Saturday, 28 December 2013

Oh, no they didn't

To the Theatre Royal Stratford East for this year's panto and a surprisingly postmodern twist to the familiar tale of Dick Whittington.

There are certain things you can pretty much take for granted in the average panto: rotten jokes, audience participation, sweets thrown into the audience, plenty of singing and dancing and the triumph of good over evil.

Oh yes. and the boy usually gets the girl, except this time - he didn't.

Dick had saved her life, now he asked for her hand in marriage.

A happy ending was clearly  looming..... except she turned to Dick, and the girl said though she liked him very much, she wasn't thinking of getting married at the present time and in any case she had other things she wanted to do with her life.

(Fortunately Dick still had the cat).

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Unto us a child is born

Born where the shadows lie
To answer every cry of man
This child who formed all life
Now breathes our breath
Born where the Father loved
Born helpless to a mother's arms
She smoothed the tears upon
The face of God

Born now with man to dwell
Our Lord Immanuel
Come see the King the Christ Child born to us
Born now with man to dwell
Our Lord Immanuel
My soul can finally know the God of Heaven 

Born with a road ahead
Alone these blameless feet would tread
The path God chose to walk
Before all time
Born holding life and death
Born bearing heaven's wealth of peace
That fills where none can fill
Our living stream

Keith & Kristyn Getty
Copyright © Thankyou Music 2004

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas is coming

It was end of term at St James's School today and 500 excited children poured into the church this morning for their end of term Christmas service.

Leo (year 6) played brilliantly on the piano a medley of Christmas songs before and after the service and that had the children joining in 'Santa Claus is coming to town.'

In the service we sang Away in a Manger, Hark the Herald, and It was on a Starry Night, and the Key Stage 1 children gave us reprise of 'Children of the World' from their international-themed Nativity Play.

Paul gave us a real good talk about all the things we enjoy about Christmas, like presents, food, and parties, but not about forgetting Jesus who lies at the heart of it.

Everyone received an invitation to Christmas Eve's Christingle service and then Simon Hughes, MP, our chair of the governors and newly-appointed Minister of State, gave a bouquet, to loud applause from the children, to Pat, St James churchwarden and leader of the school breakfast and after school clubs, celebrating a special birthday tomorrow.

Simon said that to rival Grace Jones, Bermondsey's older resident, Pat would have to keep doing brilliant things for St James for another 40 years. Pat, did a bit of quick mental arithmetic and corrected him: actually 50.

They were set to go on dancing to nine o'clock tonight at the Age Concern Centre in Southwark Park Road, but first 97 people sat down to a slap up Christmas Dinner at 1.30pm and, as usual the ministers from our two churches were invited to be there and I was invited to say grace and offer Christmas greetings from the churches.

What a marvellous resource the centre is for the local community under its energetic and charismatic manager, Simone.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Yes, minister

Congratulations to Bermondsey's Simon Hughes on the announcement that he is to join the Government as Minister of State for Justice.

Full story here

We wish Simon well in his new role - and we pray for him.

Simon will be coming to St James's on the first Sunday of the New Year for a special act of dededication for his new role in the Government as we, as his Christian brothers and sisters in his home church base, pray for him, in the presence of his family members who will also be with us for the occasion.


OK, we may have picked the windiest night of the year to do it, but tonight at St James's we had our first open air carol singing session, followed by mulled wine and mince pies.

This followed last night's carol singing in Thorburn Square outside St Anne's, and Monday night giving out leaflets to the commuters arriving at Bermondsey Tube Station.

Tonight we did have to shelter in the portico because of the weather but the sound carried well across the square, and lots of people heard us as they walked home through the churchyard.

It was good to get outside and share the Good News of Christmas with the community in a simple straightforward manner, and there was a good turnout of adults and children to sing.
Next year will be even better - and the weather will be too (you see, I am an optimist).

In fact we have been doing almost nothing except sing carols over the last few days.

Yesterday we have a short Christmas service at Bluegrove Care Home in Southwark Park Rd, and today St James's School Key Stage 2 children (juniors) came to the church for their service of carols by candlelight, attended by many parents, governors and friends.

The children were in very good voice and the readers were excellent. All the careful rehearsing paid off abundantly.

St James's School KS2 Carols

Sunday, 15 December 2013

St Anne's Christmas cracker

St Anne's had its highest attendance for ten years today at its Carols by Candlelight and Christingle Service.

