Friday, 18 September 2020

Life in a pandemic


I've been reading these novels alongside each other, one from the 18th century by Daniel Defoe, one from the 20th by Albert Camus. Both explore life in a pandemic. 

Neither could be recommended if you're wanting to cheer yourself up, but they are full of so many insights and points of contact with our current experience.
This from Camus is particularly powerful:
 'A pestilence isn't a thing made to man's measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogey of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn't pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away.....
Our townspeople were not more to blame than others, they
forgot to be modest - that was all - and thought that everything was still possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. 

 They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like a plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views? 
They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.'

Bermondsey Daily Message 150

 Wow! We have reached our 150th Bermondsey Daily Message:

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Get ready for the Bermondsey harvest festival

Today we have been out filming for our online Bermondsey Community Harvest Festival which will go live on YouTube during the first weekend in October.

From Russell's fish stall at the Blue, to Maltby Greek under the arches, to Nancy's flower shop in Jamaica Rd, to all the things we buy and enjoy from the local supermarkets, like the Co-Op in Thurland Rd, all the benefits of God's wonderful harvest will be celebrated in our online harvest festival.

Harvest is also a time, not just for giving thanks, but also for sharing and this year, as every year, we will be collecting non-perishable foods for the work of the Manna Society at London Bridge in its work among homeless people - so our last visit was to Manna to speak to the director, Bandi Mbubi.

I first got to know Bandi in 1991 when, soon after he became a Christian, he joined the congregation at St Luke's, West Norwood, where I was the curate. It was excellent to see him again and wonderful to think of all the good work that Manna does and how our harvest gifts can make such a difference to so many people.

We've still got some filming to do down at the allotments, but it looks like our Bermondsey Community Harvest Festival is going to be a great event - look out for it here, on Facebook, and on YouTube during the first weekend of October.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Blitz over Bermondsey

Eighty years ago this month the bombs started falling on Bermondsey and they continued to fall for 57 consecutive days.

The first day of the Blitz, 7th September, was a terrible one for our community with 23 people killed on Linsey Street and 29 dying when  Keeton School, which was being used as a rest centre, was hit. In all, in 1940 Bermondsey experienced 395 air raids in the space of three months.
Here is today's Bermondsey Daily Message from the crypt of St James's Church which was used as an air raid shelter during the war:

On the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the blitz Sir Simon Hughes said this on Twitter: 'We must never forget the price paid by our communities at home during WW2, always be thankful for the transformation of Germany into a great, democratic and peace-loving ally, & always be watchful & prepared should others use force to take freedom from their own people or others.' Wise words.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Bermondsey Daily Message 147

A Bermondsey Daily Message special about a special couple who had a big impact on the people of Bermondsey:

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Church Assembly at St James School

Every Tuesday at St James's School the church ministry team lead acts of collective worship for all the children on both sites of the school, Old Jamaica Rd and Alexis Street.

Covid regulations mean that assemblies have to take place in 'class bubbles' and, for the time being, whole school or even half school assemblies are a thing of the past.

So our weekly church assemblies are going online and here is the first one from Jacob - in their classes the children will have the opening words of worship we use for every assembly, will say the Lord's Prayer and will sing God's praose - but here is the talk with the Bible message for today:

Monday, 7 September 2020

Remembering the Mayflower


On Friday night we were privileged to be part of a wonderful Mayflower commemorative cruise along the Thames to Blackwall (where the pilgrims embarked in 1620), that included 17th century music, an escort through the precints of the Tower of London by the Yeoman of the Guard, the scattering of roses on the river in memory of the 102 pilgrims and the reading of their names, together with prayers and readings from the King James Bible, just 9 years old in 1620.
 There were two boats, the sailing barge shown, and a larger City Cruises vessel that carried most of the party, including the group from St James, from this boat I and the other ministers led the act of commemoration and thanksgiving. A most memorable evening.

