Thursday, 30 December 2021

Seeking respect in back row America


Chris Armade was from 'front row America' - he was a Wall Street banker and part of the elite who ran the country. Then he took a long trip across the nation to visit the people of 'backrow America', the sex workers, the alcoholics, the drug addicts, the homeless, the urban poor.
He took his camera and he photographed them (they loved to be photographed) and he listened and he listened and wrote it all down in his extraordinary: 'Dignity, Seeking Respect in Backrow America.'
The subtitle came from what he discovered: these people at the bottom of the pile valued their dignity above all things and did everything they could to uphold it, even in the most trying conditions. And he came to see their dignity and to value it.

There were two places where he knew he could always find the 'backrow people' , two places where they loved to go and where they would always gather: McDonald's and the churches.
In every place they gathered at McDonalds. It was always open, the food was cheap, it was warm, there was free WiFi, you could use the bathrooms and have a wash. It was the place where you could meet your friends. When Armade asked street people where they would like to meet him for a chat they always said 'McDonalds.'
Front row America sneered at McDonalds and laughed at those who ate there and worked there. But back row America loves the big M.
Every week on his journey Armade, a self-confessed atheist, went to a backrow church, often small, often meeting in a storefront or near derelict industrial building, usually evangelical or pentecostal, a church led by the people for the people.
Armade says 'I kept finding myself in churches, as I kept finding myself in McDonalds, because the people I wanted to learn from, spent their time there.'
Why do the backrow people prefer the churches to the community centres, the welfare offices, the other expressions of official America? 
Here's what Armade says: 'They walk inside the church and immediately they meet people who get them. The preachers and congregants inside may preach to them and even judge their past decisions, but they don't look down on them. They have walked the walk and know.... (what) they are going through...from their own lives or the lives of their friends. They look like them and they get them.'
And then Armade, who by now has moved from being an atheist to being an agnostic - I think because he can no longer say there is nothing in this what these people believe (even though he doesn't share their beliefs himself he doesn't want to negate them entirely) - has this brilliant paragraph:
'There are rules to follow if you join, but they don't require having your paperwork in order, having proper ID. They don't require getting grilled about this and that. They say "enter as you are," letting forgiveness wash away a past that many want gone. You are welcome as long as you try. The churches understand the streets, understand that everyone is a sinner, and everyone fails. In their minds, the rest of the world - the courts, the hospitals, the rehab clinics, the welfare office, police stations and even some of the nonprofits and schools...doesn't understand them. The cold, secular world of the well-intentioned is a distant and judgmental thing. The world has given them seemingly nothing but pain'
'This is how it is on the streets. Faith is the reality and the source of hope.'
In one church Armade visits, 'everyone in attendance takes a turn at the front either singing, reading, preaching or chanting.' A man walks round 'calling out scriptures like an auctioneer,' children read out little speeches handwritten on lined paper, a man says 'I used to drink all the time until I discovered the Lord...I've been free from booze for fourteen years' and a woman tells the congregation 'I have had it rough, but with you and the Lord, I will keep my head up high' and then three women sing:
Get up, get up, get up in Jesus name!
The Lord is calling daily to those who would be saved
Don't go down defeated while victory's here to claim
Get up, get up, get up in Jesus name
Oh at the gate called beautiful, they're laid out in the street
A poor and lowly beggar was crippled in his feet
As John and Peter passed him, they saw has need was bad
Well they had no gold and silver but they gave him what they had
At the end they all hug, shake hands, and then go out for a smoke.

Saturday, 25 December 2021

Friday, 24 December 2021


If you weren't able to come to tonight's Christingle at St James, why not watch our online by clicking on the link below:


Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Bermondsey Community Carol Service

 Our Bermondsey Community Carol Service includes readings from Neil Coyle MP, Simon Dyer of Albins, the Headteacher of St James School, and Russell Dryden from the Blue, plus lots of traditional carols, what local people think of Christmas, and solo by Jay Britton:

Monday, 20 December 2021

Odel's Bermondsey Christmas


We have loved having Odel, our placement student from All Nations Christian College, with us for the past week.

