It’s not fair!

To be honest this has been a rather frantic week with three ordination services to organise, shortlisting of a Canon Precentor and some other things beside. The upshot is I haven’t had time to prepare a blog. So, please forgive me. I had to write a sermon for the Cathedral this morning – and this is it. Please accept it as my offering to you this week. The readings were Jonah 3.10 – 4.11, Philippians 1.21-30 and Matthew 20.1-16.

Its not fair!
Not fair at all!
I really want a pet unicorn!
I would name them PrettyStorm
It would be my bestest best friend for sure!

The opening lines of a poem by Matty Angel, an autistic poet, writer and painter from Christchurch New Zealand.  It’s the cry of childhood though that, I suspect, we’ve all made at one time or another, especially if we have siblings. ‘It’s not fair, she’s got more than me.’  ‘It’s not fair, I want one.’ ‘It’s not fair, he did it as well, why I have I got to go to my room? It’s not fair.’ ‘It’s not fair, I really want a unicorn!’

I was the eldest of three and so was allowed to stay up longer than the other two.  As they left the sitting room, often in tears, that was their cry.  It’s not fair.

In that rather dreadful film, ‘Mommie Dearest’ staring Faye Dunaway about Joan Crawford raising and abusing her adopted daughter, there’s the immortal line as Mommy dearest has dealt out more punishment

‘nobody ever said life was fair.’

It was the cry at the gate of the vineyard as the workers left.  Night had fallen, they could work no longer and so they queue to collect their wages.  Some had been working all day, through the heat of the day, back breaking, hand chaffing work of collecting the grapes from the vines; others had joined them when the sun was at its highest, just glad to get some work, and some had come as the sun was declining in the western sky, unable to believe their luck in getting just a few hours paid employment.  And they wait for their wages.

Those who’d arrived last are called first and receive a full day’s wages.  There must be some mistake – or had the daily rate gone up?  Those further back in the queue were getting excited – bonanza time!  So you can imagine their reaction when they’re handed the same amount, back broken, work worn, heat drained, exhausted workers – just the same – it’s not fair.

What we’re given in this parable is a wonderful piece of social history.  If you needed workers in the days of Jesus you knew where to find them.  The employer, or his manager, would go down to the agora, the market place, and there would be the people who were looking for work.  For many people work was what we’d think of as being casual labour.  You took what was on offer and that included the pay.  There were plenty of other people available so you hadn’t much in your hand as far as negotiating your rights was concerned.

You have to feel some sympathy for these men.  Natural justice would suggest that those who worked longest, through the worst conditions, should get paid more.  It’s only fair after all – what the owner of the vineyard is doing is not fair.

Yet in his eyes his actions are entirely fair.  He was clear about the conditions on which he was hiring each person when he called them from the market place and they all readily agreed to it.  He isn’t diddling anyone, but simply being true to his word to each one of them.  He’s giving no one less so that someone else can get more.  He’s treating everyone equally, with equality.

Now the thing to remember is that this parable was not told by Jesus as a kind of exposition of good employer practice, nor as a political statement of how to run a nation.  It’s very easy in one sense to see it in these terms.  But that’s forgetting the very first words that Jesus says, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…’.

This is one of the kingdom parables and so it’s teaching us something fundamental about the nature of the kingdom, not making superficial points about the practicalities of politics or employment practices.

Nevertheless the kingdom is not about ‘pie in the sky when you die’ – relying on justice in a heaven that’s a long way away.  The kingdom is about here and now; about the way in which we live with one another; it is about a radical readdressing of justice, of life – and drawing all of that into the everyday.

We’re still in the ever increasing mess of this pandemic and things are getting worse.  What has become very obvious to many of us however, as a result of all that has happened, is the depth and the undeniable reality of social inequality in this country.  Why is it that northern communities are suffering so terribly at the moment?  Is it just that they go to the pub more, go to the mosque more, do any of the stereotypical things that we might think about people in the north?  Or is it something to do about community and opportunity, about housing, about the nature of employment, about the starving of community services during years of austerity?

Why is it that so many of our sisters and brothers from BAME communities have died compared to their white neighbours?  Is it about the jobs that people can get, the opportunities that people have, the conditions in which people live and work? How is it that some of us have been able to save money during this period – because we haven’t been to the theatre and restaurants and the Maldives – and some are literally on the bread line?

It just isn’t fair.

St Paul says to the Philippians in our Second Reading

‘Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’

Live the kingdom now, live according to kingdom values now, says Jesus to the people.  And what is that kingdom like?  It’s like a landowner who is unstintingly generous, who gives more than we deserve.  It’s like the God that Jesus reveals to us as he gives himself equally, to you and me, and the person alongside you today and the person watching this online from home, and the person who isn’t even here.  God is more than generous, God is love.

Covid has presented us with many challenges, but part of the challenge is what kind of society do we aspire to be in the future.  Do we want more of the same, or one in which all people come to the same table and are fed with the same bread and each goes away satisfied?

After all, that is what we, here are modelling today.  The kingdom of heaven is like …. this.

God of justice, give us the courage to witness to your kingdom, here, now and to live the life to which you call us. Amen.

A throwaway society

The other Christmas I decided to buy everyone a reusable coffee cup for their present. I had been given a really great one and I was a convert and, like most converts, I became a bit evangelical about it. It was my little contribution to this throwaway society in which we now seem to live, my tiny contribution to addressing the issues that see our seas full of plastic, our rivers chocked with waste. So you can imagine my disappointment when the coffee shop I would go to on my way into the Cathedral told me that Covid meant I couldn’t use my reusable cup but had to have one of their disposable ones! I could understand it, of course, but it felt like a bit of a backward step even though things must be like this at the present.

So my cup is in my bag waiting for its own lockdown to be lifted!

Raewyn Harrison Ceramics

We have the first of the exhibitions in the Link in the Cathedral since the last one was removed at the beginning of lockdown. It is great to see the cabinets filled once again with wonderful objects – and there are a great many people arriving to have a look.

The theme of the exhibition is mudlarking and the cabinets contain items that have been discovered on the foreshore of the Thames, many from the stretch just beneath the Cathedral and other contemporary art inspired by Bankside and this detritus. Because this is of course what it is, stuff that people have thrown in, carelessly, on purpose, accidentally, that has been there for years, centuries, until the water releases it, washes it onto the exposed banks and some one collects it.

Living where I do, in the Deanery on Bankside, I can look out and twice a day see those banks, exposed by the retreating tide and the mudlarks doing their thing. They walk methodically, eyes cast down looking intently, carefully, purposefully, for what is there. Most don’t have the clicking of a metal detector to assist them, they just use their eyes.

It’s a reminder to me that we have always been a throwaway society. The piles of waste on archaeological sites reveal so much about our forbears, what they ate, what they drank, what they ate from, wore, fought with, farmed with. The waste is a description in stuff of the stuff of their lives. In these cabinets are the soles of shoes, worn when? by whom? who knows. You can see the holes that took the thread that stitched the sole to the rest of the shoe. There are the ubiquitous clay pipes, the remains of bottles from beer or wine that was being enjoyed by revelers on the South Bank.

It’s all the work of two contemporary artists, Raewyn Harrison and Liz Willis, who have been brought together by a shared love and fascination for the River Thames and the historic artifacts that are found on its foreshore at low tide. As they say,

‘These fragments of the past tell stories of London’s first farmers more than 5000 years ago, Roman invaders, and Medieval saints. They paint pictures of fun and frivolity at Southwark’s Tudor inns and theatres and darker images of prison ships and slavery.’

Just some of the beautiful objects

Many of the objects on display feature in Lara Maiklem’s bestselling book Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames and Raewyn and Liz have made work specifically for this exhibition that responds to the locations and the finds that Lara has written about.

Among the objects is a little pilgrim badge, collected by a pilgrim who visited the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury. Presumably like Chaucer’s pilgrims, they began their journey in one of the taverns in Southwark and in the Priory of St Mary Overie. Then, arriving safely back – it was after all a potentially hazardous journey – they threw their badge into the river as a thank offering to the God who had been their protector on the way. It was a superstitious act but I find it very moving. Was it thrown away or was it offered up?

‘Cast your bread upon the waters’ (Ecclesiastes 11.1)

This exhibition challenges our concept of rubbish and shows that these lost and forgotten objects can be transformed into something new and beautiful and something holy. Come along and see it but be careful what you throw away!

God, to whom all is of value, show us the true worth of everything and everyone and the beauty that lies even in what we discard. Amen.

Information

The exhibition, ‘Treasures from the Thames’, is on display in Lancelot’s Link in Southwark Cathedral from Monday 7 September to 30 October 2020. You may find it useful to print out some information about what is on display here before you come.

