Thursday, 25 December 2014

The Queen's anchor

We are lucky to have her.

Today in her Christmas broadcast to the Commonwealth in a thoughtful meditation on the theme of reconciliation, the Queen said: 'For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing.'

Wonderful. She's not forcing her faith on anyone - as Christians are sometimes accused of doing - but she is bearing personal testimony to Christ, her 'inspiration' and 'anchor' and she has pointed us to a crucial Christian truth - reconciliation - at a time when the world needs it more than ever.

The Christ child born to us

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The light shining in the darkness

The German pastor, John de Wattville, who was looking for a way in 1747 to explain the Christian message to the children of his church, really started something when he invented the Christingle.

Brought to England in 1968, Christingle services have spread all over the country, and have become a popular child-friendly way of proclaiming the truths of the Christian faith: at Advent, Epiphany or Christmas.

Tonight's was only our second ever Christingle service at St James. Attendance was up a whopping 88% on last year. It was great to see young and old flooding into the church for this very special service on the eve of Christmas Day.

If you've not yet been to a Christingle service, here is what it all means: the orange represents the world; the red ribbon, the blood of Christ shed for the world; the candle, the light of Christ shining into the world; and the fruits on the four cocktails sticks represent the fruits of the earth and the four seasons.

Pastor de Wattville's clever visual aid thus proclaims the love of God in creation and the love of God in salvation.

Monday, 22 December 2014

O come all ye faithful

We had a bumper Carols by Candlelight service at St James last night with attendance up by 26 per cent on last year.

The singers, musicians and readers did a brilliant job. The children performed their nativity (see below), Paul preached, and the people at the back were kept busy putting out extra chairs as more and more people arrived, until the seats overflowed into the entrance hall.

A really good evening and a really good start to our Christmas festivities.

Full house at St James - thanks Pat and John for the photos

Friday, 19 December 2014

Two kings and a Pearly Queen

To the Age Concern Healthy Living Centre in Southwark Park Road for their annual Christmas dinner and party.

Pictured are the Pearly Queen of Bermondsey, invited along with the clergy to join in today's festvities, and Simone (on the right), the dynamic ever unflappable and cheerful manager of the centre who makes it the vibrant community centre for retired people that it is.

We had a fabulous slap up meal and it was good to hear stories of former times: the days when young girls in the Hartley's jam factory wore clogs to work, and when a lorry took eleven hours to drive from Bermondsey to Warrington, taking cement north, and bringing back south a cargo of wire for making Brillo pads.

Before all of that it was the St James School end of term service in the church. Paul arranged a Christmas quiz of the whole school divided into two teams, the Shepherds led by Mr Myles, assistant head, and the Angels led by Miss Mailey, deputy head.

Excitement reached fever pitch when the teams tied, and we needed a tie-breaker (which was actually going to introduce the point of the talk): 'how many kings are there in the Christmas story?'

The shepherds said 5. The angels said 4. But Paul said 2:the wise men weren't kings and that just leaves Jesus and Herod. And, as Paul said, Herod was only a temporary king.

Unlike Jesus.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Cosmic Christmas at Cherry Garden

From the BBC website the inspiring story of the Nativity Play at Cherry Garden School, a special school in our parish with which we have links, which include an annual visit of the children to St Anne's for their harvest festival. Paul recently visited their nativity play which is the subject of this video.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Carols at your desk

Enterprising students at my old theological college have come up with a special digital radio station for Christmas, bringing carols to your computer.

You listen to it here

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Smarties, the Tunes and the boy who wasn't from Quality Street

St Anne's had its Christingle and Carols tonight with a nativity tableau (left) performed by the children and young people.

A really good turn out of St Anne's regulars and visitors from the parish made this an excellent start to our Christmas festivities.

We also got to hear the Christmas story retold by Paul with the aid of no less than 22 types of sweets and chocolates. I can't remember them all but I do remember that Jesus did not come from a Quality Street, that the wise men were Smarties, that the Shepherds heard the angels' Tunes, and that baby Jesus, he was a Poppet.

The previous day, Bermondsey Voices, our local community choir which practises in St James each week had its annual Christmas concert in the church (right), offering a wonderful mixture of carols, Christmas music sacred and secular, and three songs with a Bermondsey theme including one about Albert McKenzie, the 19 year old sailor from Bermondsey who won the VC in WW1 (soon to have a memorial locally), one about Ada Salter, and one about the 'Bermondsey Women's Uprising.'

