Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Marriage matters

'Gay marriage is straightforward social justice' says a columnist in tonight's Evening Standard. No explanation is given for this statement - it is simply assumed to be true - but parliamentarians who take the Bible, seriously, including our own Simon Hughes,  have realised that the issue of gay marriage is far more complex.

Simon, as has been reported in this blog, has twice met with Bermondsey Christian leaders to talk about same sex marriage and has thought long and hard about this issue. He made several contributions to the debate in Parliament this week, which are reported in detail on his website.

During the Commons debate he said: 'Let me put my position on the record. I believe, have believed and was brought up to believe that marriage is ordained by God. I believe that marriage is traditionally ordained by God to be between one man and one woman. I believe that marriage was set up by God for the creation of children. I believe that it was to link the biological needs of children with their biological parents. I believe that it was for biological complementarity. I believe that it was for gender complementarity, and that it was a gift of God in creation. That is why I have taken a traditional Christian and other-faith view on how marriage has traditionally been-for one man and one woman-which was the case long before we legislated for such things in this country and made them the law of the land.'

On his website, Simon explains why he did not vote for the third reading of the bill: 'I know that many people will be disappointed. In my heart, I wanted to support my gay friends and constituents and their friends and families and many party members and supporters who support the bill. I want to legislate to change the civil law for everybody. But my understanding of my faith and the view of my church does not accord with the proposal to redefine marriage as the bill currently does. I did not feel therefore that I could in conscience vote for third reading.'

You can read Simon's full account of the debate and his contribution to it here 

I think that in talking about God's intention in creation  Simon has got to the very heart of the matter. To say that 'gay marriage is a straightforward matter of social justice' is ludicrously simplistic. Before you start to change the very nature of marriage you really do need to ask what marriage is ordained for and our MP has made that point very clear, not least in his statement 'I believe that marriage was set up by God for the creation of children.'

And how often have you heard them mentioned in recent debates?

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Changing Bermondsey

'Changing Bermondsey' was the theme of tonight's meeting of the Bermondsey Deanery Synod, hosted by St James, whose own setting with its newly remodelled churchyard at the end of a vista through the Bermondsey Spa development is a dramatic illustration of the rapid changes taking place across the deanery.

2,000 flats are nearing completion in Bermondsey Spa and planning permission has been given in the last few months for a further 700 flats at Chambers Wharf and 800 at the biscuit factory site. More flats are planned for the Southwark College site - and all this is in just one of the deanery's parishes, St James, so population growth was one of the issues flagged up tonight.

Other issues were increasing transience, high levels of social deprivation (several parishes, iucluding St James
and St Anne, are among the 10 per cent most deprived in the country), and reduced community facilities. The challenge for the church is to build community and to share the good news of the Gospel. Churches need to co-operate and new and imaginative forms of outreach need to be developed.

Huge challenges, yes, but we ended on a positive note. Everyone agreed that they actually liked living in Bermondsey.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Pentecost at the cathedral

To Southwark Cathedral yesterday for the Diocesan Pentecost Service.

The Southwark Diocesan Evangelical Union, of which I am the chair, had been invited to share in the plannning of the service.

Two St Jamesites, Maria (who did brilliantly) and Simon Hughes did the readings; the All Saints, Peckham worship band led the music, and veteran evangelist, Canon Michael Green, was the preacher.

Michael Green, we were told, has written over 50 books - I've got a quite a few of them on my shelves, and very good they are too. He preached a great sermon for Pentecost and had some wise words to speak on the subject of reconciliation, sensitively and fittingly applied to our own rather argumentative diocese.

Earlier in the service severals members of All Saints, Peckham came to the microphone to speak words of praise in their own native language. It reminded us of the universal blessing of the gift of the Spirit, of that great gathering in of people from every tribe, language and nation which began in Jerusalem on the feast of Pentecost two thousand years ago and continues to this day in south London and throughout the world.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Bermondsey Christian Leaders at the HoC

To the House of Commons for a meeting of Bermondsey Christian leaders with Simon Hughes MP.

Today's meeting was a continuation of a meeting a few month ago which had three main items on the agenda: same sex marriage, welfare reform and housing.

Last time SSM took up most of the time, so on this occasion we began with welfare reform, followed by housing.

The benefit cap and the so-called bedroom tax will both impact on local residents. Help and advice is available, not least through our MP, and Simon offered to email out some briefing sheets.

Housing remains a crucial issue in the constituency. There is an acute shortage of housing, especially affordable housing. Simon's constituency has the second highest proportion of social housing in the country. In parts of the area, not least St James parish, huge housing developments are piling the pressure on the infrastructure (1500 new flats have been announced in St James parish in the last two months) and further exascerbating the shortage of school places. Meanwhile at the top end of the market foreign investors are buying up new properties as a form of long-term investment and are driving up prices for everyone.

For many Christians the greatest concern arising from the same sex marriage bill derives from its attempt to redefine the institution of marriage. If marriage is, as the wedding service affirms, 'a gift of God in creation...a holy mystery in which a man and woman become one flesh' can it be turned into something else by even such an august body as the Lords and Commons assembled at Westminster?

A sovereign Parliament may well claim the right, but should it try?

I don't think so.

Next week various amendments to the bill will be considered and after that we must see what the House of Lords makes of it.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

With you alway (2)

I've been thinking about the text attached to the great ascension picture in St James Church: 'Lo, I am with you alway.'

It comes from the very last verse of Matthew's Gospel, chapter 28 verse 20.  It comes at the end of what we call the Great Commission and that seems significant.

Matthew doesn't describe the ascension as such - he leaves that to Luke - but what he does instead is to record the Lord's Great Commission to his church before he ascends to heaven:  go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

That, in sense, is what the church is for. This is what the church is supposed to do. (Incidentally, that is the reason why I have never felt the need to get the local church to dream up a some kind of mission statement  - for the very reason that we have one already).

We already know what we are supposed to do because Jesus told us.

That brings me to 'Lo, I am with you alway.' Lots of commandments in Scripture have a promise attached to them, and the great commission is no exception

'Lo, I am with you, alway'  is the promise attached to the commandment 'go, make disciples.' It seems to be saying to me that where a church is fully committed to and absorbed in the worldwide disciple-making work that Jesus commanded, it can especially expect the presence of Jesus to be with it.

Jesus may have left the earth bodily on the first Ascension Day but Jesus promise is that the church will never be without Jesus: 'Lo, I with you alway.'

Thursday, 9 May 2013

With you alway

For Ascension Day St James has its own giant and wonderful visual aid.

The Ascension picture that so dominates the interior of St James Church is very greatly loved by local people. Only today a man who has often visited the building  the came into the church to look at the picture during our open church time. When he heard his visit coincided with Ascension Day he was doubly pleased.

Earlier this week a member of our own church told me how the picture spoke to her at troubled moments in her life, especially with its attached text 'Lo, I am with you alway,' taken from Matthew 28.20 in the King James Version.

Today for our Ascension Day service I took as our text Hebrews 4.14 'therefore since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.'

The real point of the ascension is not Jesus absence from earth, but his presence in heaven; not so much his departure from this world, but his triumphal entry into heaven and his reign from the throne. Charles Wesley gets it about right in the hymn we sang this evening:

Hail the day that sees him rise, Alleluia!
to his throne above the skies; Alleluia!
Christ, the Lamb for sinners given, Alleluia!
enters now the highest heaven! Alleluia!

There for him high triumph waits; Alleluia!
lift your heads, eternal gates! Alleluia!
he hath conquered death and sin; Alleluia!
take the King of glory in! Alleluia!

Lo! the heaven its Lord receives, Alleluia!
yet he loves the earth he leaves; Alleluia!
though returning to his throne, Alleluia!
still he calls mankind his own. Alleluia!

 Still for us he intercedes, Alleluia!
his prevailing death he pleads, Alleluia!
near himself prepares our place, Alleluia!
he the first fruits of our race. Alleluia!

I particularly like the last verse: 'his prevailing death he pleads' speaks of Jesus the great high priest who sacrificed himseld for us, praying for us; and that last phrase 'first fruits of the race' reminds us of the great biblical principle of first Christ, then those who belong to him. He is risen and has ascended. We shall raise and we shall we reign.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Moses at the Salmon

To the Salmon Youth Centre yesterday evening for the opening of 'Prodigy' - the first solo art exhibition by one of their young people, our very own Moses.

The canvasses displayed in the exhibition represent two to three years work by Moses in the evening groups at Salmon, but they also represent something else: his own developing knowledge of God and his ways - and that's what came over loud and clear last night when we had the opportunity not just to see the artwork but to hear the artist explaining the thinking behind his work.

Here is Moses pictured alongside what was my favourite piece from the exhibition: rebirth. The painting reflects his experience and it takes us right back to the change that Christ brings in any life: 'when anyone is in Christ, he is new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.'

You can read more about Moses's work on the SE16 community website here

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Fun day in Rotherhithe

To Ronald Buckinhgam Court - the sheltered housing complex, a little green oasis in the heart of Rotherhithe, where two members of St James live -  for their community fun day. 

The London Bubble Theatre were involved doing a kind of responsive story telling with a  group of children from the local school were there partly as an audience and partly to share some of their songs with the residents. 

There were drinks and nibbles, together with visitors from the community including ourselves and Jim (left), the Pearly King of Camberwell and Bermondsey, and Michelle, the Pearly Queen of Rotherhithe. 

It was good to meet a real live pearly king and queen  them and to hear of their work in the community and their fundraising work for the charity, UK Homes for Heroes, among homeless ex-servicemen, many of whom are living on the streets.