Sunday, 30 December 2012

Savouring the saviour

It's good to savour Christmas and make the most of it.

 I like the fact that in the church calendar Christmas is a season lasting twelve days and not just a single day of turkey and mince pies, followed by the January sales..

You need more than a day to celebrate such momentous events and you want time to take in the many different aspects of the Christmas story - Simeon's contribution, for example, which was the theme for today's service, the first Sunday after Christmas.

When Mary and Joseph took their infant son to the temple, Simeon - who had been promised by the Lord that he would see the Messiah before he died - took the child in his arms and said 'Lord, now let your servant depart in peace. With my own eyes I have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of people.'

'I'm ready to die' was the thrust of Simeon's remarks,  not in some morbid sense of having had enough of life and wanting to depart, but in the far more positive sense that he could now die a fulfilled man, because he had seen with his own eyes what he had longed to see - and what the Spirit of God had promised he would see.

And what Simeon saw was, not just a baby, but God's salvation - in the flesh. 

I concluded the sermon by referring to Simeon's allusion to the future suffering of Christ - when he spoke to Mary of the sword that would pierce her soul. 

Artists, too, have been aware of the shadow of the cross over the nativity story. 

In Rembrandt's Adoration of the Shepherds (above), which I mentioned in the sermon,  the  cross shape formed by the rafters of the stable provides a hint of the suffering of Christ, and the means by which he will save the world.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas Day

'Today in the town of David a Saviour was born to you. He is Christ the Lord.'

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Advent 4

Today was my first Sunday actually resident in Bermondsey, so it was a much shorter journey to church than in the two previous weeks.

There were many good things about today but the highlight for me was the young man, in church for the first time, who said to me after the service: 'I really want to find out about Christ.'

We've really enjoying being in situ  - you realise how very odd it is being a vicar and not being resident in your parish - starting to get the feel of place, visiting the local shops (is it just me or does Bermondsey have an unusually high number of barber shops/hairdressers?), walking along by the river,  and, yesterday, going to the panto (highly recommended - Jack and the Beanstalk with a very fearsome ogre) at the Theatre Royal Stratford, a theatre I last visited when I was eighteen (Altogether now: Oh, no you didn't).

Last year my favourite piece of panto dialogue went like this:

FIRST MAN: 'At times like this I wish I had listened to my dad'
SECOND MAN: 'Why? What did used to say?'
FIRST MAN: 'I don't know. I never listened to him.'

Back to today (Adrian preaching, me leading), before church I climbed up into the belfry with churchwarden Pat to meet the bellringers who also ring at St Mary's, Rotherhithe (before us) and Southwark Cathedral (after us). It was good to meet them. I have really enjoyed their ringing each Sunday - it kind of gets the message out all over the parish that the church is here and people are meeting for worship.

For non-local readers here is a sample of their work: 

Friday, 21 December 2012

God in the manger

To the St James Church for the (St James) School end of term service. The older children filled the galleries and the younger children filled the seats downstairs - and Simon Hughes, our local MP and chairman of the school governors was with us.

A technical hitch prevented us projecting the words on the screen but the children sung O Holy Night and We Three Kings word perfect. (OK its not Epiphany yet but the St James version of this carol comes with actions that the children love, especially loudly stamping their feet for 'guided to they perfect light).

Penny led (bringing calm to an end of term excited school with quiet authority) and I gave the talk.

I began by measuring three children - I said I had been doing a lot of measuring (windows, curtains etc) since moving into my new home and  I thought I might measure some of them to see how tall  they were.

Having measured my three willing volunteers I said they would all be bigger next year, and last year they were smaller. Once upon a time they were very small.

They were an example of something very small becoming big but Christmas is about the exact opposite: something very big becoming small.

The song 'Our God is a great big God,' I knew, was a school favourite. Our great big God who made the earth, the planets and the universe, became a tiny baby for us at Christmas.

This is the wonder and marvel of the incarnation: God-in-the-flesh, God-in-the-manger.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Saved by a dongle

Your blogger has been off-line while all his possessions have been loaded onto a van and parked overnight in a yard in Crawley before being delivered to the brand spanking new St James vicarage where we are now happily resident, unpacking boxes, fixing pictures to the wall and, generally setting up home.

The offlineness of this blog was set to last quite a while due to the contractors having accidentally severed the phone lines and BT being unable to reconnect them for a month (yes, I know this is the heart of London).

Then a little gadget called a dongle (kindly paid for by the diocese) has come to the rescue and blogging can continue by this means until such time as BT can penetrate deepest Bermondsey.

While all this has been going on St James School has had its carol service in church - it was moving day but I popped in for the last ten minutes - a full church of mums and dads downstairs, the children in the galleries raising the roof with their singing. The head boy and head girl led the service. Brilliant.

Meanwhile this afternoon there was the chance to visit the Age Concern day centre in Southwark Park Road with Stan where the members were sitting down to their Christmas lunch, prior to dancing the night away (until 9pm at least).

We got a very warm welcome from everyone, and especially the centre manager who had attended my licensing a couple of weeks previously.

I got the chance to say a few words and then we were joined by a bunch of youngsters from St James School who greatly added to the festive nature of the occasion with their superbly spirited rendering of a few favourite carols.

It was interesting in talking to the members to hear just how important the centre is in their lives. One person described it as her 'lifeline.' Long may it continue.

Then it was back to the unpacking....

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Baptism at St Anne's; carols at St James

For my first service at St Anne's, Stan was leading, I was preaching and Harvey was being baptised.

'Let the children come to me and do not try to stop them' was my text for today's service, a text set by the old Prayer Book for services of infant baptism.

Of course that passage in Mark 10 does not mention baptism, nor is it about baptism.

But it is about Jesus' attitude to children. And it is about the high value they have in his eyes. And it is about the fact that the kingdom is for them as much as for the grown-ups. And when you take all that into account, you can see why the old Prayer Book went for Mark 10 in the baptism service.

Some people object to the practise of baptising children because infants are not old enough to understand it for themselves, but, for me, that's the best thing about it.

I like these these words from the baptism liturgy of the French Reformed Church:

“For you, little child,
Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered.
For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary.
For you he uttered the cry, ‘It is finished!’
For you he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and there he intercedes — for you, little child, even though you do not know it.
But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true.” “We love him, because he first loved us"

I love the line 'for you, little child, even though you do not know it.' Truly God loves us before we love him - and infant baptism proclaims that.

SUNDAY EVENING and we were off to St James for Carols by Candlelight where Stan and I continued our double act begun earlier in the day with him leading and me preaching.

The musicians and singers did a great job, the church looked lovely by candlelight, the children performed an excellent Nativity, and wonderful reefreshments rounded off a really good evening, the start of Christmas proper.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

New vicarage

Yesterday was the handover day for the new vicarage which we will shortly move to. Today we had an open morning for members of the congregation to have a look around.

Its a lovely house and everyone loved it. Quite a few people said they would come and live with us so it could get quite cosy.

Vicarages are a kind of mixture of the public and the private; of a place of work, and a place to live; and the new design takes that dual purpose fully into account.

We are also fortunate to be moving into an eco-vicarage with bamboo floors, solar panels, and a very sophisticated low-energy heating system.

Here is St James churchwarden, Roger, architect of many vicarages in the diocese including this one. Thanks, Roger!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Infant holy, infant lowly

A bit of a nativity theme today.

First up was the church assembly at St James infant department, led by Andrew and Ania of the London City Mission. Andrew is based at the LCM's Bermondsey Christian Centre (left) in St Anne's parish and Ania is a schools worker, working in  local schools.

They told the nativity story with the aid of a series of beautiful pictures Ania had painted on a roll of wallpaper which she slowly unrolled as she told the story. They held the children spellbound and clearly, from the answers they gave to questions, they had taken it all in.

Later to the church for the infants nativity play. The church looked a picture, candlelit, Christmas tree lights glowing. All the children were in costume and as the nativity story was narrated by a series of very confident narrators, each class sang a carol or Christmas song (with great gusto). There was a good turnout of parents - many taking advantage of St James's ample galleries for a bird's eye view.

At a time of year when the true meaning of Christmas is in danger of getting lost, it was great to see that that is certainly not happening at St James School.

The nativity I think captures everyone's imagination but it is no surprise that it particularly appeals to children - it is about a chilld, after all.

The nativity story is about that most amazing miracle that (in the words of John Betjeman who campaigned for the preservation of St James Church): 'the Maker of the stars and sea became a child on earth for me.'

Monday, 10 December 2012

Little donkey rides again

To St James Church of England Primary School - infants department - where the children were rehearsing for their forthcoming nativity in the church on Wednesday and Thursday (I hope to be there for the former). Each of the classes sung a carol to the others. It was good to re-acquanted with 'Little donkey.'

Next a meeting with the head and then the chance to visit the children in their classes. Lots of good work going on here.

Primary schools are so much quieter, calmer, and tidier than secondary schools. (When I was a teacher, not only were the boys big, noisy and clumsy but they  turned up at lessons brandishing a minimum of a coat, a bag, sports kit, a lacrosse stick and various other items dear to them which all had to be stashed away safely out of reach of the nearest Bunsen burner before the lesson could commence.This created a certain untidiness about the place- the direct result of the abolition of the institution of the school cloakroom which meant that boys, refugee-like, had to trudge around the school carrying all their worldly possessions with them).

In my last parish there were no primary schools within the parish boundaries, but before that, in St Helier, we had ten schools in our parish, and I was chair of governors of the community primary school nearest the church. Before that, in West Norwood, we had our own church school and I regularly took school assemblies and school services in church.

So I am looking forward to getting involved with primary schools again, particularly our own church school, St James, which is doing such a good job for the children of our community, being officially rated as one of the best 200 schools in the country. A magnificent achievement.

I am delighted that St James School has such close links with St James Church.There is a church led assembly every week on both sites and the children regularly come to the church for services - as they are doing twice in the coming week - for their carol service, and for their end of term service. It will be great to see them. 

From the school website

Sunday, 9 December 2012

So, what's this new vicar like, then?

It's a curious feature of the Church of England appointments system that most of the congregation don't get to see their new vicar, and certainly don't get to hear him preach, until after he is appointed.

Unlike our free church colleagues we don't 'preach with a view' prior to appointment and the congregation don't get the chance to suck it and see beforehand.

I met quite a few members of St Anne's and St James on Tuesday night but today at our united service it was our first real chance to all meet together.

It was great to see everyone. It was great to preach for the first time in Bermondsey. It was great to share communion together. It was great to share lunch together - there was lots of food - I'm starting to think this might be feature of life at St James and St Anne's.

I enjoyed being interviewed by Stan followed by a few questions from the floor, one of which produced a shocking confession - I don't actually support Millwall! As I explained, if you come from Battersea you have to support Chelsea, even in you're not interested in football.

But Millwall fans, don't be alarmed, I support Chelsea like most of the population support the Church of England - from a distance.

As for today's sermon,  for the second Sunday of Advent our theme from Luke 3.1-6 was John the Baptist preparing the way. A bit like the warm-up pre-procession getting the crowds ready to greet the Olympic torch in this summer's torch relays around the country, John the Baptist was the trailer, not the main feature, pointing to Jesus and calling people to get ready to meet him.

I always like the Advent blessing from Common Worship which speaks about the Lord making us 'ready to meet him when he comes.' That was the thrust of John the Baptist's ministry and that remains the purpose of Advent.

My final point was that we are all John the Baptists - in the sense we are all pointers to Jesus. And for St Anne's and St James as we begin a new phase of our lives together, it is good to remember that we are John the Baptist organisations, pointing people to Jesus.

May God bless us in this work.

Thanks to Colin for this photo from Tuesday night

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Warm hearts but cold feet in Rotherhithe

I certainly didn't envisage that my first task as vicar of St James and St Anne's would be to acquire some thermal underwear but, on the advice of deanery clergy and having consulted the weather forecast, that seemed the prudent thing to do for my first official engagement post-licensing in Bermondsey.

Bermondsey readers will know full well the amazing event that is the Albins annual Christmas memorial service, held in the open air in their Garden of Remembrance, on a night close to Christmas.

For non-local readers I must explain that Albins are the long-established and greatly respected firm of funeral directors, whose outdoor service attracts up to a thousand people for a service that includes local choirs, giant TV screens, an Archbishop (this year, the Princess Royal three years ago), the release of doves, a fireworks display, massed singing of Christmas carols, and the opportunity for local people to remember loved ones at that time of year when we are all particularly aware of family ties, and where the pain of bereavement is particularly acute.

All the local clergy are invited and several of us, including me, the new kid on the block, were invited to lead the huge congregation in prayer. Generous refreshments for all followed.

My brother clergy were right to advise me to wrap up well and I bless the name of Messrs Marks & Spencer for their 'thermal long pants.' Next year I might get some warm boots as well.

The service was the most amazing experience and it spoke to me of the deep community spirit of the Albin family and their compassion for local people who they serve at some of the most difficult times of their lives.

For me, it was very moving to sit there in the open air, close to the entrance of the Rotherhithe Tunnel, stars twinkling overhead, traffic rushing by outside, singing the carols that speak so eloquently of the God who loved us so much that he gave his only son.

It made a very memorable first day for me as a Bermondsey vicar.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


Like pubs, vicars need a license to operate and I got mine last night from Bishop Michael.

It was a great service.

St Anne's
I felt the whole of my life was passing before my eyes as I welcomed people from the parishes we have previously served (Holy Trinity, Redhill; St Peter's, St Helier: St Luke's, West Norwood), old friends from school days, theological college, and pre-theological college days in Streatham - and, of course, members of my immediate family.

It was great to see them all. At the same time there were so many new people to meet: councillors, our member of parliament, the headteacher of St James School, fellow ministers from the deanery and the other denominations, and, most importantly of all, many members of St Anne's and St James churches.

St James
One verse in the Gospel reading set for the day particularly struck me. It's where Jesus says 'I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and have revealed them to children; yes, Father, for such is your gracious will.'

It's a way of saying - in a typical kingdom-of-God-turning-things-upside-down kind of way - that a good education or being brainy is no particular advantage in God's Kingdom (in fact, if you're not careful, its a positive disadvantage).

I like that.

It's not about being clever. It's about knowing God. And its about having the kind of humility that opens you up to learning from him.

The blog now arriving at Bermondsey

Welcome to my new blog about the life of God's church in Bermondsey. Please bookmark the site and come back often.