And here is our Bermondsey Daily Message about the voyage of the Mayflower:

Bermondsey Daily Message 144

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Mayflower: the London dimension

I have just finished this local author and historian Graham Taylor.

Graham's book is full of insight and interest, not least the focus it gives to the crucial London dimension of the Mayflower story, and its brilliant explanation of who the pilgrims were, what motivated them, and what they bequeathed to us in terms of the freedom of religion and the right for individuals to live according to their conscience. 

 It's an excellent read, full of fascinating detail. I particular enjoyed reading the names the pilgrims gave to their children: eg Humility, Resolved, Desire, Wrestling, Love (a boy),  and the baby that was born on the voyage, Oceanus.

Back to church Sunday

 Here's the scene at St Anne's, ready for our first socially-distanced, Covid-friendly Sunday service since the lockdown began.

It's been twenty four Sundays since we have been together, and it was good to be back at St James and St Anne's, even if the Covid regulations made the seating arrangements and the content of the service somewhat different from usual.


Socially distanced worship in St James, downstairs and also in the gallery upstairs

 Recognising not everyone would be able or comfortable to attend live worship, our online services continued as usual, and here is today's service:

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Churches re-open for Sundays

Both our churches re-open for worship this Sunday, but online services will continue each week as well.

Bermondsey Daily Message 139

Today's Bermondsey Daily Message comes from the Salmon Youth Centre

Friday, 28 August 2020

Tyndale and the life-giving Scriptures

Tucked away in Whitehall Gardens, near the Embankment, is the memorial to the great bible translator amd martyr who famously said: 'If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who drives a plough to know more of the scriptures than you do.'

The accompanying plaque (belows) records that as  Tyndale died, he prayed 'Lord, open the king of England's eyes' and that within a year of his death, a copy of the Bible was placed in every parish church of the land by Royal command.


Bermondsey Daily Message 136

Friday, 7 August 2020

Bermondsey Daily Message

You can view our Bermondsey Daily Messages here

You can view our Sunday services here

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Ada's beautification plan

Ada Salter, Bermondsey's first woman mayor, had a plan to transform the local community by bringing the beauty of God's creation into the daily lives of Bermondsey's people. Here is the story in today's daily message:

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Paupers' Galleries - Daily Message 113

Today we ascend the narrow staircases to the  galleries in St James, just below the ceiling, which were reserved for the very poor.

There are four of these Paupers' Galleries but should they be there at all?

Listen to today's message...

Inside one of the four Paupers' Galleries
The identation, just below the ceiling, indicates where the Paupers' Galleries (now blocked in ) are located

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Bermondsey Daily Message 109

If you're a cheating cricketer, an errant political advisor, or the latest person to be named and shamed on Twitter, here's some good news...

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Thursday, 23 July 2020

The Mayflower sets sail

Four hundred years ago this month a ship set sail from Rotherhithe, captained by local man, Christopher Jones, and changed the history of the world.

Who were the Pilgrims and what was the  revolutionary idea  that changed civilisation on both sides of the Atlantic? Find out in today's Bermondsey Daily Message:

Friday, 17 July 2020

One hundred, not out

Today we reach our one hundreth Bermondsey Daily Message.

The first Bermondsey Daily Message went live on Monday 23rd March.

When Coronavirus started to grip we had the idea of a daily message of encouragement and hope from scripture delivered on location in Bermondsey.

On Saturday 21st wthe three of us filmed our first three messages: one at the Blue, one on the Lucey way estate, and one outside the Queen Victoria pub.

Soon after that further restrictions came in that meant we had to film alone (either using a camera and tripod - or for outside videos, our phones and a selfie stick) and we could only go outside for exercise walks, so that cut down the scope for videos on location, though we still tried to do them when we could.

Anyway, we have kept going, and Adrian and Penny, have joined our team, and by the grace of God, beautiful words from the beautiful book have continued to reach across Bermondsey and beyond.

Here is today's message, and as a bit of nostalgia, our very first message, Bermondsey Daily Message No. 1, delivered on a sunny, cold, and very windy March morning at the Blue:

Thursday, 16 July 2020

God bless our leavers

Today the church would have been packed with more than 500 children for St James's School end of term service to say good bye to our year 6 leavers. 

Instead, year 6 came in three portions, a bubble at a time, as Paul and Penny led the service.

Still we heard their memories, still we prayed for them, and still we gave them their bibles. 

It was the strangest leavers service ever but God's love is unchanging and He goes with them wherever they go. God bless our leavers.

Thank you to Pat for the photos

Bermondsey Daily Message 99

Tuesday, 14 July 2020


One of the world's leading biblical scholars, Tom Wright, and leading geneticist, Francis Collins have teamed up for this brilliant lockdown retelling of the story of Genesis to the tune of 'yesterday:'

Bermondsey Daily Message 97

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Today's service

In today's Sunday service we say farewell to Bishop Graham and Ali Kings as they move to Cambridge in retirement:

Monday, 6 July 2020

God bless the NHS

A special Bermondsey Daily Message for the 72nd birthday of the National Health service

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Bermondsey Daily Message 87

On the 31st anniversary of his ordination, Gary talks about the tools of the trade of a minister:

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

EMA 2020

So much has had to go online as a result of the Cornavirus, including the annual Evangelical Ministry Assemly which we attend each year in London, and which began today:

You can watch today's instalment of the conference here

Bermondsey Daily Message 79

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Church open

After thirteen weeks of Coronavirus closure, St James & St Anne's re-opened today for private prayer, in accordance with Government guidelines.

St James will be open on Saturdays and Wednesday from 11am to 1pm, and St Anne's can be accessed at any time by obtaining the key from Captian Paul Warren.

A big thank you to everyone who was worked hard to get the buildings ready again for public use.

Churches re-open

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Into the Lion's Den

With professional football starting back, Jacob takes a trip to the home of Millwall FC:

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Remembering Grenfell

This evening our bell-ringers tolled the muffled tenor bell of St James 72 times, in memory of the 72 lives lost at Grenfell exactly three years ago, as part of a London-wide commemoration. You can view an excerpt above. Thank you Dockland Ringers.

Back in 2017 I wrote on this blog about my own experience of living in a high rise block in Battersea in the mid sixties:

"This is Selworthy House in Battersea where my family lived on the nineteenth floor for three years in the 1960s.

As a former tenant of a council tower block my thoughts and prayers have particularly been with the residents of Grenfell Tower over the past few days.

My younger brother and I rather enjoyed living in Selworthy. The views were terrific and each day we raced each other the 38 flights of stairs to the ground floor on our way to school, timing ourselves by the factory clock opposite. (There was a lift - but we were young and liked the run down the stairs).

Years later, for a theological college project, I interviewed my Dad about our time at Selworthy.

He said two things that have stuck in my mind.

First he said, 'it was like we were just a number, not a family.' Secondly he said, 'I always worried about how we would get out if there was a fire.'

To be honest  I have come to loathe tower blocks with a passion. Even if you get the fire safety and maintenance right (and we have seen that even that is a big if), high rise living is disastrous for family life. It doesn't work for kids and it doesn't work for parents - who like to supervise their children when they play out.

Years later I was a vicar on a council estate where they got it right: houses in streets, with gardens. The tenants loved it and community life flourished.

That estate, St Helier, was built in the 1930s. Selworthy was built in the 1960s; it was not a step forward. The small terraced houses that were demolished to make way for Selworthy could have been replaced with something similar, or just repaired. If the local people had been asked, that is what they would have said, but no one asked them.

By all means let's make our tower blocks safer, but let's also accept that sometime in the 1960s we took a wrong turning. The St Helier estate of the 1930s shows a better way forward:"

Today's service

Today's Sunday service will premiere here at 10.30am

Friday, 12 June 2020


Statues are in the news

Apart from this statue (above), I regard all other statues to be of morally flawed individuals. In fact every single one of the statues in this great city of ours is of a sinner.

If we want to rid our streets of sinners we could get rid of all of them, but, when I see a statue, here's what goes through my mind: somebody thought there was something memorable or worthy about this person to celebrate. What was it? Do I agree? 

Even if I do, I know that the individual will (like myself) be a deeply flawed individual, capable of that peculiarly human mixture of being able to do very good and very bad things.

Let's celebrate the good, and reject the bad. Let's allow our monuments to stand but let's critically evaluate our history and ourselves.

Only of Jesus was it said that he was 'without sin' (Hebrews 4.15). And his challenge, surely relevant in the present climate was, 'let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.'

Bermondsey Daily Message 71

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

All change!

The Whitsunday when everything changed in England:

Here's the title page of the book that gave the people of England the worship of God in a language they could understand:

And here's what the Articles of the Church of England have to say about it:

XXIV. Of Speaking in the Congregation in such a Tongue as the people understandeth.
It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people.


Great stuff and the good thing is that the idea spread around the world so that people of every language could have the Bible and the prayer book in their language, too. 


Today we have got to keep up the challenge, using English, yes, but also the straightforward easy-to-undertstand English that anyone can understand, because anyone and everyone needs to hear the message of God's love in a way they can understand,  (that is, 'in such a Tongue as the people understandeth')


Sunday, 7 June 2020

Out of the mountain of despair, the stone of hope

'Out of the mountain of despair, the stone of hope' - the national memorial to Martin Luther King Junior in Washingtonm DC
Some concluding thoughts from my sabbatical study about slavery, civil rights, and black Christians in the southern US, as we turn to a biblical perspective:

As I consider the history of slavery and civil rights I am impressed once again by the power of biblical doctrine to explain, encompass and give value to the whole of human experience. The Christian vision of mankind points to the unique dignity and value of human beings, made in the image and likeness of God. They are the very pinnacle of creation. As the psalmist exclaims:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet:

In a nutshell that is why slavery is wrong. That is why the treatment meted out to blacks after the end of slavery is wrong. It simply failed to treat people in a way consistent with their human dignity and worth as beings created in the image and likeness of God. Even for administrative purposes, to treat a human being, infinitely precious in God’s sight, as 3/5ths of a person as the US Constitution appears to do, is go against the whole grain of creation, and in biblical terms, it must be seen as an act of rebellion against the creator.

Alongside the Bible’s understanding of the dignity and worth of human beings made in the image of God, is a sober estimation of the fallenness of humanity and its capacity for evil. The Apostle Paul explains that this is a universal problem affecting the whole human race when he declares all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’  The prophet Jeremiah locates mankind’s problem in the human heart itself: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’; and Jesus concurs: ‘For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.’

Beautiful human beings, made in the image of God, when they act in rebellion to their creator, are capable of the ugliest deeds, including the evils of slavery and racism.

If the Biblical vision explains why slavery is wrong and why it happened, it also points to its solution in the cross of Christ.

The cross demonstrates that sin and violence can be overcome. It offers a way, via repentance and forgiveness, to reconciliation.

As we have seen the American Civil Rights movement was heavily indebted to the Christian understanding of creation and salvation which provided the moral outrage against racism and slavery, and, especially through the influence of Martin Luther King, a distinctively Christian response to evil that encompassed non-violence, forgiveness and reconciliation.

It is telling that the memorial (above) to the four girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing is entitled ‘The Love that Forgives.’

Ultimately the Christian vision points to the re-creation of the re-creation of the universe, a new heaven and a new earth, where sin and suffering are no more:  

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

This eschatological vision sustained the Civil Rights movement.  In Washington DC Martin Luther King famously declared ‘I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.’

The vision of Revelation is of a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb’  King and the others knew that this vision was of how things will be and also how they should be.

It guided their work as they sought, and prayed for the day when ‘justice (would) roll down like waters. And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.’

The Hallelujah Statue at the Whitney Plamtation in Louisiana, depicting the joy of an enslaved man on the day of emancipation