Sunday, 17 May 2015

Lord, for the years....

When the young Simon Hughes moved to Bermondsey in the late 70s to work as youth leader he started attending St James's Church, which has remained his spiritual home to this day.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, he asked if there could be an opportunity for a moment of thanksgiving and rededication in the service, and if this could be combined with a church lunch, on Sunday 17th May, which by happy coincidence, was also his birthday.

And so today members of St James's and St Anne's, members of the prayer group that has met every month for 32 years to pray for Simon, Liberal Democrat councillors and colleagues, and many others gathered today for Holy Communion on the Sunday after the Ascension, and a service of thanksgiving for Simon's service as MP, followed by a rededication for the future.

As members of the congregation arrived they saw immediately opposite the church the tribute by a Hicks House resident (right), which just about summed up the occasion.

Later I quoted the woman who had told Southwark News: ‘I just hope he knows we’ve not betrayed him. Bermondsey’s been a better place since he’s been here. He does love Bermondsey, there’s no two ways about it.’

Then I read messages from the Bishop of Southwark ('I am delighted that this service of thanksgiving and re dedication is being conducted at St James and wish personally and on behalf of the Diocese to express heartfelt thanks and appreciation for Simon together with the assurance of my prayers for all that lies ahead') and the Dean of Southwark Cathedral ('You have been an exemplary constituency MP. Your local knowledge is second to none, your care and concern for individuals and especially the marginalised has been a witness and example to us all. You have tried to be at as many events in the area as you possibly could, juggling a diary and time schedule, driving around in your yellow taxi, constantly giving of yourself...I know that all that you have done and stood for and will continue to stand for, comes from your deep love of Our Lord Jesus Christ'). 

Speaking on John 17.6-19 where Jesus prays for his disciples to be in the world, getting fully stuck in, but not of it, taking up the world's values,  I said, 'Simon,you’ve got  stuck in big time. You’ve served the Lord in Parliament. You’ve fought for this constituency. You’ve argued for the policies and principles you believe in. And you’ve done it for 32 years. And you have done it as a Christian, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We salute you for it and we thank God for you.' 

At the end of the service, Simon knelt with his brother Jamie (taking up a new role as President of the British Psychological Society), to seek God's blessing for the future.

Then we sang the hymn Simon had chosen for today ('Lord for the years your love has kept and guided, urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way), but not before the congregation had given him a standing ovation, and the birthday boy himself got to cut the first of a whole stream of birthday cakes.

Afterwards someone said this to me: it's unusual to find a place where the MP has been so loved.

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