Where it all began

I was just thinking about this blog on Friday and, prompted by, well maybe the Holy Spirit, looked back to when the first of these blogs was. I have now written almost 500 but what was really intersting was that the first one was published eight years ago this weekend. So it was really interesting to read it and remind myself just what the initial inspiration was.

A lot of that energy is still around and even lockdown hasn’t completely diminished it. Some things, principally All Hallows, still haven’t been achieved. Other things came along not least coping with the effects of a terrorist act right on our doorstep, as well as all the fun around Doorkins and now Hodge. But I thought it was worth you having a read of this again.


We were doing something that we had never done before. The clergy of the Cathedral decided to go away together, to spend time talking about our life together at the Cathedral and where we thought we might be going. So we booked rooms in St George’s House behind the Chapel at Windsor Castle and in January went there for three days, two nights.

Out of our conversations came the spark of an idea, and that spark became ‘Living God’. What we all agreed that we needed to do was to find a focus of our life together, something that would bring our study and our prayer and our worship – in fact everything that we do – into one programme, not to limit in any way our life, not to shove it into a single form or mould but to give us a sense of direction. The conversation that we had went in the direction of talking about what we all meant when we talked about God and we thought that might be an exciting place to begin our journey together.

Canon Stephen Hance, the Canon Missioner, drew to our attention a book by Rob Bell called ‘What we talk about when we talk about God’ and I had been reading a book by a member of the congregation of the Cathedral, Mark Vernon, entitled ‘God: All that matters’. Both books explore the issue of the language of God and what we are talking about when we use the language of God. At the same time we were conscious that in 2013 we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the influential ‘South Bank religion book’ ‘Honest to God’ by Bishop John Robinson, who was Bishop of Woolwich.

We seemed to be pointed by the Holy Spirit in a particular direction – and we decided to take heed of the prompting!

As we planned for the launch we had to think of a logo and a style for the publications around Living God. That was where the spark and the bubbles came in. The bubbles – well they make me think of pictures of the universe. They’re also fun and we do want people to enjoy the programme ahead of us. But perhaps the spark is more important in terms of ‘branding’ what we do.

Those old enough to remember Melvyn Bragg’s programme ‘The South Bank Show’ will remember that the title sequence included the image from Michaelangelo’s amazing ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican and the creation of Adam, symbolising the creation of humankind. There is what is called in neuroscience a synapse, which is what I like to think of as the creative gaps that exist in the nervous system – the little gap across which the spark of life passes. The fingers of God and Adam meet but do not touch – like a synapse at creation, room for the divine spark that brought all into being.

But the spark is also about imagination, about the creative possibility that always exists when we pray or think or talk about God. That is what is so exciting about what we are doing. We do not quite know where God will take us, we have to be open to the spark and the energy, the dynamic power of God.

So last Sunday we launched ‘Living God’ and invited the congregation to sign up for one of forty groups that will meet during October to talk about the basic question ‘What are we talking about when we talk about God?’. This afternoon I was trained as one of the facilitators for those groups. I had stood around the Cathedral in the morning in my ‘Living God’ T-shirt inviting people to ask me about Living God. One cheeky member of the congregation asked me over coffee where I stood on Arianism! Well I asked for it!

The training was fantastic, the conversation between the ten of us in the group, as we went through the process ourselves, was exciting and illuminating. I can’t wait to facilitate my first group. What was so exciting you may ask. Well, I suppose simply hearing people speak about their own image of the God in whom they believe, about their intimate and personal relationship with the Living God. And illuminating? Well, I was given an insight into who we are as a congregation and it will be interesting to see if we are typical of the rest of those who are part of our community.

However, Living God is about more than discussion groups. It is about the whole of our life as a community and that includes St Hugh’s Church and All Hallows. This week has seen important developments on both of those fronts.

It was great to visit with Canon Bruce Saunders the new church of St Hugh’s Bermondsey. St Hugh’s is located just off Long Lane in SE1 and has been closed for redevelopment for the past few years. The congregation has been worshipping at the church of St George the Martyr but are about to move back home to a wonderful new church. It was great to see the new building and imagine life there.