Friday, 12 December 2014

School nativity

The children from St James's School poured into the church this afternoon for this Christmas Nativity & Carols.

Lots of parents came to watch and join in and the children sang the carols with great enthusiasm as the story of the Nativity was told through the traditional Scriptural readings.

The shepherds wait for their big moment

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Joy in the square

It's not just dogs that go from lamp post to lamp post, carol singers do too - or they did tonight in Thorburn Square as our merry band of singers circled St Anne's singing under the the lamp posts at the four corners of the square.

The weather held, a great time was had by all, and minced pies and mulled wine in St Anne's Vicarage (thanks Paul & Mandy) rounded off an excellent evening.

Next up: Carol Singing at Bermondsey Tube on Monday at 6pm and outside St James's on Wednesday at 6.30pm. O come all ye singers!

PS This is an old photo (above) and what it doesn't show is St Anne's rather smart new noticeboard which, if you haven't seen it, looks like this:

Sunday, 7 December 2014

A Bermondsey Christmas

It's been a hectic day.

After the baptism of three church children at St James and a church lunch to follow with mountains of food, it was off to Christmas at the Blue, where there was Irish dancing, carol singing by Monnow Rd Baptist Church, a Santa on stilts, football with Millwall FC's community unit, ice skating, various stalls sealing Christmas goodies, a UK Homes for Heroes stall staffed by the Pearly King and Queen, Nigel of Bermondsey singing 'Bury my heart in Bermondsey', all presided over by Russell whose team had organised a brilliant community event.

Ice skating in front of the Bermondsey Lion

Irish dancing at the Blue
Next up was another great Bermondsey community event: the annual old people's party at the Salmon Youth Centre.

As is traditional, the event began with the Bermondsey Waiters Song (now in its 39th year), sung this year by the young people of Salmon Sunday who were to wait on us this year: 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.

All together now for the Bermondsey Waiters Song
Piles of food and gallons of tea were followed by the Entertainment which included a Cockney singalong led by Johnny (Daisy, daisy; Any old iron; Maybe its because I'm a Londoner), drama and dance by the Salmon youngsters, party dances led by the Resis revealing an unexpected gift for this kind of thing on the part of St James's curate, Jos.

Next we were treated to a Skelton-Molyneux duo singing the songs of Elvis, Paul McCartney, John Denver, and Cliff Richard, before Paul brought us a reading from the Bible and a brilliant talk about the real meaning of Christmas. That set the scene for a carol-singalong finale by Adrian, chair of trustees, and a scratch choir that included a certain local MP. A wonderful afternoon.

O come all ye faithful

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Carols at the Blue

Carol singing at the Blue this morning in brilliant sunshine, gathered around the tree that St James and St Anne's churches have bought as a Christmas gift for the local community.

It was good to have Simon Hughes, and Councillor Anood join us, together with passersby and members of both churches as we sung the good news of Christmas at the heart of our community in the words of those familiar carols that speak so powerfully of God's saving love.

Next Thursday we have open air carols outside St Anne's at 6pm, and the following week: outside Bermondsey Tube on Monday 15th December 6pm and outside St James at 6.30pm on the Wednesday (17th Dec).

Come and join us - the more the merrier.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Voted by the people

It is truly unique event and it occurs every year.

The Albins Memorial Service in their Memorial Garden on the edge of Southwark Park, draws together over a thousand worshippers, clergy, military leaders, and local VIPs from the Pearly Kings to the Leader of the Council and Simon Hughes MP.

All the familiar elements were there this year: the Christmas tree with stars in memory of departed loved ones, the Ark containing the cremated remains of previous year's stars, a tribute to the military (Albins organise the repatriation of all British servicemen and women who die overseas), Father Alan leading us in a selection of Christmas carols, prayers led by the leaders of the churches, a welcome by Barry, and the whole event skillfully narrated by his sons, John and Simon, wonderful refreshments afterwards including hot soup  and Elaine's famed bread pudding, and a dramatic firework conclusion.

This year Christopher Chessun, our bishop, the Bishop of Southwark was the guest speaker. He spoke movingly and simply from his own recent family experience of bereavement, and pointed us to Christ with characteristic simplicity and clarity.

New this year was the contribution by four of Barry's young grandsons. Each brought a short reading. The youngest drew warm applause from the crowd as he said: 'I love you so dearly but don't shed a tear for me; I'm spending my Christmas with Jesus.'

The whole event ended on a patriotic note with a rousing rendition of  Rule Britannia as the fireworks lit up the sky over Rotherhithe (right).

Over refreshments a Southwark blue plaque, 'Voted by the People,' was unveilled on Albins HQ, recognising the firm's service to the bereaved people of Bermondsey for over 200 years.

Simon Hughes, MP, spoke well and truly in introducing the award when he said that Barry, his family, and his whole team had endeared themselves to the people of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, not just for their legendary efficiency and professionalism, but for their kindness and compassion which, in your blogger's opinion, was once more powerfully demonstrated by the event that we have experienced tonight - a truly generous gift to the people of our area. Thank you Barry and everyone at Albins.

Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria & Bermondsey

Our fourth Bermondsey Christian Training course came to end last night with the now traditional end-of-course-meal, this time a full blown Christmas style turkey dinner.

A good time was had by all, as has been the case all through the previous eight weeks where we have followed the exciting story of the book of Acts, starting with the Ascension of Christ and the descent of the Spirit, and the spread of the Gospel throughout the known world.

For the first time we had some virtual course members, listening to the talks in the comfort of their own homes thanks to the efforts of our technically-savvy curate (thanks Jos).

Each week course members read the relevant chapters of Acts in advance and then through the main talk, and small group discussions we looked at the main lessons we could learn - about the first century church of the book of Acts, then applied to the twenty-first century church in Bermondsey.

The theme verse of Acts is verse 8 of chapter 1 where the risen Lord Jesus says: '"But when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

For the 'ends of the earth' read 'including Bermondsey' and you get the basic idea.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Up West on the No. 1

All aboard the number 1 bus for St James and St Anne's trip to see the Christmas lights of the West End this afternoon.

We walked along  Oxford St, Carnaby St, Regent St, Leicester Square to the Strand for refreshments (I'll give you a clue - we were lovin' it) and then on via Covent Garden (enjoyed the street theatre and the lifesize Santa and Reindeer made with 700,000 pieces of Lego)  to pick up the bus near Waterloo Bridge for the journey home to Bermondsey. Great fun.

By the tree in Covent Garden (thanks Sarah for the pic)

Dreaming by the river

After a huge fund-raising effort, with match funding from the Council, the Salter statues are finally back in place on the riverside near the Angel pub.

Mean-spirited thieves had walked off with the memorial to the man who had magnificently served Bermondsey as doctor, MP, and social reformer for the best part of a life time.

Happily 'Dr Salter's Daydream' is now back in place in its Thames-side location, featuring this time not just the good doctor, his daughter, Joyce (and her cat), but his wife, too, Ada, Alderman of the London County Council and the great campaigner for the beautification of Bermondsey who saw to it that trees were planted in every street, and flowers bloomed on every piece of scrap land.

A large crowd gathered on the riverside this afternoon to see the new statues unveilled by relatives of the Salters and the local Director of Public Health.

There were speeches from the Deputy Mayor, the Leader of the Council, Simon Hughes MP, and several members of the Salter family.

The Salters were strongly motivated by their deeply held Christian beliefs. In due course they both became Quakers but they had strong links with St James's Church (whose vicar, G.R. Balleine, a leading evangelical of his day, and a committed socialist, was a friend and supporter) and Alfred Salter's packed memorial service was held there.

That crucial part of the life of this remarkable couple was scarcely mentioned today, but there was something very appropriate about 'Dr Salter's Daydream' being unveilled on Advent Sunday because when they dreamed of a Better Bermondsey, Ada and Alfred, were dreaming of what Christians and the Bible call the Kingdom of God, and on this day of the Church year we especially look for the coming of that kingdom.

Alfred Salter surrounded by admirers this afternoon

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Community council

It was good to welcome Southwark Council's Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Community Council (below) to St James's Church this afternoon.

Usually the community council meets in the evening.

This was an experimental Saturday afternoon event which seemed to go well.