Free entry is via the Cathedral one way system. Please note that facecoverings are now mandatory within the Cathedral and surrounding indoor areas unless you are exempt.  Please adhere to social distancing guidelines when visiting this exhibition.

U turns

Driving around the Lake District last weekend, following the voice in the car from the satnav I was being told on numerous occasions ‘Turn around when possible’. It was very easy to miss some of the little roads that the computer had decided I should travel for the best journey and, to be honest, on some of the roads on which we were travelling turning around was the last thing that I wanted to do. But that voice was always there ‘Turn around when possible’. It’s a shame that this Christmas there will probably be no pantomimes to see because for anyone living in London ‘Dick Whittington’ has the local feel. Richard Whittington is perhaps the most famous Lord Mayor of the City of London. He was four times Mayor in the fifteenth century and did some amazing work – including giving a ward in St Thomas’ Hospital in what is now Southwark Cathedral parish, for unmarried mothers, real enlightenment – and his charitable work continues to this day. But the voice of the satnav rang in his ears also ‘Turn again, Whittington.’

“You turn if you want to.”

It’s almost exactly 40 years since Margaret Thatcher, addressing the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton on 10 October 1980 made the speech that has gone down in history with those immortal lines

I have only one thing to say: ‘You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning!

One of the features of the Covid crisis in this country, and one I think that is causing various levels of confusion and frustration, has been the constant U turns that the present Government has performed. They may be Thatcher’s children but they clearly don’t share her aversion to the u turn. In some ways I sympathise with them. I think that all of us in any kind of leadership position have to be willing to change the direction of travel when all the evidence suggests that we should. None of us gets things right first time and in the shifting sand of this time a Government unwilling to think again would be worse than one that is willing to look again and be prepared to change its mind.

There is a Christian perspective on all of this, of course, which is what I have been thinking about and why I am writing this. Every time we gather to worship the very first thing that we do, or should do, is repent and confess our sins. It doesn’t matter if your texts are from Common Worship or the Book of Common Prayer the sentiments are always the same.

Before lockdown we were using the ‘long’ introduction to Evensong on Sundays which contains that call to repentence, the confession amd absolution with such wonderful and evocative phrases as

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done, And there is no health in us: 

And then in response the priest says

Wherefore let us beseech him to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him, which we do at this present; and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure, and holy; so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy;

It’s that word ‘repentance’ that is so interesting. In the Greek the word which we translate as repentance is metanoia μετάνοια. It’s much more than being sorry. It means a change of mind, a change of heart, a change of direction, a U turn. In our theology the being sorry and the change of direction go together. When you say sorry, when you recognise your sin you don’t just plough on in the same direction – you change direction, you u turn. But that is what is so often lacking with the u turns that we witness, the saying sorry, the admitting that they got it wrong, that I got it wrong, the taking of responsibility for failure.

The voice of the satnav points it out in the car so that all the passengers know that you are going in the wrong direction. There is no avoiding the mistake I made in missing the turning and I clearly need to ‘Turn around when possible’. We have to have the humility coupled with confidence to do the same even when the voice is one heard internally when we are called to repentance – whoever we are.

Lord, when I need to change direction, when I need to turn, give me the confidence and the humility to do it. Amen.

Away again?

For a number of reasons I am away this weekend. After visiting the south coast where I hadn’t been for years I am now in the Lake District where I haven’t been, well, certainly for ten years or so, since I led a retreat at the now closed URC retreat house in Windermere. That was a significant moment as, apart from meeting a great group of people, I encountered the work of ArtPeace for the first time.

The sheer beauty of the landscape

Like most retreat houses there was a little shop that you could browse in the silence and make purchases from through one of those loyalty boxes. Amongst the holding crosses and lavender bags there were, surprisingly, some Zimbabwean soapstone carvings. They were lovely and there was a leaflet alongside them to explain where they were from. I took a leaflet and brought it back to Southwark.

As you may know, we have a long standing relationship with the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. Whilst ArtPeace is in Harare which is the one area of the country with which we are not linked (they are twinned with the Diocese of Rochester) the story was a good one and we decided that we would be a second outlet through the Cathedral Shop.

From that point we have stocked the carvings and supported the artists. The project is one run by the Jesuits in Harare and a few years ago I was fortunate to visit the place and meet the artists. It is basically a collective, the Jesuits providing them with a place from which to work, a studio and grounds in which to display their work which ranges from tiny crosses to large carvings designed to be outside.

So we get to hear, on a regular basis, what is happening to the artists and it is not good. Life in Zimbabwe is terrible at the moment and it is not just due to the pandemic. There are shortages of everything and the security forces are being particularly aggressive towards people who are protesting. Our artist friends are caught up in this. And, of course, with our shop being closed there are no sales and no money being sent from us to them. With the retreat house in Windermere having closed the Cathedral is now the main outlet for the carvings. So this is a terrible situation. As soon as we can reopen the shop then we can encourage sales and can get that stream of funding back in operation.

A far cry from Zimbabwe – but it was here that we met

So that is what I am thinking about at the moment. Surrounded by the beauty of the Lakes I am with my friends in Zimbabwe. This is where we ‘met’ and it was a moment of divine serendipity. But that is often how the best things in life happen!

The stones

I have to apologise to you.  This week has been rather … busy.  So I hope you don’t mind, and I know it is a cheat, but this is the sermon I have preached today.  At least it keeps the channels of communication open!


Instead of the golden sands of the Costas we chose the shingle of Brighton; instead of the Pueblos Blancos of the Spanish hills we chose Cockington with its thatches and forge; instead of sangria and tapas we chose fish and chips and tea.  This has been for many of us the staycation year.  In fact, in some ways it was a gift.  I hadn’t been on a summer holiday in the UK for, well, maybe thirty-two years!  Shaming isn’t it.  Driving around the south coast we realised what we’d been missing – and not all of it good things.  But it did mean that I got to see places that I’d never been to before.

Can you believe it, I’d never been to Bath!  I’d been there in my head of course, with Jane Austen and especially when I was first reading ‘Northanger Abbey’.  The impression that one of the characters had on arrival in the city was not mine.

‘The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations.’

I loved it – and especially I loved the stone.  And it was stones that particularly made an impression on us in the journey we made.  Not only had Bath evaded my attention – I’d never been to Avebury nor to Stonehenge – I can hear the gasps of disbelief even from the online congregation!

avebury

The stones at Avebury

I knew what to expect of course.  I’d seen plenty of pictures and watched enough documentaries about both places to have my head full of images and expectations.  I knew to expect a bunch of stones, arranged in ways that we still don’t really understand.  What I didn’t expect was how powerful those rocks would be.  That was particularly true for me at Stonehenge with its distanced crowds of visitors, standing in some silence simply looking at the work of our forebears who’d dragged these immense lumps of rock to this section of the plain and with monumental effort raised them.

Jesus has taken his disciples on a bit of a trip.  They’ve left the towns and villages around the shores of the Sea of Galilee, their usual stomping ground, they’ve taken a break amongst the hills in the north, what we now know as the border with Lebanon.  The place they visited was where the River Jordan emerges from beneath the rocks, streaming out, fresh and clear and icy cold.  Mount Hermon, snow capped, stood majestically in the distance and they stood in this place where lots of visitors came to gawp at the rocks and the shrines to Pan and other Gods carved into them.  It’s a rocky place.

And here Jesus makes a joke.  Looking around he calls Peter, Rocky, his rock, the rock on which the church would be built

‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.’
(Matthew 16.18)

People gathered rocks in Wales, huge stones and by one means or another moved them across the country to raise them, to create something sacred, to build what we might describe as some kind of church, holy place.  People took their hammers and chisels and carved niches in the rocks from which the water flowed and created their shrines.  Jesus took this man and called him the rock, the foundation stone on which he’d build.

Shenge1

Impressive stones at Stonehenge

Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.

(Isaiah 51.1)

writes the Prophet Isaiah in our First Reading.

The stones standing there on Salisbury Plain for all these millennia have basically survived.  The stones were well chosen by the keen eye of our ancestors.  But surely Jesus really was joking when he called Simon, Peter, the rock.  Here was someone deeply flawed, unreliable, flaky, the stone that would be rejected by the builder, more sand than stability, nothing you would place a structure on with any confidence.  Three denials in a courtyard, get behind me Satan, nothing in the story suggests that Jesus was not simply being ironic when in this rocky place he directed their attention to Peter.

