Monday, 19 June 2017

High rise living

This is Selworthy House in Battersea where my family lived on the nineteenth floor for three years in the 1960s.

As a former tenant of a council tower block my thoughts and prayers have particularly been with the residents of Grenfell Tower over the past few days.

My younger brother and I rather enjoyed living in Selworthy. The views were terrific and each day we raced each other the 38 flights of stairs to the ground floor on our way to school, timing ourselves by the factory clock opposite. (There was a lift - but we were young and liked the run down the stairs).

Years later, for a theological college project, I interviewed my Dad about our time at Selworthy.

He said two things that have stuck in my mind.

First he said, 'it was like we were just a number, not a family.' Secondly he said, 'I always worried about how we would get out if there was a fire.'

To be honest  I have come to loathe tower blocks with a passion. Even if you get the fire safety and maintenance right (and we have seen that even that is a big if), high rise living is disastrous for family life. It doesn't work for kids and it doesn't work for parents - who like to supervise their children when they play out.

Years later I was a vicar on a council estate where they got it right: houses in streets, with gardens. The tenants loved it and community life flourished.

That estate, St Helier, was built in the 1930s. Selworthy was built in the 1960s; it was not a step forward. The small terraced houses that were demolished to make way for Selworthy could have been replaced with something similar, or just repaired. If the local people had been asked, that is what they would have said, but no one asked them.

By all means let's make our tower blocks safer, but let's also accept that sometime in the 1960s we took a wrong turning. The St Helier estate of the 1930s shows a better way forward:

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Wedding bells

The bells were ringing over Bermondsey this afternoon (hear them here) for the wedding of Emma, from the Salmon Youth Centre, and Barry, a member of St George's, Morden - and there were people from both Salmon and St George's present for today's excellent service.

Every blessing to the happy couple

I conducted the wedding itself, Sam Adofo, Director of Salmon led the prayers, and Revd Les Wells, vicar of St George's preached.

When I was vicar of St Peter's, St Helier in the next door parish to St George's, Les was in the congregation and so it was very special to be able to perform a double act at St James this afternoon.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Whatever you do: vote

My sabbatical is over and normal service will be resumed on this blog. It's been a great time being away, with lots of opportunity for reading, reflection, visiting friends and travels, but now its good to be back, picking up the threads of parish life here in Bermondsey.

If you haven't had a look at it yet, check out my sabbatical blog to find out more about our travels in the US and Germany.

In the very midst of the General Election campaign we have had two terrible terrorist attacks - in Manchester, and just down the road from us here, at London Bridge and Borough Market, with our own Cathedral closed for business, so to speak, inside the security barrier.

These are troubling times and our hearts go out to everyone who is injured, bereaved or traumatised, but they make Thursday, Polling Day, even more significant.

We have something as of right in this country, which millions across the world can only dream of. We get to choose the Government. We have that most precious thing: a vote.

I like what Sir Simon Hughes has said is his letter to the people of the constituency: 'I respect all of my opponents in this election. They are good and decent people. They are my competitors - never my enemies. I am standing in this election to serve our community as I have done for my entire life. 

The one thing I ask of you on Thursday is to vote. It matters less who you vote for than the fact that you do. These murderous terrorists wanted to hurt us and change us. They will never succeed - and by voting we stand with our institutions and our way of life.'

I agree with Simon.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Bringing back the joy slide

A new joy slide for the 21st century?

That's the dream of the Friends of St James's Churchyard. It will look a lot different from the much loved slide that graced the churchyard for nearly fifty years, but it will, we hope, bring a fresh injection to the childrenm who will use the new slide, close to the existing children's playground.

But first we need to raise the funds.

The first step in that direction will be the official launch of the project at a Community Fun Day in the Churchyard on Saturday 22nd July, for which we are grateful to the United St Saviours Charity for funding.

In the meantime, a local artist, funded with the grant from United St Saviour's, have produced this 'artist's impression of a new joy slide, complete with St James's Church in the background. Thanks Rosie.

