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.

The First Station: The witnessing church

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


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.

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)


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.


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,
the immediate,
that I may see
as you

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.’

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.


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.


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!


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.

Praying for our key workers

It was good to be able to keep a minute’s silence today to pray for our key workers who have died so far as a result of this pandemic. I wrote a prayer this morning that you might wish to pray.


Lord Jesus, healer, shepherd,
they came to you for healing,
you went to them for saving;
enfold in your love
those who have followed in your steps
and have died in this pandemic.
Give them their reward,
console those who loved them
and weep with us
for lost lives,
for you are
our resurrection and our life.

A steep learning curve

Back in 2014, in the days when people travelled, a group of us from Southwark Cathedral went on pilgrimage to Georgia.  It was a memorable journey for lots of reasons.  It is a beautiful and varied country, nice food, good wine, fantastic churches – all that kind of thing.  We also had a lovely guide, Maka, a young woman who looked after us very well as she showed us the glories of her country.  She also had a way with the English language which was really delightful.

Georgia Steep 2

Our goal at the end of the steepy climb

We were due to go on a long walk on one of the days.  It said in the brochure that ‘We walk up through beautiful valleys and woodland to Gergeti (Trinity) Church (2170m)’.  It sounded lovely.  Maka’s warning to us was that it would be ‘a little bit steepy’.  That phrase has become one we use at home a lot, along with ‘angry poisonous snakes’ which was her warning to us when we were due to climb  up to a church on the border with Azerbaijan. But that is another story.

Anyway, when the day came for the ‘little bit steepy’ walk we were met with heavy skies.  It was threatening rain, and rain it did.  But nothing would stop us.  So not only was it steepy but muddy and wet.  I have never been as filthy since the childhood days of making mud pies.  But as arrived at the peak of the hill – 2170 metres above sea level – the rain stopped and we were able to eat our packed lunches, damp but with a real sense of achievement.

Georgia steep 3

It was worth the climb – really!

We have now been in lockdown for a month and as I was thinking back over these four weeks I was thinking about Maka and her ‘little bit steepy’ warning.  This has been a steep learning curve for all of us.

In many ways I can’t believe it is ONLY a month, it feels like forever.  But it is good to be able to reflect on what we have learnt, on what you have learnt, on what I have learnt.  On a practical level I now understand Microsoft Teams and Zoom – a month ago I understood neither.  I understand the advantages of being the host on Zoom – being able to mute everyone else in the meeting, you can’t do that around a table as much as you might want to at times!

I now understand a great deal more about how to worship remotely, how to worship online, and how to lead worship online.  I’m fortunate to have someone with me in the house who can respond, so we are a bit like a community in that sense.  But it feels authentic, real, knowing that there is a congregation there, it’s just that you can’t see or hear them.  I have learnt how to involve other people in the worship, how to think outside of the box about how readings are done, what the prayers might be like, how to use music and images and how important it is for us to see the faces of those who we know and love and worship with.  And every day I feel as though I am learning more – how to record a PowerPoint presentation for instance as I have done with two sets of Stations recently.

The problem was that I, and I suspect others, have been learning whilst we were doing the very things we were learning about.  Ordinarily in the rather snail like church we take ages to learn something and apply it – but not this time.  In his wonderful satirical poem ‘The Hippopotamus’, T S Eliot compares the church to the Hippo and in one stanza says this

The hippopotamus’s day
Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;
God works in a mysterious way
The Church can sleep and feed at once.

The sleeping church has had to wake up and become a bit more agile!

So it has been ‘a little bit steepy’ and I am glad that I, we, have been able to learn some new stuff.  But I have also learnt some old stuff.

Celebrating the Eucharist in the hall of the Deanery is fine, but it is odd.  We can make our communion – aren’t we lucky.  But I know that there are often over 500 people watching who can’t hold out their hands and receive the bread and the wine as we are called, invited, to do.  I can say ‘The peace of the Lord be always with you’ but we cannot embrace, or shake hands, or kiss as we would normally do.  There is so much about our worship that is physical and physically engaged.  Thomas was correct in the Upper Room when he said to the others

‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ (John 20.25)


It wasn’t that Thomas was in some way being too basic, too literal, not sufficiently trusting, not sufficiently spiritual about this.  It was just that he believed in the incarnation, in ‘the word being made flesh’ and it was the fleshiness of the experience of Jesus that he craved.  As a priest in the sacramental tradition I need the stuff of now in order to engage with the stuff of God – and that stuff is bread and wine and water and it is the proximity of my neighbour, their touch, their embrace and them standing with me and sharing in the same broken bread.

The words we say in the Anglican Mass are seen by some clergy as unnecessary, not essential to the Rite because the action that accompanies them speaks louder than the words, but I disagree.

We break this bread
to share in the body of Christ.
Though we are many, we are one body,
because we all share in one bread.

The four-fold action of the Mass is of the essence of the sacrament – ‘taking, blessing, breaking, sharing’ – I can do the first three online but it is the last action I crave as a priest, to place the broken bread, the broken body of Jesus in the broken hands of the hungry people of God, of which I am one.  But the steep learning curve is that we are where we are.  So making a ‘Spiritual Communion’ is becoming our expereince, but for a time, this time only.  As Jesus said

“Let it be so now.” (Matthew 3.15)

But whilst we are being satisfied spiritually we must not allow ourselves to become inured to the feelings of hunger for the bread which brings life.

This is a prayer by St Alphonsus Liguori for Spiritual Communion.  I offer it to you, for now.

My Jesus, I believe that you are truly present
in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
I love you above all things and desire
to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself
wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.

Stations of the Resurrection

During Holy Week there is the long tradition of following the route of the Via Dolorosa, if not actually then certainly spiritually.  But there is another journey that we can make and that is through the experience of resurrection as described in scripture.  It was a journey that the disciples made, from the desolation of the Upper Room to the release from that locked-in, locked-down space into the freedom which Pentecost brought.  I have tried in this set of ‘Stations of the Resurrection’ to take us on that journey.  You can follow it on the Cathedral’s YouTube and Facebook channels – but the texts and the pictures are here for you to use in your own way and in your own time.

The Stations of the Resurrection

God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open
in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The First Station : A new dawn breaks

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. (Matthew 28.1-3)

Lord Jesus, may each dawn fill us with resurrection hope. Amen.

The Second Station : The disciples run to the tomb

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Third Station Eugene Burnard

Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. (John 20.3-6)

Lord Jesus, fill us with eager anticipation for each encounter with you. Amen.

The Third Station : Touch me not

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Italian School; Noli me tangere

Mary Magdalene turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. (John 20.14-17)

Lord Jesus, may we hear you speak our name and know your love in our lives. Amen.

The Fourth Station : In the upper room

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Eighth Station tissot-the-communion-of-the-apostles-751x523

Later Jesus appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. (Mark 16.14)

Lord Jesus, meet me in my doubts and in my questions with the assurance of your presence. Amen.

The Fifth Station : My Lord and my God

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20.26-28)

Lord Jesus, may your peace rest upon us; may we declare you our Lord and our God.  Amen.

The Sixth Station : On the road

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. (Luke 24.13-16)

Lord Jesus, walk with us, our companion on our road.  Amen.

The Seventh Station : The breaking of the bread

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24.30-35)

Lord Jesus, feed our hunger with your bread, quench our thirst with your wine, your body, your blood.  Amen.

The Eighth Station : On the beach

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Seventh Station Jesus at the lakeside

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. (John 21.4)

Lord Jesus, may we recognise you even when we least expect you. Amen.

The Ninth Station : Come and have breakfast

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ (John 21.9-12)

Lord Jesus, meet us in the ordinary with your extraordinary love.  Amen.

The Tenth Station : Feed my sheep

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. (John 21.15-17)

Lord Jesus, feed us as we feed others, tend us as we tend others.  Amen.

The Eleventh Station : On the mount

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


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. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24.50-53)

Lord Jesus, bless us who look to you.  Amen.

The Twelfth Station : At prayer

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


The apostles were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. (Acts 1.14)

Lord Jesus, give us a heart to pray, to lift ourselves to you.  Amen. 

The Thirteenth Station : Wind and flame

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


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 Jesus, drive us with the Spirit’s wind, warm us with the Spirit’s flame, speak through us with the Spirit’s voice.  Amen.

The Fourteenth Station : The witness

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Peter preaching

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. (Acts 2.14, 32)

Lord Jesus, may we be living witnesses to your life; may alleluia be our song.  Amen.

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things that are above
where he reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Let us bless the Lord.  Alleluia, alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia!


In the garden – Part two

Four hundred years ago the great Bishop of Winchester, Lancelot Andrewes, preached the Easter Day sermon in Whitehall before King James I and the members of his court.  It was 1620 and Andrewes was by that time resident at Winchester House on what is now Clink Street, alongside what is now Southwark Cathedral, where he is buried.

Italian School; Noli me tangere

I was reading part of his Easter Day sermon yesterday after I had posted my blog about the garden.  So I was thrilled to read these words and thought you might be too.

Christ rising was indeed a gardener, and that a strange one, Who made such a herb grow out of the ground this day as the like was never seen before, a dead body to shoot forth alive out of the grave.

But I ask, was He so this day alone? No, but this profession of His, this day begun, He will follow to the end. For He it is That by virtue of this morning’s act shall garden our bodies too, turn all our graves into garden plots; yea, will one day turn land and sea and all into a great garden, and so husband them as will in due time bring forth live bodies, even all our bodies alive again.

Mary Magdalene standing by the grave’s side, and there weeping, is thus brought to represent unto us the state of all mankind before this day, the day of Christ’s rising again, weeping over the dead. But Christ quickened her, and her spirits that were as good as dead. You thought you should have come to Christ’s resurrection to-day, and so you do. But not to His alone, but even to Mary Magdalene’s resurrection too. For in very deed a kind of resurrection it was wrought in her; revived as it were, and raised from a dead and drooping, to a lively and cheerful estate. The gardener had done His part, made her all green on the sudden.

Lord, make us your pleasant planting,
quicken us
that we may live in the garden
of your delight.

In the garden

It seems to me one of the very big divides that has been exposed by the times we are living in – these days of lockdown as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic – is that there is a section of the population who have access to a garden and a lot of people who simply don’t.  One of the joys of living in London is the sheer number of parks and public squares that we can enjoy.  These are places where people meet and gather and exercise, the places where children run around with their dogs, where you can sit alongside a stretch of water and feed the wildfowl, the places where you can admire the planting of flowers and breathe fresh air.  The open spaces are part of what makes it possible to live in London, the parks, as well as all the other public places that people can enjoy, the galleries and museums, the shops, and pubs and bars and restaurants.  London is the living room for lots and lots of people who will sleep in their studio flat but never envisaged being locked down in it.  It must be tough when we know that we should stay in to ‘stay home, protect the NHS and save lives’ but feeling that the walls are closing in on us.

Italian School; Noli me tangere

‘Noli me tangere’

The disciples were in lockdown.  They were in the Upper Room for fear, as St John constantly reminds us, of what lay outside.  They sat there waiting, but unclear of how long that wait would be.  But as dawn breaks Mary Magdalene leaves the safety of the room and steps outside.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. (John 20.1)

She makes her way to the garden where, just a few hours earlier, they had buried the dead body of Jesus, hurriedly.  Now she goes to complete the task and to weep, to be alone, but in the fresh dawn air, out of the stifling atmosphere of the locked room.

Whatever is true about Mary Magdalene, and a great deal is loaded on to her by the tradition, I always think that there is something strong and courageous about her.  There has to be a reason why she was chosen to be the ‘Apostle of the Apostles’, the first witness to the resurrection.  She must have had qualities that the others simply didn’t display.  So, regardless of all the conventions of the day, it is a woman, this woman who is chosen to be the principle messenger to the waiting, locked-down world of what God had done for humanity.  History shows us that she, with all her sisters were subsequently sidelined by a male, patriarchal church and that it would take two millennia for the voice from the garden to be heard. But we hear her voice today.

‘I have seen the Lord’ (John 20.18)

In what have become regular visits for me to the Holy Land I have been trying to discover new places, the ‘Hidden and Holy’ as I have been calling them.  Obviously, they aren’t new and I haven’t discovered them.  But they are places that are new to me and, I suspect, less often visited by busy pilgrims.  One such place is St Jacob’s Orthodox Cathedral. It is set on the courtyard that is in front of the doors to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  As you are looking at the entrance, the doorway to the Cathedral is on your left.

To be honest I hadn’t noticed the door until recently and I don’t know what the opening hours are.  But on the last two occasions it has been open and I have gone in.  What is amazing is that as you enter you come first to an ‘outside’ sanctuary.  The iconostasis is covered but the rest of the space is open to the elements.

Outside sanctuary

The beautiful ‘outside’ sanctuary

There are some doors which then take you to the ‘inner’ sanctuary, a lovely space, one or two people there, saying their prayers, an ancient font, lovely icons.

Inner sanctuary

The ‘inner’ sanctuary

But what is very special is the shrine that is in the outside sanctuary.  It stands where the sun can shine on it and the rain can fall upon it.  It stands on the spot where Mary met the gardener, met Jesus.  We are just a few meters away from the Edicule which enshrines Christ’s tomb.  Where St Jacob’s now stands was in that same garden, just a stone’s throw away where Mary wept and was found by the stranger who called her by name.  I found the place deeply powerful.


The place of encounter

Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were placed in a garden where God walked alongside them – and then, through sin, they were barred from it.  An angel with a flaming sword stood at the entrance and none could enter.  Jesus is raised to new life in another garden; another angel is there with a caring question, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ (John 20.13) and an invitation to see.  Mary is in the life-giving place where the one who has set free from her sins, encounters her and names her.

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). (John 20.15-16)

This year we are locked out of our churches as we are locked down in our homes.  But in those moments when you can emerge, get out, breathe fresh air, find that ‘garden’ space and meet the Lord there.  As the poet Dorothy Frances Gurney wrote

One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

May we too meet the Lord and hear his voice, naming us, in the garden of his delight.

Jesus, risen Lord,
meet us where we are,
name us and bless us.

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

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


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