The children performed their nativity, everyone received a lighted Christingle, the lights were switched off and we sang together Away in a manger and Silent Night  and Paul reminded us of the true message of Christmas with the aid of a giant Christmas cracker.

It was a  really good start to our Christmas celebrations.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Do they know its Christmas? - at the Blue

Roger, and Mandy, were joined by Russell from the fish stall for the last carol this afternoon for Carols around at the Christmas Tree at the Blue.

Earlier Russell had treated us to a rendering of the Band Aid classic, Do They Know Its Christmas? and our impromptu choir from St James and St Anne's had joined in with a medley of carols, the whole event compered and masterminded by Paul.

We were joined by Councillor
Anood and quite a few passers-by who joined in the carols.

The afternoon concluded with the Pearly Queen of Rotherhithe (right) switching on the Christmas lights.

A really good community event.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Nativity & carols

St James's Church has been thronged with school childeren this week.

Four classes of year one children from Phoenix School (right) and their sister school, Ilderton, have been on a church visits spread over two days.

They were full of lively curiosity and it was good to welcome them to the church.

Meanwhile St James's infants have been rehearsing in the church for their Nativity Play.

The theme this year was 'Children of the World.'

Then the children flooded into the church this afternoon in their colourful costumes to perform their play to an appreciative audience of parents and friends (seated in the gallery). Excellent.

Meanwhile this evening I attended the service of Carols by Candlelight at Bacon's College, the 11-18 Church of England Academy in Rotherhithe.

Some very good readers and a school choir, prayers led by the head boy and girl, and a teachers' choir singing Bach, made up for an excellent evening.

Bacon's, of course, started off in Bermondsey before its relocation to the Rotherhithe peninsula in the 1990s, but its link with Bermondsey is recalled by the school emblem, the Bermondsey Lion (originally from Bermondsey Abbey and later incorporated in the arms of the old borough of Bermondsey, still to be seen on a number of public buildings, and most recently commemorated by the large lion sculpture at the Blue).

The Bermondsey Rice Mountain

Bermondsey Christian Training
Blessed are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord. 
They are like a tree planted by streams of water’ Psalm 1
Thirty of us sat down for a meal last night to mark the end of the first term of Bermondsey Christian Training.

Would we break up into small groups to discuss the video? No, there was no video. Would we be given homework to do during the holiday. No, it was a purely social event - though our next course does start on 22nd January.

It was a really good evening. Paul and I did the catering and so far no ill-effects have been reported.

At the end everyone rallied round. The washing up disappeared as if by magic and the hall was cleared in an instant.

And the Bermondsey rice mountain? Oh, yes, we may have over-catered a bit on the rice, but its always best to have a bit more, than not enough (I think there might be a sermon illustration in there somewhere).

A big thank you to everyone who took part.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Grace's funeral

Thanks to Gary Magold for the photos of the funeral of Bermondsey and the UK's oldest resident

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The boy with two names

To the Salmon Youth Centre for the annual elderly people's Christmas party, hosted by members and staff of the centre, past and present.

A wonderful tea, lots of fun and laughter, community singing (Daisy, daisy; Maybe its because I'm a Londoner), Jellied eels (left)*, Father Christmas, presents, mince pies, carols, a talk by yours truly, and the Bermondsey Waiters Song, sung each year by the resis (Salmon residential workers) and the young people who, smartly dressed with bow ties etc, wait on the old folk and began the afternoon by serenading us:

Oh we are Bermondsey Waiters we are
We want to serve you like you was a star
Mince pies and rosie** and plenty of cheer
Just because it is Christmas at this time of year

I once was a waiter up in the West End
The nobby old diners sent me round the bend
I was running around and it soon got my 'ealth
So one night I said  "There's a soup, help yourself!"
Singing we are the Bermondsey waiters we are

The old people's party is what we like best
We can serve you with style and with plenty of zest..

I've waited on people all over the place
Always with dirty great smiles on my face
But Bermondsey Bermondsey's where I belong
I come back each year just to sing this song
Singing we are the Bermondsey waiters we are...

* * * * * * * * * * 

 In my talk I started off by asking people to guess the most popular boys and girls names in the UK this year (I read out the top five for each gender, headed by Harry for the boys & Amelia for the girl) and then I spoke about the boy with two names: Immanuel (God with us) and Jesus (rescuer, saviour).

The names, I said reveal who Jesus is and what he came to do.