At the same time we are working with the local community in bringing the disused church of All Hallows on Copperfield Street in SE1 back to life. It has stood empty but in the midst of a wonderful community garden since 1990 (though the garden has been maintained by the community for the last 40 years!). Now we want to get it open as a place for the whole community. You will hear much more about this but as part of it Stephen Hance and I took a camera out on Friday and had a walk around the church and garden. You can follow our journey thorough this link here.

So we have begun and we pray that the spark will set us ablaze as we learn more about the God we love and who loves us. Please pray with us – this is the Living God prayer written to accompany us through the year.

Living God,
your life gives life to the world;
live in us,
live in me,
may our lives reflect your life.
Amen.


But I can’t finish this blog without just remembering Fr Aidan Mayoss CR. I named this blog ‘Where it all began’ and as regular readers of this will know that where much of my own story began was the College of the Resurrection at Mirfield. It was there that I met Fr Aidan. He was such enormous fun. His joy in having a laugh, slapping his thighs in sheer delight, made everyone else around him laugh uproariously. But he was also a priest with huge depths of wisdom and experience. He very kindly came and preached at my First Mass. He stood in the pulpit at St James Manston and was an inspiration to us all, but especially to me, a day old, very young priest with a long way to go and a lot to learn. But his joy in the resurrection, his joy in priesthood, his joy in the Mass were life changing. Thank you, Aidan. May you rest in peace and rise in glory and bring laughter to the courts of heaven as you did to the cloister.

Figs and olives

It sounds like one of those trendy eateries you find around the cathedral nowadays – figs and olives – fresh, interesting, healthy, vegan. But in fact what I’m referring to is a feature in our churchyard and not somewhere to hang out with a healthy meal and a cool glass of something.

The 9/11 Memorial Fig Tree

We are very fortunate to have a beautiful churchyard. It stands on the south side of the Cathedral and so, despite being surrounded by an elevated railway line, buildings, the Borough Market and being loomed over by the Shard, it is bathed in light. You normally access it via the cathedral. It’s a long story and not without its controversy. It used to be open whenever the cathedral was open, accessible directly from the street. But as the popularity of the Market increased and as more and more of the traders sold food to eat on the go, and with a lack of places to sit down and actually eat what you had bought, the churchyard was increasingly overrun with people. The grass disappeared, the flower beds were trampled, it looked dreadful and unworthy of sacred space. So, whether you agree with it or not, we had to take the difficulty decision to make access through the cathedral and not from the street.

The sadness is that it is not as well used as it might be, but the joy is that the gardens have recovered and peace and tranquility have been restored. It is now a wonderful and peaceful oasis in the midst of a busy community, a strangely still spot in a churning world. The borders are full of flowers, the grass is verdant and there is a sense of sacredness about the place, even if we do have theatre and music and other events in it from time to time.

In fact, one of the reasons that we made the decision we did was that this remains consecrated ground and the place where we continue to buried the cremated remains of members of the congregation, members of the wider community and a place of remembrance.

Towards the eastern end is the amazing memorial created by the artist Peter Randell Page to the Mohegan Chief Mahomet Weyonomon who was buried at nighttime in the churchyard on 11 August 1736. Mahomet of the Mohegan tribe of Conneticut in America had come to London to petition the King for restoration of their lands. His uncle, Oweneco had came to England to petition Queen Anne when settlers had first taken the land.

The Queen ordered a commission who found in favour of the Indians that they were unjustly deprived of their lands and the governor and company of the Colony of Connecticut was ordered to return the lands. Not only was this ignored but further encroachments took place to the point where the Mohegans were unable to subsist on the remaining territory. In 1735, Mahomet Weyomon, accompanied by John Mason, his son Samuel and Zachary Johnson, came to London to petition King George II for restoration of their lands. They lodged in the City in the Ward of St Mary Aldermanbury but before they could present the petition the whole party died of smallpox. The City authorities were happy to bury Mahomet’s European companions in the City but Mahomet had to be buried in the churchyard of St Mary Overie.

But his is not the only interesting memorial. His is a stone boulder brought across from his ancestral lands. But there are two living memorials.

When 9/11 happened, the 20th anniversary of which we are remembering, we decided that the memorial would not be in stone or metal but would grow. A fig tree was planted at the end of the south transept. It is bathed in the light and over the twenty years has grown amazingly well. Fruit can be seen on its branches and the broad leaves are fresh and green and luxuriant.

The Memorial Olive Tree

When the London Bridge attack happened on 3 June 2017 it was decided that on the first anniversary an olive tree would be planted. The London Borough of Southwark had taken the vast mound of floral tributes that people left at the southern end of London Bridge and elsewhere and composted them. Then the compost was brought back and it filled the large pot in which the tree was planted. It too has grown, it too bears fruit and around the pot in which it stands are inscribed those powerful words from the Book of Revelation

The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22.2)

This year, to coincide with Fall, autumn, and the commemoration of 9/11 and as I was writing about last week, the High Altar sanctuary is filled with leaves created by Peter Walker each with the simple words HOPE. Figs, olives, leaves, signs of life, signs of hope. At the commemoration service for 9/11 which you can find here we read from the prophet Micah.

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
(Micah 4.3b-4)

These living memorials testify to the God who conquers death with life, the God who brings hope to the hopeless, who wipes away our tears, who walks with us through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’, who takes us from the present to the future and holds our past in love. Come and sit beneath the trees and know the God who knows and loves you, and, remember.

Unchanging God,
as time moves on, you remain constant,
as year rolls into year, you are as you are.
Hold us in your love
as we remember again
the events that took loved ones from us,
the events that changed our lives,
the events that bring us here.
Bring us through this present time
to the brink of your eternity
where with all we love
we will be enfolded in you
for ever and ever.
Amen.

Autumn leaves

One of the things I have missed over the last eighteen months of the restrictions is being able to go into Cathedral School to help lead collective worship (assembly as we used to call it). The children always begin by singing a hymn or a song at the top of their voices and I love it when we sing those songs that have seemed to be a feature of school life for the whole of ministry so far. The one that came to mind this week was one that begins

Autumn days when the grass is jewelled
And the silk inside a chestnut shell.
Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled.
All these thing I love so well

Not sure about the jet planes but I understand the sentiments.

As September began I went through the ritual of changing the wreath on the front door of the Deanery from something that was summery to one that contains autumn leaves and little pumpkins.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

as Keats so beautifully described it. Just as all this was happening at my front door there was some clanging going on in the Cathedral. Some people had arrived with crates full of leaves. But not the sort that crunch under foot as you take an autumn walk through a woodland – this is no place for Hodge to wander – these were the kind with sharp edges that clang!

We are delighted to welcome an installation by the artist Peter Walker at the beginning of autumn. It is something that has moved around a number of cathedrals and it is great that it has finally arrived with us and at the perfect moment in our lives.

‘The Leaves of the Trees’ comprises 5000 sycamore leaves, cut from 1mm mild steel and individually carved with the word “Hope”. Sycamore is remarkable for its resilience and strength, and the leaves are slowly and naturally changing from steel to rusted tones over the period of the tour, as autumn leaves do in the cycle of the seasons.

It is lovely to see how this is happening to these steel leaves. Those looking after the installation carefully placed the leaves, gathering together those turning to autumnal shades. It really looks lovely and to me is both a sign of hope and also a reminder to us of all those we have lost during the pandemic.  Each one, like a fallen leaf, is precious to us, and nothing and no one is lost from God’s sight.

In the Book of Job it says this

There is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. (Job 14.7)

The leaves change colour, they fall, they return to the earth and the tree sleeps and then sprouts. Life returns and we see that beautiful, fresh, spring green clothing the trees once again, the real cycle of life.

We hope that you will come and spend time with the leaves, absorbing their message of hope, but also reflecting on the falling leaves in our own communities and that hope of resurrection held out to each one of us in Jesus Christ – and if you want to take your own leaf home with you then you can buy one from the Cathedral Shop.

Join us in praying the prayer I have written for this installtion.

God of hope,
who returns fresh leaves to the branches
whose fallen leaves turn to gold;
as we remember those we have lost
give us hope in those yet to come
that our memories may be gold
and our future fresh and hopeful.
Amen
.

