The results are in!

I am already hooked by this year’s ‘Strictly’. Until three years ago I always watched it and then for some reason I can’t now remember we missed watching it three years in succession. But this year the standard is already so high and, of course, we have John and Johannes dancing together. Mind you, after having watched Matthew Bourne’s ‘Swan Lake’ on a few occasions the sight of two men dancing together doesn’t strike me as odd in any way.

But the reason I mention this is because of the very formulaic way that the show proceeds. We have all that stuff about them training for the dance, then the dance, then the bit before the judges with Tess – Anton does seem to be channeling his inner Len – then they have to run, for some reason, like Joe Biden onto a hustings platform, to chat to Claudia whilst, presumably, the judges choose their paddle. Then Claudia says ‘The results are in’ and we hear just how few points Craig is giving. All comfortingly predictable!

Well last week it was result time for the Church of England. Since the summer the process of elections to General Synod has been proceeding. In July the final Group of Sessions were prorogued. Synod was no more; we went our separate ways. There was much ‘Are you standing again?’ ‘I haven’t decided.’ in the corridors. Then people did decide.

The process was different this year. Previously the elections had been run in each diocese; now they are run centrally and electronically. But you still had to find a nominator and seconder, you had to write your statement, and after having submitted everything, sit and wait.

Deans are part of a ‘rotten borough’. We are one of the few groups remaining that elect Synod members from our own number. So there are five places for deans, three in the south, two in the north. Having served for three quinquennia plus one year (due to Covid) I decided to throw my hat into the ring again. I’m delighted to say that I was elected, along with, in the south, the Dean of St Paul’s and the Dean of St Edmundsbury.

From the Diocese of Southwark a great many people stood, many for the first time, and the results show some change in our representation. A few old faces have gone and some new ones have arrived, which is fantastic. As ever, the bulk of those elected come from the liberal catholic heartland of the diocese but there is a good showing of those from the evangelical tradition, a good thing. And from what I know, particularly of the clergy, there are people who won’t be afraid to stand up and have their say or get their hands dirty doing the work of Synod.

So what did I say to my fellow deans in order to be elected? Well, here is part of it.

I am encouraged and energised by getting to know people in Synod from across the dioceses and particularly across all traditions. This both displays, and continues to shape, my commitment to what I believe are central to the life of the Church of England, namely true inclusivity, a commitment to the tradition that we’ve received, a desire for excellence and, through an intelligent proclamation of the gospel, a commitment to growth. I can’t say that I’m the most active contributor to debates in the chamber, but my voting record, I hope, speaks clearly of my priorities.

I hope to be able to help the new Synod to begin working well as we return, God willing, to in-person Groups of Sessions. It is important that Synod is renewed with new blood and fresh ideas but that, in addition, there are some of us who know our way around. I would hope that I can play my part in helping Synod settle down after all that we have gone through.

As far as the work we have to do I think that the principle task is looking to the future and rebuilding the church but doing so with a commitment to historic structures. Just as I believe in cathedrals I also believe in the parish system. I am first and foremost Rector of St Saviour’s with All Hallows, Southwark and having been instituted to that was then installed as Dean. We are committed to the parish and its structures. I believe that the most serious challenge at the moment is the morale of the clergy who feel abused by the hierarchy, unsupported and undervalued. We are in danger of losing the good will of the very people who make the church the church day in day out. Synod has to wake up and halt the bulldozers.

At the same time, just as we have confidence to do ‘fresh’ things each day in our cathedrals and to create new ecclesial communities all the time, parishes have to have the confidence to do the same. ‘Behold I make all things new’ (Revelation 21.5).

So, the results are in and in November we will gather in Westminster, with Her Majesty The Queen to begin another round of meetings. Keep us in your prayers, please.

Almighty God,
you have given your Holy Spirit to the Church
to lead us into all truth:
bless with the Spirit’s grace and presence
the members of the General Synod;
keep them steadfast in faith and united in love,
that they may manifest your glory
and prepare the way of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

(From Common Worship)

You can call me …

There are a couple of friends who always call me Andy, just two of them, Julie and Nick. Why, I don’t know. I haven’t ever asked them to be honest, but if they read this blog – and they know who they are – they might tell me. Actually I don’t mind because it makes my relationships with them somewhat special. They are both friends from school days in Wigston and I am trying to recall whether people in general at Guthlaxton called me ‘Andy’. But I can’t remember that and in fact I think my mum wouldn’t have liked it. She was called Jill and so there was no way of shortening it, making it more familiar. Her dad, my granddad, was baptised John but everyone called him Jack – seems strange to me. My sister has a short name which can’t be shortened but my dad was Peter and I think his sisters all called him Pete, but not sure about that.

The thing is that I think of myself as ‘Andrew’ and I like that. I love my name in fact – Andrew Peter – two good solid saints names, two disciples, I can’t think of anything better than that and I have never really hankered after any other name – except those called David have often seemed to be quite good looking and good on the sports field, in my experience.

On Paul Simon’s wonderful album ‘Graceland’ released back in 1986 there’s a great song and the chorus goes

If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty, when you call me, you can call me Al

There is an echo here in the lyrics of something from one of the famous songs of the Great Depression ‘Buddy, can you spare a dime’

Say don’t you remember, they called me Al
It was Al all the time

Betty, Al, Andy, Pete, all very familiar. The reason I have been thinking about this is because there was a report that a church in Bournemouth, St Michael’s, is in the process of formally renaming itself St Mike’s. The reason that this is being done, according to these accounts, is that doing so will attract younger people who, it would seem, would be put off by the name Michael, or rather be attracted by a place that was a bit more familiar with its patron saint, the warrior archangel, Michael. Well, it’s true, he can be a bit frightening! When you go up the steps outside Coventry Cathedral you are met by the huge statue by Jacob Epstein of St Michael and the Devil. It is an awesome piece of work and I dare you to shout out ‘Hi, Mike’ as you ascend to the church.

To be honest – and I don’t really know what life is like in Bournemouth, or what young people round there are like – I am a little bit sceptical about whether we would attract hoards of young people by renaming our churches – St Phil, St Sy, St Matt, St Kate, St Jack, etc. What would seem to me to be much more effective would be to preach the gospel in such a way that it speaks directly to whoever comes through the door, to be a church that lives in love and faith rather than endlessly talking about it, to be truly inclusive, embracing, safe, and grown up.

The truth is that faith isn’t about being cuddled, it is about entering into the presence of an awesome God, a crucified saviour, faith is demanding, it challenges, it is warm but it isn’t cuddly. When we read the scriptures we read of a God who keeps people at a distance, they couldn’t even touch the mountain of divine encounter, only the High Priest, once a year, could enter the Holy of Holies, even followers of Jesus fell away because being a disciple was too hard and at the end the implications of it all, played out beyond the city walls between two criminals, was just too much and only some women could remain. Then, to cap it all, when Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus in the garden he tells her to keep away, ‘Noli me tangere’ ‘do not touch me’.

As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10.31)

Some times that ‘fearful’ is translated ‘awesome’, ‘terrifying’. Yet we come, we draw near, because this awesome God calls us by name and makes us God’s own, we are attracted, not in some crass way, but by divine love. We can’t sell faith cheap, we do an injustice to the very God that we want people to get to know.

This week the results of the General Synod elections will be known. Those elected have a tough time ahead of them. The Church of England is always walking on the edge, but it feels now more than ever that we are going to fall off. We can spend the new Groups of Sessions falling out about who can love each other, we can talk endlessly about rebranding ourselves and renaming our churches as though the saints were our mates, as though God, in Paul Simon’s words, is our ‘long lost pal’ or we could look like people who have encountered God, in the burning bush, in the holy awesome, sacred space, on the cross, at the altar, in the kingdom food of bread and wine, in wind and flame, in martyrs and in monks, in child-like awe, in silent adoration. Or you can just choose to call me Andy!