* despite being a dyed-in-the-wool south Londoner I do draw the line at consuming Jellied Eels. My dining companions who assured me that the eels did not come from the sea but 'out of the river' ('somewhere near Southend', they said airilly) and that the jelly was made from pure juice of the eel ('delicious') weren't exactly selling the experience to me.

 ** rosie=Cockney rhyming slang for tea (Rosie Lee)

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Our Grace

Today on what would have been her 114th birthday, the funeral of Grace Jones, Bermondsey's and the UK's oldest resident took place in Camberwell.

The funeral cortege, with the words 'Our Grace' depicted in flowers at its head, paused at the Blue for a short open air service in which I read from the Scriptures and led prayers, and Simon Hughes MP gave a brief tribute on behalf of the people Bermondsey.

Quite a few local people and shoppers stopped to join in, including the pearly King & Queen, and Councillor Anood. It was good to remember Grace in the heart of the community where she lived for more than a century.

Earlier we had our men's breakfast back at St James.

A good turnout of men sat down to bacon, sausage, egg, beans, toast, etc (we did promise a 'full English'), and Paul gave a talk on 'My Journey to Bermondsey', explaining how as a young man he became a Christian following the tragic death of a friend, how God called him from being a full-time builder to a full-time sharer-of-the-faith, and how a Church Army journey that began on the St Helier Estate in Morden led, via a spell in Leamington Spa, to a new phase of ministry in Bermondsey as our first Urban Missioner.

It was a spellbinding talk and there was general agreement that the men's breakfast should be repeated early in the new year.

After all that activity there was the opportunity to relax and enjoy our local community choir, Bermondsey
Voices (who practise in St James each week), give their annual Christmas concert in a candlelit St James.

They did brilliantly and we are now looking forward to their contribution to our service of Carols by Candlight on 22nd December where they are going to sing three songs.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Family remembrance

To the Albin Memorial Garden on the edge of Southwark Park for their annual open-air Christmas Memorial Service attended by over a thousand people.

Christmas carols, 'Mistletoe & Wine" sung by Father Alan, a brilliant montage of photos of memories of Bermondey, prayers by the local clergy together with the Bishop of Woolwich, a tribute to fallen British servicemen, a release of doves, and the commemoration of departed loved ones by the placing of stars on the giant Christmas tree, all rounded off by fireworks and generous supply of refreshments, went to make up a unique and moving event, attended by the Mayor of Southwark, the Leader of Southwark Council, Simon Hughes MP and, of course, the Pearly King & Queens of Bermondsey and Camberwell (very good singers - I sat in front of them)..

It was exactly a year ago today that I was licensed as vicar of St James & St Anne, Bermondsey and the Albin Memorial Service, the next day, was my very first engagement in Bermondsey.

I thought then what I think now, which is that this annual service really connects with people and helps them at a crucial point in their lives and that the vision behind the service comes from a real love for the community and understanding of what matters to it. Excellent.

There's a lot that the church can learn from all of this.

Much food for thought.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

God's 'To do' list

Today Advent Sunday is the first day of the church's year and that makes sense when you consider our focus on the first Sunday of  Advent on the next item on God's agenda: the second coming of Christ.

At today's family service at St James, with many guests present for the baptism of baby Nirvana-Pixie and Trinity (aged ten), I started with a Christmas 'To Do List.'

I asked the children to help me put together on the flipchart a list of all the things you have to do in order to get ready for Christmas.

Next I presented 'God's To Do List' - drawn from across the whole of Scripture, things like create the world, call a people,. be born as a man, die on the cross - concluding with the last item: return as Lord and Saviour of the world.

All the items except the last one have been done, I suggested. They can be successfully ticked off God's To Do list. But the return of Jesus is the next item on God's agenda.

And it makes sense to consider that on the first Sunday of the church's year, because it is the next thing to happen in the plan of God.

All the other events we celebrate in the church's calendar have already happened.

PS My favourite 'To Do List' was in a cartoon with a Dr Who theme. It featured a Dalek in his house. Pinned on the wall was this:

1. Exterminate;
2. Exterminate
3. Exterminate

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.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Archbishop's message on Prince George's baptism

Baptism is not just for kings, says the Archbishop: 'God doesn't care who we are. In his excellent video (see below) he goes on to say: 'God 's love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost, to all people, in all circumstances, always'

‘God’s love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost, to all people, in all circumstances, always.’ - See more at:
‘God’s love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost, to all people, in all circumstances, always.’ - See more at:
‘God’s love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost, to all people, in all circumstances, always - See more at:
‘God’s love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost, to all people, in all circumstances, always - See more at:
‘God’s love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost, to all people, in all circumstances, always - See more at:
‘God’s love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost, to all people, in all circumstances, always - See more at:
‘God’s love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost, to all people, in all circumstances, always - See more at:

 In another imaginative gesture Premier Christian Radio delivered a giant Christening Card to St James's Palace this morning signed by 5,000 Christians.