The original slide was the brainchild of Arthur Carr of Peek Frean's biscuit factory. On his way to work he saw children sliding on the granite slope (as they still do) by the side of the steps leading up to the church portico, and the thought came to him of providing a full size slide for the children of the area. Now, if funds allow, a new joy slide for the twenty first century could be coming to St James's Churchyard, complete with an explanatory panel telling the story of the old joy slide.

The old joy slide

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Faith sharing

Church Army evangelist, Nicholas Lebey (left), who has twice preached at St James & St Anne's, who works in Thamesmead in SE London, has shared this video, part of a series being produced by the Church of England to encourage young people to share their faith.

Here's the video of Emma and Abby, two youngsters from Nick's group, TYM:

Monday, 6 March 2017

Heritage grant

You don't need to be a heritage expert to see that St James's stonework (left) is in need of some tender loving care, but the good news is that help is at hand.

Today we can announce that we have received the offer of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund's Grants for Places of Worship Scheme.

The first tranche of money - up to £35k - is for the development of the project, but if all goes well in this phase, we could receive altogether something in the region £267k, which with our own funds, will provide for the repair of the stonework in a total scheme costing in the region of £412k, securing the future of the building as a place of worship, a local landmark and a community resource.

The church is much more than a building, but we are grateful for this provision of funds for the building that has been bequeathed to us and which is so valued by our local community here in Bemondsey.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Starting Lent at St James's

At St James School church assembly today at Alexis St and Old Jamaica Rd I told the children about Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

They already knew that Lent lasted forty days and they knew all about Shrove Tuesday, too, because Mrs Willis had made some pancakes in assembly.

But today was about Ash Wednesday and ash.

At both sites I had a few children up to show how the sign of the cross is placed on our foreheads with ash, as a sign that we are sorry for what we have done as wrong, but  that we trust in Jesus death for us to bring forgiveness.

These are the four children from Key Stage One after the assembly.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Christian heritage at No 10

Today, Shrove Tuesday, the Prime Minister held a reception at 10 Downing Street to celebrate our country's Christian heritage.

She concluded her speech, which you can read here, by saying: 'In the weeks ahead, as we look beyond Ash Wednesday to Easter, let us draw confidence in our Christian faith. And let us renew our determination to work together in the service of others, today and in the years to come.'

Watch Number 10's video clip of the event here

Monday, 27 February 2017

Bermondsey Brew

Bermondsey Brew, our new community cafe in St James Church on Mondays from 2-4pm got off to a great start this afternoon.

Marian, Parisa, Emma and Gem served up a mouthwatering selection of   homemade cakes, and in view of Shrove Tuesday being tomorrow, pancakes, too.

Lots of people popped in including quite a few families from St James School all the way home.

In the summer, lots of families come to play in the churchyard after school, and we hope to welcome them to Bermondsey Brew, too.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Night shot

St Anne's churchwarden, Graham, was walking throught St James's Churchyard last week, and took this dramatic night time shot of the church.

Close up of the bell tower (left); main picture, taken near the gate by the Gregorian Arms (below)

Thanks Graham for a great pic

Saturday, 25 February 2017

When the paupers came to church

The commodious main galleries (left) at St James's Church provide much needed overflow accommodation for large services, but not every knows about the other set of galleries, just below the ceiling of the aisles, that are known as the Paupers' Galleries.  

There are four Paupers' Galleries, one in each of the four corners of the building. In the days when the seats downstairs - and probably in the main gallery, too - were reserved for those who could afford to pay a 'pew rent', the Paupers' Galleries were there to provide free seating for the very poor.

On a recent tour of hidden parts of the building after church on Sunday, members of the congregation climbed the long narrow staircase (right)  to the north-east paupers gallery.

If you were a pauper, you couldn't see much up there, but you could hear, particularly when the vicar was preaching from the three-decker pulpit, which gave him a commanding position, to proclaim the word to his congregation spread over all three levels.

