to strengthen community life and build friendships.  As well as being a place where people can work and explore, the gardens will also be a place where people can sit and relax.

Our plans will also serve as an inviting welcome to those who step into Butetown and, perhaps, will entice them to stay a bit longer, and not hurry through to the leisure and pleasure of Cardiff Bay, as we share and celebrate all that our community has to offer.

Our gardens are beginning to flourish, giving way to nature and providing a stimulating and relaxing environment for people!

Simple and Natural

For decades, surrounded by a growing city with developments scattered around us, Butetown has not always reaped the benefits of investment.  It has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the city, and yet we are just a stone’s throw from the vast investments of Cardiff Bay, the political power house of the Senedd, and of County Hall.  As the city centre and the Bay squeezes in, we want to ensure that Butetown stands tall and strong.

Croeso

Perhaps we take so much for granted here – but what is simple and natural to us is not so easily achieved by many other parts of the country and even the world.  We know how people of different faiths, religions, creeds, cultures and colour can live alongside one another as friends and neighbours, working together to build and strengthen community life.  We want to share this with the wider world.

At St Mary’s, we will create a large central gateway in front of the War Memorial crucifix inviting people to enjoy the gardens and church.  The doors on the right of the church will give way to a new glazed entranceway, leading to a Display Area, telling the story of St Mary’s and, through our history and experiences, the story of Cardiff, and rejoicing in the diverse and multicultural community of which we are a part.  This area will support a hub of activity celebrating our history, heritage and identity.

Gathered for Remembrance Sunday at St Mary’s with some of our Muslim friends

Identity and Being

On the left of the building, another glazed door will reveal our Blessed Sacrament Chapel, which will share something of our own identity as Christians, and offer a window on the world, physically linking what we do inside the building with the world outside and the community and people we are called to serve.

Living with difference and diversity means having a strong identity, feeling confident to share that with others, being able to enter into dialogue, willing to learn about each other with openness and interest.

Yes, we want to put St Mary’s and the wider community of Butetown on the tourist trail and in the public mind, whilst always being faithful and committed to the people who live here, responding to their need, raising aspirations, building confidence, increasing opportunity, caring for people’s health and well-being, and building on all that is good about the place where we live, and the people we live alongside.

We’re excited to be moving on.

This is the first of several articles sharing our future plans.  Our next article explores the work that we are aiming to achieve with our gardens, and what other future opportunities there may be.

Glory be to God for dappled things

When growing up, our garden consisted of a hybrid combination of grass and concrete which, in the most simplistic of ways provided an all-weather pitch for me and my brothers to play football, irritating the neighbours when our ball ended up in their lettuce patch or among their roses.  Most of the time, we’d sneak across the fence without them knowing, although sometimes we got caught.

For some weeks, the concrete was chalked with lines and marks for starting practice for sprinting.  Left toes to chalk line, right toes, half a measured foot in, against the arch of my left foot. Left knee lowered to right heel, resting on the concrete, clenched fist apart. Thumbs extended, stretched from each hand, resting on the line, like stilts to support my body.

Time and time again, I shot from the imaginary blocks, stopped a few yards away, with no finishing line, and then returned again and again to the starting line

On another occasion, we decided, on our own merits, to paint one of the garden walls with some white paint we’d found in the garden shed only later to discover that it was a large vat of sun tan cream my father had acquired. We waited for the wall to glow.

Our gardens are slowly taking shape – the art of patience!

St Mary’s Gardens

Considering that St Mary’s is a church building in the heart of the city, we are blessed with a fairly large footprint and outdoor space.  A large car park to the west of the building, and a garden which wraps itself around the east end to the south.  I suppose in recent years, apart from some grass cutting, it hasn’t received its due attention, and was badly in need of some work, particularly since it’s the main public façade for the community and all who pass by.

Cost and time are often the obstacles to such a feat.  A few years ago, we began carving out some shape to create a Wild Side.  We had a few volunteer sessions, the RSPB helped out, and we took advantage of Good Gym who helped to lop back overgrowth and pack a skip.

Lockdown, and the few the summer months of relaxation of restrictions provided an opportunity for a few people to move in, with no great master plan, no wonderfully worked out idea of what we were doing.  In one sense, the gardens seemed to be telling us what it wanted, and what was possible.

Tackling the turf as we begun to clear an overgrown garden

Taking shape

During Lockdown, people have responded and been affected in so many different ways.  There has been the anxiety associated with waiting for restrictions to be lifted so that some parts of life can return, recognising that the way we have to live now isn’t normal at all, and shouldn’t become ‘the new normal’ a phrase that unsettles me.

A sense of impatience has gripped some and, with the impatience, a restlessness and dissatisfaction as worries set in, stress takes root.  The absence of human contact and the usual momentum of life, of sharing the same physical space and engaging with others means that, sometimes, loneliness and isolation can take their toll.

As a fairly impatient person, the gardens, for me, have taught me the need and virtue of patience, allowing nature to take its course.  Panting bulbs in the Autumn and waiting those long winter months for life to emerge.  But even more than that, there is a reminder of how just a few hours work, every now and then, can create results which begin to have a life of their own.  A project that was once in the mind and in our hands begins not only to shape itself but to shape us too.  “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth,” wrote St Paul in terms of his ministry among the Church at Corinth.

The gardens here are for the community, and whilst we have ideas of how they can benefit the wider community – with opportunities for volunteering and work, learning and exploring, meeting others, enabling people to grow close to nature and engage in a little eco therapy, helping to raise moral, improve mental health and well-being, lifting the spirits, contributing to a green and safe community, caring for the natural world of which we are a part – there is something in the gardening that also wants me to allow things to, well, take their natural course.


Glory be to God for dappled things

In the beautiful poetry of Genesis we see a paradise place, a garden in Eden, beautiful, perfect, with human beings given responsibility as stewards of the whole of Creation, a responsibility we have ruined at time.  They, too, have been given authority to name the creatures with which they share the world.  My childhood days of fascination with nature, remerges.  I can spot some of the birds that I knew as a boy, and have learned to identify others, seeing them only because I choose to look.  “Glory be to God for dappled things,” wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem, Pied Beauty, “For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow |  For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; | Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wing”

Sometimes, we may feel as if we are only ever starting, and we never get close to the finishing line which seems too far away.  We go back, again and again, to begin again, or at least to try to begin.  Lockdown has, in so many ways, been unable to show us a finishing line, or make it easy to plan too much for the future.

In some ways, for some, life has slowed down.  There is a void waiting to be filled.  For some, this lull has allowed other things to be appreciated, valued, loved, like  being alert to the wonder around us, the power of the natural world, of God’s Creation.  Before, maybe, we were just too busy, too brash.

My childhood gardens where we once kicked a ball, are now awash with colour as my father in his retirement has taken to gardening and transformed the back garden of the sometime Council house with flowers and shrubs and a lawn that does not have the scuffed marks of free kicks and tackles. The sun-tan lotioned wall has long been dismantled.  Every environment changes over time, and we all have a part to play in the shaping of our community, to realise the dreams which sometimes lie in the mind or in our hands, and if let go, can have a life of their own.

“Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)” continues Gerard Many Hopkins, “With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; | He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: | Praise him.”

Near or far away

‘Giving Up’ and ‘Giving Out’ are two important parts of Lent as we take up self-denial and works of charity. Along our Lenten journey at St Mary’s, we support women like Faith who is on the frontline of Climate Change and, through Christian Aid, has green fields and a hopeful future.


Each year at St Mary’s we pledge to give away at least 5% of our direct income to charitable causes at home and abroad.  We often excel this pledge by a substantial amount.  In 2019, for example, we gave away 15.5 % and even in the difficulties of the last year we still fulfilled our pledge.

Some of these charities are very close to home – for example, we recently set aside some charitable donations for the benefit of the Community in our home grown Wild Side project, and we hope that, once restrictions are lifted, we’ll be able to provide many opportunities and activities.

We have donated to the likes of Huggard, working with those who are homeless in our city, and Tiger Bay Boxing Club who do some amazing work with young people  We also give in other ways by donating food items each week to  Cardiff Foodbank and toiletry and other items for refugees, and for those who are homeless.

Looking further afield is also so important to us, and we have support a number of International Aid agencies including USPG and Christian Aid, which is our Lenten Charity this year.

Our Lenten ‘for the journey’ boxes contained many resources for Lent, including information about our Lenten Charity, and a Christian Aid offering envelope.

Despite separated by distance, we are all interconnected. The things we do and the way we live here can and does have an affect on people thousands of miles away.  Poorer communities in the world are often the ones most impacted by Climate Change, and the work that Christian Aid is doing in certain communities, is about helping people to support those on the frontline of the climate crisis – like Faith, for example.  Here’s her story which you can read more about on the Christian Aid Website:

Faith’s fields used to be dirt and dust. Ongoing drought in Kenya meant next to nothing grew. Water was scarce. Droughts are now more frequent and more intense there due to the climate crisis.  Without water Faith and her husband Steven couldn’t grow crops. Without crops they didn’t have enough to eat or sell. Hunger was a reality. Sending their children to school an impossibility.