Premier CEO, Peter Kerridge, said  "As William and Kate make promises to bring Prince George up in the love of Jesus Christ, we know that Christians all over the country would want to send their blessings to the Royal Family on this special occasion, which is why we made it possible for them to sign up to our unique Christening card, featuring the special blessing."

The card includes this prayer for the baby prince and his parents: 
God of Life, we rejoice in the gift of a son to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. We give thanks that by bringing their child to be christened they have responded to Your love and to the grace of Your only Son, Jesus Christ.
We pray for William and Catherine as they love and care for George Alexander Louis. Help and equip them as parents, especially as they make solemn promises before You to nurture their son in the Christian faith. May the public nature of their lives and responsibilities not hinder them in being a good example through their words, prayers, and deeds.
King of Kings, strengthen this family by Your Holy Spirit, that they may use the privileges, opportunities, and challenges that come with their national roles, for the good of all and as a witness to Your Light. We pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, and for the sake of Your kingdom of love and peace.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Larger churches & the NLACC

To High Leigh conference centre and a farewell visit to the National Larger Anglican Churches conference.

When I was vicar of Holy Trinity, Redhill I was part of the NLACC network and I have been on the organising committee for this year's conference, but I have now moved out of the larger church world (I did try to stand down from the committee but they wouldn't let me) so this was a farewell visit to a network whose support and fellowship I have valued immensely over the years.

I  popped in today for the middle day to see how the conference was going. It was good to a catch up  with old friends and I was really pleased to see how well the conference was going.

It takes place once every two years and runs for three days. In the intervening year there is a shorter conference for new leaders of larger churches (defined as 350+ Sunday attendance).

A growing proportion of English Anglicans attend larger churches (currently 14%, rising to 20% by 2020) so these churches have a strategic significance for the mission of the Gospel in this country, although, there is a snag.

And its this: almost without exception the larger Anglican churches are predominantly middle class churches serving predominantly middle class communities - in city centres, outer surburbia, and prosperous market towns - but the Gospel has to reach the places where the larger churches do not reach and that brings us back to Bermondsey and hundreds of places like it.

So, thank God for the life and vitality of the churches of the NLACC network, but let's pray for the spread of the Gospel everywhere.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Canning town

For the second week running Bermondsey has featured on the BBC's Inside Out programme.

Last week the programme was presented from the Bermondsey riverside around St Saviour's Dock, this week the programme took a look at a Bermondsey invention that changed the world: the tin can.

Two hundred years ago engineer Bryan Donkin set up the world's first cannery on a site off Southwark Park Rd, now occupied by the Harris Academy.

You can read more about it here

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Exploring Christianity

Tonight we had our third session of our Bermondsey Christian Training Course, a three-term course, beginning this term with the Christianity Explored course, a great introduction to Christianity for new or not-yet-Christians, and an ideal refresher course for those who have been Christians for some time.

Rugger-playing vicar-cum-evangelist, Rico Tice (left), from All Souls Church, just off Oxford Street, is the presenter of the videos that set the theme of each night.

Week one introduces Mark's Gospel as the good news about Jesus Christ. Week two looks at the identity of Jesus. Week three asks why he came and looks at the problem of sin.

During the week we are all reading a couple of chapters of Mark and we spend the first ten minutes or so talking about what we have read before we watch the video and have a further period of discussion in groups.

Around 50 people have signed up for the course which is repeated at St Anne's on Saturday morning. There is a good mix of St James and St Annes people on Wednesdays and Saturdays and that is one of the strengths of the course for us as a new united benefice of two churches working together.

Perhaps the most memorable thing from tonight's video was Rico's statement that Jesus came 'for people who realise they are bad, not for people who think they are good.' Interestingly enough, we were looking at the very same point at school assembly today in our series on 'people who met Jesus' with the story of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus' feet at the home of Simon the Pharisee.