Awesome God, draw us into the fire of your love that we may know you in holiness and truth. Amen.

Gratitude

It’s one of the first things that we learn to say and do. Your auntie gives you something, a biscuit, a present. You want to get on with it, eating it, tearing away the paper, but someone stops you and asks ‘What do you say?’. ‘Thank you!’ you respond. ‘It’s a pleasure’ replies your aunt, ‘Enjoy it!’ And you get on with just that. We have to learn the ‘attitude of gratitude’ as it is sometimes described. It should be natural, but to be honest it doesn’t always come naturally.

When the Olympic Games were happening in London back in 2012 one of the mascots ended up outside of the Deanery. Can you remember Wenlock and Mandeville, two monocular figures who were decorated in different ways by different artists? Since then we have seen a succession of such public art. Over the summer as we had our summer holiday, not on the beach in Spain but touring up the east coast of England, we called in on Lincoln to find the place full of images of the famous Imp, all decorated in different ways. But I’ve also seen Paddingtons and elephants and benches all given the same treatment.

I mention this because last week 51 figures arrived in the Cathedral churchyard. Each is decorated by a famous artist in an exhibition called ‘Gratitude’. The whole thing is designed to inspire in us gratitude for the staff of the NHS. At the end of the exhibition the figures will be auctioned off to raise funds to support our NHS heroes. It really is amazing to walk amongst these beautiful creations, to see what each of the artists has done and to hear and read the stories and the real people that lie behind them.

But that sense of gratitude goes beyond the immediate need to be grateful to those who continue to give themselves sacrificially, day-in, day-out on behalf of all of us.

The African-American actor Sterling Brown is attributed as the first person to coin the phrase ‘develop an attitude of gratitude’. I love the idea, that you are alert, all the time, to what you need to be grateful for, the people to whom you are grateful, and conscious of where, in the past, you have been ungrateful.

In one of the aisles of the Cathedral, the north choir aisle, is a stained glass window. It shows a scene from the gospels, Jesus healing someone. Beneath the window is an inscription. What it records is that 670 grateful parishioners of the parish of St Saviour Southwark paid for the window as a sign of their gratitude to the Parish Surgeon. It also records, rather strangely and not something that we would do now, that the 670 grateful parishioners were of the working classes! But in many ways the 51 figures standing outside the Cathedral are the modern equivalent of the glass inside.

We began the pandemic each Thursday on our doorsteps, hanging out or windows, in the streets applauding the staff of the NHS and our key workers. We joined together in showing gratitude, saying thank you, for amazing work, for sacrificial service, for going not just the extra mile but far beyond that. Those who join us online for Morning Prayer will know that there is always a candle lit in front of the officiant that we always explain burns to represent our prayers for our keyworkers. And whether they are medics, shop workers or HGV drivers we realise that we can’t do with out them.

St Paul, writing to Timothy, encourages us in this attitude of gratitude, in the regular offering of thanksgiving, he does precisely what we were taught ourselves, to make giving thanks a first-order principle.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone. (1 Timothy 2.1)

If you can, come and wander amongst the 51 figures; wander with gratitude; and join us in giving thanks.

God,
with gratitude
we thank you for those
who have stood with us
stood by us
stood for us
in our need
in our weakness
in our isolation
and all who continue to stand
for the wellbeing of others.
Amen.

A perfect storm

We know what it means; things come together in an unexpected way and combine to create a storm of huge proportions. We have seen that kind of thing depicted in movies, on the waters, the captain battling against massive waves and tremendous winds. It’s a frightening prospect and terrifying when you see it happening around you. Because the perfect storm is not a phenomenon that just happens on the water!