Yet Jesus himself is the ‘stone rejected by the builders that has become the keystone’, a phrase from the Psalms that he himself picks up and uses.  God does not build as we might build, God does not choose as we might choose, God does not test as we might test.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.

In his poem ‘Choruses from the Rock’, the poet T S Eliot says this

And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying, and always being restored.

The church is built of stuff like us, flawed, flaky stone.  Almost every church we drove past, every cathedral we got into on our staycation travels had scaffolding, somewhere, rock was being replaced, stone was being renewed.  ‘Always decaying and always being restored.’  Perhaps we should have chosen better stone with which to build.  But Jesus chooses Peter and God chooses us, the living stones of which the temple is built.

The pandemic has so many challenges for us, but for the church some fundamental ones.  Who are we and what will we be?  We call it ‘ecclesiology’, how we understand the church. It was the challenge from day one as Jesus and his disciples turned their backs on the rocks and headed for the lake where Peter would sink in the waters.  Some rock?  Some church?

But the stone rejected by the builder breaks free of the rock hewn tomb where he has been laid and lives, and an elderly man wearing the shoes of the fishermen stands in an empty quarry like church on Easter Day, Peter’s successor, and in his weakness and vulnerability looks strong. And we, living stones, build and are built.  But into what?

God,
build us,
your living stones
into
your living church.
Amen.

The cost of peace

When you get back from your holiday apart from the huge amount of washing that probably confronts you the other thing that you have to deal with is what you discover when you switch on the computer and look at your emails.  I had been very good and followed the directions of our Sub Dean and ignored what was coming in whilst we were away.  That meant that apart from something like 30 shirts to be washed there were over 400 emails to be dealt with! Ore of them was a request from our bishop to write a prayer for the diocese to use on VJ Day.

635728599075986170-AXX-CHARTICLE-WWII-12-1020045

‘As I survey ….’

In the past few years I’ve been asked to write special prayers for a variety of circumstances and events.  Those who follow this blog will have seen many of them.  To be honest it’s something that I really love doing. It feels like a huge privilege to enable others to express in words what we all might want to pray, to find words that can articulate what we might want to bring to God in prayer, to find the images and the scriptural references that in a few words can touch those who will use the prayer themselves.  So when I am asked to write a prayer I usually get on with it immediately.  But I had to sit on this particular request for a while – to write a prayer for VJ Day.

Don’t misunderstand me, I wanted to write the prayer, but what would I say?  It wasn’t just that I had sand between my toes and needed to get back into the groove, it was much more than that.

The VE Day celebrations this year, whilst curtailed because of Covid-19, made some kind of sense and were relatively easy to respond to.  But VJ Day always feels different.  What was my prayer, what could our prayer be?

When I was growing up in Leicester there was an older couple living in the house on the opposite side of the street from us.  The man worked from dawn to dusk, in the garden, on the roof, under his car, painting, sweeping, never keeping still.  We watched from our front window; whenever we looked out, at whatever time, there he was, unable to settle, unable to stop.  ‘He was a prisoner on the Burmese Railway’ our mum told us, ‘this is how it has left him.’  When you’re six and seven that means very little.  We had watched ‘The King and I’, we had seen ‘South Pacific’ but that side of the world was like the dark side of the moon to us.  And why would a railway cause someone to behave so strangely?

I can’t remember his name, but ever since I was asked to write the prayer he has been with me.  He was paying the price of peace, in his own body, in his own mind, in hands forced to work, first by cruel captors and then by cruel memory.

The Feast of the Transfiguration is the anniversary of the dropping of the first of the atomic bombs, on Hiroshima.  The second was dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August.  On the Feast of the Assumption, Japan surrendered.  The feast days are just a coincidence of course but certainly that first one, the Transfiguration, the light in which the true nature of Jesus is seen, resonates with that massive light in which the potential of human nature was revealed.  These terrible acts of war brought the war to an end but at such a price, and in the lead up to these bombings, to this slaughter of civilians so many people died and suffered horrendously in hand to hand conflict and in appalling prison camps.  The cost on every side was huge.

I sat down and prayed and let the scriptures speak to me and I remembered this verse

Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1.20)

The making of peace by the death of Jesus on the cross, the costliness of it all, that had to be what we prayed about, the price paid by the innocent people of those Japanese cities, paid then and by generations into the future, the price paid by our neighbour and his comrades, the price paid by humanity, is reflected in the nailed man on the tree, reconciling earth and heaven, through blood, through death.  It seems to be a heavier memory than crowds dancing around Eros in Piccadilly or surging up the Mall to see the Royal Family on the balcony.  In the shadow of the mushroom cloud words fail us – but sometimes we still have to find the words.  So this is what I wrote, and I offer it to you.