There was a special focus today on health and well-being, with an exhibition in the south lounge from various local agencies.

The Youth Community Council, a lively bunch from local schools and colleges, kicked the meeting off with a thought provoking presentation, and then ably fielded a stream of questions from the floor.

Then we had a report from the local police, followed by lots of questions from local people in the light of recent violent crimes in the area, community news (including the launch of the Friends of St James's Churchyard), question time to the councillors, a budget consultation exercise, and the opportunity to hear from various community agencies associated with health and well-being, ranging from Age Concern Southwark to the Southwark, the Galleywall Nature Reserve, Southwark Cyclists, the Citizens Advice Bureaux and Surrey Docks Farm.

Finally, there was some detailled business on parking regulations transacted by the councillors, in the formal business that usually takes place towards the end of community council meetings.

It was a good meeting that brought together councillors, council officers, community groups and local residents, all concerned for the well-being of our local community here in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.

The member for Bermondsey

It was good to welcome Simon Hughes, MP, a regular attender at our Men's Breakfasts, as the speaker today on the subject, 'a Christian in the House.'

The men sat down to the usual Full English followed by an inspirational talk by Simon, and the chance to ask questions of our member of parliament.

Simon was hot foot from the Cathedral churchyard where he had spent the night sleeping rough in support of the Robes project for the homeless.

It was the end of an incredibly busy day that included participating in debates at the Commons, a constituents' surgery in St James Church and a dinner for Supreme Court judges from the UK and Italy which he was hosting at Lancaster House, close to Buckingham Palace.

On top of all that was a whole briefcase of papers he has to work through every day - the pile of files
Simon at the Men's brekkie
being constantly replenished by civil servants from the Ministry of Justice. And all this hard work is undergirded by a strong and living Christian faith.

How he fits it all in we shall never know but at a time when people can be a little cynical about politicians it is good to be reminded just how hard many of them work - and also to be reminded that it is a peculiar (and welcome) feature of our political system that every minister, from the prime minister down, is a constituency MP, answerable to the electorate, and only there in parliament by virtue of their votes.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Opening minds in Bermondsey

No reply yet from Janice Turner, the Times columnist, I have invited via twitter to visit St James's School.

In yesterday's paper in an article  'No more faith schools, prisons of the mind,' Ms Turner turns from private Islamic schools in Tower Hamlets to faith school in general and says 'faith schools are closed communities. Within cities, in particular, church schools are middle class ghettos with far lower rates of free school meals than nearby non-faith schools.'

She gives as her example St Mary Abbott's School in Kensington.

She also suggests you get a place in a church school by coming to church 'to suck up to the vicar' and that 'a lavish Christmas fete prize' won't go amiss either.

My tweet to Janice said 'I don't recognise your picture of church schools in London. Why not come to visit ours, St James Bermondsey?'

Bermondsey is not Kensington. The idea that St James's school is a middle class ghetto is laughable. We have a huge ethnic mix and rates of free school meals are way above the national average.

Only a third of places are reserved for those who attend church and there is no need to suck up to the vicar at all. You just need to come to church (any church in the area) to worship God.

For the majority of places, two-thirds in fact, there is no church attendance requirement at all for the simply reason that as a Church School (not 'a faith school') our vocation is to serve the whole community in Bermondsey.

Perhaps its Janice that needs to get out of the prison of her mind - and what better way of doing that than by coming on a fact-finding mission to Bermondsey?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Lord, have mercy

Day two of the General Synod meeting in Westminster and, after Holy Communion, synod settled down to devote most of the morning to a panel discussion on the plight of the persecuted religious minorities of Iraq and Syria.

Their situation is truly dire. We heard some heartrending accounts of their suffering.

There were strong calls for prayerful support and financial assistance. The crucial importance of religious liberty was stressed, not just because the universal declaration on human rights calls for it, but because the doctrine of men and women made in the image of God, demands it.

Bishop Angaelos, the representative of the Coptic Church in synod concluded the panel discussion by quoting from Philippians chapter 1 where the Apostle Paul says:  'I want you to know brothers that was has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone that I am in chains for Christ.'

The session ended with heartfelt prayers for the suffering church led by the Archbishop of York. The repeated refrain was Lord, have mercy; Christ have mercy.

That must be our prayer.

Monday, 17 November 2014

All those in favour..

It only took five minutes but involved five hundred people travelling to London from all over the country.

The measure to allow women to be bishops was passed at the York synod in July. Since then, Parliament has approved, and the Queen has given her Royal Assent. All that was needed now was for the General Synod to do the last remaining formality, which it did with a show of hands (above) in an  item that was over in under five minutes.

Then the Archbishop of York led us in the General Thanksgiving.

Not everyone is happy with the outcome but everyone is agreed it will be a relief to talk about something else. Perhaps that's why we had the General Thanksgiving.

So what else did we do on day one of this short one-and-a-half day synod?

We began with worship. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave his Presidential Address on his programme of visits to the churches of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

We also did some legal business on: church property, graveyards, and the Diocese of Europe, and we were asked to consider the vexed question of the granting of rights to graze livestock in churchyards. This is not exactly a burning issue in Bermondsey but it was good to hear about it.

Next up was an excellent report on 'Guidelines for the professional conduct of the clergy' with some good points made in the debate.

Tomorrow we have a presentation on violence against religious minorities in Syria and Iraq. That should put everything else into perspective.

The instrument of enactment allowing women to become bishops

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

At the eleventh hour

The children of St James's School came to the church today for a service to mark the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

As the nation fell silent, so did the whole school, and 500 children from youngest to the oldest stood in respectful silence for the Last Post and Reveille before we sang 'someone's crying Lord, kum ba yah; someone's praying Lord kum ba yah.'

We heard about Lance Corporal Fred Holmes (right), the young man from Bermondsey who was educated at Alexis St School (now part of St James) who was awarded the Victoria Cross for carrying an injured comrade for two miles on his shoulders in the face of enemy fire, and who is immortalised in the 'Brave Deeds Board' in the entrance hall at Alexis St.

And we learnt what Jesus meant when he said 'the greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.  And you are my friends if you do what I command you.'

It was a good conclusion to our remembrance events at St James and St Anne's.

The Brave Deeds Board at Alexis St School

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Those who knew them, loved them

They were all members of St James's Young Men's Bible Class, ten lads from Bermondsey, who gave their lives in the First World War.

Today, a hundred years after the outbreak of the war, we remembered Robert, George, Stanley, Leonard, Owen, Harry, George, Thomas, Thomas and Herbert whose names are inscribed on the brass memorial plaque in the narthex dedicated to the Young Men's Bible Class.

Under their names is the beautifully simple but moving epitaph: 'those who knew them loved them.'

It was good to remember them today.

At the end of the service we laid a wreath at this memorial - as we did at the Boer War Memorial - and fittingly, it was laid by John (above), a member of the current men's bible study group.

Prior to that a small group of us gathered at the War Memorial in Old Jamaica Road which has recently been put back in place, having been temporarilly dismantled pending construction around it.

Next year the Bishop will come to rededicate the memorial when all the building work is complete; in the meantime our simple act of remembrance took place today in the presence of our MP, councillors, and local residents:

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The show that's been running for 799 years

London's new Lord Mayor, (not Boris, as we explained to a confused Australian tourist, but the one who wears a red cloak and rides in a gold coach), paraded through the streets of the City today in time-honoured fashioned, watched this year by a party from St James and St Anne, standing opposite the south porch of St Paul's Cathedral.

The Bermondsey crew were excited to catch sight of St James member, Ed Donaldson (right), representing the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers for which he is head man this year (congratulations Ed), accompanied by Mary-Jane, and also of our local community choir, Bermondsey Voices, who practise in St James and who had their own float in this year's show.

They've been doing this in London for 799 years - next year is the 800th anniversary of the Lord Mayor's Show, and its good to see that in all the pageantry and fun,  the deep Christian heritage of our nation and capital is recognised and honoured.

It was moving to see the Lord Mayor and his wife  kneel in prayer as the Dean of St Paul's prayed for God's blessing on them - as he does every year  having first presented the new Mayor with a copy of the Scriptures, the true source of wisdom and guidance.

As for the party from Bermondsey we had a great time, and after our picnic in the shadow of St Paul's, we took advantage of free admission on Lord Mayor's Show Day, for a quick tour of the Cathedral itself, which quite a few of our party had never seen from the inside.

Getting ready to watch the show