Exodus

The way that people tend to describe events, weather, catastrophes, disasters, as being of ‘biblical proportions’ is sometimes over played. Biblical proportions tend to be massive. But what we have been witnessing in the last week in Afghanistan has been shockingly massive in its implications, for the world, for that nation and for the lives of so many people. On a macro and a micro level it is of biblical proportions.

The first Passover

As like you, probably, I have been watching the scenes unfolding on the TV news and reading more detail in the newspapers. The scenes of desperation have been agonising, the look of relief on the faces of those who had made it through the crowds and the chaos as they moved single-file into the plane that would fly them to safety were truly heart-warming and tear-jerking. And then the horror wrought by the suicide bomber, secreting themselves in the heart of crowds of already fearful people and letting off a bomb … words fail me.

An early bit of footage from the week showed some people leaving in their cars and vans, their possessions, hillbilly style, piled in the back, tied down with ropes like dad would have to tie our holiday cases to the roof rack on the car as we headed off on holiday. One family had decided to load their three-piece suite on the back, a prized possession, something to take with them of their old life into their new.

But those inching their way forward onto the plane had nothing in their hands, just a bag, just their child, carrying just their hopes. It reminded me so much of the Hebrews leaving slavery in Egypt. Moses and Aaron tried to negotiate safe passage for the people, finally they grabbed a window of opportunity as the Egyptians were morning the death of their firstborn. The people are given clear instructions by Moses and they leave in haste

The people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading-bowls wrapped up in their cloaks on their shoulders. (Exodus 12.34)

With unleavened bread they travelled into the wilderness, hoping beyond hope that the Lord would provide and that they would arrive at the land they were promised, a land flowing with milk and honey. In fact, they would find the journey hard, disappointing, frustrating, but they would also know that God was travelling with them – and they would, eventually, cross the Jordan.

There is a long way to go for the people of Afghanistan, whether they have escaped, whether they have stayed, and a long way for those of us who watch and weep and pray from a distance. But the God of the exodus is with us, the God of the exodus is with them.

God, as you brought your people to a new land, bring your people to a place of safety today, wherever they travel and from whatever they flee. Amen.

Re-treading

For the second year in succession I haven’t boarded a plane to go on holiday but decided to take advantage of the situation we are still in and spend my time off at home, or, more accurately, in the UK. Last year the holiday took us along the south coast and I was able to go to places I had never been to – Bath, Stonehenge, Avebury – places like that. It was a wonderful journey. So this year we decided to do something similar but along the east coast.

We loaded the car and set off. The satnav had been programmed to take us first of all to somewhere I knew I had been to but not for many many years – Clacton-on-Sea. My father’s family came from the eastern edge of London, Essex area and when I was little some of them still lived there. I was born in Leicester and so holidays were often about going down to the Romford area and seeing my relatives there. But when I was about three we must have taken my maternal grandparents with us for the holiday.

Clacton was very much in my memory because my Nanna in Leicester had a photo of her and my little sister propped up on the mantlepiece in her bedroom. When we were at her house I would often see it, my Nanna bending over my sister who, in her own words, looks ‘mardy’. The classic photo though is of us with my grandparents, aunt and uncle and our cousin, Lesley. She must have been about 16 at the time and clearly wanted to be somewhere else! She strikes a pose on this Box Brownie image. It reminds me of some lines of Dylan Thomas from ‘Under Milk Wood’

the yellowing dickybird-watching
pictures of the dead.’

Not everyone in the picture has died; my sister and I are still around, as is my cousin and so is my aunt, 95 and tremendous. But the others, gone. But the place remains.

We parked the car and headed for the front. I remembered the pier but it used to have a roller-coaster on it, now there is a helter-skelter. The weather was dull and we sat in a café at the end of the pier, had a bacon sandwich and looked out across the grey sea and the grey sky. Some beach huts remained and presumably most of the boards across which we walked on the pier were ones I had trotted across as a child in my little shirt and shorts.

Obviously there was a photo booth somewhere on the front back in 1961! We have a series of photos of combinations of us in the booth having photos taken. I’m sitting on my Nanna’s knee and obviously finding it wonderful, hysterically funny.

When I got back to London I was talking to my sister about it. ‘Can you remember the photos?’ ‘I think I have them’ she said. And hence the copies I now have and the memories that have come flooding back.

My aunt on the photo, not the lady in the arms of my uncle, that is my mum, is, as I say, still alive and we visited her where she now lives. All these memories.

It is good sometimes to re-tread the path that we have taken before. Ok, Clacton wasn’t quite as I remembered it, but I was remembering it from these photos and sixty year has passed since I was there. But going back and standing where we stood and thinking about those years, my dad’s death just a few years after he had taken the photos, my brother, not with us then, not with us now, the call to ministry, Leicester to Leeds to London, pilgrimages, Southwark, life-changing events, terrorism, pandemic, discovering myself, really finding God, losing so many who I have loved and having the love of others not in the photos, it all feels overwhelming. But, it isn’t.

T S Eliot in ‘Little Gidding’ writes

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

God, the God of the journey, the God of our, sometimes, circular pilgrimage, is with us. The Israelites must have retrodden already trodden paths in their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. But the returning to the familiar gave them the opportunity to see it all as if for the first time but with deeper appreciation. That I suppose is what Clacton-on-Sea gave to me this holiday.

And after Clacton? Well the whole of the east coast as far as Hartlepool, then to the Lakes, then to the Borders and then back home. It was wonderful, but standing on that familiar, ghostly ground was very special.

God, journey with us into the familiar and unfamiliar places. Amen.

Living God on holiday

I’m away for a few weeks and so there won’t be a proper Living God blog. This year we’re driving up the east coast of England. So much to see and memories of childhood holidays.

Whatever you do I hope you get an opportunity for rest and relaxation.

God, give us the rest we need today to serve you tomorrow. Amen.

On the Way

This Sunday is the Feast of St James and as we have been illuminated to celebrate it I thought you’d like to see my sermon. After this I am off on holiday. I will be back later in August. Look after yourselves.


The lyrics of some songs just stick in your mind whether or not you’ve ever sung them.  One song made popular by one hit wonder, Sylvia, in 1974 are these

Oh this year I’m off to Sunny Spain y viva España
I’m taking the Costa Brava plane y viva España
If you’d like to chat a matador, in some cool cabaña
And meet señoritas by the score, España por favour.

That catchy little number has been recorded in so many languages but we Brits love it.  Normally at this time of the year I’d be packing my bag and heading off for the Costas to enjoy the Spanish sunshine and all its delights.  But not this year for obvious reasons.

The illuminated east end of the Cathedral

So it was wonderful on Friday evening when Spain came to Southwark Cathedral.  The Cathedral has been illuminated for this weekend by the Spanish Tourist Board to remind us of just how important a destination their country is.  But this weekend was chosen because of the feast that we celebrate today.

St James is the Patron Saint of Spain and for the simple reason that his shrine is in the region of Galicia in the city of Santiago de Compostela – St James in the field of stars.

A few years ago a group of 60 of us from the Cathedral congregation gathered in the basilica.  Some had arrived on foot, walking the English route of the Camino.  Others had flown in specially to join us, but most of us had been following the route of the Camino, mainly by coach but some of the way on foot.  Now I know that there are some in this community who are real pilgrims on the Camino, having walked huge distances in order to arrive at the shrine just as pilgrims have done for centuries.  So I blush when even talking about the experience.  But one of the joys for us as we walked some of the picturesque stretches were meeting pilgrims on the way.

They’d come from all over the world and were travelling for all manner of reasons, some religious, some simply because they wanted to do it, but all of them equally committed to the journey, however hard it was proving to be.  It was humbling and so encouraging to meet these people, some walking alone, others with friends, others with new friends they’d met on the way.

On a number of occasions now I’ve sat in the square in front of the great basilica where St James is enshrined and watched people emerge from the end of the Camino, into the bright sunshine of that space and fall to their knees and weep.  Rucksacks and walking poles are cast aside, but what they cling to is the shell that they have been wearing, the symbol of the apostle, the cockle shell that denotes the pilgrim.  They’ve walked the path, followed the way, and arrived in this little bit of heaven.