Lord Jesus,
you bore the cost of peace
in your own body on the cross.
As we commemorate
the end of the Second World War
we remember those who paid the price of peace
and pray that we may both cherish
and uphold it
for today, tomorrow
and all that lies beyond.
Amen.

Gone away …

I get really annoyed when I go to a shop and someone has helpfully stuck a piece of paper to the door saying ‘Just nipped out. Back in 10 minutes.’ That happened to me the other day.  I don’t mind someone ‘nipping out’ especially in these Covid days of often only one person working in the coffee shop or wherever at any one time.  But please, put the time on the notice so that I have a fighting chance of knowing when you will be back.  Is it worth me hanging around because it is 9 minutes since the thing was sellotaped to the window or did it go up just a minute ago?  Anyway, grump over.

Back in ten

This is my way of saying I’ve gone away, on holiday, and I needed it.  This has been an exhausting time for all of us in different ways.  I don’t think it really matters if you have been working or if you have been furloughed, the uncertainty, the anxiety, the separations that have been forced on us, the continual changes to our behaviour patterns, they all take a toll.  For those who have been working, there is of course the exhaustion of working longer hours because, very often, you are working from home and so the old boundaries between home and office disappear.  For the key workers, who have been working in extraordinary conditions and with massive levels of stress, the exhaustion, physical, mental and emotional the exhaustion must be very real.

I am always encouraged by those moments in the gospels where Jesus took time out.  Sometimes he took his friends with him; sometimes he was alone; often it didn’t work out how he wanted it to – people found him – but he knew that rest is vital.

So this isn’t really a ‘Living God’ blog but just a way of saying to you that I hope you, like me, get time to relax, to recharge, to rest, however, wherever you do that.  And I will be back.  The next blog will be on Sunday 16 August.  I will be praying for you, please pray for me.

God of rest and restoration,
renew and revive us
and energise us afresh
for the unknowns that lie ahead.
Amen.

A little bit of Doorkins

One of the things that I was pleased about as we entered the lock down was that Doorkins was already safe and enjoying her new home and didn’t have to go through the trauma of being uprooted and plonked somewhere else.  It was clear that she was ready for a more gentle environment in which to live.  The Cathedral is lovely, we all love it, and when you are a bit younger and a cat, a great place to run around and spend the evening doing what cats do and the day sleeping as cats do.  But when age catches up with you and you want some home comforts and unhelpful clergy keep disturbing you, wanting to sit in their own stall, on their own cushions, then of course you might prefer to have somewhere else to call home.

Doorkins 1

Enjoying the lock down sunshine

So Doorkins has spent the lock down in the home of the vergers who offered her a place to live when we decided that it was time for her to retire and put her paws up.  This particular verger has a very nice flat, full of soft furnishings and seldom cold.  The hallway has a lovely radiator that is just the place for a cat bed to be placed and there is plenty of space for a dish full of food and and bowl full of water.  So Doorkins is in a good place.  She now ventures out of the kitchen door and into the little yard, sniffing the fresh air and perhaps remembering when she would spend the day lounging in the churchyard and the evening roaming the Borough Market.

Doorkins 2

Enjoying a scratch

All that wandering really came to an end, as you probably know, when the terrorist attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market happened in 2017.  Doorkins was out that evening in the Borough Market, enjoying herself, just like all the people packed into the pubs and the restaurants on that lovely June evening.  We can only imagine what terror she went through that night – and then we were nowhere to be found for a week.  She must have felt frightened and abandoned.  Thank goodness for the members of the Metropolitan Police who, in the midst of so many other responsibilities, gave time to caring for her.

After that, when she got back into the safety of the Cathedral, she never went out again.  I am always reminded of that lovely verse from Psalm 84

Yea, the sparrow hath found her an house, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young : even thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. (Psalm 84.3 – BCP version)

Church is a safe house for all creation, and if for the sparrow and if for Doorkins, then for us as well.

Why am I reminding you of all of this.  Well it’s a bit of blatant product placement really. Some of the most popular things that we sell in the Cathedral Shop are the things that feature Doorkins.  It seems that everyone wants a bit of Doorkins, even though her cousin at Canterbury Cathedral has stolen a lot of the limelight during the lock down!

TileDoorkins3_1024x1024@2x

Fancy one of these?

But the shop has been closed and people have been unable to buy their favourite Doorkins products.  So we are delighted to announce that from this weekend you can shop online at the Southwark Cathedral shop.  The link is here and you can buy more than just Doorkins things.

Everything that you buy supports the ministry of the Cathedral and in these challenging times we need all the help we can to make sure that we continue to do what Southwark is so good at, being a safe and welcoming and diverse and inclusive space, for you and cats and sparrows and God!

God,
may our doors be open to all
and our community a reflection
of your openness and love
for the whole of your creation.
Amen.

General Synod

Yesterday I was attending the special meeting of General Synod.  So there isn’t a ‘Living God‘ blog today but instead some General Synod blogs that you can find here.

Synod

It looked nothing like this on this occasion!

Normal service will be resumed next week.

The sound of music

There are a lot of people like me around, fans of musicals.  You can find us hanging about in a lot of places – piano bars, sing-along-a sessions, karaoke parties, even cinemas and theatres.  We’re the people who look happy, ready to burst into song just like the people do in the films that we so love.  Something happens to them, good or bad, and the way that they celebrate it, make sense of it, deal with it, is by singing, breaking into song and tapping their way out of disaster.

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Rodgers (left) and Hammerstein (right)

Among the many memorials in Southwark Cathedral there’s a lovely one in the Harvard Chapel to Oscar Hammerstein.  It should be more of a place of pilgrimage for people like me than frankly it is ; never have I come across an adoring fan kneeling before it dressed in a wimple or as a bit part player from ‘Oklahoma’, ‘Carousel’, ‘South Pacific’, or the ‘King and I’.  It was ‘The Sound of Music’, I suppose the epitome of the musical, even in its title, that was that last collaboration between Rodgers and Hammerstein.  I was at the funeral of a good friend last week.  He knew all the words to ‘The Sound of Music’ and so we left the chapel, suitably and in a way that would delight him, with ‘Do-re-mi’ ringing out around us and the crystal clear enunciation of Julie Andrews thrilling our hearts.  The reason that we have a memorial to Hammerstein is that he loved Southwark Cathedral and when he was in London would join us for Choral Evensong, that jewel in the crown of the Church of England.  To mark the endowment made in his memory, the head boy choristers are named ‘Hammerstein Chanters’. Oscar Hammerstein is never forgotten at Southwark Cathedral!

We are delighted that we will be able to worship again, in the cathedral, with a congregation.  We may have to be distanced, we may be fewer in number than we would normally be, we may not be able to share the Peace, we might have to make our communion in one kind, we might not be able to have coffee afterwards but at least we can be together, worshiping the God who has sustained us through this time.  The sadness is however, that it will be a long time before we will be able to sing together.  As we plan for our first Sunday service on 19 July we’re having to think creatively about how we can use the organ and just one singer.  That is all we are allowed.  It may change but at the moment that is what it is.

Just like none of us realised that cricket was so dangerous a sport as far as Covid-19 is concerned, the ball, according to the Prime Minister being a well-known vector of transmission, neither did any of us realise that singing could be so threatening. However, cricket is coming out of the nets, so singing may come out of the bathroom where it has been locked down! However, just as in the musicals singing in church is the way in which we express so much of what we’re feeling, celebration, lament, prayer, thanksgiving, joy, sorrow, it’s all there, in the hymns, in the psalms, in the anthems, in the songs, even in the ‘loud organ his glory forth tells in deep tones, as the hymn puts it.

The famous saying that is attributed to St Augustine is

‘The one who sings prays twice.’

If praying is dangerous then singing is doubly so.  Think of worshippers in churches on slave plantations in the Caribbean not being allowed to sing the Magnificat, it was too dangerous a text, too dangerous a song to sing, too much a song of liberation for those being held in captivity to be allowed to voice.

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians is clear about it

Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5.19-20)

This is what we should do, sing it out, sing it clear.  But whilst we can’t we can let the music play in our heads, play in our hearts, sound in our lives, join with the song of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  Not even Guidelines, wherever they are from, can stop the song at the heart of the church.

God of our melodies,
may our song
echo the song of the angels
and our harmony
blend with that of heaven.
Amen.

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