Wednesday, 29 January 2014

C4T, a new vicarage, & the big picture

I wouldn't want you to think we always go to the pub.

In fact, for our C4T monthly lunches (Christians for Transformation in Bermondsey & Rotherhithe) we usually have a bowl of soup in a church hall but, today we did go to the pub, and a very fine lunch we had at Wetherspoon's Pommeler's Rest in Tower Bridge Road.

Today we were joined by John, from Churches Together in South London, who has done some very interesting research about black majority churches.

Many of us share our buildings with such churches (as we very happily do at both St James and St Anne's) and the number of these churches has been growing steadily, although John thought that the growth may be starting to tail off with perhaps more black Christians wanting to worship in multi-racial churches.

After that it was back home for the one-year check up on our new vicarage. The contractors came to examine any final snags and repairs that need to be done before the contract is completed. In truth, there have been very few problems, except for some glitches with the heating, and we're living in a palace.

Then it was off to week two of our Bermondsey Christian Training course, the Big Picture, and that crucial question: what has gone wrong with the world? or, as we put it in the course publicity: 'would you Adam and Eve it?'

Everyone really got into the story and some great points were made.

For me the really powerful thing about Genesis 3 is that it shows the world as it is now and it is the basis of everything else that happens in Scripture.

Its as if the bible writers are saying: here's the problem (Gen 3) and now here's the answer (everything that follows right through to the end of revelation).

Next week: Abraham and the beginning of God's solution.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Realising our assets

Yesterday to Holy Trinity, Tooting for a meeting of the diocesan Urban Mission Group which began with a delicious chicken curry from one of the many local Indian take-aways.

The location was nostalgic for me because we began our married life just round the corner and I taught for five years at Ernest Bevin School nearby. As we left I was pleased to see some Bevin boys making their way home - same school uniform with the school's distinctive phoenix badge (right) - and I had happy memories of my time there teaching in the science department in the early 80s.

Our meeting was designed to consider how the 2011 census results could be used in planning the church's mission.

Very helpful it was, but the most interesting aspect was a presentation from Bethany of the Church Urban Fund about something I hadn't previously heard of but which they are strongly advocating: Asset Based Community Development.

Here's the idea: a lot of work being done in deprived communities adopts a needs-based approach.

It starts by looking at a community's problems. It tends to characterise people as victims in need of help. It often looks to the Government or the Council to bring in a solution from outside.

An asset-based approach, by contrast, starts by identifying a community's assets: its strengths, its strong points, its resources.

It believes the local people are the greatest asset of all and that they can change their own community from within.

CUF say that Asset Based Community Development isn't specifically Christian, but it resonates with a Christian understanding of the world. It celebrates what is good about a place. It celebrates everyone's gifts and believes everyone has a contribution to make. It is essentially positive and hopeful in outlook.

It's a good way for us to think about Bermondsey: what's good about the place? what are our assets? and not just what are the problems.

And its a good way to think about our churches and each other.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Getting the big picture

Bermondsey Christian Training resumed tonight with our new course, The Big Picture, designed to give an overview of the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation in eight weeks.

OK so we only covered one chapter tonight - Genesis chapter one - but that one chapter is foundational for everything else that follows.

It tells us the crucial truths that are the basis of everything else that is revealed in Scripture: (1) that there is one God who brought the universe into being from nothing by his word; (2) that human beings, uniquely among everything he has made, have been made in his image.

Everything else in the Bible flows from that.

We had a great start tonight with some really good points made in discussion and some good questions.

So roll on week two: what's gone wrong with the world

Nordic hospitality in Rotherhithe

To the Norwegian Seamen's Church, close to the entrance of the Rotherhithe Tunnel, for our deanery synod meeting.

The Norwegian and the Finnish churches in Rotherhithe date from the days when seamen from those countries were regularly arriving at the Surrey Docks nearby, but now the two churches serve the Norwegian and Finnish ex-pat communities throughout London.

Both are state churches deriving, as the Church of England does from the Reformation, so though its clergy are Lutherans, not Anglicans, they are full members of our deanery synods and chapters through the Porvoo Agreement which links the Church of England with the reformed churches of Scandinavia.

Last night's synod venue, a beautifully wood-panelled lounge, decorated with portraits of the King and Queen of Norway, set a new standard for synod meetings, as did the waffles and jam that our Norwegian hosts served with the coffee.
Church lounge at the Norwegian church

As for the synod, it was a good time for catching up as churches in Bermondsey & Rothehithe, with an opportunity to think about Mission Action Planning, intentional evangelism, food banks, and the new generosity based system for financing the diocese.

We also had time to think of two particular mission projects across the deanery: about developing our links with schools and making the best use of our church buildings for mission.

A good and productive meeting.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Behold the lamb

Paul came up with a cracking three point sermon at St James this morning on the episode in John 1 where John the Baptist points to Jesus and says 'behold, the lamb of God.'

We need to recognise who Jesus is, said Paul.We need to respond to him in the right way, and then with a third 'R,' we need to retell the story - to tell other people about Jesus, just as Andrew told his brother, Simon.

Mission Action Plans, soon to be on our agenda as a church, and intentional evangelism, said Paul, could all be part of the process.

It was an encouraging morning especially as our modest post-Christmas surge in numbers seemed to have continued.

Then, this afternoon, we were back in our old parish of Holy Trinity, Redhill for a church farewell tea for a beloved curate, Alex.

Either curates are getting younger, or I am getting older... (actually I think both those things are happening at once).

It seems only the other day that we were welcoming Alex, Kat, Ben, & Hannah to Redhill straight from theological college in Bristol and now, with a curacy completed with flying colours, they depart this Tuesday for the US where Alex is to Rector of a church outside Pittsburgh.

Soon it could be our turn in Bermondsey to welcome a curate, but in the meantime I'm praying that God will mightilly bless the Shuttleworths in their new home and parish.

We shall miss them.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Intentional in Peckham

To All Saints, Peckham, for the Woolwich Episcopal Area clergy study day.

This year's theme, under Bishop Michael's leadership, was church growth. Six of us, including me, were asked to give a 7-8 minute overview of our parish context and mission, as a kind of taster for workshops that we were to lead in pairs in the afternoon.

I began like this:

'Pie and Mash. Jellied Eels. Pearly Kings & Queens. Albins & Sons. Simon Hughes. The Jubilee line. Millwall Football Club. Custard Creams. Garibaldi Biscuits (both invented in Bermondsey). The second highest number of council tenants of any constituency in parliament, yuppies living by the river, Nigerians, Poles, Ugandans, Finns, Germans, Chinese and French. Mix that all up and you get Bermondsey in 2014'

And I went on to talk about the key features of the area and the principal mission challenge. I referred to General Synod's recent motion about 'intentional evangelism' and suggested we mustn't rely on a kind of passive evangelism - just waiting for people to turn up at church - but that we need to make a deliberate effort to meet people where they are. In that sense 'intentional' is a good word - we need a definite plan and strategy and, of course, that's what we are actively working on here at St James & St Anne's.

We also heard a very stirring and moving presentation from the Church Army mission centre in the borough of Greenwich where they are doing some amazing outreach work in very deprived communities, and fellow blogger, David 'Cookiedays' Cooke, was with us from Holy Trinity, Barmes where he is leading a new church plant/graft. In fact, If I hadn't been leading a workshop myself, I would have gone to hear a bit more about what Cookie was up to - but from what I did hear beforehand  it sounded very good and I was glad Archdeacon Jane had brought him over from Barnes to share with us in Woolwich.

All in all it was a very encouraging day.

Nice lunch, too.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Unless the Lord builds the school

There was a bumper turn out for our second monthly prayer meeting for St James School with parents, governors, staff, and clergy all represented at our 9am meeting in Stewart Hartley House at Alexis St.

It was good to pray for the work of the school and for particular families facing challenging times.

We began with those well-known words from Ps 127, 'Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain,' reminding us that God's work has to be done in God's way, and that's where prayer comes in.

It's appropriate that the building in which we meet, the old school, house at Alexis St, is named after my predecessor as vicar of St James, because Stewart did so much to nurture the life of the school, and it was during his time that the old Alma School amalgamated with St James's School to creat our present, expanded, dual-site church school serving the community here in Bermondsey. 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Heaven in Bermondsey

Lindisfarne, according to tonight's Songs of Praise, is a place particularly close to heaven.

Undoubtedly, its a place of great natural beauty, and holy people have been drawn there over the years, but is it really any closer to heaven than Bermondsey?

The Beeb loves picturesque settings for its Sunday afternoon hymn singing and it rarely visits the inner city, (Cathedrals excepted), and lots of people say they feel closer to God in the country, by the sea, or up a mountain, so another mark down for the inner city yet....

The Bible starts in a garden but ends in a city.

Read to the end of the Scriptures and you find not am empty field but a bustling city of every tribe, language and nation.

Here at St James and St Anne's, we may not be drawn from every tribe, language and nation, but the wonderful mixture of people that gather for worship here, really is a little forestate of the life of the world to come.

In that sense, Bermondsey's closer to heaven than you might think.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

New year new starts

It's not every day a member of the congregation is appointed a Minister of State in Her Majesty's Government.

Here in Bermondsey we are proud of our member of parliament, Simon Hughes, and we were delighted when he asked if he could come to St James on the first Sunday of the new year for act of dedication as he begins to take up his new responsibilities as Minister for Justice and Civil Liberties.

Simon's new  responsibilities are huge and weighty. The media are often very critical of politicians - sometimes, rightly so - but it is also important to be realistic about the scale of the challenges they face. They need our prayers, as Simon freely confessed today.

Today as well as being the first Sunday of the new year, it was the eve of the feast of the Epiphany, so we thought of the wise men who knelt before the baby Jesus and worshipped him and considered how millions down the centuries have followed their lead in recognising his kingly reign.

With Simon's act of dedication in view we we considered how a 'minister' is literally 'a servant' - in our parliamentary democracy, a servant of the Crown and the people. 'The wisest of Her Majesty's ministers' I suggested 'follow her lead in placing their humble trust in the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, not leaning on their own understanding, but seeking to be led in his ways.'

Then off for another new start, not for us in Bermondey but for the congregation of the All Souls Clubhouse where ex-Redhill colleague, Luke, was to be licensed this afternoon as the new vicar of the church-cum-community centre run by All Souls Church in London, W1.

It was great to be there for this significant moment for Luke, Smaragda and the children and it was especially good to hear the Bishop of London's scintillating vision for his diocese.

In his sermon he explained his vision for 2020 in London with 100,000 Christians equipped to explain the reason for the hope that is in them, a 50 per cent increase in ordinands,and a commitment to three key priorities:

1. Confidence in the Gospel. The Gospel is not good advice, but Good News, the Good News that the word became flesh and lived amongst us.

2. The compassion of Christ shared widely with communities across London, thransforming lives with his love

3. Creativity - communicating the Gospel in creative and fresh ways. (The Bishop, who said he was in the 'springtime of his senility,' looked to young fellows like Luke to come up with new and imaginative ways of  communicating the Gospel....... I'm sure Luke will do that, but  it did strike me that the bishop isn't doing too bad himself).

The London 2020 vision could with profit cross the river to our own diocese, too.