Friday, 11 October 2013

The giant turnip, the fishfinger & the opera singer

They were dancing in the aisles at St Anne's this morning - the occasion was the Cherry Garden School Harvest Festival in church.

Cherry Garden, a special school with just 45 children and a wide variety of needs and abilities came to St Anne's for their Harvest Festival, based on the story of the Enormous Turnip, acted out by the children.

And the dancing in the aisles? That was to the Harvest Samba which concluded the service and everyone seemed to really enjoy. I liked the words (as well as the catchy tune): 'It's another opportunity, to be grateful for the food we eat, with a Samba celebration to say thank you to God the Father.'

You can hear it here:

Harvest Samba (Watford New Hope Trust) from Zane Colquhoun on Vimeo.

Sandwiched either side of the Cherry Garden visit was our Governors morning at St James's School. We began with a briefing from Mrs Willis at Alexis Street and then we were introduced to the children at assembly.

Does anyone have a question for the governors, asked Mrs Willis. About eighty hands shot up. We had the chance to answer questions such as: How did you become a governor? What are your plans to improve the school? Do you like being a governor? And, when you were our age, what was your favourite book?

Then we visited some classes, shared our impressions with Mrs Willis back at Old Jamaica Rd - and then for two of us, a Friday treat: fishfingers, chips, and beans with the infants. I got the impression school dinners have come on a bit since my day. For a start you had a choice and there was ice cream for pudding. A big improvement on Semolina.

And the opera singer...
The day ended on a musical note with Anna Harvey's concert, La Voix Espagnol,  in St James Church. This was a free short recital of French and Spanish song and opera with Anna Harvey (mezzo-soprano), Chad Vindin (piano), and local vicar, Anna Macham.

Anna is a professional singer who lived in Bermondsey until recently and wanted to thank residents of the area by giving this recital in St James. It was a superb evening.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013


Actually yes I have just made that word up, but in the spirit of Ada Salter's campaign for the beautification of Bermondsey in the 1920s, news has arrived of Southwark Council's scheme to beautify the 'grot spots' of SE1 and SE16.

They write: 'If you know of a grot spot that needs attention, or have a project that will help make your community cleaner, greener or safer go online and apply for funding to help make our neighbourhoods nicer places to live in.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Conferring with the evangelists

To All Souls, Langham Place for the 2013 Evangelists' Conference.

When people think of evangelism they often to think of large scale events - like the stadium filling crusades of Billy Graham in the 50s, 60s, 70s, & 80s - but the focus of this year's conference was not on large scale events, or even on small groups but on one-to-one interactions between individuals

Uncover is a set of bible study materials based on Luke's Gospel which is being used to great effect in the student world, with individual students reading Uncover with their friends on a one-to-one basis.

It comes with a special edition of Luke's Gospel which has a series of QR codes (those square shaped bar code thingies) which, with the aid of a smartphone, you can watch a series of short videos explaining Luke and dealing with some of the most common objections to the Christian faith.

You can view them here

In a world where people know very little about Christianity, but are often curious about spiritual things, an
invitation to look at a biography of Jesus over a coffee - or a pint in the Student Union bar - often provides a way in to the Christian faith.

As for sharing the Gospel in Bermondsey, we might need to customise our own materials - how about some videos filmed on location around the parish, we mused on the tube home - but the idea of doing more one-to-one work seemed definitely worth thinking about - especially in trying to reach men, there being some evidence that the blokes were less keen on small group work than the ladies and might actively prefer the one-to-one approach.

A really good stimulating day with much food for thought. Thank you All Souls.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

All is safely gathered in

Thanks to Jean and her helpers, St James's was adorned today for our harvest festival with a magnificent display of harvest goods, including some Bermondsey grown wheat.

Added to this was the congregation's gifts of non-perishable foods and toiletries to be distributed to homeless people through the Manna Society at London Bridge, whose director, I have recently discovered, is Bandi Mbube, who was a young member of St Luke's, West Norwood back in the days when I was a curate there.

St Anne's are also giving their gifts to Manna and the gifts brought by the children of St James's School to the harvest service in church on Friday (with Paul speaking for the first time) are being distributed to elderly people locally.

From St James's harvest service it was a short train ride to Earlsfield and Christ Church, Earlsfield where our younger daughter is a member. They meet at Southfields Methodist Church in the afternoon. They're a young church - I suppose I was just about the oldest one there- lots of 20-30 young couples, and singles - a growing number of children. Good songs, meaty sermon, very friendly congregation. Excellent.

