Sunday, 30 November 2014

Up West on the No. 1

All aboard the number 1 bus for St James and St Anne's trip to see the Christmas lights of the West End this afternoon.

We walked along  Oxford St, Carnaby St, Regent St, Leicester Square to the Strand for refreshments (I'll give you a clue - we were lovin' it) and then on via Covent Garden (enjoyed the street theatre and the lifesize Santa and Reindeer made with 700,000 pieces of Lego)  to pick up the bus near Waterloo Bridge for the journey home to Bermondsey. Great fun.

By the tree in Covent Garden (thanks Sarah for the pic)

Dreaming by the river

After a huge fund-raising effort, with match funding from the Council, the Salter statues are finally back in place on the riverside near the Angel pub.

Mean-spirited thieves had walked off with the memorial to the man who had magnificently served Bermondsey as doctor, MP, and social reformer for the best part of a life time.

Happily 'Dr Salter's Daydream' is now back in place in its Thames-side location, featuring this time not just the good doctor, his daughter, Joyce (and her cat), but his wife, too, Ada, Alderman of the London County Council and the great campaigner for the beautification of Bermondsey who saw to it that trees were planted in every street, and flowers bloomed on every piece of scrap land.

A large crowd gathered on the riverside this afternoon to see the new statues unveilled by relatives of the Salters and the local Director of Public Health.

There were speeches from the Deputy Mayor, the Leader of the Council, Simon Hughes MP, and several members of the Salter family.

The Salters were strongly motivated by their deeply held Christian beliefs. In due course they both became Quakers but they had strong links with St James's Church (whose vicar, G.R. Balleine, a leading evangelical of his day, and a committed socialist, was a friend and supporter) and Alfred Salter's packed memorial service was held there.

That crucial part of the life of this remarkable couple was scarcely mentioned today, but there was something very appropriate about 'Dr Salter's Daydream' being unveilled on Advent Sunday because when they dreamed of a Better Bermondsey, Ada and Alfred, were dreaming of what Christians and the Bible call the Kingdom of God, and on this day of the Church year we especially look for the coming of that kingdom.

Alfred Salter surrounded by admirers this afternoon

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Community council

It was good to welcome Southwark Council's Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Community Council (below) to St James's Church this afternoon.

Usually the community council meets in the evening.

This was an experimental Saturday afternoon event which seemed to go well.

There was a special focus today on health and well-being, with an exhibition in the south lounge from various local agencies.

The Youth Community Council, a lively bunch from local schools and colleges, kicked the meeting off with a thought provoking presentation, and then ably fielded a stream of questions from the floor.

Then we had a report from the local police, followed by lots of questions from local people in the light of recent violent crimes in the area, community news (including the launch of the Friends of St James's Churchyard), question time to the councillors, a budget consultation exercise, and the opportunity to hear from various community agencies associated with health and well-being, ranging from Age Concern Southwark to the Southwark, the Galleywall Nature Reserve, Southwark Cyclists, the Citizens Advice Bureaux and Surrey Docks Farm.

Finally, there was some detailled business on parking regulations transacted by the councillors, in the formal business that usually takes place towards the end of community council meetings.

It was a good meeting that brought together councillors, council officers, community groups and local residents, all concerned for the well-being of our local community here in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.

The member for Bermondsey

It was good to welcome Simon Hughes, MP, a regular attender at our Men's Breakfasts, as the speaker today on the subject, 'a Christian in the House.'

The men sat down to the usual Full English followed by an inspirational talk by Simon, and the chance to ask questions of our member of parliament.

Simon was hot foot from the Cathedral churchyard where he had spent the night sleeping rough in support of the Robes project for the homeless.

It was the end of an incredibly busy day that included participating in debates at the Commons, a constituents' surgery in St James Church and a dinner for Supreme Court judges from the UK and Italy which he was hosting at Lancaster House, close to Buckingham Palace.

