Katie Hamer continues her quest to write the ultimate Cardiff A-Z! Today, she’s visiting St John the Baptist Church in town. Read on to find out what she discovered!
With still three months to go, we’re already getting the early signs that the festive season is on its way. I’ve seen Christmas cards since August, and supermarkets are bombarding us with gift packs, toys, food hampers, etc.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got enough to think about, what with work, bills, family commitments, and social media distractions. Everyone wants to sell us something, with the pretence that our lives will be better. It can feel like life is getting ever more frantic, frenetic, and it’s hard to measure up to productivity targets, whether self- inflicted (as in the case of the creative writer) or work-related.
I felt a temporary reprieve from all this craziness, when I took a look inside St. John’s Church last week. Although placed on the Hayes, in the midst of the bustling shopping centre of Europe’s newest capital city, the church provides an oasis of calm. It’s a place to go and reflect upon the central message of Christianity, which is to reach out to the whole community and to:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’ and also to ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39
The longest established church in Cardiff, St John’s has been serving the community within the city for 800 years. Originally built in the 1100’s, it fell into disuse in early 1400’s following an uprising against Kind Henry IV of England, led by Owain Glyndŵr. Little remains of the earlier construction; the current church was built c.1490. Its most recognisable landmark, the clock tower containing a peel of ten bells, is from this era.
St. John’s reminds us that religion isn’t just for Sundays, not just a once-a-week performance of wearing the right clothes and saying the right things. Their doors are open to the community during the week as well. It’s a refuge for Cardiffians during their lunch hour, where you can pop in, light a tea light (there’s a small donation of 20p required), and have a quiet moment.
As their website states:
‘The community that gathers at St John’s Church believes itself called to share in God’s mission by welcoming people of all ages cultures and traditions to worship, witnessing to Christian faith, knowing God and making God known by serving Christ in both our visitors and our neighbours.’
A thousand people visit the church every week. They’re also involved in local and international events, and supporting charities. Recently, they held a service of readings and prayers in order to promote peace, in the run-up to the NATO summit.
As well as services, such as the Eucharist, there is a daily slot at 10am: a Prayer for the City. On Tuesdays, at lunchtime, they organise a half-hour of ‘Stress busting’: an introduction to Christian mindfulness and meditation. The Chaplain is available during the day on Thursdays (from 12:30 until 2:00pm) for anyone seeking advice or guidance, or just a listening ear.
I decided to attend one of the ‘stress busting’ sessions, to see how I could benefit from a quiet half hour of meditation.
I arrived at the church early for the service. I’d forgotten how big the building is; the pictures on the web don’t do it justice, as it really is a huge church. But then I grew up attending a Methodist chapel that was, and is, only the size of an average family home. I stood outside it, in the crisp autumn air, with direct sunlight above me, and marvelled at its stone carvings.
Entering the church from the South entrance I saw adverts for the Tea sPot, so I decided to make this my first destination. There’s a small staircase that leads up to them, and also a lift. They offer a menu of simple food, cakes and hot drinks, and service with a smile. You cannot look out at the city while you’re in there, probably a blessing, but the room is filled with the rainbow light from two stained glass windows. I had the most generous serving of carrot and coriander soup you could ever imagine, and really, I never thought I’d get to the bottom of it.
I then had a look around the church itself, taking photos, before I joined the mindfulness session, which took place in a side-chapel. I joined about ten others. We sat in a circle, on wooden chairs. The Vicar, Rev’d Canon Dr. Sarah Rowland Jones, was present, but didn’t lead the session.
We each had a leaflet, to guide us through the various stages. There were prayers and a Bible reading, but for the most part, we sat in silence. I had my eyes closed, and attempted to empty my mind of all it’s daily clutter, anxieties, and trivia.
The Bible reading, from the New Testament related to Jesus’ miracle of walking on water. For me, this passage relates to self-belief: do I have the strength to conquer barriers, or will I drown in self-doubt.
During the session, I did find my mind fill with light, a reminder that, in the beginning was the Word, but also light. I visualised the rotating beam of a lighthouse beckoning me home.
We all need light in our lives, especially at this time of year, and even more so, if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, as I do. I left the session feeling more at peace. As I left, the Reverend smiled at me, and said she hoped I would visit again. I smiled back, and said I would. It’s these personal touches that mean so much, and people often overlook these days.
I hope you enjoyed reading my article. You can find out more about St. John’s here:
Also on Twitter: @stjohnscardiff
I hope you also enjoy having a look at my photo gallery:
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