Saturday, 29 June 2013

Missing gospel

A strange thing happened at Southwark Cathedral today. The Gospel was ignored.

I was there for Liz's ordination. From Holy Trinity, Redhill, my last parish, she has trained at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, got married, now got ordained, and today she begins her new job as a curate. Fantastic.

But back to the service.

It was clear to anyone that the reading of the Gospel was very important indeed. The Gospels were carried in during the opening procession by the Deacon, held aloft so that everyone could see them. For the Gospel reading the congregation stood, turned to face the reader, who was flanked by candles and a person holding the processional cross.

The Gospel was solemnly read, responses were made, the organ sounded and then there was no further mention of Matthew 16.13-19 (or indeed the epistle reading) for the rest of the service.

In my view this was a shame for two reasons: (1) the service seemed to be saying two contradictory things - the Gospel reading is very important (candles, crucifer etc) and the Gospel reading is very unimportant (no need to mention it); (2) The actual text of Matthew 16.13-19 contains just the kind of crucial teaching about the person of Christ that an ordinand needs to hear and to have at the heart of his or her ministry.

Thursday, 27 June 2013


To Bede House in Southwark Park Rd to meet with their director, Nick, and to find out about their community work amongst people with learning disabilities, young people, and the victims of domestic violence.

Bede arises from the settlement movement - groups of mainly Christian students who came from the universities of Oxford and Canbridge to live in areas of social deprivation and to serve their local communities in a variety of community projects.

Several such settlements still exist in the Bermondsey area and Bede is one of them.

Most of the settlements are now secular in orientation (the Salmon Youth Centre being the notable exception) although links continue with local churches in a variety of ways, the Bishop of Southwark, for example, is president of Bede and takes a close interest in its work.

It was good to gain an insight into the work of a local organisation, serving the local community here in Bermondsey. You can visit their website here

Mainly for ministers, at the EMA

Taking in is good as well as giving out.

Teachers of the word need to be taught as well as to teach and that's why for many years the Evangelical Ministry Assembly, run by the Proclamation Trust in London each June has been a regular place of spiritual refreshment for me as well as offering a welcome opportunity to catch up with old friends.

For many years the EMA has been hosted by St Helen, Bishopsgate. They can fit in 800 people but its quite a squash.

This year the EMA moved to the Barbican Arts Centre in the City of London and there were 1200 of us, mainly ministers, for the three day event which started on Monday and concluded yesterday.

This year's theme was Faithful: Living and Preaching in an Alien World.

Each day began with a bible exposition from 1 Peter (very relevant to the theme, addressed to 'God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappodocia' etc etc).

After coffee was a lecture related to the theme: Dan Strange, vice principal of Oak Hill Theological College, on the Monday speaking about engaging with 21st century culture; Rico Tice, evangelist at All Souls, Langham Place on the Tuesday speaking about evangelism; and church historian Garry Williams on the Wednesday with some wisdom from the past, mining the 4th century writings of St Augustine of Hippo. Three very different presentations, all of a very high standard.

Lunch followed and then there were a series of seminars scattered around the Barbican (in St Helen's
The Barbican
days we scattered to churches around the City, commandeered for the purpose - I liked that), followed by a final session which, traditionally, I skip on the basis that three meaty lectures a day is about enough (especially if I have a PCC in the evening).

However, I hear those last talks were excellent too, so in due course I will listen to them online - as you can, too, because within the next few weeks all the EMA talks will be available for free download from PT Resources.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

New beginnings for Ogun

Prince Babalola Adesanya-Shine is better know to most of us at St James as Nathaniel or Nate, but  its not every church that includes members of a royal family, as ours does.

Now Nathaniel is standing for election in the  Ogun state parliament in Nigeria, and last night I was invited to the UK launch of his election campaign, to open in prayer and give and impromptu speech.

It was impressive that nearly every speaker made explicit reference to the Christian faith and it is clear that Nate'scampaign has a strong Christian motivation.

Today we prayed for him at St James.  May God bless him.

You can see his website here.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

One vicar, lightly grilled

To the St James ladies bible study group (picture) for 'Grill-a-vicar.'

They've been working their way through Ephesians and my task was to field some of the questions that have arisen during their wide-ranging discussions on Tuesday mornings.

We covered quite a lot of ground including the resurrection, the ascension, tithing, what happened to Jesus between Good Friday and Easter Day, heaven, the second coming, other faiths, prayer for the dead, the 'rapture' and the fate of the unbeliever. After all that it was time for lunch...

What a fantastic group they are!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The good father

'Here's a riddle for you' I said to today's Fathers' Day congregation at St James, 'how is a good father like a toilet roll?'

I loved the ingenuity of the answers.

My answer? A good father is like a toilet roll because he perfectly combines softness and strength.

That's not an easy combination, nor is it easy to be a dad, but there is one person in history who, I suggested, had perfectly combined the qualities of softness and strength and that was Jesus.

