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.

Talking heads

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when I heard that ‘Talking Heads’ was returning to the TV, and even more excited when I learnt that it wasn’t so much a third series but rather substantially the same stories being retold.  It’s hard to believe that the first series was shown in 1998 and then ten years later the second series came out.  I have been living with those people, Graham, Irene, Susan, Lesley, Violet and the rest for over thirty years and they have become part of my consciousness.  That is simply because I have played them and watched them and read them countless times.

Briny_Beach

If you are a fan of Alan Bennett then you may not need that explaining but if you are not you may be wondering why anyone would want to keep going back to the same set of stories, wouldn’t that be more like monotony rather than monologue?

One of the joys to me of parish ministry was being able to spend each afternoon calling on parishioners.  I know clergy don’t seem to do that any longer but when I was a curate that was what you were expected to do.  My training incumbent, Fr Walker, was insistent that the two curates were out each afternoon knocking on doors.  We had to present to him a list of those people we had visited at the end of every week and to be fair he was also visiting.  So three of us were out and about and visiting people in their own homes. That was something that stayed with me until I moved down to Southwark and to a very different pattern of ministry.

So we would knock on the door or ring the bell and Mrs So-and-so would answer it (it normally was the lady of the house) and we would be warmly welcomed (you didn’t need to have made an appointment, that would have been most odd), the kettle would be put on, some biscuits put on a plate and we would sit down and, well talk.  Normally though they would talk and I would listen.

I would like to say that we talked a lot about Jesus but that would be sugarcoating the experience.  It was more like what Lewis Carroll writes about in his poem ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ (see the picture above as imagined by Sir John Tenniel).

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

And, of course, Jesus would crop up from time to time, but these were stories about life that I was being told and church would be part of it but there was so much more to be told and heard and held.  That is why I like ‘Talking Heads’.

As you know, Alan Bennett was born and raised in Leeds where I was for the first eleven years of ministry.  He was from the opposite side of the city to where I was living and working but the accent was basically the same (some people could hear the difference but I couldn’t) and certainly the ‘turn of phrase’ was the same.  And it’s that ‘turn of phrase’ that Bennett captures so perfectly.  As I listen to the original recordings  – Thora Hird, Patricia Routledge and the like – I can hear Jessie and Alma and Margaret and Ivy and all the rest telling their stories in particular and memorable ways and often it makes me cry.  Gosh, what a privilege it was.

But the remaking has also come at a perfect time in this period of lock down.  Each of the talking heads is a person who we meet in isolation.  They are on their own, talking to us, directly to us.  Having now spent over three months on Zoom I have got very used to meeting people as talking heads, on a screen, distanced and in many cases isolated – not so different from Miss Fozzard.

So I am looking forward to hearing them all again and hearing a different voice telling the same story.  That is of course the experience we always have in church in which the same stories are read over and over and over again.  Different readers, different voices, different intonation bring out different truths from the one truth.

In 1886 Katherine Hankey, an English evangelist from south London (her parents were part of the Clapham Sect) wrote a hymn we would sing in Sunday school, ‘Tell me the old, old story’.  The second verse goes like this

Tell me the story slowly,
That I may take it in,
That wonderful redemption,
God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often,
For I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning
Has passed away at noon.

I want to hear the story, over and over again, I want to tell the story, over and over again, and stories worth telling have to be worth repeating.

Lord,
may I never cease
telling
and living
your story.
Amen.

Taking a knee

If you are a regular reader of this Living God blog you will have got to know bits and pieces about me quite well.  I can’t remember everything I’ve shared with you over the years that I’ve been doing this but there isn’t very much that I haven’t been honest about, to be honest! So I must have said before, and excuse me for repeating myself if I have, that I am no real fan of football .  At home, when I was a kid, dad was a season ticket holder for Leicester City Football Club.  Those were the great days of Gordon Banks who was goalie between 1959 and 1967, ten years before Gary Lineker began his Leicester career.  Anyway, I never went to a match with him and never really enjoyed having to watch ‘Match of the Day’ on a Saturday evening.  The only consolation was that dad always reappeared after a match with a big bag of sweets for us all, which I think must have been to calm my mum down.