Jesus and his disciples were walking along the road that led from Galilee to Jericho – a long road – a chance for everybody to talk about what it was going to be like when they finally arrived at Jerusalem – their ultimate destination.  So when the mother of James and John saw her chance she went up to Jesus and knelt there in the road in front of him.

Can you imagine the embarrassment!  There were her two sons holding back – there was their mother on her knees before Jesus and everyone else had stopped walking and was listening in.  Parents can be embarrassing at the best of times – but this was dreadful and they knew what everyone else was thinking.

But who could blame her – she only wanted the best for them – she only wanted them to get the best seats, the positions of power, the place at the table.  She was only thinking, like anyone would think – but in fact she hadn’t quite got it.  She hadn’t quite got this Jesus thing – that the kingdom that he was speaking about all the time wasn’t anything like the kingdom that she had in her imagination; that the power of which Jesus spoke wasn’t the kind of power that she’d experienced up to now.

‘Do not seek great things for yourself’ says the prophet Jeremiah.  She wasn’t seeking those things for herself, of course, she was seeking them for her sons, but the principle remains the same.  We’re not following Jesus because of what we can get in this world’s terms – we’re following Jesus because we understand that the kingdom that he speaks of is nothing like the kingdoms of this world.

Of course, it was right that this significant moment happened on the road.  If you read any of the gospels you get the distinct impression that they’re stories about journey – in fact that’s how the whole of the Bible is.  What we read all the time is dynamic – people moving on from place to place – always travelling.  Sometimes like Abraham not knowing where they’re going but travelling in faith nevertheless; sometimes like Moses travelling to find freedom, to find what God has promised; sometimes like Paul travelling urgently because they want to spread the good news as far as they can; and sometimes like Jesus travelling because they have nowhere to rest their head and they’re looking to a homeland that is at some distance but which is held out to us.

We are pilgrim people – all Christians. We’re all people who are on the move, people of The Way, as we were known as the early days of Christianity, on a journey and Jesus is always going ahead of us – leading us on.  Pilgrimage, journey is our way of being.

The mother didn’t know what she was really asking and neither did her sons – but there on the road as they paused on their journey the truth came home to her, to them and to all the disciples.  They were travelling a hard road on which they’d drink from the same cup of Jesus.  They were travelling to a kingdom in which power would be exercised in a different way, in which the servant would be the greatest, where the first would be last and the last first.  They were journeying to a kingdom in which the Son of Man would kneel at his disciples’ feet and wash them, in which death would lead to life, in which victory looked to the world like defeat. They were travelling to a kingdom in which James would be the first apostle to witness with his life.

No wonder the mother of James and John couldn’t understand, no wonder she got it so wrong.  After all so do we!  We so easily forget that we’re strangers and pilgrims, with no abiding home – just the one to which we’re looking in the far distance, the one that lies at the end of the road we travel, we forget that the journey can be hard and not the one we were expecting.

And if we want to know what that place is like, that kingdom place, then the greatest description for me is to be found in R S Thomas’ wonderful poem, simply called ‘The Kingdom’.

It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life.  It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only, and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.

We purge ourselves of desire, the false desires that James’ mother exhibited and simply offer up our need – our need for God, our need to be at home – and the God who travels with us takes us to where we belong.

And to help us on the way God gives to us what we do now – God gives us a foretaste of what things will be like – for this is our staging post on the journey and this is where the kingdom breaks in.  This is the pilgrim banquet and whatever your journey is like at the moment, this is the meal for you.

God our pilgrimage, be our companion on the way and bring us to your home, our home. Amen.

A year of safety

Last week it was a year since a little black and white cat was rescued from the streets of Woolwich. That little cat is Hodge, now living in Southwark and thoroughly enjoying his new life and the attention that he gets. Our friends at Catcuddles Sanctuary, from whom Hodge came to us, posted this message last week.

Hodge, almost a year ago

“On my way to work, I noticed a cat that looked really poorly. I approached it and I was able to stroke the cat and see some sort of injury on its lower jaw. Then some kids ran towards it and the cat escaped, it’s an enclosed space and I really can’t get inside. I waited for a good while but I really need to go to work. Is there anyone around Woolwich Arsenal DLR station who might be able to see what’s wrong with this cat? It really looked like it was suffering .”