On top of all that was a whole briefcase of papers he has to work through every day - the pile of files
Simon at the Men's brekkie
being constantly replenished by civil servants from the Ministry of Justice. And all this hard work is undergirded by a strong and living Christian faith.

How he fits it all in we shall never know but at a time when people can be a little cynical about politicians it is good to be reminded just how hard many of them work - and also to be reminded that it is a peculiar (and welcome) feature of our political system that every minister, from the prime minister down, is a constituency MP, answerable to the electorate, and only there in parliament by virtue of their votes.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Opening minds in Bermondsey

No reply yet from Janice Turner, the Times columnist, I have invited via twitter to visit St James's School.

In yesterday's paper in an article  'No more faith schools, prisons of the mind,' Ms Turner turns from private Islamic schools in Tower Hamlets to faith school in general and says 'faith schools are closed communities. Within cities, in particular, church schools are middle class ghettos with far lower rates of free school meals than nearby non-faith schools.'

She gives as her example St Mary Abbott's School in Kensington.

She also suggests you get a place in a church school by coming to church 'to suck up to the vicar' and that 'a lavish Christmas fete prize' won't go amiss either.

My tweet to Janice said 'I don't recognise your picture of church schools in London. Why not come to visit ours, St James Bermondsey?'

Bermondsey is not Kensington. The idea that St James's school is a middle class ghetto is laughable. We have a huge ethnic mix and rates of free school meals are way above the national average.

Only a third of places are reserved for those who attend church and there is no need to suck up to the vicar at all. You just need to come to church (any church in the area) to worship God.

For the majority of places, two-thirds in fact, there is no church attendance requirement at all for the simply reason that as a Church School (not 'a faith school') our vocation is to serve the whole community in Bermondsey.

Perhaps its Janice that needs to get out of the prison of her mind - and what better way of doing that than by coming on a fact-finding mission to Bermondsey?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Lord, have mercy

Day two of the General Synod meeting in Westminster and, after Holy Communion, synod settled down to devote most of the morning to a panel discussion on the plight of the persecuted religious minorities of Iraq and Syria.

Their situation is truly dire. We heard some heartrending accounts of their suffering.

There were strong calls for prayerful support and financial assistance. The crucial importance of religious liberty was stressed, not just because the universal declaration on human rights calls for it, but because the doctrine of men and women made in the image of God, demands it.

Bishop Angaelos, the representative of the Coptic Church in synod concluded the panel discussion by quoting from Philippians chapter 1 where the Apostle Paul says:  'I want you to know brothers that was has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone that I am in chains for Christ.'

The session ended with heartfelt prayers for the suffering church led by the Archbishop of York. The repeated refrain was Lord, have mercy; Christ have mercy.

That must be our prayer.

Monday, 17 November 2014

All those in favour..

It only took five minutes but involved five hundred people travelling to London from all over the country.

The measure to allow women to be bishops was passed at the York synod in July. Since then, Parliament has approved, and the Queen has given her Royal Assent. All that was needed now was for the General Synod to do the last remaining formality, which it did with a show of hands (above) in an  item that was over in under five minutes.

Then the Archbishop of York led us in the General Thanksgiving.

Not everyone is happy with the outcome but everyone is agreed it will be a relief to talk about something else. Perhaps that's why we had the General Thanksgiving.

So what else did we do on day one of this short one-and-a-half day synod?

We began with worship. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave his Presidential Address on his programme of visits to the churches of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

We also did some legal business on: church property, graveyards, and the Diocese of Europe, and we were asked to consider the vexed question of the granting of rights to graze livestock in churchyards. This is not exactly a burning issue in Bermondsey but it was good to hear about it.

Next up was an excellent report on 'Guidelines for the professional conduct of the clergy' with some good points made in the debate.

Tomorrow we have a presentation on violence against religious minorities in Syria and Iraq. That should put everything else into perspective.

The instrument of enactment allowing women to become bishops

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

At the eleventh hour

The children of St James's School came to the church today for a service to mark the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

As the nation fell silent, so did the whole school, and 500 children from youngest to the oldest stood in respectful silence for the Last Post and Reveille before we sang 'someone's crying Lord, kum ba yah; someone's praying Lord kum ba yah.'

We heard about Lance Corporal Fred Holmes (right), the young man from Bermondsey who was educated at Alexis St School (now part of St James) who was awarded the Victoria Cross for carrying an injured comrade for two miles on his shoulders in the face of enemy fire, and who is immortalised in the 'Brave Deeds Board' in the entrance hall at Alexis St.

And we learnt what Jesus meant when he said 'the greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.  And you are my friends if you do what I command you.'

It was a good conclusion to our remembrance events at St James and St Anne's.

The Brave Deeds Board at Alexis St School

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Those who knew them, loved them

They were all members of St James's Young Men's Bible Class, ten lads from Bermondsey, who gave their lives in the First World War.

Today, a hundred years after the outbreak of the war, we remembered Robert, George, Stanley, Leonard, Owen, Harry, George, Thomas, Thomas and Herbert whose names are inscribed on the brass memorial plaque in the narthex dedicated to the Young Men's Bible Class.

Under their names is the beautifully simple but moving epitaph: 'those who knew them loved them.'

It was good to remember them today.

At the end of the service we laid a wreath at this memorial - as we did at the Boer War Memorial - and fittingly, it was laid by John (above), a member of the current men's bible study group.

Prior to that a small group of us gathered at the War Memorial in Old Jamaica Road which has recently been put back in place, having been temporarilly dismantled pending construction around it.

Next year the Bishop will come to rededicate the memorial when all the building work is complete; in the meantime our simple act of remembrance took place today in the presence of our MP, councillors, and local residents:

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The show that's been running for 799 years

London's new Lord Mayor, (not Boris, as we explained to a confused Australian tourist, but the one who wears a red cloak and rides in a gold coach), paraded through the streets of the City today in time-honoured fashioned, watched this year by a party from St James and St Anne, standing opposite the south porch of St Paul's Cathedral.

The Bermondsey crew were excited to catch sight of St James member, Ed Donaldson (right), representing the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers for which he is head man this year (congratulations Ed), accompanied by Mary-Jane, and also of our local community choir, Bermondsey Voices, who practise in St James and who had their own float in this year's show.

They've been doing this in London for 799 years - next year is the 800th anniversary of the Lord Mayor's Show, and its good to see that in all the pageantry and fun,  the deep Christian heritage of our nation and capital is recognised and honoured.

It was moving to see the Lord Mayor and his wife  kneel in prayer as the Dean of St Paul's prayed for God's blessing on them - as he does every year  having first presented the new Mayor with a copy of the Scriptures, the true source of wisdom and guidance.

As for the party from Bermondsey we had a great time, and after our picnic in the shadow of St Paul's, we took advantage of free admission on Lord Mayor's Show Day, for a quick tour of the Cathedral itself, which quite a few of our party had never seen from the inside.

Getting ready to watch the show

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

When the kids met Boris

Those St James's kids get everywhere!

Here they are helping London Mayor, Boris Johnson, publicise the charity, Penny for London, which lets you make a small donation to help disadvantaged young Londoners every time you use a contactless card with a participating retailer. Full details here

Today I was in the school to meet with prospective parents for next year's Reception Class to tell them a little about church-school links and the school's Christian distinctiveness.

Our problem at St James's is one of success with four applicants for every place at the school.

Most years we can take only 60 children and with such a densely populated area as Bermondsey that meant last year that you needed to live within 500 feet of either school site to be sure of a place if you weren't a member of the nursery, a regular church attender, or a parent of a child already at the school.

We need more schools! Thank God there is at least one new one for Bermondsey in the pipeline.