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But despite this odd relationship with the ‘Beautiful Game’ I have been so impressed in the last week by our footballers.  Marcus Rashford has done an amazing job in single-handedly changing the mind of the Government with regard to what we now call ‘Holiday Hunger’.  Speaking out of his own experience as a child it was a calm and powerful intervention.  Then, as matches began again, we saw what were incredibly moving pictures of the players ‘taking a knee’ distanced on the pitch before play began, in their shirts, with #BlackLivesMatter emblazoned on them.  I found it humbling and it made me proud of these people who are proving to be such an influence for good.

Though I didn’t go to a match I did go to church and I was very quickly taught to ‘take the knee’ or what we call in church, genuflection.  Each year I help those who are preparing for ordination as priest in the Diocese of Southwark to think about how they will preside at the Eucharist.  So I give them lots of practical tips that will help them ‘do it properly’ (in my terms of course) with a bit of theology as well.  As part of it I always show them how to genuflect.  Because the group contains high, low and inbetweeners there are some who would never dream of doing it, some who are horrified and inclined to turn to the ‘Articles of Religion’ in the Prayer Book immediately and some for whom this is already second nature.  But it is what some of us were taught to do, to go down on one knee in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

Single gen

Of course, there is a right and wrong way to do this.  The tradition is that it’s the right knee that touches the floor, against the instep of the left foot.  I was taught, but I can’t find anything official to back this up, though no doubt someone will put me right on this, that the right knee is reserved for the Blessed Sacrament and the left knee for relics.  What I do know for certain is that on the most solemn occasions, such as the Watch of the Passion on Maundy Thursday, a double genuflection is called for, which means going down on both knees in a quite intricate move which would dazzle even stars of ‘Strictly’!

Double gen

But whatever the knee, what do I mean when I am doing it?  I do it, I take a knee, in adoration, in honouring, in love, in humility, in response to the one who took the knee before his disciples in the Upper Room on the night when he was betrayed.

During supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. (John 13.2-5)

Jesus takes the role of the servant and in order to wash their feet must kneel before them.  And when Peter objects, when the others look incredulous he says to them

“If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13.14)

‘If I have knelt, you should kneel; if I have taken a knee so should you.’

There is nothing submissive, nothing degrading about the act, it is powerful humility, an exercise in honouring the other and that is why seeing a circle of 22 men on a pitch taking a knee is so incredibly moving at this time. The writer of the Letter to the Ephesians expresses it all so perfectly and, rather than end with a prayer of my own writing, I want to end with this incredible prayer which moves me to kneel again.

I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3.14-19)

Amen to that.

The empty plinth

The empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square has provided some wonderful inspiration to artists to imagine what or who could stand there.  It cries out for someone, something to occupy it; it is, after all, so unusual to see an empty plinth.  But maybe it won’t be so lonely, so unusual a sight, perhaps we just need to move into a future of empty plinths.

Colston 2

The image of the figure of Edward Colston being cast ignominiously into the very harbour from which he was trading will become, I suspect, one of those iconic images and one of those iconic moments.  Many of us remember where we were when we heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated, many remember seeing Nelson Mandela walk free from Robben Island, many remember the first step taken on the moon, many remember watching the scenes from Berlin as the wall began to be torn down, many of us remember watching in horror as planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre and it fell.  All of these were life changing, iconic moments, seismic shifts in our world understanding, our personal consciousness.  Time will tell, but was the sight of Colston being dragged from his plinth one of those moments?

Stalin2

Last year I went for a city break in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.  I can recommend it and in fact I am taking a pilgrimage from Southwark Cathedral there next year (all being well). Having looked at the Roman ruins and having done the churches and mosques we decided to get on a bus and head out to the Museum of Socialist Art.  The museum was opened in 2011 and its collection is formed in great part of a collection of statues that were removed from their plinths around the capital and the rest of the country and placed instead, as historical artifacts, and art of a particular style, in a parkland.  There are no plinths.

Stalin

We spent ages walking among these figures, no longer looking down on us from a great and lauded height, no longer oppressive but instead impressive works – there is a big difference.  Some were brutal in style but nowhere near as brutal as they must have been when they were glowering down from a great height onto the oppressed populace.

The prophet Micah writes

‘they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;’
(Micah 4.3)

Swords and spears though come in many shapes and sizes, and forms.  We have come to a realisation in this past week that statuary, public monuments can be weaponised, that they can be used as swords in the fights that we have as humanity and whilst this might become a distraction from the core message of #blacklivesmatter it is nevertheless worth thinking about.  Swords need to be beaten into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks.  I was taken back to Sofia and those huge lumps of rock, that could have been broken down to create hardcore for building the new Bulgaria, to the statues that could have been melted down to be formed into something else.  But they weren’t, they were kept, but taken from their plinths.

Outside of the United Nations building in New York is a sculpture called ‘Let us beat swords into plowshares’ by Yevgeny Vuchetich.  It shows exactly what the prophet was speaking of.  A powerful image.

Schwerter_zu_Pflugscharen_-_Jewgeni_Wutschetitsch_-_Geschenk_der_Sowjetunion_an_die_UNO_-_1959

So more plinths are becoming empty.  In the Cathedral parish the statue of Thomas Guy, the founder of Guy’s Hospital is now being questioned and is boxed up in its position in the centre of the courtyard in which it has stood for so long.  I do not know what its fate will be, nor the fate of so many statues and sculptures that are the target of anger at the moment.

The Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, writes this

Don’t stop after beating the swords
into ploughshares, don’t stop! Go on beating
and make musical instruments out of them.
Whoever wants to make war again
will have to turn them into ploughshares first.

There are so many questions that we have to answer – how do we tell our story, how do we teach our history? How do we deal with the dark side of the past that doesn’t just hide it away? How do we live in our communities now and not make our past a weapon of continuing oppression? But the question I have been thinking about is whether plinths are of any use at all.  Should we be giving up on the idea that we place people on pedestals, at all.  OK, so it has been done since, well, forever.  But does that mean that we continue to do it?  Does any of us really deserve to be up there on the empty plinth?

In William Cowper’s poem that we sing as hymn, ‘O for a closer walk with God’, we have the verse

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.

There was one who was ‘lifted up’ that he might draw all people to himself.  The cross was a plinth, a pedestal like no other, and at the resurrection even that was empty.

God of peace, God of justice,
help me to understand the past
in the present
for the future.
Amen.

Use of the Bible

I have to confess something, get it off my chest, after all they say confession is good for the soul.  The thing is that whilst not being particularly academic and having a short attention span for the works of Aquinas and Schillebeeckx and the like I did OK in my exams whilst I was training for ordination.  That is apart from one particular paper with the intriguing title ‘Use of the Bible’.  I remember a question on readings that you could use for a Harvest Festival – I think you had to have a rationale for your choice, that kind of thing.  Anyway, when it came time for the results to be published I was summoned to the Principal’s office.  Fr Benedict Green CR was Principal at that time, a slightly off putting though terrifically kind person who had little in the way of small talk.  My capacity only for small talk left him normally underwhelmed.

Open Bible

So I knocked on the door and entered his study.  There he was in his cassock and grey scapular.  It was about the ‘Use of the Bible’ exam.  To cut a long story short I had escaped failing it by half a percent!  Not that it stood in the way of ordination and nor has it stood in the way of so many years of putting services together and choosing suitable readings, including for Harvest Festivals!  But I did leave his room feeling slightly told off, that I didn’t really know how to use the Bible.

It has been a shocking two weeks.  The death of George Floyd in Minnesota has shocked the world but also highlighted what our BAME sisters and brothers have known all the time, that insidious racism is never far away.  It is systemic, institutionalised, a poison in our societies and a scandal of monumental proportions.  The peaceful response in the States and around the world has been justified (the looting and wanton destruction of property is another matter, though it shows the depth of anger that this has provoked and unleashed).

And in that divisive, violent situation the President of the USA takes a walk from the White House, his route being cleared by more divisive and violent action as protesters are cleared from his path with the use of tear gas and he stands outside St John’s Episcopal Church (Anglican Church) holding a copy of the Bible aloft.  It was the most terrible image I think I have ever seen of the use, the misuse, of the Bible.

I am not the first to say that if, rather than holding it, he had the courage to open it he would have read there the truth that would challenge his every action.