Almost one year ago exactly, the message above caught the attention of some Catcuddles’ volunteers after it was posted on a local Facebook group. It included a picture that caused instant concern among our team, of a cat stood in a busy street, his black and white fur stained grey with dirt, and a large growth protruding from his chin.

With the help of the kind lady whose post raised the initial alarm, Catcuddles was able to quickly locate the cat. He was brought into the care of the charity, where he was given the name Hodge, and where he began receiving urgent veterinary treatment for his growth, the result of a serious infection.

We didn’t know it at the time, but it was a very fateful day indeed – for Catcuddles, for Hodge, and for a famous London institution.

Southwark Cathedral had recently lost their much-loved feline resident, Doorkins Magnificat. They were in search of a very special cat indeed to fill the void she had left behind, and to help continue her legacy. 

The Cathedral had long been supporters of Catcuddles’ work, and so sought our help in finding a cat who might be well suited to calling such a grand and historic institution their new home. That cat was, of course, the friendly and rambunctious Hodge, who had by then made a full recovery after receiving treatment for his infected lower jaw.

One year later and Hodge is firmly settled at the Cathedral, where he regularly entertains visitors, interrupts sermons, and wanders the beautifully ornate and historic halls. He is much loved by the team there, by the Southwark community, and by thousands of fans from all over the world via social media. One year ago, his life was very, very different. His journey has been nothing short of amazing.

Just like Doorkins’ before him, a stray who was ushered into the Cathedral on a cold winter’s night, Hodge’s story has resonated with many. It’s a testament to the power of acts of kindness to transform our lives in wonderful and unprecedented ways, and to inspire others into similar acts themselves.

Happy rescue anniversary Hodge – long may you reign in Southwark.


Hodge receiving the attention he deserves from Mayor Sadiq Khan

There are so many people looking for a place of safety in our world, attention from good people, the opportunity to flourish, for their children to grow well, to escape the abuse they suffer, to flee the bombs, the hunger, the disease, to live, as Jesus says in St John’s Gospel, ‘life in all is fullness’ (John 10.10). Seeing this little cat wandering around, fit and healthy, is a constant reminder to me of all these others to whom and for whom we have a duty of care and a vocation to love.

God, may those who seek safety find it. Amen.

I’m at General Synod

Just a note to say that there isn’t the usual Living God blog today. I’m at the meeting of General Synod that is taking place virtually from Church House, Westminster. But you can read some of my thoughts on my General Synod blog here. God willing, we will be back to normal next week. But do keep us in your prayers please as we meet.

O God, forasmuch as without you we are not able to please you; mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

What shall we call you?

It’s ordination season, so a time that evokes lots of memories and a great deal to give thanks for. As I write this I am celebrating 38 years of ordained ministry. It is almost impossible to believe to be honest. I still feel just the same as I did all those years ago when I entered Ripon Cathedral with the others in my group who were to be ordained, and heard the congregation singing and couldn’t quite believe what I was stepping into.

A new deacon back in 1983

It is quite hard to explain to be honest, what it all feels like. I have had the experience of starting a new secular job, not quite knowing what you had to do, who your colleagues would be, what the work atmosphere and culture would be like. But entering ordained ministry is different to that – there is something more existential about it. The morning of the ordination comes and you begin to dress differently, the dog collar goes on for the first time, you have labelled yourself. People begin to look at you differently, they watch you, even as you go round a supermarket in your collar picking up a few things. You begin to realise that you represent something much bigger than yourself – the parish, the church, even God! And people refer to you differently? ‘What shall we call you?’ is a question that I am still asked on a regular basis. ‘What shall we call you?’

One of the ways in which changes to the life of the Church of England can be made is through Private Members Motions at General Synod. When we are there physically – and sadly what was meant to be a final face-to-face, in-person meeting of Synod next weekend, has had to become virtual again – there would be actual documents that members of Synod would lobby you to sign. ‘I’m putting forward a PMM? It’s on …. whatever. Would you sign it please? I only need a few more signatures and then we can debate it!’ That’s how it works even though now we do it all digitally. The proposer needs to gather 100 supporters in order to get the Business Committee, which sets the agenda, to allow it to be debated.

One PMM doing the rounds at the moment is attracting attention – and not for good reasons in my view. This is the text of it.

That this Synod, noting Bishop Peter Hancock’s words quoted by the IICSA Anglican Church Investigation Report October 2020, that ‘issues of clericalism and deference have allowed abuse to be covered up and the voices of the vulnerable to be silenced’ (B.6.2.4.1) ask that steps be taken to abolish, and discourage the use of, deferential titles such as Reverend, Right Reverend, Very Reverend, Most Reverend, Venerable, and that clergy be instead referred to and addressed using the names of the roles they hold, e.g. Vicar, Rector, Bishop, Dean, Archbishop, Archdeacon.

It has come from a member from the Diocese of Bath and Wells, where I’d always supposed vicars would be called Parsons anyway!

Now, I was brought up to call our priests ‘Father’. So when I was ordained, and having been formed for priestly ministry at Mirfield where everyone was ‘Father’, it was entirely natural that people should call me ‘Father Andrew’. To be honest it is odd at first when 84 year old Flossie, who has been to more services and said more prayers than you have had hot dinners at the age of 26, calls you Father. But that seeming nonsense jolts you into understanding something really important. When she called me ‘Father’ it was about relationship and not just to me but to the church. Andrew could never be her father, in the natural sense, but he could be her father within the life of the eternal church. It expressed a relationship so much deeper than, I think, anything else could express.

My 38 years have of course taken me from being a young bearded curate at St James Manston in Leeds to being a clean shaven, soon to be 64 year old Dean of Southwark at the heart of London. Only the choristers and the children at school call me ‘Father Andrew’. The church has, instead loaded me with other titles. One of the things that the proposer of the motion is pointing to is the vast array of pre-nominals. So on ordination I was ‘The Reverend Andrew Nunn’ (though of course in a letter I should still be referred to as Mr Nunn, as in ‘Dear Mr Nunn’ not the erroneous ‘Dear Revd Nunn’). Then on becoming a Residential Canon I became ‘The Revd Canon Andrew Nunn’. Now as a Dean I am ‘The Very Revd Andrew Nunn’. If I had become an Archdeacon I would have become ‘Venerable’, a bishop ‘Right Reverend’ and an Archbishop ‘Most Reverend’. It’s a complicated business.

I found becoming ‘Very Revd’ a humbling business to be honest. Was I up to bearing that title? Am I very reverend? It is a constant reminder to me that huge expectations are rightly laid on me, that ‘very’ demands a huge amount, that it not only affects how I chair a Chapter, or lead a Cathedral, but what my relationship with God is like. The title wasn’t given because I am ‘very reverend’ but because that is what God and the church require of me and every time I sign off a letter, or make a statement, or do anything, my title is holding me to account – just as being called Father, or if I were a woman, Mother, should do.

Whether or not people have hidden behind the deference that some pre-nominals might create in order to hide heinous crimes, I do not know, but what I do know is that those who commit terrible acts of any kind are manipulative, determined and scheming and can hide behind many things. The title on a letterhead is not for me something of major concern.

The question of what to call Jesus came up of course in the Upper Room. Jesus has just confounded all expectations, all conventions, subverted the expectations of his friends by taking a towel, a bowl and a jug of water and washed their feet. Then having been the servant he says to them

‘You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.’ (John 13.13-14)

They called him ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and Jesus was happy with that. But he didn’t use those titles to define how he lived, instead he took the bowl and became the servant, the deacon, in that high priestly setting. The titles we use do not, should not, define how we live, how we minister but challenge us at every level.

So I won’t be signing the PMM. ‘What shall we call you?’ The thing I cannot bear is being called Vicar, or Canon, or even Dean – though Mr Dean has a lovely Barchester ring to it – because that is just a job title, it isn’t about my relationship to the person speaking to me. So nowadays I tend to say, ‘Call me Andrew.’ After all, that is my Christian name, my baptismal name – and this whole journey that God has taken me on began at the font as my parents were asked by Father Davies, who baptised me, ‘Name this child’.

Loving God, you call me by name and make me your own. May I not hide behind any name but live as you would have me live. Amen.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015

LIVING GOD

Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark