Monday, 28 January 2013

Marriage and the commons

To the House of Commons for a meeting of Christian leaders called by Simon Hughes MP from his  constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark.

Around 30 of us gathered in one of the Commons committee rooms to discuss, firstly, the Government proposals for same-sex marriage, followed by one or more from a list of other issues which we had been asked to rank in order of importance before the meeting (housing came top).

In the event the discussion on marriage rather over-ran and we only had time to begin discussing the next issue of housing, to which we shall return in a follow-up meeting in a month's time. (Two statistics stood out: 25 per cent of local households are overcrowded;  50 per cent of property sales in the area are for second or third homes. In other words, property is in desperately short supply and its cost is rocketting).

On the issue of same-sex marriage there was widespread concern that the proposals are being rushed through parliament, that the measure appeared in neither party manifesto nor in the coalition agreement, and that there has not been proper consultation with the churches in general and the Church of England in particular.

Lots of good points were made and Simon listened carefully to the views of Christian leaders drawn from across the denominations.

One of the key issues is whether you can open the institution of marriage to same-sex couples without changing its essential character.

Me? I spoke of the givenness of marriage and others made similar points. The law does not make marriage, it recognises something that is a given, an institution hat has been created by God. The wedding service calls marriage 'a gift of God in creation' and that is absolutely right.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Dads and kids breakfast

To St James for the first dads and kids breakfast - three monthly events are planned and today the project got off to a great start, with bacon butties, coffee, croissants, fruit juice, games for the kids and a trip up the church tower and down into the crypt for the kids (although the dads came too and enjoyed visiting distant corners of the church, such as the paupers' gallery which not even I had previously seen).

Verdict: roll on the next breakfast - and thanks to Marian for a brilliant idea, and to Marian & Jean for all those bacon butties.

While we were breakfasting various passers-by popped in for a look round, including a party of ramblers from Redbridge, a lady from Rotherhithe and a photography student who took some pictures of the church interior as part of a project he was doing for uni, a few of which he kindly emailled to me  (below) for the blog (thanks Darren).

Friday, 25 January 2013

Joy in the churchyard

I keep hearing about that slide.

Everywhere I go people mention the children's slide that used to be in St James's Churchyard: 'I loved that slide,' 'what happened to it?' 'do you remember those mats you used sit on?'

So I've been researching the slide, helped by a couple of local websites.

According to 'the Joy Slide' (I love the name)  opened in 1921.

It was donated by Arthur Carr, Chairman of Peek Freans, and was made by W.J. Dixon and Sons of Anchor Lane. In the picture (left) of the official opening of the slide, Arthur Carr stands in the middle.

Here is a 1921 newspaper report of 'uncontrolled delight' in the churchyard: 'For today in the shadow of St. James's Church, nay, in the very consecrated ground of the churchyard itself, you will find the nucleus of areal live fun-city, a wonderful joy-slide, with the youngsters of Jamaica Road shooting down on it on their doormats at well over the speed limit, and shrieking and yelling with uncontrolled delight. '

'As fast as they could keep the pot a boiling the youngsters climbed the stairs, snatched their mats, and went over the top, yelling at the tops of their voices. Hundreds and hundreds of them shot the rapids and went back for more, and before the afternoon was over the maple slide shone like a mirror and felt hot to the touch. Mr Carr's gift is certainly the brightest thing in all Bermondsey and ought to do the local trousers trade a power of good'

What happened to it? No one seems to know the exact date of its demise but possibly it was linked to vandalism, but perhaps a blog reader knows more?

The discussion on the  Bermondsey Boy website concludes with this intriguing thought: could the slide make a comeback?

I love that - a new joy slide for Bermondsey kids in St James's Churchyard.

Is there a modern day Mr Peak Frean out there who might make it possible?

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Churches together

Today has had a 'working with other churches' theme.

First up was two assemblies at St James School - 9.10am with Key Stage 2 at Alexis Street (left), 10.15am with Key Stage 1 (or the Infants, in old money) at Old Jamaica Rd .

We are currently doing a series on Christianity in Action and today I had Andy from the Salmon Youth Centre with me to talk to the children about Salmon as a living breathing local example of Christianity in action.

Quite a few of the older children are already linked in with Salmon - about a third of them at Alexis Street raised a hand to say they belonged to a Salmon club, and I think quite a few more might be about to join after this morning.

From there I had two meetings with fellow ministers: with Charlie at St Mary's, talking about some of the things we do together as a Group, and then with Carl at Haddon Hall Baptist Church.  I meet with Charlie every week for our Group morning prayer but it was my first visit to Haddon  Hall and it was fascinating to hear of their plans to develop 'missional communities' - small groups worshipping and fellowshipping together with a definite mission focus. It will be really interesting to see how that works out.

Last, but not least, was the meeting of the Bermondsey Deanery Synod at St Mary's, Rotherhithe (right), home of our new area dean, Mark.

My last deanery, Reigate, with 29 churches was the largest in the diocese, whilst Bermondsey, with just seven parishes is one of the smallest, and has the advantage of being a more manageable size, and probably enabling closer and more meaningful inter-church relationships.

Our main topic tonight was a presentation by the staff of Bacon's College (the CofE academy in Rotherhithe), particularly focussing on the Christian character of the school.

Nearly 60 per cent of the children have free school dinners and a very large number speak English as a second language, but the school is achieving impressive academic results, whilst continuing to emphasise its Christian heritage. Like, many such schools, their greatest problem is one of success, with the school heavilly oversubscribed and many applicants disappointed.

With such a rapidly growing population it may just be that Bermondsey and Rotherhithe needs more schools, and with the popularity of church schools, perhaps even a new CofE school at our end of Bermondsey?

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Water into wine

'Our Lord Jesus Christ was himself a guest a wedding of Cana in Galilee and through his Spirit he is with us now.'

I love those words from the introduction to the marriage service. They remind us that Jesus graced a wedding with his first ever miracle and in doing so showed the high value of marriage in his estimation, and many a wedding sermon has made that point.

In fact, there are quite a few sermons you could preach on the wedding at Cana.

You can talk about the water of the old Jewish rites of purification being  transformed into the new wine of the kingdom; you can talk about the transformation the presence of Jesus makes to a wedding, a marriage or just about anything else; but if you want to keep the main thing the main thing, the focus of a sermon on John 2 has to lie somewhere else.

John 2 is one of those passages of Scripture where the inspired writer tells us what the main point is.

Its about Jesus. Its about his glory being revealed and the disciples putting their trust in him. John tells us that much and presents the turning the water into wine as one of the 'signs' pointing to Jesus that make up the first part of his Gospel, often called the 'book of signs.'

But how does the miracle reveal Jesus glory?

You need to understand what the miracle was, I said today.

It was neither cookery nor chemistry (both of which involve the ingenious combination of certain proportions of ingredients), but creation.

When God creates, the theologs say he creates ex nihilo, literally: out of nothing. He makes stuff without the ingredients.

Water is just plain old hydrogen and oxygen. Wine is a lot more than that. When Jesus was turning the water into wine he was performing a creation miracle. He was doing what only God can do.

That's why it was at a wedding in Cana of Galilee that the disciples realised they had God-in-the-flesh standing before them. The glory of Jesus was revealed and they put their trust in him.

Bermondsey from the 72nd floor

It's always good to get a new perspective on your parish, and yesterday I did that, thanks to our friends Mark & Pat who invited us to a pre-opening preview from the 72nd floor viewing gallery of the Shard, said to be the highest building in Europe.

Visibility was not so good but even so the view was spectacular.

Our phone camera couldn't pick out St James amid the murk - although it was clear enough with the naked eye - but here is our view of Southwark Cathedral.

Definitely a new must see sight of London.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Breakfast at Albins

Funeral directors and clergy see quite a lot of each other. We work together -  usually quite harmoniously -  and I've always enjoyed good relations with the firms that I worked with, but in 22 years only one funeral director has invited me to breakfast and that was this week.

The staff at Albins head office (left) meet for a light breakfast each day but they end the week on a high note with a full cooked breakfast, to which guests are often invited, as I was this week.

There must have been getting on for 30 staff members sitting down for breakfast today.

I could see it was a good team bonding exercise, valuable socially, and for dealing with practicalities at the beginning of the day as they ran through the details of each funeral that was to take place later on that day.