People living in poverty are on the frontline of this climate crisis. They are losing food, water, homes and family. Every day, they walk further, dig deeper and build stronger to survive. They battle the worst of a crisis they did not create. This is unjust. But a better way is possible. This Lent and Easter we stand together with those on the frontline, like Faith, to fight for justice. Together we can stop this climate crisis.

But now Faith grows crops that are lush and green thanks to a nearby dam. Her local community got together to build the sand dam with the support of Christian Aid’s partner ADSE. The dam gives Faith’s community resilience in times of drought. A water source like this gives people like Faith a chance to not just survive, but thrive.

The dam gives Faith’s community resilience in times of drought. While the rains remain irregular, a dam means that when the rain does fall the community can collect every last drop. Because there is now water in Faith’s community, there is life. Faith’s hard work and determination has transformed this resource into a future for her family.

Faith said: ‘The sand dam has made me and my family happy because when it was not there, I was not able to plant anything. Now we can plant vegetables and water our trees. I hope that by the time my children grow I will have done a lot of things. I’ll do my best to educate my children and my children will be what they want to be when they grow up.’

“The weather has changed because when I was young, there was a lot of rain and food was plenty. Today the rains are very poor. There was also a lot of     livestock and today there are very few.”

Faith

Drought still remains a threat to Faith as the climate remains uncertain and unpredictable. It is unjust that people like Faith are battling the worst of a climate crisis they did not create. But for now, she at least has the tools she needs to adapt. With the dam, her fields stay green and her family has a hopeful future.” (Check out the full story here)

And so, towards the end of Lent, we will gather up the fruits of self deinal and charitable giving, and present them at the Mass on Maundy Thursday as we respond to Jesus’ Mandatum, to love one another as he has loved us.

Whilst COVID restrictions means that we cant include the ritual Washing of Feet at the Maundy Thursday Mass, our call to loving service remains

In the Diocese of Llandaff, Bishop June has also been encouraging people to partner with Christian Aid, giving thanks for their COVID vaccination. She says, “My hope is that people will give generously to the work of Christian Aid from a place of thanksgiving and a desire to see all people being able to live safely. Whether people can give just a few pounds or a much larger sum, it will be an opportunity to share hope and love with our brothers and sisters across the world who do not have the benefits we have.” You can read more here

We’re a few weeks into Lent and, by now, many of us may have been tempted to give up on ‘Giving Up.’ Whilst life may be difficult for us, we know we can make a real difference to people living, however near or far away.

Super Steff

Steffan is raising funds for Marie Curie in memory of his Taid, Fr Graham Francis

Steffan is no stranger to St Mary’s. When I lived in the house above the vicarage I’d often see him below with his two brothers kicking a ball around in the long vicarage garden, dreaming of Swansea City!

His grandfather or Taid was Fr Graham, my predecessor here at St Mary’s, and the congregation soon got to know the whole of his family. The three children were all born during his time here as Vicar, and it was here that they were baptised. Along with his brothers, Osian and Caian, and his parents Illtyd and Nia they attended Mass here throughout the year but also joined the South Wales Pilgrimage to Walsingham each year.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was important to Fr Graham and the whole family and, for so many years, he was the organiser of the Welsh pilgrimage, responsible for hundreds of pilgrims.

Fr Graham in Walsingham just a few years ago

Despite being diagnosed with cancer, Fr Graham managed to make two more of those pilgrimages. He died just over a year ago in January 2020 and his funeral was celebrated at St Mary’s, standing room only, every part of the funeral pre-planned by Fr Graham.

The journey to Walsingham is quite a trek across country to Norfolk, a long five to six hour coach journey. Steffan discovered the Shrine was 250 miles away.

With lovely memories of his Taid, he decided upon a fundraiser. Throughout March he would walk, run or cross train for 250 miles.

“I am trying to raise money for Marie Curie after everything they have done for my Taid,” says Steffan, aged 10 years. “I want to show how much I appreciate everything Marie Curie did to make him feel safe and comfortable at the end of his days. And I want to thank them for lots of things.”

“My Taid’s favourite place was Walsingham and we would visit every year. I found out that Walsingham is 250 miles away from their home so I hope to run, walk and cross trainer that distance in March.”

Steffan with his dad, Illtyd, on one of his runs

Steffan has set up a JustGiving page. “If you have any spare pennies to sponsor me I would be very grateful for your donation,” he says.

It costs £400 a day for 24 hours of care in the hospice. “My Taid was there for four days and I would really like to be able to cover the cost of the last two days of his life.” His target of £800 has already been smashed, doubled at the time of writing!

So, well done so far, Steffan! Keep walking, keep running, keep raising funds. We’re all behind you!

If you would like to support Steff on his challenge then you can visit his fundraising page here and where you can also track his progress each day!