Sunday, 31 March 2013

See what a morning

See, what a morning, gloriously bright,
With the dawning of hope in Jerusalem;
Folded the grave-clothes, tomb filled with light,
As the angels announce, "Christ is risen!"
See God's salvation plan,
Wrought in love, borne in pain, paid in sacrifice,
Fulfilled in Christ, the Man,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

See Mary weeping, "Where is He laid?"
As in sorrow she turns from the empty tomb;
Hears a voice speaking, calling her name;
It's the Master, the Lord raised to life again!
The voice that spans the years,
Speaking life, stirring hope, bringing peace to us,
Will sound till He appears,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

One with the Father, Ancient of Days,
Through the Spirit who clothes faith with certainty.
Honour and blessing, glory and praise
To the King crowned with pow'r and authority!
And we are raised with Him,
Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered;
And we shall reign with Him,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

Keith & Kristin Getty

Friday, 29 March 2013

Jesus at the Blue

'It's your busy time of year, vicar' people often say at Christmas time but for sheer quantity of services there's nothing quite like Easter, which is quite right really, because it is by far the more important festival.

Our celebration of these crucial days began yesterday when St James School came into the church for their end of school service. I had recruited twelve 'apostles' from year six to occupy the tables set out at the front of the church for a re-enactment of the Last Supper, complete with bread from Pete's bakery and 'pretend wine' (actually blackcurrant juice). The head boy and head girl read the lesson (beautifully).

Later there were Easter egg prizes for good behaviour presented by me, prizes for the winners of a dancing competition, presented by Simon Hughes MP, our chair of governors, and palm crosses for everyone to take home.

If, earlier in the day, we had a re-enactment of the Last Supper, that evening we had something more approaching the real thing with the Lord's Supper in the context of a wonderful meal prepared by St Anne's for the people of St Anne's, St Mary's and St James sitting down together to eat, drink, and remember Christ.

I spoke on the meaning of the Lord's Supper and recalled the grace used at school dinners in our church school in West Norwood: 'each time we eat, may we remember God's love.' That strikes me as being as good an explanation of communion as you would get in any theological text book.

Then to today, Good Friday, with a family service for St Anne's and St James at St Anne's where I spoke on the two thieves of the cross, before we walked in procession to the Blue, meeting the party from St Mary's on the way, for our open air service at which Charlie led (see picture above) and I preached. It was good to be proclaiming the love of Christ there in the heart of Bermondsey.

From the Blue we all walked back to St James for a delicious meal of of homemade soups and bread, followed by a meditation in words and music on the meaning of the cross, whilst the children took part in a Good Friday craft session nearby.

It was a full day, but it was a good day - three churches together, praising Jesus and proclaiming his love.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Images of Christ

Young people from the Salmon Youth Centre have been working on a project to produce some 'Images of Christ' for display in St James over the Easter period. They look really good! Here are a few of them but you need to come and see them close up.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

But not as we know it

 Given the Old Testament background you were making  quite a statement if you rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. You were making a claim to be the king, the long-awaited saviour of the people, the Messiah.

Bermondsey voices
But the irony of Palm Sunday was that although Jesus was a king, he was not a king as we know it. Likewise, although he was a saviour, he was the saviour (or the kind of saviour) they were expecting. 

After making those points at St James this morning at our Palm Sunday service (enriched by contributions from our local community choir, Bermondsey Voices), and reading a book this afternoon about the history of the First World War, my thoughts turned to a poem that came out of that war, which always speaks to me very powerfully at this time of year: In 'Jesus of the scars,' Edward Shilitto says this:

The other gods were strong, but Thou was weak;
They rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne,
But to our wounds only God's wounds can speak 
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone

This is the Palm Sunday Jesus: gentle, humble and riding on a donkey, reigning from a cross, defeating his enemies by dying at their hands - truly a king, but not as we know it.


Pray for Justin

In the week that he was 'enthroned' (when are we going to stop using that absurd term for the installation of a servant of the servants of God?), Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, appeared tonight on BBC's Songs of Praise.

If you missed it, do see it on BBC iPlayer, because it was a remarkable prorgramme and the new Archbishop's own contributions were outstanding being both moving and spiritually powerful.

He has that real gift of talking about spiritual things in simple down-to-earth way.

He was once said he was one of the 'thickest bishops.' I don't believe that at all, but he wears his learning lightly, and he is able to communicate Christian truth in a refreshingly straightforward way.

There is a sense that the Archbishop of Canterbury is by default Chief Spokesman for Christianity in this country and for that very demanding role, the signs are that Justin is an excellent choice. Pray for him.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Sixty mini-theologians visit St Anne's

To St Anne's for a visit by sixty five and six year olds from Ilderton Primary School. They were an extremely well-behaved bunch who listened intently to what I said and then asked LOTS of questions.

The visit was about things we do in church, like communion (a special meal with bread and wine), baptisms, getting married, having stories about Jesus, and even funerals.

They liked seeing one of their classmates have a pretend baptism; they loved the big brass bird from where we read the stories about Jesus (actually the Eagle lectern); they loved climbing up into the pulpit, and when I said 'does any one have any questions?'about sixty hands shot up simultaneously and we had about 20 minutes of non-stop questions, before everyone had the chance to explore the building before it was time to go back school.

The questions? Some great theological posers: like 'Who made God? Who made the devil?' 'Why do people worship God? and 'Why has God got the whole world in his hands?' (they must have been singing that song). I also liked: How did the man who made the picture of Jesus (in the stained glass window) know what Jesus looked like? Where do you get the bread and wine from (for communion)? What happens to the bodies (after the funeral service)?

Basically they kept me on my toes and I had to think quickly to keep up with them. I loved their enthusiasm and their curiosity.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The God of the second chance

Jonah - as we have been discovering during our Lent course at St James and St |Anne's - was a bit of an idiot.

He got the daft idea into his mind that he could run away from God by travelling to Spain and it took a few days inside the belly of a fish to get him on track again - once, that is, he had been spewed up on the beach..

Then the Lord spoke to him again and he got a second chance to do what the Lord had wanted him to do all along: preach to the Ninevites.

He was not suspended, pending an official enquiry. He was not quietly retired on medical grounds. Nor did the media gloat at his folly, whilst firmly rubbing salt into the wound with 'downfall of the man who had everything' articles.

No, instead, the Lord gave him a second chance. Simple as that.

Once again the Bible is impressively out of step with the modern world.  On the one hand it takes sin far more seriously, on the other, it is much stronger on forgiveness.

The Bible doesn't follow the 'everybody is doing it' justification for sin, nor does it consider that God's standards need to be brought into line with the Metropiltan elite thar runs the main political parties in 2013. It tends to call a sin a sin but then it is far more forgiving of human failure than mainstream opinion in Britain, because it believes in the God of the second chance.

Jonah was part of a long line of failed leaders, given a second chance by God. Moses, David, Abraham, Paul, Peter, and the rest of the disciples were equally flawed.

When a politician falls, the media are quick to pronounce their career is over (as they have done this week with Chris Huhne). The lesson of Jonah is, that so far as his people are concerned, God views things rather differently.

Indeed, the church is full of recycled sinners who have been given a second chance by God. In fact, it is exclusively made up of such people.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Chapter at Rotherhithe

To St Mary, Rotherhithe for a meeting of the Deanery chapter (= the clergy of the deanery). Bermondsey Deanery is a smal one with just seven parishes, two of which share a vicar (me), and two which don't currently have one at all, so we are a very select group. Our ranks though are swelled by the Norweigian and Finnish Churches in Rotherhithe.

Their presence reflects the nautical heritage of the district and these Nordic Lutherans are now fully in communion with the Church of England via something called the Porvoo Agreement, and thus are part of the clergy chapter - and indeed today we were joined by the minister who has pastoral responsibility for the 15,000 Finns living in London, together with the Finnish Church in Rotherhithe which comes complete with its own sauna.

Chapters vary enormously in what they do. Some start with communion. Some have minutes, agendas, and reams of notices; others laid back affairs of sharing and chat. Some have guest speakers. Most meet about every two months, often at lunchtime. The aim is mutual encouragement and support

Us? This was the first chapter meeting for a while - and the first under the leadership of our new area dean. What did we do? We had lunch together, we chatted, including about funerals (it has been said that no gathering of clergy is complete without someone telling a funeral story),  and we came away knowing a lot more about the Church of Finland than we did before. It was a good first meeting.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

A Mother's days

To St Anne's this morning for our Mothering Sunday family service, in the centenary year of the revival of Mothering Sunday in the Church of England.

Mothering Sunday is one of those days that tests the preacher. It comes round every year and there's probably not much to be said that hasn't already been said, especially given the relatively slender nature of biblical material on the subject (the same problem arises with Christmas).

There are three ways you can go with Mother's Day: (1) a talk on motherhood and family life; (2) a general gospel talk addressed to the whole family; or (3) a talk on one of the mothers of Scripture.

All three options are good. This year I chose option three with a talk on Mary, the mother of Jesus, entitled 'Mother's Days.'

The talk looked at four days in Mary's life, days that she would never forget: the day she saw the angel; the day her son was born; the day she stood at the foot of the cross; and the day she witnessed the ascension.

Earlier in the service I got people to complete the sentence 'what I love about my mum is...' There were some great answers including 'she gave birth to me.'

A number of other people said: 'she's always there for me' and that brings us back to Mary - she was there at those critical moments in Jesus life, and most poignantly of all at the cross, when most of the disciples had run away, his mother was there for him and he recognised that as he spoke to her and provided for her in his dying moments.

And the suffering she witnessed there was like a sword piercing her soul, just as Simeon had warned, days  after Mary's child had been born.

But Mary saw her son again walking the face of the earth - alive! Then she saw him ascend to heaven, and Luke tells us she was a member of the prayer meeting that took place immediately afterwards (Acts 1.14).

She was, in short, a Christian believer, a founder member of the early church. She was a believing mother and she is an encouragement and example to believing mothers everywhere. 

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Waterloo synod

A dismal meeting of the Diocesan Synod today at St John's, Waterloo.

With a few others I attempted unsuccessfully to amend a motion on women bishops which we considered to be unnecessarily one-sided and  divisive at a time when a working party under the auspices of the House of Bishops is working hard to find a way forward that will work for the whole church.

Here's what I said in moving the amendment

Ephesians 4 verse 3: Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Mr Chairman, synod members, It is in this spirit of that verse that I offer this amendment to the Diocesan Synod for its consideration. 

Much ink has been spilt as a result of last November’s vote in the General Synod and strong feelings have been expressed on all sides.

But things have moved on since the main motion before us was framed. The House of Bishops in February expressed its desire for robust processes and steps to be employed to bring forward new legislation for consideration by the General Synod in July.

A working party has been set up under the chairmanship of the Bishop of St Emundsbury and Ipswich to work towards this end, and members of this diocesan synod are represented on it.

I believe the time now is for a unifying motion that will draw together the whole diocese in a strong message of support for the Bishops and the working party, and my amendment is designed to offer this support.

Let us not divide at this point. Let us unite together as a Diocese behind those who are seeking to find a settlement that will be good for the whole Church of England. 

Some may indeed wish to open up a consideration of the appropriateness of the standing orders and procedures of the General Synod, but I believe that the best time for such a consideration is after the conclusion of the present process, not mid way through it.

In Southwark we are renown for our diversity, let also be known for our unity, and our strenuous efforts in the power of the Spirit to keep that unity in the bond of peace.

Things have moved on since November. Things have moved on since the main motion before us was framed. Let us add our support, our encouragement, and our prayers to those who are working hard at this time so that the whole Church of England can move on together.

Let us surprise the world at how much we Christians love another, including in this Diocese of Southwark, and in that spirit of unity and moving forward together, I ask you to  support the  amendment before us.

The amendment was defeated by a large majority.

I make no complaint personally about the failure of my amendment to pass -  indeed I have an unbroken record of synodical failure dating back to 1998, so I'm used to it - but I wonder what it says about our diocese when once more the majority overrides the views of the minority, demonstrates its indifference to their feelings and votes against something that could actually have united us.

What a message we could  have sent to the world

Friday, 8 March 2013

If the shoe fits

While I was waiting to see the bishop yesterday, the deputy diocesan secretary presented me with a  pair of leather boots, and not just any boots, but St Crispin's boots.

When St Crispin's Church in Southwark Park Road closed for worship, St Crispin's boots were brought to the Diocesan offices and placed on the top of a cupboard where they have stayed ever since.

St Crispin is the patron saint of cobblers, tanners, and leatherworkers, and with Bermondsey such a centre historically of the leatherworking industry, the dedication of the Southwark Road Church was quite apt .

The picture (left) shows the boots,  suspended from the ceiling, being admired by local children during the St Crispin's Day celebrations at St Crispin's in October 1956.

St Crispin's parish is now part of St James parish - our official title is St James with Christchurch and St Crispin, and on that basis the deputy diocesan secretary said 'you can have the shoes if you want.'

They were a bit big to carry back on the bus, but next time I'm in the area with the car, perhaps its time for St Crispin's shoes to come back to Bermondsey.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Bermondsey boys

I have been reading about two Bermondsey characters, one living, one dead.

The first, Alfred Salter, as local readers will know, gave up a glittering medical career at a top research institute and came to Bermondsey as a GP in 1898 and stayed until  his death in 1945.

Alfred and his wife, Ada, devoted the whole of their adult lives to uninstinting service of the people of Bermondsey. They were Quakers and very early members of the Labour Party. Both served on the borough council. He was MP for Bermondsey West and she represented Bermondsey on the London County Council.

All this time 'the Doctor' was a familiar sight cycling around Bermondsey on home visits and there was always a queue of patients waiting to see him back at his home-cum-surgery in Storks Road.

All this activity was motivated by a deep Christian faith which led him to embrace two causes less close to most people's hearts: an absolute Christian pacifism and a total repudiation of the demon drink. Neither stance was exactly popular but the doctor retained his constituents' respect as a man of principle who said what he thought whether it was popular or not.

When he died huge crowds flocked to St James for his memorial service and to this day the work of the Salters is remembered in the memorials in the Tube Station (close to the site of their home), in the Ada Salter Memorial Garden in Southwark Park and in Alfred Salter School. Less happilly the Thameside staue of 'Dr Salter's daydream' has been the victim of metal thefts and it is good to hear that moves are afoot to place a new one there, and this time Ada is going to be included too (quite right too).

The second book is by and about a character who is very much still alive and very much out and about in the area on a daily basis, Barry Albin-Dyer of Albin's funeral directors.

'Don't Drop the Coffin' is Barry's account 'from graveside punch-ups to gangland style funerals' of the ins and outs of the funeral trade as practised by the 'the UK's oldest family firm of funeral directors.'

Death comes to every family and so funeral directors, like clergy, get to meet all kinds of families in all kinds of situations. Barry brings out that sheer diversity of his work brilliantly and he offers some wise words on the way about the process of bereavement.

If anything funerals are getting more elaborate and complex and people are now more inclined to' customise' the event, adding things that have a particular resonance with the deceased. That can make funeral directors' lives a bit more interesting (clergy, too).

One fairly recent trend I have noticed in the past few years is the increased use of horse drawn hearses.

Recently I succumbed to Barry's invitation to ride with the horses (left), then I discovered that the journey was an hour long, and that a cassock is no protection against a January wind, so I swapped the carriage for a nice warm limousine after a mile or two, but I did enjoy the view as we clip-clopped down Jamaica Road.