What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6.8)

The Bible is not a weapon to be held in the way he did, not a talisman to ward off evil, it is God’s word to us, so that, in the words of the Prayer Book Collect for Advent 2

‘we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life’

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is equally clear

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4.12)

But it isn’t just President Trump who is at fault.  I ‘use’ the Bible to my own ends, grabbing verses here and there, to prove MY point.  Others grab texts to prove THEIR point.  We weaponise the word of God, we misuse the Bible in so many ways.  We have used it to justify the very slavery whose effect is continuing to be felt by those who hate people of colour and by those people of colour who still feel the yoke of oppression on their necks.  We have used the Bible to justify homophobia, to keep women ‘in their place’, to justify the rape of creation, or fuel antisemitism.

Trinity Sunday is when we read scripture to discover something of the true nature of God, we use the Bible to shed light on the glorious mystery of the God we have come to know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.  May we do that in a life-giving way, for as Paul writes to Timothy

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3.16-17)

I hope I never see another human being treated in the way George Floyd was, I hope I never see the Bible used as President Trump used it.

BLM

This is the prayer I have written in response to #BlackLivesMatter

God of all,
who loves each of us for who we are,
to whom each life matters,
who counts the hairs on our head
who knows when a sparrow falls;
teach us to love as you love
to respect, to honour, to care
and to protect
each of our sisters and brothers,
that your embracing,
including kingdom
may come now
and your love be known
by all, always.
Amen.

Stations of the Church

I have been making a number of journeys over the past few weeks.  All of them apart from one have been virtual, of course.  The one that wasn’t was ‘Beating the Bounds’ and making that journey was great fun.  But the idea of ‘stations’, first ‘of the cross’, then ‘of the resurrection’ inspired me to think again.  So for the Feast of Pentecost, which is the birthday of the church, I came up with another journey – fourteen ‘Stations of the Church’ – mostly taken from the Acts of the Apostles.  So I invite you to make the journey with me.  The text is below but you can watch and listen to the recording here.


Stations of the Church

Father in heaven,
whose Church on earth is a sign of your heavenly peace,
an image of the new and eternal Jerusalem:
grant to us in the days of our pilgrimage
that, fed with the living bread of heaven,
and united in the body of your Son,
we may be the temple of your presence,
the place of your glory on earth,
and a sign of your peace in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

The First Station: The witnessing church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

1a

Peter said, ‘One of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. (Acts 1.21-26)

Lord, may your church be a faithful witness to the power of your resurrection. Amen.

The Second Station : The fiery church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

2 Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2.1-4)

Lord, may your church so speak that others may understand. Amen.

The Third Station : The living church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

3 Early church

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2.44-47)

Lord, may your church be a living community. Amen.

The Fourth Station : The serving church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

4 Deacons

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. (Acts 6.1-6)

Lord, may your church always seek to serve those in the greatest need. Amen.

The Fifth Station : The suffering church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

5 Stephen

Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. (Acts 7.58-8.1)

Lord, may your church hold nothing back in serving you. Amen.

The Sixth Station : The converting church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

6 Paul

For several days Saul was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ All who heard him were amazed and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?’ Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah. (Acts 9.19a-22)

Lord, may your church speak with compelling, converting zeal. Amen.

The Seventh Station : The inclusive church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

7 Inclusion (2)

He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. (Acts 10.11-16)

Lord, may your church live only in the spirit and life of inclusion. Amen.

The Eighth Station : The discipling church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

8 Christians

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they associated with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’. (Acts 11.25-26 )

Lord, may your church be known as your body, your self. Amen.

The Ninth Station : The commissioning church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

9 Laying on of hands

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13.1-3)

Lord, may your church continue to set apart those called for ministry in the world. Amen.

The Tenth Station : The growing church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

10 Growth

For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
“I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles,
so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” ’

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. (Acts 13.47-49)

Lord, may your church see growth in depth and breadth. Amen.

The Eleventh Station : The gathering church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

11 Synod

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us.’

The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. (Acts 15.7-9, 12)

Lord, may your church act with wisdom. Amen.

The Twelfth Station : The ministering church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

12 choir

On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16.13-15)

Lord, may your church rejoice in the ministry of all its members. Amen.

