Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Jonah and the big G

Part one of our Lent Course on Jonah - tonight at St James with a repeat at St Anne's still to come on Saturday morning.

Chapter one sees our hero on the run from the Lord. For some reason he regards Spain as the ideal spot to escape from his master's troublesome call.

But the Lord sends a 'strong wind', a violent storm engulfs the getaway ship, while Jonah sleeps on regardless. The pagan sailors seem to have turned to the Lord, but Jonah, resigned to his watery fate, shrugs his shoulders and says 'throw me in the sea, I deserve it.' (Why doesn't he just repent, we asked ourselves?)

And then God acts in what someone tonight brilliantly called his 'supreme mercy.' In the vivid language of the King James Bible he 'appoints a fish' and...well, you know the rest.

Some really good stuff came from the group's reflections on the story.

One person talked of the 'God with a big G' (the God of Jonah, the God of the Bible, the God of the wind and the God of the fish), contrasted with the small 'g' gods of the nations.

Others spoke of the faithfulness of God, contrasting with our (and Jonah's) faithlessness. Someone else spotted what theologs might call the 'Christological overtones' of the story - the hints of Jesus - not only the 'three days and three nights' that Jonah spent in the fish, but that the sailors drew lots beforehand, like the soldiers gambling with dice for Christ's garments. And there was lots more besides.

Excellent. There is a lot in this book that is going to help us as we travel through Lent.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Member for Bermondsey

When we suggested to Simon Hughes that we have special prayers of thanksgiving at St James, his home church base, to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of his election to Parliament on 24th February, he said 'thank you very much' and then said 'I would like it to be a rededication, too.'

And that's how Simon, with his immediate family, came to church this morning both to give thanks to God for the last 30 years and to rededicate himself as a Christian MP.

And I got the chance to interview him: ('what do you most enjoy as an MP?' Answer 'its when you can help individuals and make a difference to their lives).' That reminded me of something said to me last week: 'everyone in Bermondsey knows someone who has been helped by Simon Hughes.'

He also spoke movingly of the importance of prayer, both his own prayer before the Lord as he sought guidance and discernment on key political issues, and the support of his prayer group who have faithfully prayed for him for thirty years.

The Bishop of Southwark sent a message ('Simon Hughes has served all the people of Bermondsey and Old Southwark with dedication, real energy and commitment over the last 30 years. His work is undergirded by a strong personal faith from which love of God inspires love and service of neighbour right across this community in all its diversity'), and so did the Dean ('He has been an exemplary constituency MP,a champion of people and a Christian witness. We are enormously  proud of Simon')

The words of the commissioning from the confirmation service (which we used for the rededication) seemed particularly relevant ('will you acknowledge Christ's authority over human society, by prayer for the world and its leaders, by defending the weak, and by seeking peace and justice?), and I spoke from Mark 10.35-45 on living as servants of the Servant King.

It was a good day and it felt like a real privilege for us to share in this celebration of the life of a devoted servant of Christ and the people of Bermondsey.

And finally........ as the son of a London cab driver, I must say that I thoroughly approve of our MP's preferred form of transport:

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Dickens Whinney

Dickens Whinney House is the block of flats built by the London & Southwark Diocesan Housing Association next to the vicarage in Thurland Rd.

The two buildings are part of the same project and are built on the site of the former vicarage and garden.

Today Dickens Whinney himself, or, to give him his correct title, Bishop Michael Whinney came to visit.

Michael, as older Bermondsey readers will remember, was head of Cambridge University Mission (now the Salmon Centre) before he became the Vicar of St James in 1966, when he brought with him a ready made congregation from CUM in an early form of church-planting.

He is also a member of Charles Dickens' family, and with there being so many references to Dickens in Bermondsey, Dickens Whinney seemed a natural name for the new block of flats next to the vicarage. 

Today Michael and Veronica toured both buildings and met one of the residents next door, and members of the Diocesan Housing Association, plus members of our own PCC, the Diocesan property department, and members of CUM from the Whinney's time, joined together for a celebratory lunch, after which the other Bishop Michael (he of Woolwich) formally dedicated the new vicarage.

As Steve, from the housing association, said: it has been a win-win scheme, with a new vicarage for the parish, and eight new flats for families in need.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

BT update - our cup runneth over

While your blogger has been enjoying a few days off for half-term, Sir Mike's boys have been as active as ever. Three more engineers have visited this week and they have installed two more lines - neither they nor we know why they were asked to do that - but now we have three.

OK, Sir Mike, you've had your fun. Please, no more. Instead could you concentrate on getting the broadband switched on?