After church they all decamp to the Pig & Whistle pub where the landlord offers a half price meal to anyone brandishing a Christ Church, Earlsfield notice sheet. Sounds like a good deal. Perhaps we could do something similar with the Greg?

Saturday, 5 October 2013

A Salmon AGM

To the Salmon Youth Centre for the Annual General Meeting and Commissioning service. The formal business was interspersed with prayers and songs and concluded with a commissioning of staff, trustees, volunteers and supporters for the coming year.

The whole event was presided over by our very own Adrian Greenwood (currently chair of the trustees) who came to Cambridge University Mission  (as it then was) as a 'resi' exactly forty years ago, fell in love with Bermondsey, fell in love with Marian and has stayed ever since.

During the year Salmon received 20,000 visits from young people, ran over 32 club sessions per week, developed 60 new mentoring relationships with young people, organised 60 day trips and ten residentials.

The largest club (6-9 year olds) has 80 members and a waiting list of 50.

Over 1,000 young people participated in sports in the pass year and over 200 gained sports accreditations, but finance was tight and expenditure of £923K exceeded income, meaning that the centre had to draw upon its reserves.

This year I had been asked to the commissioning and to give the talk. I chose for the reading (and the passage I would speak on): Genesis 3.1-9 (the story of the fall).

If that sounds like a weird choice of reading, I said, consider this: you need to know where you are, you need to know how things are in the area you live. You need to know the facts on the ground.

As a new vicar I have been eagerly gathering facts about Bermondsey, finding all I can know about the place, greatly helped by the census returns for our parish which yield all sorts of exciting facts and figures. They help us know how things are where we are.

And that's where Genesis 3 comes in. Not so much a history lesson of what happened centuries ago, but a description of how things are in the world we live in. The spiritual facts on the ground.

In instanced three:

1. The Lord God walking in the garden. We do not worship a distant, up-in-the-clouds-god, but the born as a man, walking the face of the earth, dwelling in his people, down to earth God. God is not far away. He is walking the streets of Bermondsey.

2.The man hid from God. By and large people are not seeking God, they are hiding from him, and they do all kinds of things to keep him at a distance. This is a real and serious, spiritual reality in Bermondsey and everywhere, but it is not the whole story, because

3. The Lord God called to the man 'where are you?' Man may be hiding from God, but God is in  the business of seeking and saving the lost. He is the God who calls out 'where are you,' even when we are in hiding, and calls us to himself. From its inception Salmon has believed in and proclaimed this searching, saving God.

May God bless it in that work, I concluded.


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Working together for good

A full and exciting Bermondsey day today.

First up was a meeting with the Deputy Head at St James's School to discuss the RE and Collective Worship policy. It was an opportunity to review a key aspect of school life and plan ahead for the future, including some future visits to the church by various classes, both as part of the RE curriculum and their forthcoming project on London history.

Church schools have an OfSted-like inspection every 3-5 years looking specifically at the Christian character of the school, its RE teaching and its life of collective worship. Governors and teachers together have a responsibility to prepare for this and nurture this aspect of school life.

Next was a visit to the Salmon Youth Centre where I had been invited to lead the staff bible study.

They are following a series looking at favourite Old Testament characters, and I took as my theme the
concluding chapter of the Joseph story where Joseph speaks to his brothers that memorable phrase that sums up the whole story of his (and their) life: 'what you meant for evil, God meant for good.'

We looked at how that principle reaches its climax in the cross of Christ, where the ultimate act of wickedness is turned by God's power to the greatest good, the salvation of the world. What they (those who killed the Lord), meant for evil, God meant for good (salvation).

And that brought us to Romans 8.28 and that extraordinary promise, and God's own commentary on every believer's life: 'all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.'

I salute the staff at St James's School and at Salmon. They serve our community well. They often deal with challenging situations and challenging children. They can get a lot of flak and a lot is asked of them. There can be setbacks and disappointments along the way but - and here is the great but - if we are God's people, doing God's work we can trust in his ultimate plan for good, and rely on the promise of Romans 8.28 being worked out in our lives and ministry.

From there it was time to open up the church for the Bermondsey & Rotherhithe Community Council for a meeting that drew together councillors, community groups, police, NHS, and local people to discuss a variety of issues of local concern, with a particular focus this meetings on green issues.

It was encouraging seeing so many people come together who have a real heart for the community.

The Community Council is a great opportunity for networking and we love hosting this event at St James's.

It was also good to meet a couple of readers of BermondseyVicar.

Whilst all that was going on  - in the south lounge of the church - we had our first meeting of Bermondsey Christian Training. We are starting with the Christianity Explored course and we got off to a great start with session one of the course tonight. There is a repeat on Saturday morning at St Anne's and we have about 55 people signed up for the course, a great mixture of ages, backgrounds, and different stages on the Christian journey. Fantastic.

Bukky and Connell's Wedding

Congratulations to the happy couple. This was a great wedding. It included a real live bishop from Nigeria, a Baptist pastor from the Old Kent Road, and loads of family and friends.

Monday, 30 September 2013


Thanks to Emily here is a picture of Paul Warren (left) our new Urban Missioner with Bishop Michael (centre) at his licensing service last week at St Anne's.

It's great to have Paul and the family working with us here in Bermondsey.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Mission matters

The Bermondsey Lion
It was a good day for Bermonsey, someone said today.

In this morning was the licensing by Bishop Michael of Paul Warren, our new urban missioner (joined by folk from Paul's previous parishes of Whitnash and St Helier), and in the afternoon the newly re-ordered spaces at St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey were dedicated, also by Bishop Michael.

For St Mary's it was the culmination of a ten-year project to make their historic seventeenth-century building, more open, transparent, and welcoming. The project has succeeeded brilliantly and there is a new lightness and spaciousness about the church interior and a more welcoming and accessible public face on an increasingly busy Bermondsey Street.

For St James and St Anne's Paul's appointment marks a new phase of our working together as two parishes in one united benefice. Secondly, it gives us a new relationship with the Church Army (in my opinion one of the Church of England's best kept secrets). Thirdly, and most importantly it marks a moment for us to reach out with the Gospel to the more than nineteen thousand people who live in our parishes.

As the Bishop rightly said, Paul can't do this alone but I do believe God has given just the right man to lead us forwards in mission and evangelism at this present time.

Yes it was a good day for Bermondsey.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Hope for Bermondsey

To City Hope Church in Drummond Road for the C4T ministers' lunch.

C4T stands for Christians for Transformation in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe and it links together a number of churches of different denominations, along with the Salmon Youth Centre and the London City Mission.

What unites us is belief in the transforming Gospel, the hope for Bermondsey & Rotherhithe and the hope for all the world.

Over lunch we shared with each other the challenges and encouragements of the last few months since we last met (before the summer holidays) and prayed for one another.

It was good to hear of new projects - a wonderful mission week on the estates led by Haddon Hall
Baptist Church with people coming to faith in Christ and being baptised in the open air in full view of their neighbours, of a food bank starting at City Hope, of the new spaces created through the re-ordering of St Mary's, of Paul, our very own new urban missioner, starting work next week.

I think it was American pastor, Bill Hybels, who said 'the local church is the hope for the world' and it struck me today that our local churches are a real sign of hope and in the Gospel have a real message of hope, one that is desperately needed in our community.

We need to get out there and share it and need the reviving, renewing power of the Holy Spirit to be there in our midst.

I like the words of this song which speaks of revival coming to the city, sang by Roger a couple of weeks ago in church, and appropriately enough to be sung again this Sunday when Paul is licensed. It makes a great prayer for parish and our city:

I hear the voice of one calling, prepare ye the way of the Lord.
And make His paths straight in the wilderness
And let your light shine in the darkness
And let your rain fall in the desert.

As sure as gold is precious and the honey sweet,
So you love this city and you love these streets.
Every child out playing by their own front door
Every baby laying on the bedroom floor.

Every dreamer dreaming in her dead-end job
Every driver driving through the rush hour mob
I feel it in my spirit, feel it in my bones
You're going to send revival, bring them all back home

I can hear that thunder in the distance
Like a train on the edge of town
I can feel the brooding of Your Spirit
"Lay your burdens down, Lay your burdens down".

From the Preacher preaching when the well is dry
To the lost soul reaching for a higher high
From the young man working through his hopes and fears
To the widow walking through the veil of tears

Every man and woman, every old and young
Every fathers daughter, every mothers son.
I feel it in my spirit, feel it in my bones
You're going to send revival, bring them all back home

I can hear that thunder in the distance
Like a train on the edge of town
I can feel the brooding of Your Spirit
"Lay your burdens down, Lay your burdens down".

Revive us, Revive us,
Revive us with your fire!