The Thirteenth Station : The pilgrim church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

13 camino

But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets. I have a hope in God—a hope that they themselves also accept—that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. (Acts 24.14-15)

Lord, may your church be your pilgrims on the way. Amen.

The Fourteenth Station : The eternal church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

14 sunrise

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
(Revelation 7.9-12 )

Lord, may your church be our eternal vision. Amen.

Lord God, the source of truth and love,
keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
united in prayer and the breaking of bread,
and one in joy and simplicity of heart,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.


Rising above it

You get a lovely view over Jerusalem from the top of the Mount of Olives.  It’s a watershed, not a metaphorical one, just an actual one.  On one side you have the comparatively lush Jerusalem, on the other side Bethany and beyond it the wilderness.  On the one side you have the city with its domes and towers and walls and on the other side you have a barren landscape reaching down to the Dead Sea.  It was a good place for Jesus to take the disciples and it is always a good place to take any group of pilgrims to the Holy Land.  You stand on this spot and you see all before you.

Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. (Luke 24.50-51)

1000px-London_panorama,_1616b

The London Eye, the top of the Shard, even the tower of Southwark Cathedral are all wonderful vantage points from which to get a bigger picture.  They are all, even the cathedral tower, locked down to us at the moment (you can’t socially distance on our one spiral staircase!).  So on Ascension Day we were unable to do what we would normally do, climb the tower to sing the Ascension Day hymn and read the reading from Acts from the top, with the city spread out around us.  For centuries the tower of the Priory of St Mary Overie, then the parish church and now the Cathedral, was the highest point around.  The famous views of London by Claes Visscher in 1600 and Wenceslas Holler in 1647 and the like (reflected in the opening titles of each episode of ‘Upstart Crow’ – have you noticed the cathedral?) shows this wonderfully.  The tower on the south bank and the towers and steeples on the north bank punctuate the skyline and raise the eye to heaven.  Now we have to rely on many hideous tall buildings to do that in an entirely secular and, in the main, less elegant way.

So I was sorry not to get my early morning ascent of the tower this year.  It provides another view.  I was delighted to receive in my inbox a few days ago this amazing picture taken from an aircraft flying over a pollution free London.  What moved me, looking at it, was seeing the curve of the horizon in the distance.  It places London in context, it places Southwark in context, it places me in context.

London

The challenge of lockdown is that our world contracts to the space that we are in.  So many people live in small flats or houses, no outside space, a world closing in on them.  And as week rolls into week that must be hard to cope with.  But the ascension of the Lord takes us out of that, takes Jesus out of those confines.  He could have ascended from anywhere, he didn’t need some kind of launchpad.  So he took them to the hill for another reason rather than just getting a good lift off.  And I think that reason was so that they could understand that you, we, he needs the bigger picture, the larger perspective than the view from the locked in, locked down room that they were inhabiting.

There was an amusing joke circulating on Twitter over Ascension, that it was the day when Jesus began ‘working from home’. But for me the ascension is so much more than Jesus somehow returning home, it is more about Jesus being not in the particular place, but in every place, Jesus not being here, there, but everywhere, Jesus being the universal King that we celebrate towards the end of the year, Jesus encouraging us to look , out, above, beyond the immediate.

Those words of Jesus to his disciples must have been baffling

‘I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away.’ (John 16.7)

But perhaps from the top of the hill they began to make sense.  We also need that wider, bigger perspective as this lockdown continues.  That is why we have been inviting our friends from across the Anglican Communion to send us messages.  We have heard from Jerusalem and Kenya, Madagascar and Canada, Texas and San Francisco, all different perspectives, different views to widen our view.  You can view them all here.  This Wednesday the next ‘Message’ will come from Zimbabwe.

John Donne’s seventh and final Sacred Poem, ‘Ascension’, helped me make sense of it all, a bigger view.

Salute the last and everlasting day,
Joy at th’ uprising of this Sun, and Son,
Ye whose true tears, or tribulation
Have purely wash’d, or burnt your drossy clay.
Behold, the Highest, parting hence away,
Lightens the dark clouds, which He treads upon;
Nor doth He by ascending show alone,
But first He, and He first enters the way.
O strong Ram, which hast batter’d heaven for me!
Mild Lamb which with Thy Blood hast mark’d the path!
Bright Torch, which shinest, that I the way may see!
O, with Thy own Blood quench Thy own just wrath;
And if Thy Holy Spirit my Muse did raise,
Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise.

