Friday, 25 May 2018

Celebrating the creation

Hot foot from church last Sunday we headed for the station and a train to Cambridge to visit the village of Coton (with our friends from theological college days, Simon and Anne)  where Alan Storkey, a lecturer from Oak Hill College, had an exhibition of his artwork.

Alan is a man of many parts: economist, sociologist, philospher. At college he taught us Sociology, Family Perspectives, and Pastoral Studies. He has a knack of looking at things in a fresh way, and of bringing a biblically informed Christian mind to any topic.

On top of this he is a thoroughly nice bloke - and an artist.

Various paintings by Alan were dotted around the college in our time (including this one on the right), but here in the village where he lived, was a wonderful display of his creativity (I'll come back to that) displayed in the church, the village hall, and the churchyard.

What was really good, in addition to seeing Alan, and his wife, Elaine, again, was hearing Alan's explanation of his work.

In his terms, it is not so much his creativity that is on display, but God's. What Alan has been trying to do is to display the infinite creativity of the creator God.

In my view, he has done that brilliantly. Scroll down for a bit more of the wonderful exhibition we enjoyed last Sunday:

Jesus teaching the crowds

John Stott, bible teacher

And finally the artist himself (middle):

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Christ the worker

Just back from a three day residential at the diocesan retreat house, Wychcroft, in beautiful Surrey countryside, a few miles from the M25, and an amazingly tranquil spot.

The incumbents (ie vicars) who are receiving new curates this July were there for a bit of intensive training and preparation.

Here in Bermondsey we are very much looking forward to welcoming Jacob Mercer as our new curate after his ordination on 30th June at Southwark Cathedral.

One of the joys of Wychcroft is worshipping in the Chapel of the People of God, with this wonderful picture of Christ the Worker, so relevant for our largely urban diocese.

It is the resurrected, possibly even the ascended Christ, that is portrayed. The wounds in his hands and feet are clearly visible, but here's the bit that really struck me: he is still wearing his carpenter's apron.

I love that testimony to the humanity of the risen and ascended Lord, fully God, fully human, reigning in heaven but still bearing the wounds of his saving death for us, and still wearing his workman's robes, as a reminder that he lived and worked among us for thirty years before he began his ministry of teaching and proclaiming the kingdom of God.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

When Harry married Meghan

The BBC man kept saying 'this is unlike any other royal wedding there has ever been,' but that was almost the opposite of what struck me, namely, how similar Harry and Meghan's wedding was to every other wedding that takes place in the Church of England, and that's what I liked best about it.

OK the guest list, the trumpeters, the horses and the location were something special, but the really important bits, the words, were the same, which is just as it should be.

And when it came to the vows (above) it was one man promising to one woman for life, and then one woman making the same promises to one man for life.

They used their Christian names at that point, not their titles, because they were two individuals making their promises to each other in the sight of God.

And the words they used, based on those ancient words of the English prayer book, deeply rooted in what the Bible means by 'love' and what the Bible means by 'marriage' are the words used by every couple: I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part.

Unusually the sermon made no reference to marriage, but the vows preached their own sermon about the union of one man and one woman for life, according to God's wonderful plan.

So, may God bless Harry and Meghan, today and every day, and, here's some really good news: if you're not yet married you can have a wedding at St James, just like Harry & Meghan's, minus the royal bits, of course, but including all those wonderful words from the wedding service.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Here comes the bride at Alexis St and OJR

On the eve of the royal wedding, St James's School, was busilly getting ready for tomorrow's celebrations.

First up, we had a special Royal Wedding assembly at both sites.

We had children playing the part of bride, groom, best man, the bridesmaids and the bride's father, and at Alexis Street we all had the Queen and a gaggle of royal princesses.

The children clapped as the bride walked down the aisle to the Bridal March, and, again at the end, when bride and groom walked out the Wedding March followed by the wedding party.

We also practised the wedding vows, the special promises at the heart of the service.

Before we began I asked the children what they thought was important about marriage. They said it was about making a promise and trying to keep it for your whole life. They said it was about trust. They said it was about starting a new family, with the bride taking a new name, and being called Mrs instead of Miss.

In the afternoon, at both sites the children were having a Royal Wedding picnic, complete with crowns and cucumber sandwiches, before giving a resounding three cheers to Harry and Megan.

Above are the younger children at Old Jamaica Road, and here is Year 2 Austria toasting the royal couple with apple juice:

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Walking with Jesus in Bermondsey

Starting from a be-scaffolded St James, tonight we had our Thy Kingdom Come prayer walk around our two parishes.

It was good to stop and pray for the local churches, the schools, the people who live on the estates, the people who stop at the Blue, in fact, anyone and everyone who lives or works in Bermondsey.

Along the way we read from Mark's Gospel about the ministry of Jesus: how John the Baptist came crying 'prepare the way' - praying that God would prepare the way into people's hearts in Bermondsey.

Lucey Way
How Jesus proclaimed the Good News and called
for the fishermen to lay down their nets and follow him, praying that people in our community would hear and respond to Jesus's call to follow him.

How the people of his day were astonished at his teaching, 'for he taught them as one who taught with authority',  praying especially from this passage for the children of St James's School that they would learn from Jesus.

St James's School

How he reached out with love to the leper, touched him, and made him clean, praying that the people of our community would feel the touch of Jesus in their lives.

How he met with sinners and tax collectors, because he had come 'not to call the righteous but sinners,' praying for the places where our community comes together, such at at the Blue.

How he walked on the water and said to the terrified disciples: 'take heart, it is I, have no fear', praying that we would be courageous, not fearful, in engaging in God's mission, knowing Jesus is with us., as we came to the River and prayed for the city of London as a whole, with its thousands of churches and millions of people: Thy Kingdom Come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

St Anne's
The Blue

Thy will be done in London as in heaven

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

The right kind of politician

In the midst of Thy Kingdom Come, the ten day wave of prayer between Ascension and Pentecost, today's bible reading (Deuteronomy 17.8-20) at Morning Prayer at St Anne's seemed strangely relevant.

In the section headed by the Good News Bible 'Instructions Concerning a King' (read 'prime minister' or 'president' or 'government') we hear that the king must be:

1. The man chosen by God
2. He must not have too many horses (ie he must not be too powerful)
3. He must not have 'many wives' (ie he must be maritally faithful and sexually continent).
4. He is not to make himself rich (ie not financially corrupt).
5. He mustn't think himself better than his fellow citizens
6. He must have a copy of the 'book of God's laws' made from an orginal copy (ie he mustn't change them for his own convenience) and, crucially 'he must keep this book near him and read from it all his life, so that he will learn to honour the Lord and to obey faithfully everything commanded in it.'

What misery would be avoided if every leader of the nations followed that advice, and what a marvellous guide those verses offer as we pray 'Thy kingdom Come' for our nation and every nation.

The last stipulation about the 'book of God's laws' reminded me of something Sir Simon Hughes told me about when he was sworn in as a member of the Privy Council: each new member of Her Majesty's Council, serving ministers and members of the opposition, having sworn the oath, is presented with a copy of the New Testament.

Let's pray during Thy Kingdom Come, that we have godly politicians who will read it and live by it.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Growing the church in Redhill

Although, I have been back a number of times for funerals and social events, this was my first Sunday visit  to my old parish of Holy Trinity, Redhill since we moved to Bermondsey five years ago.

While the current vicar, Mick, is enjoying a well earned sabbatical, a number of the former staff from Holy Trinity have been invited back to preach, including me.

Sundays are busy in Redhill with services taking place at 9.15am, 11am, 4pm and 7pm. The first three, though differing a bit in style, have the same sermon, so you really get to practise your message.

Holy Trinity, Redhill
9.15am, the largest of the three congregations is contemporary in style with a worship band and lots of families. 11am is more traditional with the organ and a singing group.

4pm, the newest of the congregations, is also contemporary in style, and also has lots of families. It was particularly noticeable that there were so many boys and dads at this service. Judging by the news shared in the family news time, a lot of these young lads are keen footballers, and the 4pm service allows the whole family to worship together after Sunday morning sporting engagements have been completed.

It was great to see how this service has grown and flourished. Probably a majority of those there had joined in the last five years. A wonderful sign of life and vitality.

The very best bit for us of course was seeing so many old friends. Sitting at the front of church at the 9.15am service I was quite overcome at the sight of the lovely Redhillers whose lives we were privileged to share for eleven years.

During the day I had a number of 1 Thessalonians 3v8 moments.

In that verse, the Apostle recounts the encouraging news he has heard from a church where he had previously ministered and says 'now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.' 

How excellent it is to come back and see people standing firm in the Lord, especially those who we had known as new or very young Christians.

It was good to be back, and to see many signs of spiritual growth, and also physical growth - especially big strapping teenagers who I remembered as quite small children.

A few doors down outside the vicarage was another remarkable sign of growth, the Eucalyptus Tree (above) that I planted as a spindly sapling in 2004. It must be that Redhill soil.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

On Ascension Day, send us out....

Bishop Karowei came to St James on Ascension Day for our Bermondsey launch of 'Thy Kingdom Come', a global wave of prayer from Ascension to Pentecost.

Whilst with us he formally licensed Simon Lewis (left) as our honorary curate and he commissioned me as Area Dean of Bermondsey, before commissioning us all to go forth in God's mission.
Simon receives his license

Other churches from the Deanery and from C4T (Churches Together in Bermondsey and Rothehithe) were with us for this evening of PRAYER AND PRAISE as we sang God's praise, heard his word, and prayed for the local churches, the local community, and the nations of the world.

St James's great painting of the Ascension, our readings from Scripture, the Bishop's talk, and several contributions from those who introduced the time of prayer, all pointed to the significance of the Ascension: the reigning king, who sends his people out to proclaim the Good News in the power of the Spirit.

It was good to be together. It was good to pray. It was good to be sent out. And it was good to hear those words of the Lord Jesus, emblazoned across the bottom of our Ascension picture, 'Lo. I am with you always.'

Commissioning as Area Dean

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

We explored the meaning of life

Today was the last session of our Alpha course at St James's and St Anne's.

Pictured here with course member, Asha, is the celebration cake she made for the occasion, complete with the Alpha '?' logo and her reference to the Alpha motto with the words 'We explored the meaning of life.'

Thanks Asha for providing a memorable ending to the course, and thank you to everyone who has been on the course, exploring the meaning of life as found in Jesus Christ.

Next up: a number of our Alpha members will be baptised and confirmed on June 24th, and details of our Alpha follow up course will be announced soon. 

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Counting the blessings with Alice

For several months long-term St James member, Alice, has not been able to be present in church on Sunday.

Following her liver transplant she had to keep away from large gatherings of people, but her post-op quarantine period is now over, and Alice, together with a great crowd of family members, came to church today to give thanks to God for her recovery.

It was great to see her so well, happy and smiling, full of faith and thanksgiving to God.

Alice and her three children
Back home in Uganda, acts of thanksgiving, like the one we held today, are a regular feature of church life. Family members come to church, kneel in thanksgiving, make an offering to the Lord, and sing - a favourite choice, and Alice's for today, being 'Count your blessings, count them one by one.'

Given all they have been through, these words, were powerfully appropriate:

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;

Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what
God hath done.

In the story of the ten lepers in the Gospels, ten were healed, but only one came back to give thanks. Thank you Alice, for allowing us to share in your thanksgiving and reminding us how good it is to give thanks to the Lord and, yes, count our blessings.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Thy Kingdom Come

Thy Kingdom Come, the Archbishops's international prayer initiative, will be launched in Bermondsey next Thursday (Ascension Day), when Bishop Karowei will be with us for a service of prayer, praise and commissioning in St James at 7.30pm (refreshments from 7pm).

Other churches in the deanery, together with our friends from C4T (Christians for Transformation in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe) are all invited as we come together to pray for the local community, the church and the world.

To get us into the mood here is the latest Thy Kingdom Come video, featuring the Archbishop and his baby grandson,  which we will be watching in church on Sunday.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Dragon news

'Repair work breathes new life into the Bermondsey dragon' is this week's page three headline in Southwark News in a feature about St James's dragon and the stonework repairs that are about to take place on the church tower.

Have a look at it  here

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Please, no explanations...

Preaching at St George's, Morden last night (see previous post) I was telling the congregation about the signs posted outside some of the churches we visited on last September's Pilgrimmage to the Holy Land.

The custodians of these churches want to keep them as places for quiet prayer and reflection, but tourist guides with their  explanations of the history and architecture of the building to their parties, delivered at full volume in order to be heard over the hubbub created by all the other guides, rather disturbs the atmosphere of calm and peace.

Hence the 'prayer only' notices  requesting 'no explanations inside the church.'

I sympathise with the custodians of these holy places, but the church is really supposed to be a place of explanations.  That was the point I was making last night at St George's as they received their new vicar.

We need lots of explanations, about the wonderful God who made us, about his plan of salvation,
about how we can come to know him through his Son, Jesus Christ, about how his Spirit can come to live within us.

None of these things we would ever know, without them being lovingly explained, by a pastor or a  friend, with the Bible in their hands, and God's word dwelling in their hearts.

Thank God for explainers, and thank God the Church is the place where the really important things in life can be explained.