Thursday, 14 February 2013

BT phone home

It was one small step for man, one giant leap for British Telecom, when today Sir Michael's boys finally done good and managed to connect us up to the telephone system.

After twelve week of waiting, seven separate visits by their engineers, and ten days (yes ten days) after the personal intervention of the chairman - success!

Of course, perfection is unattainable in this life and today we have also discovered that only one of the numerous telephone sockets in this marvellous building actually works, but, lets keep the glass resolutely half full and say at least one of them works, and that is quite a step forward.

SOCKET TO ME, SIR MIKE* Just when I was going to put out the flags and forgive BT all their sins (it is Lent after all) I discovered the broadband is not working. When I phoned the automatic technical support line a voice told me 'the line you are phoning from is not recognised' and cut me off. Sir Mike, I've got to hand it to you - that is style. Another nice touch for those unable to access their broadband is the suggestion they go online to the help page. I love that crazy BT logic.

* thanks Ed, I liked that suggestion

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Good morning, Father God

'Good morning Gary, good morning everybody, good morning Father God,' chorused the children at the beginning of our assembly today at St James School.

It being Ash Wednesday, I arrived armed with some ash.

Liturgical purists would have produced this by burning last year's Palm crosses, but that option wasn't open to me and I found that an old copy of Southwark News cremated in the back garden worked just as well

The use of ashes to express sorrow or mourning goes back to Bible times and it was good to talk to the children about the sign of the ash as a sign of sorrow for sin and also a pointer to our forgiveness through the cross - and a few volunteers were quite happy to be 'ashed'. The older children - at Alexis Street - were very struck by this and watched it intently.

Nearly all the children at Alexis Street had consumed a pancake the night before, Shrove Tuesday. I explained that 'shrove' was an old English word meaning to 'confess.' 'What does 'confess' mean?' I asked. 'It's when you have done something and you say you have done it,' said one of the girls.

Following assemblies at the two St James's sites I then went on a visit to our neighbouring community primary school, Riverside.

Close to the Thames, as its name suggests, Riverside occupies one of the earliest London School Board buildings of 1874.

It's a testimony to its Victorian architects and builders that the building is still going strong 140 years later.

Unusually the school has two head teachers. They have worked together for around twenty years and together they have produced the impressive results that Riverside has achieved, with this inner city school being rated one of the best schools in the country.

'What is the secret of your success?' I asked the head. 'Discipline' she replied. Everything else flows from that.

In the hall was a series of paintings of St James Church in the four seasons of the year, painted by the children. In due course we hope to be able to exhibit them in the church for the congregation to view. They were really excellent.

Finally, in this blog post with a school theme: a nice picture from St James School website of year 6's visit to the Shard:

Monday, 11 February 2013

Spa & cola

Today was a day for two school visits - both in St Anne's parish - as part of the process of getting to know  the community here in Bermondsey and in attempt to forge links with local schools. 

The City of London Academy (Southwark), locally known as COLA ( but not to be confused with the fizzy drink) has 1200 girls and boys in the school, including a growing sixth form.

I was impressed with the very well-appointed  building and also with the quiet orderly atmosphere of the school  - quite an achievement with 1200 teenagers moving about on a relatively small site.

As a former science teacher I found it very nostalgic to visit the science labs, with their very distinctive school science lab smell (what is that smell?). I don't know if teenage boys still like to light gas taps or connect Bunsen Burners to the water taps but there was no evidence of that today. Perhaps the presence of girls is a civilising influence (I taught in an all boys school).

I enjoyed visiting the City of  London Academy and look forward to going back.

Later, to Spa School in Monnow Road, a special school for secondary school children with autism or Asperger's syndrome. There are 90 young people aged 11-19 in the school and nearly as many staff. About 90 per cent of the students are boys, reflecting the gender distribution of autism in the general population.

It was fascinating to be shown around the school and to see how the special educational needs of the children are met. The young people are in small classes of 7-8 and there may be 3-4 adults with each class.

Shortly we will be welcoming a class in a visit to St Anne's.

The school has a beautifully tranquil garden, very important for the young people, and a cafe, the School House Cafe (the former house of the schoolkeeper), which is open to the public and partly run by the students. I particularly recommend the cappucinos.

On the school website some formers pupils share their memories of their time at Spa:

'I'm travelling independantly out of London and I travelled to France.'
'I've developed a sense of humour and learned to laugh at my mistakes'
'I learned how to relax'
'In year 7, I was afraid to try new things and wanted things to be predictable, but nowadays I'm alright with change and trying new things'
'I thought I would never travel on my own or do work outside school, but now because I have tried and experienced both, I enjoy working and travelling.'

I  somehow think these comments are worth a dozen OfSted reports.

Spa School

Saturday, 9 February 2013

To have and to hold

To St Anne's to conduct Jay and Jalika's wedding.

I have really enjoyed getting to know them and today it was great to share in this very special moment in their lives.

The Bible reading they had chosen for today, Mark 10.6-9, has a special poignancy in the week in which the Government has started the process of redefining marriage (as if marriage belonged to it).

The Church believes that marriage is a God-defined and God-created institution, and so did Jesus. In Mark 10.6-8 he says:  'in the beginning, at the time of creation, God made them male and female, as the Scripture says, 'And a man will leave his father and mother and unite with his wife, and the two will become one.'

I said that in choosing to get married Jay and Jalika have chosen God's best.

I went on: God created marriage and we need to follow the maker's instructions - as set out in the pages of Scripture - if we are to  experience the blessing that comes from following in his ways. They were plenty of 'amens' to that from the congregation.

 So Jay and Jalika, God bless you today on your wedding day and throughout your marriage. 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Education, education, a wedding .and a building

A day that began with prayer, included a meeting at the Diocesan Offices in the morning  about the training of curates (I am a member of the leadership team for this and teach some of it), moved on to a school governors meeting at St James School, followed by a wedding rehearsal at St Anne's and, concluded with a meeting with the church architect and treasurer, also at St Anne's.

IME (Initial Ministerial Education) is a three year course for curates run by the Diocese after their ordination. They meet up for a day of lectures and seminars per month and have other pieces of study in between. The idea is to complement their 'hands-on' 'on-the-job' training they are getting in their churches, with a chance to continue to learn and grow in their knowledge of the Bible, theology and the skills of ministry.Our particular concern in this meeting was to deepen the 'mission' element of the course and to prepare the third-year curates for their next post - for many of them, an incumbency.

Today was also a day to say goodbye to our leader, Canon Jane Steen, soon to become the Archdeacon of Southwark.

It was my first governors meeting at St James School. We met in the infant department and as such were obliged to perch on very small chairs - I always remember this as a feature of the previous primary school governing body on which I used to sit. That was a community school, not a church school, and so never started as our meeting did today: with prayer, led by our chairman, and Member of Parliament, Simon Hughes.

There are 513 children in the school, of whom 62% have free school meals (compared with the national average of 16%), and wonderful work is being done by a highly committed staff.

Sadly, not everyone who wants to attend a Church School can do so. There is simply not enough space in local CofE schools and that makes the school's admission policy, which we were discussing today, a delicate balancing act between the needs of different parts of the community. There is no perfect policy but the present arrangements seem a good compromise..

Finally, to St Anne's for the meeting with our architect, Graham. This was a catch up exercise to bring me fully in the picture. The building needs a huge amount of work and these are financially straitened times. Please pray for St Anne's PCC as we give ourselves to this challenge and as we seek God's will for the future.

Christians for transformation

The C4T early morning prayer meeting came to St James today and the special focus was on prayer for St James and St Anne's, which felt like quite a privilege.

C4T stands for Christians for Transformation in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.

Its name rather speaks for itself and it links together a number of evangelical churches in the area. Although this was my first C4T meeting I hope to be a regular participant at the future monthly early morning prayer meetings and at the monthly lunches, hosted by the Salmon Centre.

I'm gradually getting to meet the ministers of the local churches and I'm really valuing that. Its part of building up a picture of the area, and also of what God is doing in and through his church.

It is sometimes said in our Diocese that only the Church of England is left in the inner cities (and council estates) and all the other churches have left or died out. To me this has always seemed to be a statement that flew in the face of all the evidence. It wasn't true of St Helier, the largest council estate south of the Thames, it wasn't true in West Norwood and it isn't true of Bermondsey and thank God it isn't.

In fact, not only is the good old CofE patently not the only show in town, it  could  actually learn something from its free church brothers and sisters (given a bit of humility). For me I hope that our churches of St James and St Anne will rejoice in being what the Bible calls 'partners in the gospel' with our sister churches in the area and that we will play our full part in churches working together.

Monday, 4 February 2013

A letter to the Chairman of BT

Dear Mr Rake,

I am a vicar in south London and I have been trying without success to have a telephone installed in my new vicarage for more than ten weeks.

One of your employees told me today that I was lucky as I have only waited eleven weeks and  he had just been dealing with a lady who had been waiting since September.

That’s certainly one way of looking at it.

Clearly there are others worse off than me, but after numerous phone calls, emails, and the cast iron assurance from your complaints department that the line would be installed today we remain without telephone

 or broadband.

Having tried the BT complaints people and drawn a blank I thought perhaps I should write to you.

Yours sincerely, 

Canon Gary Jenkins


First may I apologise to Sir Michael for demoting him to a mere Mr. It seems that Her Majesty has recently knighted him I (for services to telephone installation?).
It turns out that Sir Michael has a whole team of minions dealing with frustrated customers who have contacted him in despair and I now have my own personal customer care assistant from the chairman's office who told me impressively 'from now on you will  only deal with me.' It sounds like we could be embarking upon a long term relationship.

Like all BT employees he is utterly charming but also utterly unable to indicate when a phone might actually be installed despite our case being 'escalated' (BT jargon) to the telecommunicative stratosphere of the chairman's personal office. (Prior to this - about 3 weeks ago - I was told we had been 'escalated to the highest level' - but now we have entered the Holy of Holies itself.

But still no phone.

Two engineers came today after much discussion they decided, on reflection, that they could't help us. Their immediate predecessors had lamented the lack of suitable ducting. Today's visitors admitted that was indeed a problem but they detected an even greater difficulty - the cable partially installed earlier in the week was not long enough - and departed.

And so after 8 visits there remains an unbridgeable gap (I suppose of about 3 yards) between our house and the BT junction box. As the psalmist might say 'How long O Lord' or perhaps better: 'How long, Sir Michael?'

PS I am grateful to the suggestion (see comments) from the Reverend Michael Hough that 'he (ie Sir Mike) has been trying to phone you.' As always truth is stranger than fiction and I have discovered that following an abortive attempt to install a phone, BT emails its customers with the request 'please phone us.' If only, if only..

UPDATE (Thursday)
My new best friend, Alan, from the Chairman's inner sanctum has been in touch that to say that some plans have now been drawn up (well done!) and although he is unable to say when the phone might actually be installed, he is rather pleased with the way things are working out, or as BT would say, 'escalating'.

Alan, himself, has promised to be in touch again on 12th February. Watch this space.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Calming the storm

This photograph of Prospect Bay in Nova Scotia (taken on a family holiday to visit Canadian relatives) I used today at St James to illustrate the peace and calmness of Lake Galilee before the calamitous storm that left the disciples fearing for their lives.

Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat, seemingly oblivious to the crisis developing around him.

'Don't you care if we drown?' they said, rousing him from sleep.

When he 'gave orders' to the wind and the waves and they obeyed him, their fear of drowning turned into fear of Jesus. They were quite simply awestruck: 'who is this man' they asked 'he gives orders to the wind and waves and they obey him?'

We do well to remember that grown men trembled in Jesus' presence.

Like the turning of water into wine, the calming of the storm was a creation miracle. It showed Jesus's mastery over creation. It showed that he was God-in-the-flesh. And it showed in the most striking way possible that he was in charge.

And that is the best news ever. When violent storms blow up suddenly in our lives the truth of God's sovereignty is, in the Prayer book's word, full of 'sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort.'

From our family service at St James with the baptism of five children this morning , we went tonight to our neighbouring parish of St Philip's, Avondale Square, who were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the construction of their present building, which replaced a Victorian church destroyed by enemy action in the last war

Bishop Christopher preached and presided, Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes read the first lesson and St Philip's already high reputation for hospitality and wonderful catering reached new heights.

There was a warmth and generosity about the whole event - and the Shepherd's Pie was one of the best I ever tasted.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Tying the knot

Today I woke up a changed man or, at least I woke up with a new status.

I went to bed as a priest-in-charge and woke up as a vicar. All this is because today is the day that our new united benefice came into operation.

The what? Yes, I know the CofE likes to use as much obscure terminology as it can and generally confuse everyone as much as possible - you should see the pages of legalese that made all this possible.

The closest I can get to explaining it is this: imagine a couple who have been engaged for years and then they finally tie the knot. On that day they make official a relationship that has already existed for years.

Well, that's a bit like St James and St Anne's churches.

They have had the same vicar for years. They have been served by the same team of preachers and leaders for years. In fact, they've been an 'item' for as long as anyone can remember.

Now they've made it official.

Our two parishes are now linked together permanently: from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer.

Of course like any marriage relationship this is one you have to work at, so today we begin a new phase in our life as two Bermondsey parishes, working together, praying together, seeking God's will together, united in our mission together to share the Gospel with the people of Bermondsey.

Like a married couple we retain our individual identities - St James remain St James, and St Anne's remains St Anne's - but we are committed to an even closer relationship from this day forward than we have enjoyed in the past.

Bermondsey from the air