‘That I the way may see’. A bigger picture than the locked down room.

Jesus, raise my eyes,
above,
beyond
the immediate,
that I may see
as you
see.
Amen.

Beating the Bounds

Even in the modern urban church parish boundaries are still closely guarded.  If I am straying into someone else’s territory I always feel a little nervous and if I am going to be doing something anywhere else I always tell the vicar.  So there is something wonderful about the tradition on Rogation Sunday of ‘Beating the Bounds’. I have happy memories of doing this as a child when we would head out of the church in procession after the Mass and the priest would bless the community.  It was a large parish on the edge of Leicester and so I don’t remember us struggling around the actual boundary!  At Mirfield, however, we left the Community Church and made our way in full procession to the rhubarb patch in the garden and there there would be a solemn blessing and sprinkling of that area.  I have to say there were some bumper harvests whilst I was there, not just of rhubarb but also gooseberries and beetroot!

SC events 2016.05.08 Beating the Bounds 1

Beating the Bounds on a previous Rogation Sunday

All this makes me convinced that going out to ‘Beat the Bounds’ is a good thing.  It’s basically the same principal as a dog putting its leg up against every lamppost on its daily walk.  You mark out the territory so that everyone is clear where the boundary lies.  But the other aspect of the walk is this business of responding to what Jesus tells his disciples.

‘Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.’ (John 16.23-24)

Our word ‘rogation’ comes from the Latin ‘rogare’ to ask and the passage is part of the Gospel for this Sunday in the Book of Common Prayer.  So we go out and we ask God’s blessing on the fields, on our homes, on our streets, on our parish.  It’s the other end of the Harvest Festival – we give thanks for the harvest because we asked God to bless the fields from which the harvest would come.

This year, of course, there was no possibility of having the procession from the Cathedral as in former years.  In fact it is possible to walk round the boundary of the Cathedral parish.  It isn’t a huge distance and it is a fascinating walk.  So, last weekend I did the walk, taking my phone with me and filming 14 ‘stations’ along the way.  You can share in the journey here.

It was amazing walking along, stopping and reflecting on both the history and the present day in this fascinating part of south London, in this area alongside the river.  For me it was a powerful journey and I hope for those who view it and make the journey with me it is too.

So, what do we ask on this particular Rogation Sunday? Well I suppose we need to see growth, blossoming and a fruitful harvest in all our communities, in all our industry and commerce after this fallow period of lockdown.  That is my prayer, for as Jesus says to us

‘if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.’

Father,
in the name of Jesus,
hear our prayer
for a rebirth after lockdown,
fruitfulness after fallow,
plenty after scarcity,
that all may share your blessings.
Amen.

Freedom

In the midst of this lock-down there has been something deeply poignant about commemorating the 75th anniversary of VE Day.  We had asked people to send in photos of their relatives or friends from those wartime years so that we could include them in Southwark Cathedral’s VE Day service.  And we got so many.  You can see the final montage here.

There are women and men in uniform, of course, but also civilians, children, families, wartime sweethearts and those wartime weddings.  It is amazing to think that in such days of uncertainty a couple would walk down the aisle, giving everything, risking everything ’till death us do part’.  How they said those words knowing that their husband would be back to base, back on his ship, posted overseas after the shortest of honeymoons I simply do not know.

Bill and Vera

This is my Uncle Bill and my Auntie Vera.  Uncle Bill sadly died a few years ago but my Auntie is going strong in her nineties.  They married during the war and he then went back to his ship, he being in the Royal Navy.  You can only be proud, only admire such people.

My mother was from Wigston, just outside of Leicester but my dad (Vera’s brother) was from the Essex edge of London.  Granddad Nunn had a business on the Strand, they lived not far from Hornchurch Aerodrome.  My Nanny Nunn would tell us stories when we were young of having to live in the Anderson Shelter at the bottom of the garden almost permanently during the period of the Blitz.  The children had been packed off as evacuees to South Wales when war began but they quickly came home and Nanny raised them back in London.  But thinking of it now from this lock-down when people are so full of anxiety and fear, how did those before us cope?  Children were sent to school after a night in the air raid shelter, father’s went off to the City to work.  Mums did what mums did, some at home, some in munitions factories, some on buses.  Every morning people didn’t know whether they would see each other in the evening, ever again.  There was no texting, no mobile phones to check up if people were OK, no apps for tracking and tracing.  People set off, in faith, in hope, almost reckless, profligate with their lives, committed to the task, the fight for freedom.