Odel has participated in a full range of Christmas activities: Christingles, carol services, leafletting and outreach, school nativity and carol services. He has eaten his first mince pie and he has had the chance to compare Christmas customs between his native Rwanda and the UK.

And he has had the chance to view the Christmas lights in the West End (pictured).

Sunday, 19 December 2021

A Christmas message from Carols by Candlelight at St James


‘Find the right sofa and the rest falls into place’ advertising letter

 If only life was really like that, if only things could make us really happy. If only all you needed was to get the right sofa in your lounge, the right car outside your house, the right dishwasher in the kitchen, and the right clothes in the wardrobe – and, bingo, everything in your life falls into place! If only. Life would be so much easier.

Yet, tempting though it is to believe the adverts that bombard us from all directions –we know in our hearts of hearts they’re very clever fibs. They’re modern day fairy stories, with as much connection with real life as Jack & his Beanstalk, or Snow White and the seven dwarves

 But you and I know its all ‘make believe.’ To really sort your life out, you’re going need something more than a re-arrangement of the furniture in your living room. To really sort your life out, you’ve get to get yourself right.

 But how do you do that?

That’s where God steps in

 Listen to these verses from the Bible that we have just had read to us:

 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour was revealed,  he saved us. It was not because of any good deeds that we ourselves had done, but because of his own mercy that he saved us, through the Holy Spirit, who gives us new birth and new life by washing us.  Titus 3.4-5

 God has come to us -  not because we’ve been so good - but because we need him so badly

 Why did Jesus leave the safety and security of his father’s heavenly home in order to be despised & rejected, scorned and mocked, and ultimately to be nailed to a cross to die?

 Our verse says he didn’t come because of ‘any good deeds that we ourselves had done. ’He didn’t come down to organise an awards ceremony, like the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Show or an investiture at Buckingham Palace. He didn’t come to dish out medals to us because we have all led such good lives. He didn’t come to congratulate us on making such a brilliant job of running the world on his behalf

 No, the Bible says it was not because of any good deeds that we ourselves had done, but because of his own mercy. It was because he took pity on us. It was because we were messing up so badly: our own lives, other people’s lives, the very planet we live on, that God decided to come to us.

 When God looks at you and me and sees the mess we’re in without him, when he sees the suffering of this world, his heart is full of love and mercy. In fact, so great was that mercy that he decided to visit Planet Earth in person. He decided to become one of us

He’s come, because we need rescuing so badly, that why he gave his Son the name Jesus: the name means rescuer 

 Away in a manger no crib for a bed, the little Lord Rescuer lays down his sweet head

 But how has God come to rescue us?

 God has come not to give us a makeover but a whole new start

 You can give your house a makeover, you can even give your face a makeover, but God came to earth to give you much more: a whole new start:

 Our verse says: he saved us, through the Holy Spirit, who gives us new birth and new life by washing us. Titus 3.4-5

 God has come to wash so we’re clean

 God has come to give us a new life, like being born all over again

 Our kind and loving saviour God, has had mercy on us. He wants to come into our lives and give us a whole new start

That’s the wonderful message of Christmas.

God loves you. He’s come to earth not because of the good things you have done but because of all the wrong.  Jesus has died in your place.

Right now you can get a new start with God, and your life can start falling into the place our kind and loving saviour has planned for it.

Friday, 17 December 2021

Thank you, Pat

For twenty-eight years she has worked for St James's School. Today she retires.

She has run breakfast club and after school club, and holiday club. She has been a teaching assistant for special needs children, and served as a school governor. 
She has opened the school in the morning and closed it at night. She has come out in the middle of the night when the burglar alarm has sounded, and she has known generations of St James's children. 
She is now working with the children of some of the first children she worked with.
She has been a constant, loving, devoted presence in our school. 
As she embarks upon a well-deserved retirement we recall the words of the parable in Matthew 25, 'well done, good and faithful servant' and say: 'well done, good and faithful Pat.'
We shall miss you.

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Joy to the world

 This afternoon Key Stage 2 Carol Service for St James's School in the church ended with this wonderful rendition of 'Joy to the world'

Outdoor carols

Good turnout last night for the open air carol service in St James's Churchyard, followed by mulled wine and mince pies.

Sunday, 12 December 2021

St Anne's Christingle

Great start to our Christmas celebrations with Carols and Christingles at St Anne's, including the world premiere of a beautiful new Christmas song by St Anne's member, Hannah.


Saturday, 11 December 2021

O come, all ye faithful

O come all ye faithful:  Good turnout for the first outdoor carols of the season at the Blue Market in Bermondsey

Friday, 10 December 2021

Virtual tour

 St James's School has just produced this wonderful virtual tour of the school. It gives a lovely insight into the very rich educational experience our children receive:

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Come, Lord Jesus


Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Bermondsey Advent Message

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

The light shines

 Once again during Advent in both our churches the church lights remain on each night to remind us that the light of Jesus Christ shines in the darkness.


Sunday, 5 December 2021

Admitted to communion

 Congratulations to the children admitted to communion today at St James pictured here with Jacob Mercer who led the preparation course. May God bless them on this special day.


Friday, 3 December 2021



'I declare this shop open. May God bless all the staff and all the customers.'

The Co-op over the road opened as we moved in nine years ago. Today I was delighted to be invited to the official re-opening following their recent grand makeover.

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Remembering in Rotherhithe

Last night a Bermondsey institution returned after Covid.

As always they came in their hundreds - to the annual service of Remembrance with carols, prayers, memories, evocative videos and songs, fireworks, mulled wine and bread pudding, all courtesy of our wonderful FA Albins & Sons. 
Thank you Jon and Simon and all your team.


Bermondsey Weekly Message for Advent

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Sunday catch-up for Advent Sunday

Estates evangelism

To a snowy Derbyshire for the national estates evangelism conference with an inspiring address by the Archbishop of York this evening 

The key verse today was from Isaiah 61: 'the spirit of the sovereign Lord was upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from the darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the lord's favour'

You can watch the Archbishop's address here


Saturday, 27 November 2021

Beer and theology

Great to be invited to 'Beer and Theology' at the Angel, the pub with the best view in London, to talk about the church's relationship with working class people, drawing upon my article:



Advent comes


Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent and we have Advent Family Services at St Anne's (9.30am) and St James (11am).Everyone welcome.

The light shines in the darkness.

Thursday, 25 November 2021

O come all ye faithful

 A great night last night for Wednesday Night Church - our Christmas Dinner (with all the trimmings) followed by the first carols of the season. O come all ye faithful.

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

The Queen's speech


After eleven years on the Church of England's General Synod I was ready to step down but it did feel strange not being there yesterday for the inaugural meeting of the new synod.
Every five years the newly elected Synod is opened by the Queen. There is a service in Westminster Abbey and then afterwards the Queen addresses the General Synod in the main assembly room in Church House.
Yesterday Prince Edward stood in for her and read her speeech to synod members. 
Once again she articulated her own deep faith.
She told Synod: 'None of us can slow the passage of time; and while we often focus on all that has changed in the intervening years, much remains unchanged, including the Gospel of Christ and his teachings.'
She went on to say: 'The list of tasks facing that first General Synod may sound familiar to many of you: Christian education; Christian unity; the better distribution of the ordained ministry to the needs of the population. But one stands out supreme: “to bring the people of this country to the knowledge and the love of God”.
And she concluded her speech, as she always does, with a prayer: 
'At the beginning of this new Synod, my prayer is that the Lord’s blessing may be upon you as you embark on your deliberations; and that you will find inspiration in the joyous words of the hymn you sang this morning: O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear, and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.'

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Remembrance Sunday

 Good to be at the War Memorial in Old Jamaica Rd for an Act of Remembrance and wreath laying, with good military and civic representation, for the hundreth anniversary of the inauguration of the memorial #lestweforget2021



Saturday, 13 November 2021

Remembrance video

Another chance to view our Bermondsey Community Remembrance video from 2020 

Friday, 12 November 2021

Armistice (2)


This is the kind of mayor I like: non-political, wears a red robe, friendly to everyone.
This year's Southwark Mayor is wonderfully suited to the role of first citizen of the borough. 
Here he is meeting Belgium class from St James's School, at the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Armistice service held at the war memorial today.
Belgium Class loved meeting Councillor Barrie. He showed them the Bermondsey Chain of Office (from the old Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey, worn on special Bermondsey occasions) and they were fascinated by the Ceremonial Mace. He let them touch it and feel how heavy it was and then he taught them how to spell M-A-C-E - all before the service had started. 
Thanks Cllr Barrie for all you do for the people of Southwark and for the time you gave to our children today.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Armistice Day


A busy Armistice Day today.

First up, was a visit to the assembly at Compass School, our local secondary school.

The whole school were present, there were some great contributions from the students, an act of remembrance, and I had the chance to speak about Bermondsey in wartime and share the prayer that they prayed each night in the air raid shelter that was the churchj crypt 'defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.'

Next up was St James's School's armistice service in the church and this was followed by the main Bermondsey and Rotherhithe armistice day service at the War Memorial in West Lane, with a really good turnout from community organisations from across the borough.

Sunday, 7 November 2021


 It was good to plant tulip bulbs after church today, as last year, part of the greener Bermondsey project.

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Is she right?

 Britain's strictest head just got put in internet detention. Do you agree with her?


Sunday, 31 October 2021

Giving thanks for the reformation


On Reformation Day (504 years since Martin Luther nailed his protest to the door of the church in Wittenberg), pictured here, the wonderful Reformation Altarpiece of St Mary's Church, Wittenberg.
On Hallowe'en where the national focus is increasingly on the darker side of life, it is good to remember that great movement of the Reformation which (flawed though it was) caused the light of the Gospel to shine with fresh and liberating intensity.
When the Reformation Bishops Latimer and Ridley were burnt at the stake in Oxford, Latimer called out to his friend: 'Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.' 
How much does England, the UK and the whole world need 'the light of the glory of the Gospel of Christ' to shine out with renewed vigour and power in our day. Lord, may it be so.

Saturday, 30 October 2021

COP 26

Tomorrow in our services (9.30am St Annes, 11am St James) we shall be using this video from Tearfund as we pray for the COP 26 global climate summit, starting tomorrow in Glasgow.


Wednesday, 20 October 2021


Lovely watercolour of St James's Church by by Jane Northcote. 

See full details of this and many other scenes on her website


Monday, 18 October 2021

Resurrection and the life


It was moving to hear the Prime Minister tell Parliament that Sir David Ames believed in 'the Resurrection and the life  to come.'
It is rare for the resurrection to feature in ministerial speeches but this was a uniquely fitting occasion as parliament considered the violent death of a gentle, Christian man.
Later his closest Parliamentary friend, Mark Francois, told the Commons that Sir David 'is now resting in the arms of the God he worshipped so devotedly.' 
That just about sums it up. 
Thank God for his wonderful servant. 
May God bring his comfort to his wife and family and all who mourn his loss.

Sunday catch-up


 Congratulations and God's richest blessing to Charloe-Jo, baptised at St Anne's on Sunday

Saturday, 16 October 2021

Birthday celebration

Church member Abiola came to St James this afternoon for a wonderful service of praise and thanksgiving for a special birthday.


It was wonderful to host this most joyful event.We sang praise to God, we heard from the Scriptures, and we experienced wonderful hospitality. Happy birthday and many blessings to you, Abiola.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Remembering in West Lane

Exactly one hundred years to the day and hour we gathered at the War Memorial in West Lane for a service of rededication using the same order of service that was used a century ago

You can read the account of the event in Southwark News here

Speeches were given by the Mayor of Southwark and Neil Coyle MP.  

The monument was (re)unveilled by Jane Radford, a descendant of Hetty Speer, the woman who unveilled it in 1921 who was a local mother 'who had lost three sons in the war.'

Fergus Carr, great great grandson of Arthur Carr, of Peak Freans biscuit factory, read the speech made by his illustrious ancestor at the orginal dedication service in 1921.