Paupers' Gallery

What should we make of the Paupers' Galleries? One way of looking at them is to say that the founders of our church were inspired by Christian love and compassion in providing for the paupers. It was what today called be called an 'inclusive approach.' Everyone was welcomed, and there was space for rich and poor alike in Bermondsey New Church.

I like that thought, but there is another way of looking at the galleries and it is this: how did the poor  feel when they came to church, not entering through the main doors and the majestic portico, but entering the back door, climbing an interminable narrow staircase, to an uncomfortable perch just below the roof.

The main gallery showing the identation where the paupers' gallety, now boarded up, was located
Is it any wonder that the Church of England has found it so hard to connect with ordinary working people when it treated them like that

I don't know when pew rents fell into disuse in Bermondsey, but it wasn't until the middle of the twentieth century that they were abolished altogether in the CofE. Until then, the rich could still pay for the best seats in the house of God. 

In our Lent Groups this year at St James and St Anne's we are studying the Letter of James in the New Testament, and I'm struck by what James has to say in chapter 2:

Suppose a rich man wearing a gold ring and fine clothes comes to your meeting, and a poor man in ragged clothes also comes.  If you show more respect to the well-dressed man and say to him, “Have this best seat here,” but say to the poor man, “Stand over there, or sit here on the floor by my feet,” then you are guilty of creating distinctions among yourselves and of making judgments based on evil motives. 

So, the Paupers' Galleries are and remain a fascinating piece of social history, in our fascinating historic building, but I am glad they are long disused, and, today, every seat in St James is free, and that we strive to live up to the high calling of James 2.1: 'My brothers and sisters, as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, you must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance.'

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

After care

It was twenty eight years ago that I left my theological college, Oak Hill (right), in north, London, but my tutor, Mary Abbott, has written to me every year since then.

How's that for after care?

She was also present at my ordination, and at my licensing service when I became the vicar of St Helier, after having been a curate in West Norwood.

She was one of the first women to be ordained deacon (and later priest) in the Church of England, and my younger daughter was the very first baby she baptised - at a family service in the college dining room (the college chapel wasn't big enough to accommodate all the families as well as the students).

On a day off last week we visited Mary (left)  in St Albans and she was just the same!

Enthusiastic for God's work, still involved in ministry, still taking a deep interest in all her former students and their families.

In my last year at college I was the student rep on the Board of Studies. We used to hear from the students' feedback forms.

One simply said 'Mary Abbott is a fantastic pastor.' Never was a truer word spoken.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Synod observer (2)


The TV cameras were out today because the Synod was going to talk about sex (who said it was the church that was obsessed with sex?), but first we turned to the question of 'Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.'

Most prevalent in the poorer communities in our country, unsuspecting players can lose thousands of pounds on these high tech gadgets and acquire gambling  addiction in the process.

Some degree of control is urgently needed for this great social evil, particularly affecting our inner cities, and the Synod unanimously called for urgent action from Her Majesty's Government.

Next up was the conclusion of yesterday's adjourned debate about clergy vesture. Agreement broke out all over synod. Those who wished to wear robes could continue to do so, and those, who for good mission reasons, preferred not to, can in the future (with PCC approval) legally desist, and, come the new law, a whole load of us will become legal. Wins all round.

Would the matter of same sex relationships be capable of such a simple solution! But, its a much more complicated, and much more contested issue than clergy vesture.

An afternoon of case studies, and a long debate on the bishops' report on marriage and same sex relationships, ended with a motion which fell because it was defeated by the House of Clergy, even though a majority of the Synod had supported it. If you think that sounds a bit like the US election, you're not the first to make the comparison...

This issue will run and run, but my hope is (1) that the church will stay united and (2) we will not  lose sight of the fact that God''s ways, revealed to us in Scripture, are for our good, because he is our loving creator and father.

After the excitement of yesterday, the BBC had gone home, and things could get back to normal.

First up, after worship, was a farewell address by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Bishop of London (who, with his wife Caroline was seated in the gallery) who, in his unique way, has provided over the extraordinary growth and renewal of the Diocese of London (ie the CofE north of the river).

There were lots of great moments in this address but what stuck with me most was the Bishop's characteristic sign off to his clergy when he wrote to them: 'in gratitude for your partnership in the Gospel.' The Synod gave Bishop Richard a prolonged standing ovation.

Next up was an address from Archbishop Josiah Odowu-Fearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, which brought a welcome international dimension to our proceedings and reminded of us of how missionaries from this country have travelled across the world, preaching the Gospel, and planting new churches, which, now make up our partner churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Time for a break: General Synod tea-room
We were now on the home straight but next was an important paper on the group of people who make up 98 per cent of the church: 'the laity.' 'Setting God's People Free' is about making best use of the church's most precious resource, its people. Its about God's people living and working for God's kingdom in their everyday lives. It's a report that calls for a change in culture all across the church.

Fully implemented, it could prove to be one of the most significant reports the synod had debated in recent years.

Then there was chance for a Private Members Motion, which sought to simplify admin and aid the mission of the church. This was passed and because the business for this group of sessions was completed, we got to go home early, but not before I had attended a lunchtime fringe event organised by the Church of England Research and Statistics unit. I go every time and its always something of a synodical highlight.

This year they threw out a few random stats to get us going: there are 12,500 parishes in England and 16,000 churches. Average Sunday attendance in 2015 was 51. 456 churches have a usual Sunday attendance of 200 or more. Birmingham has the highest proportion of socially deprived parishes; Guildford the least.

This meeting they introduced their new interactive parish maps (you can see them here ) and told us how they are using their research findings to aid the Church's mission. Excellent stuff.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Synod observer

General Synod, the Church of England's 'parliament' is meeting in Westminster this week. Adrian and I, both from Bermondsey, are part of the contingent from our diocese of Southwark (covering most of south London and East Surrey).

After opening worship yesterday afternoon first up was the report of the Business Committee, the chance for members to offer their views on the agenda set for the rest of the week. Next up was a very interesting debate on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, with some good speeches, and a positive welcome from the Synod for the Church of England's reformation heritage, and the growing unity of the churches across the reformation divides.

Next was a Presidential Address from the Archbishop of Canterbury (right), a thoughtful and powerful address centred on the temptations of Jesus. You can read it here.

Question Time followed (a bit like Prime Minister's Questions, but much less rowdy), before Evening Worship rounded off the synodical day.

After Holy Communion, today's meeting began with a tribute by the Archbishop of York, to Sir Andreas Whittam Smith, the First Church Estates Commissioner. Like the prime minister, he grew up in a vicarage. As a young lad he helped to ring the church bells and count the collection - the latter duty, standing him in good stead for managing the Church Commissioners investment fund which, under his stewardship, has grown to £8bn.

Whittam Smith (left), known by Private Eye as the 'saintly Whittam Smith', once said he would die 'for his church, for his country and for his family.'

The former editor of The Independent, had, said the Archbishop of York , served the Church with great skill and devotion, and the Synod gave him a standing ovation of gratitude for his service to the Church.

We then moved to a private member's motion which would have seen the abolition of banns of marriage, which have been read in churches since 1215. Synod liked the idea of simplifying bureacracy, but were reluctant to lose the link with couples coming to church to hear their banns being read, and accordingly the motion was defeated by small margins in all three houses (of bishops, clergy and laity). Ironically, an amendment which would have kept banns, but simplified things, was lost earlier in the debate. That might have been the best option.

The rest of the day was taken up with legislative business, a lot of detailled but important stuff, designed to produce a stronger, fitter church, better equipped to take the Gospel to the nation.

We weren't quite finished by the 7pm cut off, and a debate that had just got started on making clergy vesture (ie robes) optional, will have to be completed later in the week.

The day concluded with exuberant contemporary worship lead by a band of visiting musicians, with Matt Redman's 'Bless the Lord, O my Soul' resounding round the Synod chamber, before the Archbishop of York, closed the day's proceedings with a prayer of blessing.

You can watch the synod live here

Monday, 13 February 2017

Down in the crypt

St James and St Anne's both had a special focus on the Salmon Youth Centre on Sunday. At St James it was great to have General Director, Sam Adofo, preaching; Emma dancing and Leslie singing, as well as hearing from David Davoll about RBODS, a project being run in conjunction with Salmon in the crypt at St James.

The idea is to do outdoor activities, inside - that is, down in the crypt. In the process, the crypt has been transformed, and will soon be throbbing with activity.

To get an idea of what it will be like, members of the congregation got a chance to tour the crypt after the service and meet with David (second from right).

Here are some more photos:

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Bermondsey Brew

Bermondsey Brew, our new community cafe, serving tea, coffee, and delicious homemade cakes, opens on Monday 27th February in St James's Church, 2-4pm, and then every Monday.

Come and join us for a cuppa.

It is an opportunity to enjoy a hot drink and cake, meet friendly faces to chat with, or just be quiet and enjoy some space away from the chaos of life. 

There will also be resources available and people on hand to offer advice/prayer.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Remembering Yos

Today's funeral in St James was one of our largest, with every seat taken in the church upstairs and downstairs, a crowd of people standing at the back of the church and an overspill congregation in the churchyard.

It said a lot about Yos, who came from Cyprus as a seven year old boy to live in Bermondsey and become a member of CUM (Cambridge University Mission, now the Salmon Centre) - and the deep links that his family had in the community - that so many people came to his funeral, as did the veritable carpet of flowers that appeared in the churchyard before the service.

Big funerals are a feature of Bermondsey life and reflect some of the very best aspects of our community here: the importance of family; strong networks of friends; people coming out to support each other; putting on the kind of funeral that shows the person who died really mattered and was really loved.

For us, at St James, its privilege to be part of this and to be able to bring the consolation of God's word and the gospel promise of eternal life to grieving families.

Today's funeral included a contribution from Yos himself in a letter he had written to his friends before he died. He said there was nothing more important than love, other than God himself. I think that's about right and today's service was a real expression of love by literally hundreds of people. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The most important thing he ever did

Moving words of personal testimony from the Archbishop of Canterbury, launching this year's 'Thy Kingdom Come' global prayer initiative:

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Remembering Michael

We received the sad news this evening of the death of Michael Whinney.

Michael, who went on to become Bishop of Aston and then Bishop of Southwell, first came to Bermondsey to be the warden of the Cambridge University Mission (as the Salmon Youth Centre was then known).

In 1967 he was asked by the Bishop to move from CUM to St James, and to bring with him his group of young enthusiastic CUM-worshippers.

St James Church had been closed for seven years, but soon the new vicar and new congregation, got to work on restoring the dilapidated building and growing the congregation.

Here at St James we are planning to celebrate that 50th anniversary of the re-opening of the building and Michael's institution as vicar on Sunday 24th September (the Sunday closest to the day Michael was officially made vicar). That commemoration will be all the more poignant in the light of today's news.

The last time Michael and Veronica visited St James was for the opening of Dickens Whinney House,  which was built on part of the site of the old vicarage, and named after Michael himself (he was the great great grandson of Charles Dickens). Here are some pictures of that memorable day:

Michael & Veronica, with the late Barry Albin-Dyer

Bishop Michael Ipgrave perusing the other Bishop Michael's book about his time in Bermondsey
Outside Dickens Whinney House

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Finding the treasure

It was a boyhood dream that became reality, when David Heath-Whyte became an airline pilot for British Airways.

Fast forward five years, and like the fishermen who were called to leave behind their nets and work for Jesus, David heeded God's call to full time service in the Church of England.

In our latest Men's Breakfast at St James, David, currently Rector of Morden, told us how a boyhood fascination with planes, led to flying gliders with the Scouts, and that led in turn to training for BA as a pilot.

In between he went to University and made an amazing discovery. Referring to Jesus parable about the treasure in the field David told us about something that was infinitely valuable: the precious truth that Jesus had died for him, and had done everything necessary to make him acceptable to God.

When he left BA, it was about working full time telling people where they could find the amazing treasure of God's love.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The governors come to visit

It was governors' morning at St James School today. Once every term the governors spend a morning in school, touring the clasrooms and meeting the children.

Here are some of our lovely governors (above) at the feedback session at the end of the morning.

We started the morning with assembly led by me  at Alexis Street for Key Stage 2 (or the Juniors, in old money). After hearing about Abraham, the latest in our series on 'Heroes of the Faith', the children had an opportunity to question the governors, with a lively set of questions forthcoming from the floor.

Whilst the other governors toured the classrooms at Alexis St, I hot footed it to Old Jamaica Rd for Key
Stage One (the infants) assembly, where we acted out the story of Abraham from Genesis 12. Then I had the chance to visit the classrooms at OJR, (above) and in due course, I was joined by my fellow governors to see what the younger children were up to.

There were lots of good things going on led by our hardworking and dedicated staff, including PE in the hall (left). 

This morning was that teachers' nightmare - wet play - but quite a few children braved the drizzly weather to play in the playground at OJR (with St James's Church in the background).

And, in another classroom, while the children munched their mid-morning snack, the teacher read a story that had the class gripped:

Earlier - at Alexis St - in the governors question time at assembly, one of the children asked: 'Gary do you like being a governor?' I think I spoke for all the governors when I said I loved being a governor and I was very proud of St James's School. It was a good morning, so thank you to Mrs Willis and all her team.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Jesus issues an Executive Order

From across the Atlantic, Executive Orders, are currently coming thick and fast out of the White House.

Last night on the BBC an expert on the US constitution explained what an Executive Order actually is: a direct command from the President to the rest of the government.

Here in Bermondsey this morning we were thinking, with the aid of Mark's Gospel, about the executive order that Jesus gave to the wind ('Be quiet') and to the waves ('Be still!') at the time of a great storm.

In the US, said the constitutional expert, executive orders often come to nothing, either because the idea is impractical, or because Congress or the Constitution forbids it.

In Mark 4 it was very different.

Jesus gave the command and, says Mark, 'the wind died down and there was a great calm.'

So great was the transformation, that the disciples exclaimed in wonder (and here I paraphrase): 'Who is this man? He gives executive orders to the wind and the waves and they obey him!'

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Bermondsey Community Kitchen

A great new video about the work of Bermondsey Community Kitchen at the Blue, one of our best local community projects here in Bermondsey:

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Refreshing wisdom at Wychcroft

It's certainly a bit different from Bermondsey and the grounds of Wychcroft (left), the Diocesan retreat house, looked pretty spectacular today in the bright January sun.

It's amazing to think this tranquil rural spot is (a) part of our diocese and (b) so close to London.

I was there to lead a quiet day entitled, Refreshing Wisdom.

My brief was to bring some of the wisdom from the letters of Peter and James in the New Testament, to members of churches in the diocese had signed up for a day - of refreshing wisdom from the Scriptures.

They were a great group. The Wychcroft food was, as usual, wonderful and the scenery was

Next to the main house is the beautiful simple chapel with its painting of Christ the Worker (right), which I love and which is so appropriate for the Church of England diocese that covers south London and east Surrey, with its millions of workers.

It was good to have time to be quiet, to think, to pray, to relax and to hear the ancient but ever new message of Scripture, as we focussed on who we are, the people of God, ('But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light') and how we are to live (from James), living out the royal law of neighbour love,  not showing favouritism, guarding our tongues.

And it was a special delight to meet again George, who has just celebrated 60 years in the ordained ministry, and his wife, Margaret, and wonderful to hear that in a few days time they will celebrate their Diamond Wedding anniversary. And dear George is still preaching the word, and still ministering in churches well into his ninth decade.Wonderful.