He was kind, compassionate, the friend of sinners, gentle and lowly of heart. But beside this perfect softness was the strength and authority that meant that when he said to men,  'come, follow me,' they did.

No dad can aspire to be Jesus, but a dad who knows Jesus and believes in him, may hope to reflect, even if dimly, the softness and strength of the Son of God in his life - and that's worth aiming at and praying for.

Locking up at the Tower

To the Tower of London for what must be the best free show in London, the daily ceremonial locking up of the Tower; known as 'the Ceremony of the Keys.'

They've done it every night for seven hundred and forty one years.

They've never missed a night, not even during the Blitz when bombs reigned down the City for nights on end.

The nearest enemy action got to disrupting the tradition was the night the ceremony was seven minutes late because a bomb had hit the guard room.

That merited a letter of the apology to the King who was understanding of the lapse.

At precisely seven minutes to ten the ceremony begins with the warden carrying a lantern in one hand, the keys in the other, is escorted by a detachment of soldiers,and the following exchange, unchanged for centuries, takes place:

SENTRY:    Halt, who comes there?'
WARDER:  The keys
SENTRY:    Who's keys?
WARDER:   Queen Elizabeth's keys.
SENTRY:     Pass Queen Elizabeth's keys. All's well.

Following the locking of the two gates, the last post is sounded and then the warder cries: 'God preserve Queen Elizabeth.' And all the people reply 'Amen.'

About seventy members of the public are admitted each night to witness the event. Admission is free but you have to book ahead (apply here). A Yeoman warder acts as your guide and the whole visit takes just over half a hour, concluding at the foot of the floodlit, White Tower (the oldest part of the complex), a breathtaking sight.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Welcome to Paul

It has been announced today that Captain Paul Warren of the Church Army (left) is to be our full time Urban Missioner, working in the united benefice of St James and St Anne's, with a special Sunday responsibility for St Anne's Church.

Paul and his family will be moving to Bermondsey in August with his wife, Mandy, and children Emily, Daniel, & Hannah and he will be licensed by the Bishop of Woolwich at a united service in St Anne's Church on September 22nd.

I first met Paul when I was vicar of St Peter's and Bishop Andrewes churches on the St Helier Estate in Morden and Carshalton. Paul had come straight from the Church Army College in Sheffield, and our parish of St Helier was to be the location of his first post as a Church Army evangelist. Prior to that he was a self-employed builder in the Weymouth area (where he comes from), specialising in home extensions.

Later I moved to Redhill and later still Paul moved to the parish of Whitnash in Warwickshire where for the last five years he has been the children's and family worker and a training enabler for the Church Army mission centre based there.

What's this new man like then? What you see is what you get, is what I think about Paul. Straightforward, hardworking, friendly, encouraging, passionate about sharing the love of Jesus with others. I'm thrilled he's coming to Bermondsey.

Here's a video from the Church Army website where Paul talks about the work he has been doing in Warwick:

Monday, 3 June 2013

Turkish delight

During the last week your blogger has been travelling with a Christian group in Turkey as a kind of residential chaplain, visiting some of the places where the earliest Christian communities were founded.

We started off at Istanbul, the noisy bustling city of 15m people (twice the population of London) that sits bestride the Bosphorus, linking the continents of Europe and Asia (one of the men at the hotel said 'I live in Asia, but I work in Europe')

Here is the wonderful Spice Market - even bigger and more colourful is the vast 4,000 shop Grand Bazaar, dating from the 15th century.

And here is the extraordinary Hagai Sophia (Sacred Wisdom)  built in AD 537 and designed to accommodate 10,000 people. For nearly a thousand years it was a Christian church until the fall of Constantinople in 1457 when it was converted to a mosque and the Christian symbols and paintings were removed or covered up.

With the founding of modern Turkey as a secular state it became a state-run museum in 1935. Restoration work continues with the happy result that with the Christian murals and mosaics uncovered, Christ once more reigns supreme over Hagai Sophia.

The weird rock formations of Cappodocia provided a home for persecuted Christians in the 3rd century who carved out homes among the soft rocks of this extraordinary and beautiful landscape.

St Paul's visit to the city of Ephesus was quite literally a riot - or that's pretty much how it ended up. You can read about it in Acts 19 but here in the great Theatre of Ephesus is where it all took place.

Our party stood for a moment in the centre of the Amphitheatre to sing 'He is Lord, he is risen from the dead and he is Lord. Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.'

This time there was no riot - indeed our fellow tourists gave us a clap when we finished.

And nearby is the magnificent library of Ephesus (above). Paul spent the best part of three years at Ephesus teaching 'publicly and from house to house.' Acts 20 describes the emotional scene that took place at Miletus as Paul bade farewell to the Ephesian elders:  'When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him.  What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.'

It was moving to be at that very place and to hear those words read: