Saturday, 30 November 2013

Getting the big picture

To St Anne's for the last in our Christianity Explored course as part of our Bermondsey Christian Training programme.

We have been meeting each week on Wednesday night at St James and Saturday morning at St Anne's with a great mixture of people from both churches at both weekly sessions.

Next we have our Christianity Explored Meal & Social in ten days time and then after Christmas we begin phase two of Bermondsey Christian Training with a new course entitled 'The Big Picture' which is designed in eight weeks to give us an overview of the whole story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Reading Mark's Gospel a couple of chapter each week with plenty of time for discussion (what struck you; what puzzled you?), watching the revamped videos (excellent), and learning from each other's insights, questions, and struggles has made it a very special time for us all.

Our tagline, Bermondsey Christian Training, has been deliberate. We've all been to school but we don't necessarily want to go back, but everyone has 'training' at some point in their adult lives, so why not have Christian training? And training speaks of something that is practical, that relates to life, that equips you for the job you are doing.

Christian training is like that. Its not about filling your head with facts or learning for an exam. It's about opening yourself to God's powerful word, taught to us by the Holy Spirit, so that we are better equipped for our job: living as disciples of Jesus here in Bermondsey.

And that's the exciting bit: as we go deeper in our faith, so we are better equipped to live for Jesus and be involved in his mission of telling the world what he has done and inviting people to put their trust in him.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Parish stats

You either love statistics or you hate them. I like them and last night at our joint PCC we looked at the Church of England Statistics Unit's excellent 'Parish Spotlights.'

The Spotlights take data from the 2011 census and customise it for every parish in the country. You can see the ones for Southwark diocese here

So what did we discover? Here are some fascinating snapshots as of 2011:

1. There were 11,500 people living in St James parish; 7,000 in St Anne's - an increase of 26% and 11% over the past decade.

2. There were 5350 households in St James parish, 3150 in St Anne's

3. The largest age groups are 15-29 and 30-44 years old

4.  64% of households in St James parish have no car (60 per cent St Anne's)

5.  41% of households with children are lone parent households

6. 37% of St Anne's parish is minority ethnic, 35 per cent St James

7. Both parishes are among the 10 per cent most deprived nationally

Those are the bare facts and they helped us to think about our parishes and how we can serve them and share the love of Christ with them.

The statistics represent  real people for whom Christ died, thousands of them. Someone once said: lost people matter to God.

They ought to matter to us, too.

THE PHOTOS (thanks Paul) of our churches by night are from the Christmas cards that we shall shortly deliver to homes close to the churches with our Christmas greetings and details of Christmas services.(We can't manage all 8,500 homes but we're making a start this year with 2,500).

Friday, 22 November 2013

Evangelising the nation

To the General Synod meeting in Westminster from Monday to Wednesday of this week.

On the last day of its meeting the Synod voted to continue the process by which women will eventually be made bishops, but less well reported, was Monday's debate on 'intentional evangelism' which may have a greater long term significance for the life of the church - if it achieves what it sets out to do in putting evangelism at the top of the church's agenda.

Here is a report from the CofE website:

The Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu , introducing a debate on intentional evangelism, called on Synod to put evangelism at the top of its agenda, saying: "next to worship, witness is the primary and urgent task of the Church."

"Compared with evangelism everything else is like re-arranging furniture when the house is on fire," he said. "Making disciples is at the heart of our Christian faith and our Anglican tradition."

Taking forward the "spiritual and numerical growth in the church" through evangelism is one of the goals highlighted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in his first Presidential Address to the General Synod in July 2012.
Synod voted to support: the creation of a national Task Group on Evangelism in the Church of England, a call to prayer around the evangelism agenda, support for a programme of action around the seven disciplines of evangelism and a call to every PCC, diocese and deanery Synod to allocate more time to initiatives for making new disciples.

It also supported amendments to extend the membership of the Task Group and to urge every local church to prayerfully find a new way of evangelising in their own context.

"We need… to be intentional in our evangelism in this next period of our life as the Church of England, not for a five or ten year period but for a generation or more," the paper submitted to Synod and prepared for the College of Bishops and the Archbishops Council, recommends.

Let's do it!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Perils and dangers

To St James's Crypt with a party of year 4 children from St James's School. 

They are doing a project on the history of London, - at the moment they are looking at London, and especially Bermondsey, during the Second World war.

The purpose of the visit was to see the place where families sheltered at night during the height of the bombing. The children were wearing period costume- as were their teachers, and at school  they had been practising wartime songs for a spot of 1940s style community singing in the air raid shelter.

In 1944 both St James's School and St James's Vicarage were destroyed by enemy action. The church lost every pane of glass, and the ceiling fell in, but otherwise it was relatively unscathed and services continued as normal, sometimes transferring to the crypt if the air raid siren sounded. 

Down in the crypt bunks had been installed in 24 of the 40 arches so that local people, armed with food and flasks of tea, could shelter there safely at night, as the bombs rained down all around them.

These long wartime nights always ended, the author of the history of St James tells us, with the third collect of evening prayer.

I told the children about it and they respectfully bowed their heads as we prayed 'Lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord, and by thy great mercy, defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the love of your only Son, Jesus Christ. Amen' and thought of all those people of the parish who had taken shelter in the bowels of the building in the 1940s.

The children were fascinated by the crypt. Their next visit will take in the pauper's gallery and a sight of the the church's silver. They were a lovely lot, and their rendition of 'We'll meet again,' would give Vera Lynn a run for her money any day.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Amazing Grace

Bermondsey's Grace Jones, Britain's oldest person, has died at the age of 113.

Today the BBC website reported: 'Miss Jones was engaged during World War One but her fiancé died on active service, said Mr Hughes, Liberal Democrat MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, who visited her with other friends on Wednesday.

She worked as a seamstress and for the government during and after World War Two, until her retirement about 50 years ago, he said.

Mr Hughes said: "Grace's friends and neighbours and the wider Bermondsey community are very sad at the news of Grace's death. "But we pay tribute to Grace for her wonderful long life, for her commitment to her faith, her family and her community, and we know that a woman of such strong Christian faith faced death with no fear."

Yesterday, at Simon's instigation, I visited Grace in her Camberwell nursing home to read the Scriptures to her and pray with her. Now she is at peace.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Getting the gospel out

You've heard of the three wise men, well, what about the four wise men?

It was quite a sight: two Pauls, Steve and me, or two vicars and a couple of evangelists, depending on how you look at it.

We were spending our morning putting our heads together on a shared concern and a shared passion: mission to working class people.

Not that we thought other people weren't important, nor did we think that the Gospel isn't for everyone, but here's the big point: working class people are chronically under-represented in most churches, compared with the number of such folk in parishes (including ours).

That is a huge mission challenge to the church that believes the Gospel is for everyone, but, save for a few troublemakers on the fringe, no one in the church is very interested. 

As for us, we spent some time telling our stories, sharing ideas, and generally brainstorming on chuurch, gospel, and working class culture.

It was a really good time, and over lunch at the Servewell Cafe, one of the four wise men said 'so what are we going to do about it?'

That's where we are going to pick up the thread at our next meeting.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Plenty of room on top

To the Age Concern Healthy Living Centre in Southwark Park Road for their annual service of remembrance, at which members of the centre who have died in the year are remembered.

Simone, the wonderful centre manager, had asked me do an opening prayer and 'say a few words of encouragement' to the gathering of members and relatives.

I began recalling the days of conductors on buses.

Travelling home from school hundreds of us schoolboys would surge forward to get on the buses at the Princes Head, Battersea.  If all the seats downstairs were taken the conductors would call out  'plenty of room on top' and we would rush upstairs. (The view was better from the top deck even if you did risk death from nicotine poisoning).

Jesus, I said, said something similar to the disciples before he died: 'in my Father's house, there are many rooms.' It was a way of saying there is room for everyone in heaven. No one is ever turned away. There is no heavenly conductor saying 'sorry, full up.'

Simone asked me to give a word of encouragement and the greatest encouragement of all is that there is plenty of room on top, plenty of room in the Father's house, room in fact for everyone who will put their trust in Jesus.

Also present for today's event was Dee, the Pearly Queen of Bermondsey (right), resplendent as usual in her wonderful sparkling outfit,  and Simon, son of Barry Albin-Dyer, representing his father, a great supporter of the work of the centre, currently undergoing medical treatment (get well soon, Barry, we're all praying for you).

A great community event in a great community centre ... and, here's the best news of all, in a year's time I will be old enough to join.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Busman's holiday

Where does a vicar go to church when he's on holiday?

Today, the end of our half term break, were actually back at home but we decided to make full use of that rare event, a free Sunday, to sample worship at another church.

For this we crossed the river to Limehouse and Hawksmoor's 1730 parish church of St Anne.

I had two reasons for wanting to go there: (1) I had long wanted to see inside Hawksmoor's masterpiece and (2) I knew that St Anne's had a well-established evangelical  ministry and I was interested to see what they were doing for the Gospel in an area not dissimilar from Bermondsey.

Inside, the church has been about 60 per cent restored. The rest, mainly the galleries and ceiling, is what they term shabby chic - but the restored bits are pretty wonderful. And I liked the way the congregation sat in comfy seats in a semi circle at the front.

The service? This was a family service coming at the end of a half term holiday week - very child friendly and very well done. The congregation was a little smaller than St James's,  perhaps a bit more middle class, less racially mixed, but still a good mix of ages and backgrounds.

Limehouse, like Bermondsey, has seen a lot of urban regeneration. St Anne's parish includes the massive Canary Wharf development .

Their 'daughter church' in the middle of the Canary Wharf is London's only floating church, St Peter's Barge, where they hold midweek services and bible studies for office workers.

Now that's what I call enterprising.