Friday, 15 February 2019

Moses: Early Years

Jacob was the speaker in the second instalment of our new Wednesday evening course: Moses: This is Your Life.

We looked at the events of Moses's early life, how he was found in a basket in the river by the king's daughter, and how he was adopted into the king's family, growing up as a prince of Egypt.

Then there was the moment when he killed the Egyptian who had killed a fellow Israelite, followed by a flight into exile, marriage, and the birth of his son.

Many years were to elapse before Moses would return to Egypt. In the meantime the Israelites continued to groan under the yoke of slavery. The cry went up to the Lord and he 'remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.'

Soon he would act and Moses would have a pivotal place in God's plans - but that takes us to after half term when our course resumes.

Monday, 11 February 2019

St Anselm's at St James

Pictured about: the members of St Anselm's Community at Lambeth Palace with Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury.  Community members have been spending some time with the archbishop hearing about the joys and challenges for the worldwide church and praying for God's work in the church and the world.

Our very own Simon Lewis (back row, far right), honorary curate of St James and St Anne, is Dean of the Community which draws together young people from all over the world for 'a transformative year of shared life, prayer, study and service.'

As well as organising another deanery outing to Lambeth Palace, scheduled for July, Simon will be bringing some members of the Community to St James on Sunday 3rd March to tell us more about the life and work of this new Christian community, based at the London home of the archbishop.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Men's breakfast

Will Cookson (left) was the speaker at today's Men's Breakfast at St James.

Will is the Dean of Fresh Expressions in the Diocese of Southwark. This means he has the task of encouraging new forms of church life throughout the Diocese.

Today Will was speaking to us about his own story of faith. It was as a teenager, from a non-churchgoing home, that Will began to be aware of God drawing close to him.

He started praying, and reading the Bible, and reading Christian books from the public library. And he phoned the local vicar and asked if he could be confirmed.

People often come to faith through a friend  but that's not how it was for Will. It seemed God contacted him direct.

In time he met up with a Christian group at university and his faith grew through this. Later he worked in the world of business before sensing the call to ordination.

A key thought here was: if I am sharing the Gospel with someone I am involved in a work, the results of which will last for eternity.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Thanksgiving service

To mark the completion of the restoration work on St James's Church we are holding a Service of Thanksgiving at 10.30am on Sunday 17th March, at which the Archdeacon of Southwark, Jane Steen, will be our guest preacher.

Stonework repairs on the bell tower and portico, and the restoration of the clockfaces and dragon weathervane, together with earlier repairs of the church roof means that the external fabric of the building is now in good shape.

The church is not the building, but the people, but it is nonetheless a cause of thanksgiving that this work on our beautiful heritage building at the heart of Bermondsey has been completed.

Please note the date and aim to join us on March 17th.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Pharaoh, watch out!

Our new Wednesday evening course, Moses: This Is Your Life,  for St James and St Anne's got off to a great start last night.

We started with a delicious chicken curry cooked by Jacob, and then we got stuck into the first episode in the story of Moses from Exodus chapter one, looking at how a place of refuge became a prison, how a midwife became a secret agent, and how death came to the Nile.

The people of Israel were flourishing in the land of Egypt, but the were doing just a bit too well, and they were starting to alarm the king who was becoming fearful of their numbers, their power and influence.

He sets out on a horrible genocidal plan to kill all the new born Hebrews boys. He is initially outsmarted by two  wily and God-fearing midwives, but that only leads him to step up the pressure all the more.

Tables laid, ready for everyone to arrive

What the Hebrews are going to need is a saviour - and that's where this story is going...

Last night in our discussion groups we asked people this question at the end: 'If you could say something to the King of Egypt, what would you say?'

There were some great answers: 'let my people go;' 'never underestimate a woman' (a reference to the heroic midwives);' 'watch out;' 'don't mess with God;' and, my favourite: 'you'll be sorry.'

The good news man

Saddened today to hear of the death of Michael Green, a great man of the Gospel.

I only heard him speak on a couple of occasions but I have gained so much from his books, particularly as a young Christian.

He was a great,wise, and warm hearted evangelist, who loved nothing more than to share the good news about Jesus - something he was still doing as a hospital patient in the last days of his life. (According to Twitter he wrote from hospital saying: 'I want you all to know that I am full of inner joy and have lots of  opportunities to share the gospel')

He could write weighty, books of  theology. I particularly remember his book, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, and his 570 page blockbuster, Evangelism through the Local Church.

But he also had the knack of communicating the Gospel clearly, simply, and humourously to those outside the faith. One of his best books in this area was 'You Must Be Joking', subtitled 'Popular excuses for avoiding Jesus Christ' in which he answered the common objections to Christianity that had been posted to him by the 'jokers' he had met during his long ministry.

It was a model of how to communicate Christian truth.