Nanny would tell us what it was like to emerge after a night of bombing, to see familiar streets now unfamiliar, to hear of the deaths of neighbours, everything changed.  Eventually the Nunns moved from London to Leicester.  The business on the Strand was no more and there were opportunities to be had in the Midlands.  That is how my Mum and Dad met, at one of those wonderful dances at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester that happened in those years, people dancing through the terrors.

Mum and Dad

That’s my Mum and Dad on the right

It is good to remember what happened on the battlefield, but it is also good to remember those who fought for freedom as civilians, as mums and dads, as brides and grooms, as schoolchildren, making the ultimate sacrifice.

As Mary stands before Simeon in the Temple he says to her

‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Luke 2.34-35)

This child would bring freedom, would bring resurrection, would bring life.  But it was not without a price and Mary would be one of those who would pay it.  The mother would suffer as the son brought freedom.  It was true for Mary, it was true in the war, it is true now.

God of freedom,
we bless you for those who have given themselves for us,
we bless you for your Son who rose for us.
May we seek your freedom for all.
Amen.

Fear

I have never been a person that has enjoyed being terrified.  That does present problems when I am trying to find a film to watch.  ‘Friday Fright Night’ would not be appealing to me and I steer clear of anything that looks as though it might be frightening.  Interestingly, and against all that I have just said, one of my favourite films is ‘Psycho’.  You see, I know what is going to happen, and it is in black and white, and it is tense as opposed to scary, and anyway I think the music and the style of it are amazing.  Having said that I don’t really like shower curtains!

balineum_straight_shower_curtain_rail_01

Enough to send a shiver down the spine!

As I was thinking about what to blog about this week when life is so strange and a bit monotonous, there was a report on the radio about a survey that had been conducted into people’s attitudes to this lock-down.  What was being highlighted in the reports was the level of fear that is around among people and, in particular, the fear of emerging from the lock-down and re-entering something that might have vestiges of normality.  Though lock-down is hard to cope with at least most of us are safe in our homes; going outside, meeting people is all of a sudden scary.

Hearing that resonated with something of what I am feeling at the moment.  My excursions from the Deanery are for these reasons – to go to the shops, especially the Borough Market which, thankfully, remains open (thanks to the traders) and our local M&S Simply Food (thanks to the staff there); to go to the Cathedral offices which I do twice a week to ‘do’ the post; and finally, to go for a proper walk, which is my version of exercise.  That is it.  I haven’t been on public transport since 15 March, my Freedom Pass is locked away! To be honest I feel quite safe and I am safely in my routine, online services, Zoom meetings, finish at 5 for the Downing Street briefing and watch ‘Gavin & Stacey’ (rationed) before I go to bed.

So I can understand the fear of what might happen when the PM says to us, ‘OK you can go out now’ or words to that effect.  How will I feel getting on the Tube, on a bus; how would I feel as a member of a real rather than a virtual congregation?  Am I becoming a little bit agoraphobic, a little bit afraid?  Is something beginning to take root within me that I need to address now?

It is a good time to ponder these things.  The twin messages of the Easter encounters with the risen Jesus are ‘Peace be with you’ and ‘Do not be afraid’.  I, we, need to hear this message.  The locked-down disciples needed to hear the message.  In the end they needed to be driven by wind and flame from their room and out into the world.  It would be a scary place for the fledgling church, not everyone was pleased to see them on the streets, to hear the Good News on the streets – but there was where God wanted, needed them to be, out there, setting their fears to one side and being the church.

As I learnt for my history ) Level, in his inaugural address in 1933 President Franklin D Roosevelt said

‘There is nothing to fear but fear itself’

Fear stifles things, but Jesus sets us free from fear.

Lord Jesus,
may fear not overwhelm us
but your life embolden us
for today,
for tomorrow.
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

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark