Sunday, 28 April 2013


Why just have one Annual Meeting when you can have two?

That's the joy of two parishes in a united benefice and today it was St James turn, just in time for the end-of-the-month legal deadline for such things.

The accounts were passed, the annual report was duly considered, the new electoral roll has gone up 55%, PCC members and churchwardens were elected, and Roger told us of plans for new audio-visual screens for the church, carefully sited so as not to disrupt the classical elegance of the building or to compete with the painting of the Ascension which dominates the east end, but with the potential to enrich our teaching and worship week by week, as we use the latest technology to tell the 'old, old story.'

As I told the APCM, I began my ministry as a committed user of the overhead projector. I well remember evenings in front of the telly colouring in acetates. Later computers and colour printers made the humble felt-tip redundant, and then, later still, data projectors and Powerpoint swept all before it.

I still have a drawer full of blank OHP acetates but I think they are now about as useful as a Flannelgraph (although a Google search suggests that even that piece of technology still has its fans).

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Dreaming dreams at the Salmon

To the Salmon Youth Centre (left) for our first joint PCC dayaway since the parishes of St James and St Anne's formally became a united benefice in February (a bit like a marriage following a long engagement).

Worship, bible input from Genesis & Revelation, lunch, lots of tea and coffee and the chance to chat and dream dreams were all vital ingredients of the day.

Our two main sessions focused, firstly, on our gifts, opportunities and spiritual assets, and, secondly, where might God might be leading us in the coming year. The latter was a chance to throw caution to the winds and to dream dreams.

Impossible dreams? Who can say that a dream is impossible if it is God inspired?

Towards the end of the last session I returned to our motto verse from Ephesians 3.17-18 and to the words words: deeper and wider. I suggested as a church that we needed to first deepen our spiritual lives, and deepen our knowledge of God's love; and then that love of God needed to go wider into the community, reaching out to more people.

None of that can happen without prayer so we concluded the day by climbing to the seventh floor roof garden of the Salmon Centre where, with a bird's eye view of our local area, we prayed for the people of Bermondsey.

How do you round off a day like that?

How about a bit of Brahms and Schubert in a concert of chamber music by Debbie (a member of St James, a member of our women's bible group and a professional muscian) and her friends - in St James in aid of the St Anne's building fund?

Brahms and Schubert arer not the first names that come to mind when most people think of Bermondsey but then life in Bermondsey (as I am constantly finding) is full of surprises - and thanks to Debbie we all had the most wonderful conclusion to an absorbing day.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Church building, building the church

I've been spending quite a lot of time recently applying for grants and consulting the websites of grant awarding trusts.

There are two types of trust we are interested in: those who gives grants for church buildings and those that give grants for building the church.

For the church building we need grants for St Anne's to make it watertight and carry out urgent and vital repairs.

St Anne's is not a listed building and in many ways that it is advantage, but it comes with a built-in disadvantage too, because most of the (small number of trusts) that give grants for church repairs concentrate on listed buildings of architectural or historical importance.

That limits our options for St Anne's but we have located a few possibilities and these are being actively pursued, with one application already in and a couple more to follow.

There are even fewer trusts that give grants for building the church - for reaching out into the community with the Gospel with a view to bringing people to active faith and building up the body of Christ.

For us in Bermondsey we are particularly seeking grants for our new Urban Missioner, a full time member of our staff whose particular focus will be on mission and outreach. The Diocese are generously supporting the project with half a stipend and rent-free accommodation, and we have applied to three trusts for grants towards the other half.

The applications are in, all we need to do now is pray...

Sunday, 21 April 2013

London Marathon passes along Jamaica Road

Unlocking the good news

To Eltham for the thirtieth annual UNLOCK walk.

Unlock is a charity run on a shoestring that aims to equip churches in the poorest area of our country.

Each year it organises a sponsored walk in a different area of London, with local churches as the checkpoints. Along the way walkers get an intriguing insight to urban church life

Their website explains their work: 'Unlock is a Christian charity that was founded in 1972. It exists to help urban churches of any denomination to respond to the challenges in their areas. We are especially concerned with Bible engagement in 'traditional tabloid' ('non-book', 'oral learners', or 'text-shy') cultures.'

It was on a Unlock walk - some years ago -  that I first visited St James, Bermondsey and the Salmon Youth Centre. Today's walk was in the Eltham area and included a number of the attractive 'cottage estates' built by the London County Council in the 1930s, very similar to the St Helier estate in Morden where we lived from 1994 to 2001.

This is also the area where Stephen Lawrence was murdered - the walk passed the roadside memorial to his death - and it is also the scene of huge urban regeneration with the creation of the new 'Kidbrooke Village' to realise the 1960s concrete monstrosity of the Ferrier Estate.

As always it was good to meet local churches of all denominations. Life can be tough and progress slow. One vicar said to me 'the people round here could withstand a direct hit by the Holy Spirit.' I knew what he meant but I like to think, and indeed do believe, that the Spirit can melt the most hardened heart. Pray God he  will.

Another good Unlock day, roll on the thirty-first walk.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The man with beautiful feet

Actually I have never looked at his feet, but I am basing the title of this post on the verse from Isaiah which says 'How beautiful are the feet of him who brings good new', because the man I'm talking about is a full-time evangelist in Bermondsey - he is, in short, a professional goodnewser.

I've just invented that word but I think it describes Paul Brown well.

Paul and I met for lunch yesterday, we've met up once before and today we bumped into each other at another meeting. He works for City Hope Church in Drummond Rd. Not only is he passionate about sharing the gospel of Christ with the people and Bermondsey, not only is he out and about making connections with people all over the place, but he is also a blogger!!!!

There are many good reasons to visit Paul Brown's blog but the section on 'the church and the working class' is a particular highlight.

Everyone knows the church in England is overwhelmingly middle class, and that it struggles to make contact with working class people. Hardly anyone cares about that. Its the scandal that doesn't scandalise the church.

But Paul does.

And he is doing something about it and he's got some good stuff to say about it and I thank God for him and for other people in Bermondsey who have the same passion and vision.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Breaking out

You realise just how big St James's Church actually is when 500 (admittedly small) people pour into it and there is plenty of room left over.

It was good to see them all there yesterday - 500 happy smiling faces from St James's School -  back from their holidays and ready for their beginning of term service.

So far as the country at large is concerned, Easter has been and gone, but the Church wisely savours the glory of the resurrection for a full six weeks, so we were in full Easter mode for our first service back.

They joined in the Easter greeting well, with a resounding 'He is risen indeed. Alleluia' and then there was time to think about the egg.

Have you ever wondered why we give each other eggs for Easter, I asked. And then we talked about chicks breaking out of eggs, and Jesus breaking out of the tomb into new life.

So, I said, next time you get an Easter egg, you can remember what the egg really stands for - new life that came when Jesus broke out of the tomb.
St James's galleries provide plenty of room for the Key Stage 2 children who can peer down at the younger ones from the elevated position at the west end of the church

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Deeper and wider

To St Anne's for our 10am communion service followed by the Annual Parochial Church Meeting (with St James' APCM set for 28th April).

The APCM is the time to elect churchwardens and PCC members, consider the annual accounts and the annual report and to begin to look forward to the future. It also gives members of the congregation the opportunity to share their views and to ask questions.

Two big issues that got an airing today were our buildings and the future staffing for our united benefice, but perhaps even more important than that is our spiritual life as a congregation and our mission to the community and that's why at the end of the meeting I came back to our motto for the year:

I pray that you may have your roots and  foundation in love, so that you...may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep is Christ’s love.’ Eph 3.17-18

Our churches, like every church, need to put their roots down deeply in Christ's love - that says something about deepening our spiritual lives - and then that love needs to go wider into the community as we reach out with the love of Christ to those who do not yet know him.

We will be able to think a bit more how we do that in practice at our joint PCC dayaway in a couple of week's time - at the Salmon Youth Centre.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Have a heart

You either loved her or hated her. The 'iron lady' tended to produce strong reactions pro and against when she was prime minister, and in her death she has done the same.

I won't add to the millions of words already in print assessing her life, but in a week when I have taken one funeral, and made a preparatory visit for another, I will share with blog readers a concern I feel about the events of the last few days.

Somewhere along the line, a simple truth has been lost: a woman has died who was both a mother and grandmother and a family is grieving.

Each week in Southwark News there are moving tributes to deceased family members. Clergy and funeral directors alike work with families to give the best possible send-off to thiose who have died, bearing in mind the human pain and grief that lies behind every death.

To my mind some of the responses to Baroness Thatcher's death have lost sight of this. They go beyond bad taste. They seem unfeeling and heartless.

By contrast some of the best contributions to this week's debate in Parliament came from those who disagreed with many of Mrs Thatcher's policies. They spoke about her life in a way that respected her memory and took into account the feelings of a grieving family. Ed Milliband's speech was an outstanding example of this.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Churchyard make-over

The remodelling of St James's Churchyard by Southwark Council is nearly complete. York stone paving has replaced the crumbling tarmac and a beautiful public square has been created in the front of the church.

Today the central section of the railings were removed, giving a new open aspect to the church, particularly as viewed from Frean Street:

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Transforming presence

Tearful, bewildered, fearful: that just about sums up the state of the church towards the end of the first Easter Day.

Jesus had been raised from the dead but they just didn't get it or, as John says, they didn't understand the Scripture that said he must be raised from the dead.

They were a pretty, unhappy, confused bunch, meeting together behind locked doors - when Jesus turned up and transformed everything in a moment.

As I explained this morning at St James, he did three things: he said, he showed and he sent. He said 'peace be with you.' He showed them his hands and his sides. He sent them: 'as the Father sent me, so I sent you.'

The change that come over the disciples towards the end of the first Easter Day is one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the resurrection because it was the physical, bodilly resurrection of Jesus in their midst that changed everything for them.

Incidentally, as bible scholar Tom Wright suggests, the reason for them not initially believing in the resurrection (until Jesus convinced them) was rather different from that of your average sceptical Brit in 2013.

Your average sceptic today would say resurrection is impossible (ie dead man don't rise) - and, indeed, so far in the history of the world that has been generally true - with one exception (see above).

Believing Jews however did believe in resurrection, they just did not believe in resurrection yet. They believed that the resurrection would take place at the end of the age, so, when Jesus said he would rise from the dead, they thought to themselves 'of course you will - like us, at the end of the age' and then thought nothing more about it

The big surprise for them on the first Easter Day was not that a dead man had been raised from the dead but that the resurrection of one man at least had been brought forward to the here and now.

Either way - to Jew and Sceptic, the resurrection of Jesus on the first Easter Day came as a bolt from the blue, overturned their expectations and made everyone rethink their theology.

No wonder the resurrected Jesus in revelation says 'behold, I make everything new!'