So, thank you Michael, and thank you God for your wonderful servant who proclaimed with boldness and love 'the unsearchable riches of Christ.'

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Good news for the poor?

To St Laurence, Catford for the annual Woolwich Area (our third of the Diocese) clergy study day. This year's theme was 'Mission to the Poor.'

In the morning we had talks by Dr William Atkinson, an Elim Pentecostal theologian, and Liz Adekunle, the Archdeacon of Hackney, both encouraging us to engage with the Bible's teaching on mission and ministry to the poor.

Before lunch and mid-day prayer we had the chance to hear from two agencies, Mercy Ships and Peckham-based Pecan, engaged in sharing God's love in practical ways with those in need.

After lunch there was the chance to hear from the Diocesan Vocations Team speak about their work in encouraging vocations to lay and ordained ministry. It was good to hear of a big increase in those coming forward for ordination, particularly younger people.

Great strides forward are being made in encouraging a greater diversity in terms of race and gender of those offering for ordination but one senses that class is a harder nut to crack.  How many people from working class backgrounds are offering for ordination?

In the Q&A time one questionner recalled the Ordained Local Ministry scheme (now abolished) which sought to foster vocations among those from non-traditional backgrounds.

It was suggested in reply that the OLM scheme was abolished because it made people feel they were second class citizens.

Actually, your blogger believes it was the abolition of the scheme that made a whole group of  people feel they were second class citizens - but don't get me started on that one.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Bringing back the joy

The Bermondsey Joyslide (above) is much missed by the generations of Bermondsey children who, from 1921 until the 1980s, loved to play on it.

But, plans are afoot for a new Joyslide for St James's Churchyard and architect Fergus Carr (right), great great grandson of the original donor of the slide (Arthur Carr, chairman of Peek Freans Biscuit Factory), is greatly assisting in this project with all his skill and ingenuity, and we have just heard of a further grant of £4,000 from Southwark Council's Cleaner Greener Safer project towards the project.

So a big thank you to Councillors Anood, Hamish, and Eliza, to Fergus, and the Friends of St James's Churchyard who are sponsoring the project - and look out for Bermondsey's new joyslide for the 21st century.

Arthur Carr at the opening of the first joyslide

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

The dragon's flight

If this dragon looks familiar there may be a good reason for it.

It is not the Bermondsey dragon (see St James's one below), but the dragon weathervane of St Mary-le-Bow in the City of London.

The St Mary-le-Bow dragon, 9ft long, first took flight 221ft above the City streets in 1679,.

In the nineteenth century architect James Savage was engaged to do restoration work on the church. As Savage was the architect of St James's Church, perhaps it was from his work at St Mary's that he got the idea of a dragon flying high over Bermondsey.

I am grateful to Chris Williamson for pointing out this link and for these further fascinating details about the older dragon across the river in the City:

'Edward Pearce, a mason, was paid £4 to carve a wooden model, and Robert Bird, a copper smith, received £38 to make it......When it was first raised to its pinnacle, Jacob Hall, a trapeze artist of the day, accompanied it and performed a hire-wire act watched by a large crowd. In 1820, when it was lowered for repairs, an Irish worker rode down on its back, using his feet to manoeuvre it around obstacles.'

The restored Bermondsey dragon being viewed by the children of St James's School

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Jacob's Island

Yesterday to the Welcome Collection's Living with Buildings Exhibition to find that Bermondsey's most notorious slum (above) had a starring role.

The exhibition looks at the impact that buildings have on our physical and mental health.

It charts the early efforts of nineteenth century philanthropists, activists, and politicians to deal with the appalling squalor in which London's poor lived, with the associated high levels of disease and early death.

Jacob's Island at the confluence of Folly Ditch (above) and the River Neckinger in St James's parish was widely thought to be one of the very  worst slums, described as a 'squalid rookery' and the 'Capital of Cholera.'

It was immortalised by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist. The villain Bill Sykes (left) comes to a grisly end in the mud of Folly's Ditch and the author describes Jacob's Island in these memorable words:

 "... crazy wooden galleries common to the backs of half a dozen houses, with holes from which to look upon the slime beneath; windows, broken and patched, with poles thrust out, on which to dry the linen that is never there; rooms so small, so filthy, so confined, that the air would seem to be too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which they shelter; wooden chambers thrusting themselves out above the mud and threatening to fall into it – as some have done; dirt-besmeared walls and decaying foundations, every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage: all these ornament the banks of Jacob's Island."

Jacob's Island is long since gone. The mid-Victorian warehouses that replaced the 'crazy wooden galleries' have been converted into luxury flats, but the nearby Dickens Estate, dating from 1934, remains a reminder of the connection with the great novelist, as is this commemorative plaque in Mill Street (above).

The scene today

Tuesday, 22 January 2019


How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! 
It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
(Psalm 133)

It's one of the shortest psalms but it packs a punch.

It speaks of how good it is when God's people live together in unity.

It makes me think of our Chapter (the ministers in our deanery - pictured above, except for Anna, who was unable to join us) here in Bermondsey which met for our annual New Year lunch today at Cafe Amisha in Grange Rd.

We are about as diverse a group as you can get theologically, but here's the best thing: we enjoy each other's company and actually like each other.

That doesn't 'solve' our differences of opinion but it does give a context of good affectionate and respectful relationships in which to explore them.

Our Chapter has been described as 'convivial.' I like that.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Little Ruby

In today's sermon from the Sermon on the Mount focussing of Jesus's command to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, I referred to the story of Ruby Bridges (left) a six year old African American girl who lived in Louisiana in the early 1960s.

Schools were just being desegregated and little Ruby was the first black child to attempt to attend the William T Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.

She had to walk through lines of angry protesters with a police escort.

Her teacher watched from a window inside the school.

One day she noticed that Ruby's  was talking as she moved through the crowds.

She said to Ruby: 'I saw your lips moving but couldn't make out what you were saying to these people.'

'I wasn't talking to them' Ruby explained 'I was praying for them.'

Later a child psychiatrist, Dr Coles, who specialised in helping children who had lived through stressful situations, spoke to Ruby. He asked her what she prayed for as you walked by the protesters.

'I pray for me, that I would be strong and not afraid. I pray for my enemies that God would forgive them' she said.

Why did she do it? '"Jesus prayed that on the cross" she told Coles, as if that settled the matter. "Forgive them, because they don't know what they are doing."'

Ruby had got it, I told the congregation. And she was only six years old.

She had grasped what Jesus meant when he said: But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6.27-28)

Ruby and her classmates

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Moses: This is Your Life

Following on from last term's very successful Discipleship Explored course, St James and St Anne is running on a new Wednesday night course at St James, based on the life of Moses, starting on Wednesday 6th February at 7pm.

Each evening will include a meal, a talk, and time for discussion in small groups.

Our topic will be the life of one of the Bible's most fascinating characters and how he was used in God's plan of salvation.

To book a place please email the church office. Everyone is most welcome.

Here is the outline for the course:

Moses: This is Your Life

FEB 6:           Suffering in Egypt (Ex 1)

FEB 13:         Early years (Ex 2)

Half Term

FEB 27:         Receiving the call (Ex 3)

MAR 6          Let my people go (Ex 5)

MAR 13        A Plague of plagues (Ex 7-11)

MAR 20        The Passover (Ex 12)

MAR 27        Crossing the Red Sea (Ex 14)

APR 3           The Song of Moses (Ex 15)

Rembrandt's depiction of Moses

Monday, 7 January 2019

At the Old Vic: a heart changed

On the twelfth day of Christmas and the eve of Epiphany, to the Old Vic's magnificent production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

It was a stunning visual spectacle, with the whole theatre amazingly reconfigured for the production.

Then there was the music, the singers, the hand bell ringers, the dancers and the sheer power of the old carols that had such a prominent part of the production, and which struck such a powerfully Christian note in the heart of secular London.

And that's without those deeply Christian themes of Dickens's 1843 classic.

In Christian terms, A Christmas Carol is a story of redemption, of a heart that is strangely warmed and wonderfully changed.

It is also a story of repentance.

That comes out very strongly in the Old Vic version. Repeatedly Scrooge is told that he must change.

At a time when the Gospel is being remodelled as a message of unconditional acceptance without the need for transformation, it is good to be led back, by C.D., to the Bible's own focus on the power of the  redeeming love of God that brings us to repentance, and changes us.

Dickens got that completely right.

He has Scrooge say to the Spirit: "Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life."

Later Dickens comments on the transformed Scrooge:   'Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms.  His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.'

PS. Christmas Carol is on at the Old Vic  until 19th January. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Wise men follow Jesus

It was back to school for St James's School today.

First thing, the whole school assembled in church for our beginning of term Epiphany service.

We sang 'We three kings', 'It was on a starry night', and 'Come and join the celebration.'

Speaking on the story of the Wise Men from Matthew 2, Jacob contrasted the attitude to Jesus of Herod (he wanted to kill him), with that of the Wise Men who came to worship him.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Before and After (2)

The external restoration work on St James's building, recently completed, included the renewal of the scriptural panels on the West Front of the building.

Here they are BEFORE:

And here they are AFTER:

And here is a picture showing their location on the west front of the church, proclaiming to the world who Jesus is, and his invitation to every person to come to him:

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Before and after

It's been a year of transition and transformation for the church building of St James.

It was good to see the scaffolding down and the work completed in time for Christmas.

Here are some before and after shots:

Before and After: The Bell Tower & Portico

Before and After: the Clock

Before and After: the Dragon

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Merry Christmas

Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”