Barry, the boss, introduced me to the group and then introduced them to me one by one. I liked the way he had a good word to say about each of them (eg 'the best embalmer in England').

Later I had a tour of the Albin museum, an extraorinary exhibition of social history in its own right, and then, chatting with Barry,  an insight into his thinking about his work and his involvement in the local community, to which he is so clearly committed.

Great food, great hospitality, and a fascinating visit to a unique Bermondsey institution: breakfast at Albins.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Spurred on in Tottenham

To St Ann's, Tottenham, to meet their inspirational vicar, John Wood.

You don't often get to visit other churches when you are a vicar but we used the gap between leaving Redhill and starting at Bermondsey to visit St Ann's, Tottenham.

I can't quite remember how I got to hear about St Ann's, but there has been a remarkable work going on there for the last eighteen years. From a small and struggling church meeting in crumbling buildings St Ann's has grown into one of the most vibrant multi-cultural churches of the inner city.

They are engaged in a remarkable range of community activities. They have planted two churches, including one on the Broadwater Farm Estate. They have up to 400 people worshipping in their different congregations on a Sunday.

I went today to chat with John and to learn.

What an amazing man this gentle, humble servant of God is!

Bermondsey and Tottenham are very different places but I learnt a lot from John and was tremendously encouraged by his infectious enthusiasm for the work of the Gospel.

We are going to continue our conversation when he makes a return trip to Bermondsey where, years ago, he was a helper at,... yes, you've guessed it, the Salmon Youth Centre.

Meanwhile here is a brief video overview of St Ann's work in Tottenham at the present time

Monday, 14 January 2013

And the PCC, too

Two Bermondsey firsts today - my first funeral since arriving and my first PCC meeting.

It was good to be reacquainted with Honor Oak Crematorium after many years. West Norwood had its own crem but when I was a curate we occasionally ventured as far afield as Honor Oak with its very distinctive cataflaque which descends into the floor at the moment of committal, bearing the coffin.

That, I think, is unique to Honor Oak as is the crematorium cat, a large tabby who sat solemnly beside me as I stood on the entrance steps of the chapel awaiting the arrival of the cortege. Later he scampered away but I got the feeling he liked to keep an eye on proceedings.

For each family the funeral is a crucial moment in their lives, probably a day they will never forget, and that is something as a minister you must never forget. For us clergy, the funeral ministry is a most amazing privilege as people invite us into their homes at a critical moment in their lives and share their grief and their memories with us, often with great emotion and feeling.

As a parish minister it gives you a real insight into the life of your parish because death comes to all, and over the years you get to visit all kinds of homes and all kinds of families

I have visited two bereaved families in Bermondsey so far - large extended families with deep roots in the area. They have received me with huge warmth and I have enormously appreciated meeting them and hearing about their family life and especially the beloved member of their family who had died.

Now: on to the PCC at St Anne's. It dawned on me when I was ordained that one of the many blessings being conferred upon me in the act of ordination was lifetime membership of a parochial church council. In Bermondsey my cup runneth over as I am member of two PCCS.

There was a good turn out at St Anne's tonight and i enjoyed getting to know people a little bit better and hearing what they liked about St Anne's. That seemed a good place to start.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Deeper and wider

The phrase 'deeper and wider' - as I shared with this morning's congregation at St James - has been in my thoughts as I have been meditating on Ephesians 3.17-18 ( I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God's people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ's love) and thinking about our coming year as two churches in Bermondsey.

Taking those two verses as a motto verse for the year I suggested to St James folk today (and will do the same at St Anne's at the end of the month) that we need, firstly, to deepen our roots and foundation in Christ's love as churches and then to seek to spread that love more widely in our parishes.

More about all that in due course, not least at our forthcoming joint PCCs awayday as we look to the future together.

Then this afternoon to Southwark Cathedral to see a new Bermondsey resident, Stephen Hance (left), formerly vicar of the thriving parish of the Ascension, Balham, installed as the Canon Missioner of the diocese.

His task? To encourage churches up and down the diocese in mission. A huge but crucial job. Pray for him. 

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Visiting Salmon

Next stop in my familiarisation tour of Bermondsey was a visit to the Salmon Youth Centre. 

It was the Reverend 'Pa' Salmon who begun the work among young people on this site  in 1906. A hundred years later and Salmon has what must be one of the best purpose-built youth facilities in the country (right).

Founder members of the club would be astonished to see today's high tech facilities - the dance studio, the high tech gym, the music studio, sports hall, art room, computers everywhere - but they would be reassured to see the foundation stone in the entrance lobby proclaiming that Christ is the cornerstone of everything Salmon does as it seeks to reach out with the love of Christ.

It was good to meet Salmon's director, Sam (right), other staff menbers, and some of the residential community (or 'ressies' - a new uniquely Bermondsey word I have recently learned, although I'm not absolutely certain of the spelling) - but, like schools during the holidays, youth centres are strangely quiet and tranquil during the day, so my next visit must be to see Salmon in action - in the evening, when the members are there.

Some years ago when the Bermondsey Group Ministry was set up, consisting of the parishes of St James, St Anne's, & St Mary's, the Salmon Youth Centre was included as part of the Group. That gives us a definite link with each other and recognises that in different ways we are all engaged in God's mission in the same place.

I'm the new boy round here but it seems to me that Salmon, the local churches, and the local church schools all working together, offers a potent combination for the advancement of of God's kingdom here in Bermondsey.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Born in Bethlehem, worshipped in Bermondsey

They weren't kings, there may not have been three of them, and they almost certainly never saw the baby Jesus in a manger.

No, according to the Bible, the wise men (number not specified), came to a house (not a stable) and they paid homage to a 'child' (not a baby).

The truth is it took them a while to get there.

They missed Christmas and Jesus had grown up a bit by the time they arrived, but they got there in the end, and they did deliver their three gifts (if it was one each, then there were three of them, but nobody knows).

The crucial point, as I was saying at St Anne's family service this morning was that they were foreigners. They were travellers from a distant land, a different culture, probably even a different religion, but they came in search of Jesus even so,  and, when they saw him, they worshipped him.

They were the first foreigners to do so, but they set a trend that countless millions, including ourselves, have followed since.

They were a sign of things to come - a way of saying that Jesus would not just be king of the Jews but king of people of every nation.

And our little multi-racial congregation at St Anne's this morning was a kind of reminder of all that. What began in Bethlehem, continues in Bermondsey twenty centuries later, as people from different races, backgrounds, and cultures come to believe in Jesus, recognise him as their king and worship him together in the same church.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

That great city

'Go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it that message I give you,' read the Bishop of Southwark from Jonah chapter 3 at today's diocesan day of prayer and fasting at Southwark Cathedral.

The Church Times made it sound that the Bishop had called the day as a direct result of financial challenges facing the diocese.

There is some truth in that  - indeed there is the prospect of serious cuts in clergy numbers arising from a growing diocesan deficit - but there is much more to a day of prayer and fasting that that.

It is much more about seeking God's will and blessing, and humbling ourselves before him. It is about, Bishop Christopher told us this morning, 'turning from our sins as a diocese, repenting as a diocese, believing the Gospel as a diocese.'

As he spoke I thought of the great city of Nineveh, and then the great city of London in which we live. Our city desperately needs to hear God's message of judgment, repentance, grace and forgiveness (as did Nineveh). It also needs a church that is prepared faithfully to proclaim the message God has given.

And that is worth praying for.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Japanese Christmas

Spurgeon's College, where I in the past have been a part-time student, has been running a competition for a Christmas Haiku (a three-line Japanese poem).

Here is the winning entry:

The eternal born
Large heaven collider small
Christmas breaks the rules

There were two runners-up:

O come, Heart's Longing,
plumb my soul and, through darkness,
explode into light

No stars descended
No crust of earth erupted
The universe turned

And here is the winning entry from the under 18s:
Mary you've got mail
Not from Facebook or Saint Nick
It's from an angel

Perhaps a St James & St Anne's competition next year?

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy new year from the ABC*

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams,  came to Bermondsey to record his final New Year's message to the nation before retirement.

He visited the Salmon Youth Centre and met children from St James School who were enjoying some of the centre's wonderful facilities.

You can view his message on BBC iPlayer here

* and a Happy New Year from me too, to all blog readers

Meeting the some of the team at the Salmon Centre