This has been the final full week of Advent. What a wonderful season it is. I’m always sorry that we get so little of it now in church. It is inevitable, I suppose, when so many people want to come along for carol services. So I have yet again sung ‘Hark the Herald Angels’ so many times this week but hearing everyone else sing with gusto is a really encouraging thing.
On Monday we hosted News UK at the Cathedral for the first time. This is the name by which we now know News Corp who will, next year, be moving just over the road from the Cathedral into their new home, The Place, which is between us and the Shard. The church is all about new beginnings and so it is good to have this relationship with this news and publishing giant from the very beginning of their time in the Borough. We live in an increasingly complex world and so if people who seek to form opinion and set the news agenda are willing to hear the Good News proclaimed and the simple and life changing story of the birth of a child, the Son of God, then that can only be a good thing.
Later that same day we welcomed the Mayor of London and the GLA to the Cathedral for a carol service for London. It was a great service at which the choir ‘Kaos’ performed. You may remember them singing and signing at the opening of the Olympic Games. It is a choir which brings together both deaf and hearing children between the ages of 4 and 18. It was thrilling to hear them and very moving to see their commitment and joy as they performed a series of Christmas songs. They were supported by a great brass band from Sutton – again, more young people really committed to their art and doing it so well.
The week was brought to a close with another corporate carol service, PWC, who always bring our external carol services (as we call them in the office) to a conclusion. Of course, PWC and others are not external at all but part of the family of Southwark Cathedral. We have had a long and fruitful relationship and they continue to actively support all that we do here. This year, in particular, we have been grateful to them for the practical support they have given through the Emerging Leaders Programme which they run. Members of staff have given time to working with us on the All Hallows’ Project and we are thankful to them for that.
The lunch after the service was held at the Brigade, a restaurant supported by PWC on Tooley Street. There is a great story behind this restaurant as they train homeless people in catering and hospitality skills. I met Simon Boyle, the Chef Founder of the Beyond Food Foundation project at Brigade. He told me that they have had 300 homeless people through the project. 73 of these became apprentices of which 53 have graduated and 35 are now in full time employment. This is a tremendous story of success and in a season when we are very much thinking about the plight of the street homeless, something positive to celebrate. The food is tremendous as well!
It is through working together and building relationships in these ways – of which the carol services are but an indicator – that we help create the kind of community that we seek, one in which there is interdependence and where the flourishing of the corporate world and responsible government at the local level leads to better lives for those who live here. That is the vision that I, with the Chapter, hold and that we have tried to articulate in the Living God process – because we believe it is at the heart of the incarnation, in which God became one with us in all of the complexity of the world – in order to save us as one with us.
The Advent part of the Living God process came to a conclusion with two events this week. Canon Martin Seeley, Principal of Westcott House, Cambridge, joined us on Wednesday to lead the third session called ‘God comes … in flesh’. He spoke to another good crowd about incarnational theology. This was then followed up on Saturday with ‘God comes … in prayer’ in which the Very Revd Victor Stock brought the strands together – darkness, silence and flesh – into a whole within a vigil retreat.
The response to both of these sessions has been tremendous and many people have been asking for more of the same. We are now putting the final touches to the next term’s programme and I am sure that there will be some exciting and challenging elements for many people within it as we move from Christmas to Easter.
Perhaps the most unusual thing I did during the week was to cook in the demonstration kitchen in the Borough Market. For some reason – apart from that I seem unable to say ‘no’ – I had agreed to do this some time ago as it seemed a great opportunity to get out and tell people about the true meaning of Christmas. So I woke on the morning of the event not a little nervous. In the end I really enjoyed the opportunity – though it was exhausting, talking and cooking at the same time. My recipe was for some Christmas biscuits which, following a competition amongst the staff of the Cathedral were called Balthastars. They were simple to make but gave me the opportunity to talk about the wise men and the real message of Christmas – along with a lot of other stuff! Well, an hour is a long time to fill!
So an interesting week as we make the final approach to Christmas and the birth of the Living God we know in Jesus Christ. May the star lead us to the crib as it did so many years before and may we there find Christ.
O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.