Thursday, 25 July 2013

A year round

Today, 25th July, is St James's Day and, appropriately enough, it was on this day exactly a year ago that  I was appointed vicar of St James and St Anne's here in Bermondsey.

What a lot has happened in that time.

First, the painful task of telling a beloved and stunned congregation in Redhill 'I'm leaving.'

Its the nature of the confidentiality of the clergy appointment process that such an announcement usually comes like a bolt out of the blue to the poor unsuspecting home congregation.

Then, following fond farewells to Holy Trinity, the move to Bermondsey: a new house, a new district of London to explore, two new congregations, with all their traditions, customs and ways, to get to know.

It's been a year of change and a fascinating and intriguing year. We are enjoying being here immensely, sharing in the life of the congregations, making the most of all the opportunities Bermondsey offers with its proximity to central London, and praying and pondering and working out how to take forward the work of the Gospel in these two diverse parishes.

It feels good to be here and we feel blessed.

And then the icing on the cake: the news a few weeks ago now that my first Redhill curate, latterly
Rector of St Peter's, Woodmansterne, Mick Hough (right)  had been appointed to be vicar of Holy Trinity.

We are thrilled for Mick, and thrilled for Holy Trinity, knowing that by God's grace, that church is in the best possible hands for the next stage of its life.

And not only is he an all round good egg, but he is a blogger, too.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

To us a prince is born

While the waters of Niagara ran blue, and a 61 gun salute was fired at the Tower, the bells of St James rang out tonight in celebration of the Royal birth, thanks to our bellringers, the Dockland Ringers.

Usually on Tuesday nights they practice with the belfry shutters closed, but its not every week that a future king is born, so by request of the vicar, the shutters were opened and the bells rang out across the parish.

The Archbishop of York, as ever, managed both to capture the national mood and give a distinctively Christian spin on events when he said: 'Today we give thanks and praise to Almighty God for the arrival of the Royal baby boy.  I send my warmest congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and also my prayers for them at this wonderful time.  It is marvellous that we share in the joy and hope of a new born child, which is a great gift of our Loving Creator God.  Katonda Yebazibwe: God be praised.'

And then he offered this prayer for the new baby prince which all could echo:

Generous God,
Thank you for endowing the human race with the gift of sharing in your work of creation.
We thank you for the Royal baby. May your holy angels guard and protect him.
Give to William and Kate joy and peace and fill their home with the love of the Lord Jesus.

Farewell to the leavers

It's been a busy few days and the blog has gone a bit quiet.

Last week was the end of term at St James's School, and in addition to a governors meeting, we had the school prizegiving and the end of term service in the church on Friday.

We had the whole  school, plus lots of parents for the Leavers Service, which ended with a picnic for year 6 children (pictured) and their parents in the churchyard afterwards.

Each of the leavers gave a brief memory of their time at St James's. I taught everyone a memory verse: Joshua 1 ('Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go') - which was also given to each of the leavers on a card with the Bibles they were presented with by our Chair of Governors and MP, Simon Hughes.

What impressed me was the way Simon had a few words with each of the youngsters individually as they came forward for their presentation.

 I wondered how many of our leavers appreciated how unusual it is for an MP, and a senior politician, to have this level of involvement every year in a local primary school. 

In Bermondsey it seems normal, but then you realise we have an exceptional MP.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Giving God the Glory

We could hardly have had better weather.

The sun blazed down on us for today's united open air service and rededication of the churchyard.

Here is the scene from the church portico looking into the churchyard just before the congregation arrived.

The newly remodelled churchyard, with its York stone square in front of the church, provides the ideal space for a service in the open-air, so I hope today's outdoor service will be the first of many.

It was also an opportunity to thank Southwark Council for the improvements that they have made to the churchyard and for their week by week stewardship of this precious piece of open space in our ever more densely populated parish.

Disappointingly a Google search for 'rededication of a churchyard' came up with nothing, so I had to compose our very own liturgy for the occasion thanking God for the beauty of the churchyard, for those who look after it, for those who travel through it, for those who rest or play there, and for those who lie there awaiting the Resurrection, ending with this prayer:

Almighty God who created all things and declared them to be 'very good;'
set apart this remodelled and renewed churchyard as a place of rest and refreshment for the people of Bermondsey;
bless the work of St James's Church that the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ may shine out in this community, through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

 It was good to be out in the open air. It was good to have with us Jane, our Archdeacon; Anood, our councillor; Simon, our Member of Parliament; Stewart, my predecesor as vicar of St James, and his wife Rosemary, and it was especially good to have members of the Rhema Church, with whom we share the building, with us (in fact they made the whole event possible by their generous loan of their superb sound system).

And it was good at the end of communion to all join in singing: 'To God be the glory, great things he has done.'

Next up was the 'Great Salmon Choir Sing-Off' at the Salmon Youth Centre.

Three choirs featured in this fundraising profile-raising event: the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Choral Society; a children's gospel choir (superb); and the wonderful choir of Jesus College Cambridge, recalling the origins of the Salmon Youth Centre as the Cambridge University Mission. Their first item, There is a balm in Gilead, was stunning.

Just in case you're wondering - the Cambridge choir dressed down quite a bit in view of the sweltering weather so we didn't actually see them in those rather splendid scarlet cassocks (picture).

It was an excellent afternoon of contrasting musical styles, all performed in the aid of a very good cause.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

End of term productions

In the past week we have been enjoying watching the end of term productions at St James School. The younger children performed the Lion Prince; the older children, Fame.

Parents packed in to watch the productions which involved everyone in the school, and which represented huge work by the staff.

Next week we have prize-giving on Thursday and on Friday the Leavers Service in church, followed by lunch in the churchyard afterwards. All the leavers will be presented with a Bible and a memory verse motto to take with them as they leave St James's and head off for their new schools.

Here from the school website are some pictures of the Lion Prince:

Thursday, 11 July 2013

God loves Bermondsey OK?

Recently I've been doing an upgrade and relaunch on our church websites. You can take a look at them here:

St James:

St Anne's:

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Synod observer - day five

After opening worship - today from the Book of Common Prayer - Bishop Angaelos of the Egyptian Coptic Church addressed the Synod about the situation in his country, including that of the churches, some of which have been seriously attacked.

He concluded by saying: 'A passage that gives me strength comes from 2 Corinthians 4 7-10: always carrying about in our body the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a cross we carry that brings glory to God.  Pray for strength for us. It has been shown people that division will never take Egypt anywhere. Reconciliation is needed from the heart.'

After that, our business for the rest of the morning seemed rather mundane.

Synod considered a report from its elections review group. We considered questions such as: should there continue to be a separate universities constituency for general synod elections; should deanery synod members still be the electors for General Synod or should it be someone else (PCC members? Electoral roll members? an electoral college); should there continue to be a slight weighting to the northern dioceses in the allocation of seats; and should it be possible to vote for the General Synod online.

All these points will come back to the floor of the chamber in due course. 

At 12.30pm we had further farewells after which Synod was prorogued (synodspeak for 'you can all go home now').

 We meet again in November - in London.

A quiet corner of the campus, close to Central Hall

Monday, 8 July 2013

Synod observer - day four

Today we started off the new women bishops process, dissolved three dioceses, and spent £29 million.

The women bishops debate was the big one- it had to be extended into the afternoon session, and in all took 4 and a half hours to deal with no less than nine amendments and arrive at a conclusion.

Synod begins each day with worship and today, fittingly, we sang that ancient hymn to the Holy Spirit: 'come Holy Ghost our hearts inspire, and lighten with celestial fire.'

By the end of the debate there was a large majority for the way forward. There is a huge amount of work to be done but agreement on a number of key principles: that it is the clear will of a majority of the church that there should be women bishops, that we needed to proceed quickly (or as quickly as our procedures will permit) and that there should be an honoured and continuing place in the church for those loyal Anglicans who for reasons of conscience cannot accept the ministry of women bishops.

I am cutting a very long story short. I could tell you about option one, two, three or four. I could even tell you about option 1.7 and the Bishop of Willesden's 'cunning plan' but its getting late and I suspect you have other things you need to be getting on with..

After a 15 min refreshment break we reconvened in the Central Hall to hear the Diocese Commision's plan to dissolve three Yorkshire diocese (Ripon & Leeds, Bradford & Wakefield) and create one new diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, centred on Leeds. Geographically and in terms of the Church's mission it made great sense, not least because the city of Leeds, England's third largest city, is currently split between four different diocese.

But there is a snag.

Three years of painstaking consultation had resulted in the plan's enthusiastic reception by two of the Diocese, and its very firm rejection, by the third, Wakefield.

It was now up to the Synod to make the final decision. Should a diocese be forced to dissolve against ist will, asked a number of speakers, but many others, including the Archbishop of York, argued acceptance of the plan, which in the end was overwhelmingly passed by the Synod. Tough for Wakefield, but it seemed overall to be better for the church across the whole of West Yorkshire to have this new structure.

Next up was financial business, mainly adjourned until after dinner, when we met again at 8.30pm. The Archbishops Council runs the national church structures and pays for the training of ordinands (its single largest item of expenditure at £13m). After questions to the chair of the Council's Finance Committee we then proceeded to approve the five items of the budget for the year. And that is how, in three minutes, we spent £29 million.

We weren't quite finished though because Archbishop Justin came to the microphone to warmly thank the retiring chair of the Archbishops Council's Finance Committee, Andrew Britton. The excellent Andrew, a member of our own diocese and a Reader at St Margaret's, Chipstead received a well-deserved standing ovation from the Synod, for his hard work, his vision for the mission of the church, and the efficient, courteous and compassionate way he has discharged his duties. A real servant of the church.

Next up was a farewell to the retiring Bishop of Exeter before we came at 9.30pm, to the annual report of the Church Commissioners who manage the £5bn investment fund of the Church of England, using it to support parish ministry in tough places, assist clergy pensions, and, increasingly, to fund research into church growth. Once again there was the opportunity to ask questions.

And after that, it was time to call it day.

Southwark supper

Here from the Dean of Southwark's blog is his picture of the General Synod Southwark Supper in Vanbrugh College and here is Andrew's account of 'Lo, I am with you alway' with a Bermondsey reference.

Eagle eyed readers will spot Adrian at the end of the table.

Here is the BBC's report on today's forthcoming debate on women bishops. Pray for us - we are going to need it.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Synod observer - day 3

The  General Synod decamped to a beautifully cool York Minister this morning for a service of Holy Communion led by the Archbishop of Canterbury at which the Archbishop of York preached.

There were some great hymns. I particularly liked Chris Idle's hymn 'Christ's church shall glory in his power' which begins:

Christ's church shall glory in his power
and grow to his perfection;
he is our rock, our mighty tower,
our life, our resurrection:
so by is skilful hand
the church of Christ shall stand;
the master-builder's plan
he works, as he began,
and soon will crown with splendour

Chris, one of our best hymnwriters, was formerly Rector of St Anne's, Limehouse and attends the Evangelical Ministry Assembly each year, as I do.

Over lunch I attended another fringe meeting: Statistics for Mission, led by the Church of England Statistics Unit. It sounds deadly dull but as always it was absolutely brilliant - really useful stuff including a CD for every parish setting out the results of the 2011 census, which even now, is on its way to Bermondsey. The Statistics Unit do a fantastic job serving the Church's mission and their presentations are always of a very high order. All power to their elbow.

After lunch (Roast Beef and, the local delicacy, Yorkshire Pudding) there were four options available to synod members:

1. Sleep
2. Go for a walk
3. Watch the Wimbledon final
4. Debate the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure in a hot and sweaty Central Hall

I think its what is called a no-brainer.

After the refreshment of the afternoon, we moved at 5pm to consider the serious question of the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults. This was a sober and moving debate in which penitence was expressed for children and vulnerable adults who had been abused by clergy or church members and the synod unanimously passed a motion calling for enhanced safeguarding procedures, rigorously enforced, throughout the church (see the BBC report here)

Next up was our Southwark Dinner. The Southwark contingent at synod is made up of Bishop Christopher, eight clergy elected by the clergy of the diocese, and eight lay members, elected by the laity, plus a number of other Southwark people who are present at the Synod in some other capacity (eg they are synod officers or members of the Archbishops' Council). Each York synod we meet for supper one evening  in one of the seminar rooms of the university. For London meetings we meet before synod for a business meeting and supper, in York our gathering is purely social.

Then it was back to the Central for the evening debate on welfare reform. This is one of those occasions where the synod addresses pressing issues in the life of the nation, attempting to bring a Christian perspective to bear. It was a good debate that made some constructive points about a key issue in national life in some well-informed speeches.

Thus ended another synod day. Tomorrow: back to women in the episcopate.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Synod observer - day 2

Today the Synod did two things it doesn't usually do: it met in private with no press, cameras, or members of the public present; and it met in series of small groups of around twenty bishops, clergy, & laity guided by a team of facilitators.

It was a way of finding a new approach to deal with the issue of women bishops which comes to a formal debate on the floor of the chamber on Monday.

You may wonder why we are making such heavy weather of this issue.

In part it is because of the cumbersome legislative procedures of synod itself, and it is in part because we trying to square a circle.

The conundrum is this: how can we have women bishops (which the majority of synod wants), and how can these women have a fully recognised episcopal ministry, whilst making provision for those people (about a third of the church) who can't't accept a women bishop's ministry on grounds of conscience.

In one sense it is how a majority can respect the rights of a minority without steamrolling over them or excluding them from the church.

Our three facilitated discussion sesions today in 24 groups, scattered among the seminar rooms of the university, was designed to help us listen to each other and find a way forward. We are not there yet  but all sides seemed to feel that today we had got off to a good start.

After tea at 3.30pm we then gathered in the Central Hall, still in private session, for another synodical first; an hour long session of improvised drama, where individual members were invited to substitute themselves for the actors in a playlet set on day 3,567 of the Big Brother house where the inmates representing the various streams of the Church of England, overseen by Bishop Fred and the all-seeing BB himself (approprately in the circumstances, Big Brother was actually Big Sister), were given the task of solving the women bishops problem in three minutes.

It relaxed us and got us laughing but perhaps it went on just a little too long. Next up the facilators reported back in today's discussions and your blogger left a sweltering Central Hall for a cooling walk by the lake.

I wasn't slacking completely because during the evening dinner break I went to a scintillating fringe meeting by the Fresh Expressions team, looking at the remarkable growth that is taking place all over the country of new expressions of church.

By that time it was 8.30pm and it was time for the final debate of the day on the Quinquenniel goals. It sounds boring but these are three priorities we have set ourselves for the five year term of this Synod: making disciples, transforming ministry and serving the common good.

John Dunnett, chair of EGGS and General Director of the Church Pastoral Aid Society and, in my opinion, an all-round good-egg, had tabled a motion calling on the bishops to devote 'a substantial amount of time over the next few years to considering a strategy for the re-evangelisation of England.

Gloriously it passed.

Getting called to speak at GS is never easy but a kind chair called me in this debate and I said to synod members 'come with me a mile to the east of Tower Bridge to the parish of St James, Bermonsey.' I told them of our painting, the Ascension of our Saviour, and the motto attached 'lo, I am with you alway.;'

That promise, linked to the command in Matthew 28 to make disciples of all nations, speaks to me, I said, that the business of evangelism, of making disciples, is of first importance.That's why I supported John's motion, I said,  and its warm encouragement to our bishops to give a strong lead in evangelism.

We are the Church of England and we need to take the Gospel to England, I concluded.

The Archbishop dismissed us with prayer at 10pm, the end of a long and sweltering day, that ended on the happy note that that the Church has publically recommitted itself to its core task of taking the Gospel to the nation. Hallelelujah.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Synod observer - day 1

Take a couple of hundred clergy, add a couple of hundred laity, and mix in 50 bishops, put them altogether for five days on a university campus in the north of England, and you have the summer meeting of the General Synod in York.

We meet in the spaceship-like Central Hall of the University (above). Here in the late 70s as an undergraduate I sat my final exams and received my degree on Graduation Day.

Today, adorned with a large cross, Central Hall has been commandeered by what the BBC likes to call 'the Church of England's ruling body.'

Actually the GS is more like the Church's parliament than its government. Indeed it has the power to pass 'Measures' which, after Royal Assent, become the law of the land, as well as discuss any matters of relevance to church or nation.

If you read the papers you would think we only ever talk about women bishops and gay sex - the former does indeed feature quite heavilly in this synod, but the latter, hardly at all. Instead, there is a welcome focus this year in York on mission, evangelism, and making disciples. Three cheers!

The Synod began with a welcome to the ecumenical guests - representatives from the main UK denominations who can take a full part in synod debates but not vote - followed by a speech from a visiting  bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. Next up was a report by the Business Committee, essentially are opportunity for synod members to discuss the agenda - what is on it and why and what is not on it and why.

Following a series of short debates in which the appointment of various synod officials was confirmed, the main item of the afternoon was the Presidential Address by the new Archbishop of Canterbury (the two archbishops are the joint presidents of the GS).

For many of us this was our first opportunity to hear Archbishop Justin.

In a wide ranging address he called for, among other things, a renewal of prayer and religious life in the church, a renewed confidence in the Gospel, and the goal of 'spiritual and numerical growth in the church.' We live in revolutionary times, said the Archbishop, but 'the Gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed THE good news of our time.'

In an address which repeated several times the refrain 'the eternal God is our refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms' he concluded with the prayer: 'come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people and kindle in them the fire of your love.'

Synod responded with warm and prolonged applause.

Next up was the EGGS (Evangelical Group in General Synod) dinner and meeting, a chance to review the forthcoming agenda and note evangelical concerns and synodical initiatives by EGGS members, followed by Question Time in the Central Hall.

Here Synod members can ask the Bishops, Church Commissioners, and the heads of all the main church departments questions on any pertinent matters. Ninety questions were tabled, including one by me and one by Adrian, but we reached the10pm cut off before Synod got to our questions, so no verbal reply for us (nor the chance to ask a supplementary), but a written reply instead.

The day's business concluded, the Archbishop of York closed in prayer, and we went off to prepare for tomorrow's small group work, guided by a team of facilitators, on women bishops but more about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Apprentice (king)

Last week I met the sixteen-year old apprentice to one of our best known local firms. His name is Harry. He left school on the Tuesday, started work on the Wednesday and seemed to be thriving on it.

Tonight I watched Lord Sugar fire another of his luckless would be apprentices-cum-business partners, but just before that we had the last of four talks on the life of David, one of the boldest apprenticeship projects in the history of the world.

The youngest son from an obscure family from an out of the way place that no one had ever heard of called Bethlehem was God's surprising choice to be his new apprentice king.

He was an apprentice king because he had a lot to learn.

Almost his first day in the job he faced the terrifying prospect of fighting his nation's greatest enemy, the mighty Goliath.

The lad from Bethlehem was the surprising winner and he went on to do great things for his nation and his God, as well as behaving in the most disgraceful way imaginable when he started to get a bit carried away with himself.

Sex, lies, deceit and murder were David's undoing and it took the bold and clever preaching of God's prophet to bring the king back to his senses.

David showed the kind of man he was by pouring out his heart in an extraordinary song of repentance and rededication which we know as Psalm 51.

But here's the wonderful thing: he was never fired.

God called him, used him, brought him back to himself when he strayed, and made the most amazing promise to him: his kingdom and his dynasty would never end.

How come? Another boy from Bethlehem, centuries later, born of David's line, came to the throne by way of a manger, a cross and a tomb. From heaven he said:' I am descended from the family of David; I am the bright morning star' Revelation 22.16

David's story is a story of grace: the undeserved freely given love of God. 

In the world of TV reality shows someone always gets fired, sent home, or publically humiliated. 

God's ways are different. When he calls someone, he commits himself to them for all eternity.

David was an apprentice king, and if we follow Jesus, we get to be his apprentices (or, to use a more biblical word, disciples), forever.

You're never fired. You're just loved and that's the wonder of it.