Calming the storm by Cornelis de Wael

It feels like we are living through such a storm right now. The bringing together of the effects of Brexit and the Covid pandemic are a huge part of it, but not the only factors I think that have come into play. The first sign of the storm must have been noticed by those in government when it was clear that many workers were returning home, back to the places from which they had come – the fruit pickers, the care workers, hospitality staff and now, as we have come to realise, HGV drivers. Of course, that is one of the things that those who voted for Brexit clearly wanted – they wanted these people who had come over and ‘taken our jobs’ to back home and allow us to do the jobs, with wages higher than we had been paying thius ‘cheap’ labour. The problem is that we seem to have neither the desire nor the skills to do fruit picking, caring, hospitality or driving big wagons long distances at any price. Add to that what became clear in the Oval Office last week that all those ‘oven-ready deals’ that we were promised, countries around the world clamoring to do a free trade deal with the UK, not least the USA, well, they just aren’t there.

Then Covid and the way that it has turned life upside down, shaken us up and left us in a state of unknowing. The backlog faced by the NHS, which some say might take a decade to clear which for many people facing life-threatening illness, might mean never, is only one aspect of the chaos. Our city centres are in many places ghost towns, our supply chains are fragile, our churches are half empty, many sectors are struggling to recover and inflation is rising.

Then we all learnt something that I, for one, never knew, that two fertiliser factories in the north-east produced as a by-product of the manufacturing process almost all the CO2 that we need for medicine, for food packaging, for slaughtering our animals and poultry. I didn’t know CO2 was so critical to so many processes but you learn a lot when the storm approaches.

Once again we read headlines that Christmas would be cancelled, that there would be no turkey on the table and not even a carbonated drink to wash down whatever we could scavenge from the empty supermarket shelves. And the irony is that COP26 will shortly be gathering to see how to address the fact that we have too much CO2 amongst other things polluting and distorting the environment. Too much in one place, too little in another.

Refugees are heading from war torn, frightening places; economic migrants heading to find a better life; people fleeing the effects of climate change and our response, what might be an illegal, unworkable and inhumane policy of turning boats of frightened desperate children, women and men around in the Channel.

Then to cap it all (no pun intended) the price of gas suddenly rises, the cheap energy companies we have been encouraged to switch to in unending, relentless advertising on TV and radio go belly up because the business model that they had established was not resilient when this kind of thing happens and those families who had sought cheaper deals are left paying more – and they may well be families who are going to have the £20 per week uplift taken away from them at the very same moment that they cannot afford to put the heating on.

This is the perfect storm and it is raging all around us and we are in the heart of it.

Jesus is asleep in the boat. While he has been sleeping a storm has arisen. The disciples, many of them seasoned and experienced fishermen are battling against the winds that are whipping down the valleys and off the Golan Heights above the Sea of Galilee. It was a perfect storm, and for once the disciples are frightened. But Jesus is asleep, oblivious, uncaring; it certainly seemed like it to those battling against the odds.

A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ (Mark 4.37-38)

Jesus in the boat is so different to both the desperate men and the storm that surrounds them. Instead of joining the panic, instead of shouting to be heard above the noise of the storm he responds, quietly.

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.’ (Mark 4.39)

We are not in the boat with Jesus but there is something in this response that reassures me. We do not know how long this storm will take to pass and what the landscape will look like when we emerge from it – I suspect the ‘new normal’ will not quite be ‘building back better’ that we have been promised. What I think we do know is that there will be a lot for leaders in communities, faith communities, the church, as well as government to do to stablise how we live. But hearing the divine call to peace, shalom, salaam, must be at the heart of our response – and then, when we can, to pick up the oars and row together to land.

God, speak into the storm, keep us calm and give us peace. Amen.

Where it all began

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Figs and olives

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

The 9/11 Memorial Fig Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Memorial Olive Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autumn leaves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Book of Job it says this

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

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

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

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

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

Exodus

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

The first Passover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re-treading

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

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

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

the yellowing dickybird-watching
pictures of the dead.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

T S Eliot in ‘Little Gidding’ writes

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

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

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

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

Living God on holiday

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

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

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

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015

LIVING GOD

Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark