Living God Living Word

So, what went wrong? Why no blog at the normal time? Well, it was all very simple really.  I had three sermons to write before the end of the week and I’m also working on a retreat I’m leading later this month.  That and all the other things I was doing last week, including travelling up to Derby to support Stephen Hance at his installation as Dean of Derby on Saturday, meant that I just didn’t have time to sit down and write this blog.  But thank you to all those who contacted me concerned that something was seriously wrong and telling me how much you miss the blog – that is very kind of you.

Having to do so much sermon preparation this week though has made me think about how important the sermon is or I wouldn’t have spent so much time doing it!  I was fascinated to read reports about the recent ‘Festival of Preaching’ held in Oxford.  There were some wonderful preachers featured in it and as it says on the website

The Festival of Preaching aims to inspire, nurture and celebrate all who are called to proclaim the gospel today.

That inspiring, nurturing and celebrating of preachers is something that is so important.  I count myself fortunate to have been at the College of the Resurrection to train for priesthood when Jack Nicholls (later on Bishop of Sheffield) was on the staff and in the Community were some fantastic preachers.  It was a treat to hear well constructed and intelligent sermons, preaching which stirred the heart, fanned the flames of faith, retuned the soul to God.  I learnt so much about the importance of the sermon and the centrality of preaching just by listening.  But, and here I’m being honest, my experience of preaching outside of the College and Community, has not always been fantastic.  Some sermons are frankly dull, some are badly constructed, some are simply wrong and some are uninspired and uninspiring.  And then, like the sun breaking through the clouds, you hear something that does all the things that you want a sermon to do – and it restores your faith not only in God but also in preaching.

Last week we celebrated Lancelot Andrewes.  As you may know, he is buried in Southwark Cathedral alongside the High Altar.  He died in Winchester Palace on what is now Clink Street and was buried, not in his Cathedral but in his parish church.  His friend and biographer, Henry Isaacson, described him as ‘an angel in the pulpit’ and the poet T S Eliot, a great admirer of Andrewes poetic prose, wrote of him

He takes a word and delivers the world from it. Squeezing and squeezing the word until it yields a full juice of meaning, which we should never have supposed any word to possess.

In his essay on Andrewes published in 1928 Eliot admits that

His sermons are too well built to be readily quotable; they stick too closely to the point to be entertaining.

But he then goes on to quote and draw from them in his own poetry.  That is why in the lovely Benjamin Finn window in the Garry Weston Library in Southwark Cathedral the central panel is of Bishop Andrewes and the words are all Eliot quoting him. It’s a powerful combination.

Andrewes window

The Andrewes window from Southwark Cathedral


Southwark has seen its fair share of memorable preachers.  Opposite the pulpit and just to reassure the preacher is a large memorial tablet to Sir Richard How and his family.  Sir Richard, who it says was always the MP for the constituency, was also a Warden at the Parish Church.  But in 1664 he was so incensed at the sermon he was hearing that he got into the pulpit, dragged the preacher out of it and beat him up in front of everyone.  I don’t know the name of the unfortunate cleric or what the sermon was about but it must have been a corker!

We do know the name of the Revd Henry Sacheverell, who in 1709 was appointed Chaplain at St Saviour’s Southwark.  He was a notorious preacher, political, provocative, an incendiary in the pulpit.  Copies of his sermons sold in their thousands and caused riots in the country and debate in Parliament.  It is suggested that one of his sermons was the cause of the fall of the Whig Government and that Queen Anne was so delighted with that outcome that she granted her arms to the Parish Church as it then was.  Those arms hang with pride above the Dean’s stall!

Now with a maximum concentration span of 12 minutes for the average congregation you are unlikely to work them into a frenzy that will spark riots in the streets but hopefully you can spark something within people that will make a difference.


On the road to Emmaus


What I hold in mind as I do my preparation, whenever I am preaching, are those words from the Emmaus Gospel.  The two friends are reflecting back on their experience of Jesus on the evening of the day of resurrection when the unknown, then the known guest becomes the host as bread is broken.  Jesus disappears from their sight and then they turn to each other and say

‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ (Luke 24.32)

Hearts burning as they encounter the Living God in the Living Word is what any preacher would want their listeners to experience – anything less is not the Emmaus experience.

Living God,
bless those who preach
and those who listen
that our hearts may burn within us
and that your Living Word
may transform our lives.


No entry

I apologise there is no Living God blog as you’d expect today. When I get a moment at my desk I’ll explain. 

Lord, when we are just too busy to get everything done may we not forget you in the process, for we know you never forget us. Amen. 

The island

I think it was around 1992.  I was asked if I would go out to the Ascension Island in the South Atlantic to provide cover whilst the Vicar of the island and Chaplain to the RAF base (the same person) and his wife went off on a much needed holiday.  It was the chance of a lifetime – so of course I said yes.  The RAF flew me out from Brize Norton and I arrived, linen jacket and panama hat at the ready to be the Padre of my imagination.  At that stage the island was the place where planes heading for the Falkland Islands had to refuel.  The place was very busy with all that activity, with the US Airforce base, the BBC, GCHQ and a few others.  The island is the product of relatively recent volcanic activity, a series of cones on this new piece of land much of it black clinker, much of it barren, but with a strange beauty.

In the main town, the only real town, the capital of the island, Georgetown, stands the lovely little Anglican church of St Mary, next to the parade ground and the ex-pats club with its 1950’s portrait of the Queen.  It was a place of history where you could easily feel close to another, older, past Britain that existed in this kind of style.

The highest mountain on which the Governor has a residence, is Green Mountain.  From there you get the most amazing views as you do from all of the peaks.  I have never been anywhere from which you can see the edges of the land all around you and know that there is nothing for hundreds and thousands of miles in each direction. This really was an island, a place of fantasy and imagination, away from it all.


An old view of Britain


As I was listening to the Prime Minister speaking in Florence on Friday about Brexit she was talking at one stage about our geographical position, our place as an island on the western edge of continental Europe as one of the justifications for our direction of travel.  As I listened I was reminded of that wonderful poem by John Donne.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Donne was writing so many centuries ago, almost 400 years ago, and yet his words ring true for us, the bell tolls as clearly now as it did then.  The ‘little islander’ mentality does not serve us well.  We can imagine, as on the Ascension Island as it was then, that we are living in a little British colonial world or we can wake up and live in the real world.

What amazes me when I read the Acts of the Apostles was the global perspective that Paul, in particular, had.  Island hopping, moving from city to city, understanding the world beyond national boundaries, but looking instead to a universal vision for humankind, this was what drove Paul in his missionary journeys that stitched the church into Europe and Asia Minor.

The church is woven into the fabric of Europe and the fabric of the world.  There are no islands ‘entire of itself’ for Christians.

may I live on the mainland of life
and not escape to my imaginary island.

The tempest

I remember the Great Storm of 1987, a violent extra-tropical cyclone that occurred on the night of 15–16 October, with hurricane-force winds.  I was staying with a friend who lived in the Guildford area.  We’d had a good meal that evening before making our way to bed.  I slept well, so well, that I managed to sleep through the Great Storm and woke up in the morning to find that trees around the house were no longer as they were when I went to bed.  A lots of them were on the ground! It was no longer the leafy Surrey that I knew.


The crashing waves


No one was sleeping through the storm that hit Barbuda.  95% of the buildings have been destroyed by Hurricane Irma. The beautiful tropical paradise is well nigh deserted as much of the population has been evacuated to neighbouring Antigua. Watching that storm approaching, making its amazingly slow progress towards the island was frightening.  The pictures from space showed with such great clarity the eye of the storm.  Like watching an inevitable car crash or other disaster, knowing that there is nothing you can do to stop it, we watched, as they watched, helpless.

I was delighted to receive a phone call from the High Commission of Antigua and Barbuda, through my good friend and Ecumenical Canon of Southwark, Les Isaac, founder of Street Pastors and himself Antiguan, enquiring whether we would host a service for those from those islands living in the UK.  They wanted a service to thank God for deliverance.  It seems that these are islands full of faith and whilst the Barbudans had seen the destruction of property only one life had been lost.  Carl Francis Jr was only two years old and lost his life in that tempest.  May he rest in peace and rise in glory.  But it was a miracle that more lives were not lost.

So, last Thursday the nave of Southwark Cathedral was full as we gave thanks to God for the mighty hand that saved, that delivered.  The choir sang Herbert Sumsion’s wonderful anthem ‘They that go down to the sea in ships’, a rumbustious setting of verses from Psalm 107.  The passage includes these words

So when they cry unto the Lord in their trouble : he delivereth them out of their distress.
For he maketh the storm to cease : so that the waves thereof are still.
(Psalm 107.28-29)

The High Commissioner wanted us to sing a version of the 23rd Psalm.  ‘That would be great’, I said.  ‘The Caribbean version’ she added.  So we sang it, to the tune of the ‘Happy Wanderer’.  It was wonderful!

The part I played in the service was to offer a welcome and an opening prayer.  This is part of what I said.


Disasters come upon is in many ways. Some, like the terrorist attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market in June, are the work of our fellow human beings; some like the disaster at Grenfell tower, are the product of so many decisions we make for so many reasons, but some come as natural disasters, the force of nature, uncontrollable even by we who think we can control most things.

But whether it is of human origin or natural we can end up at the eye of the storm.

The most famous resident of this parish was William Shakespeare and it was here that he wrote his final play ‘The Tempest’. Out of the storm the characters in the play are washed up on an island and Miranda, considering what they’ve been going through and the fact that they’ve survived, nevertheless says to Prospero

O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer.

We watched with horror as the storm with its all too clear eye moved across the seas and Barbuda was there, waiting, to be hit by such a tempest. We suffered with those we saw suffer, we suffer with those we now see suffering the aftermath of that hurricane. We give them human names, Irma, but they have inhuman force and inhumane effects.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross, the day on which Christians, far away from the events of Good Friday in terms of the calendar, look at the cross. The God who in Jesus embraces the cross shares our sufferings, shares our death and destruction so that we can share his resurrection. Homes and communities can, over time, rise, rebuilt and lives too, when we have the faith to see. But we carry the cross, in whatever shape or form that cross comes to us, through human wickedness, through human thoughtlessness or greed, or through that unleashing of the forces of nature that makes us most vulnerable.

But God is alongside us, even in the eye of the storm and it’s that which we remember this evening, in word and prayer and song. And we’re invited to respond, generously, to the Rebuild Barbuda Appeal Fund for which a collection will be made during that mighty hymn ‘Almighty Father, strong to save’.


The flag of Antigua and Barbuda


To all who will take part in this act of praise and thanksgiving, thank you, and to you who have come, thank you for standing in solidarity ‘with those that we saw suffer’.


But there was one other amazing thing.  The priest who influenced me most in my discernment that God was calling me to be a priest and who guided me to go to the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield to train, as he had done, was Canon Irving Richards.  He is from Antigua and when I mentioned his name to those in the High Commission their faces lit up.  It was an amazing reconnection with my past and an unexpected reminder to me of my own thankfulness for the people of those islands.  If you can, please give via the link in this blog to the rebuilding fund.  And pray for the people as we prayed for them on Thursday night.

Loving God, heavenly Father,
when all seems lost
your love remains steadfast;
when disaster strikes
your mercy is still seen.
As we gather to worship you
and as we hold our brothers and sisters
in Antigua and Barbuda
and in every place devastated in this hurricane season
may we hear your still, small voice
in the midst of the storm
and know your peace
which passes all understanding.
This we ask in the name of our crucified and risen Lord,
Jesus Christ.

Open doors

In all honesty I can’t say that I’ve ever lived in a place, at a time, when you could leave the door of your house open and you wouldn’t come back to find the place robbed.  But I know that there were communities where this was possible and I believe that there are places where it still is.  What did impress me, a year ago, when I was spending six weeks of my three months sabbatical in Jerusalem, was to see something that I simply could not imagine happening here.

I was walking through the souk.  It was a Friday, around midday and people were heading into the Old City towards Haram al Sharif, what we call the Temple Mount, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque stands.  The people were all off for Friday prayers.  But so were those who have shops in the souk.  But instead of pulling down the shutters, as happens at night, they simply turned the lights off and put something, like a broom handle, across the open front.  Then they left it! I could have walked in and grabbed something, but, of course, I didn’t and nor did anyone else.  It was unimaginable in the kind of society that we live in – a very sobering experience, of trust and openness.


The invitation of an open door


I’ve been thinking all about this, about keeping places open, in recent days and weeks.  When the first of the present series of horrendous hurricanes struck the USA there was a story in the news that the successful pastor of a very successful megachurch in Houston, locked the doors of his very successful church and was reported as saying something along the lines that his church ‘was a place of worship not a refuge’. Of course, he rightly changed his opinion about that and the church did open and much needed help was given.  But it was his first instinct that disturbed me.  Then over in the UK we have had reports that some churches which should be open are being kept locked.

It was the Victorian Society who was complaining about this. Christopher Costelloe, its director, said: “These churches are an important part of our heritage. They should be open both for visitors to appreciate their architecture, history and beauty, and for people who want to pop in and pray.” The churches being identified were ones which have been planted on the HTB lines – places like the deeply wonderful St Augustine’s, Queens Gate in Kensington.

St Augustine’s I remember well when a friend of mine was the Parish Priest.  It was designed by William Butterfield who was also the architect for Keble College Oxford.  It is a jewel box of high Victorian art inside, the most amazing murals, telling stories from the Bible, a place built for liturgy, a masterpiece of the Gothic Revival movement.

In reports about this the Diocese of London was quoted from its own website as saying

“A locked door is a universal symbol of exclusion, while an open church expresses God’s welcome, His presence, His creativity, His justice, His healing and His forgiveness.”

I thought it was a great statement of the principle that we should be embodying.  It is the kind of understanding of what church is that we saw in the neighbourhood of Grenfell Tower in which the parish church of St Clement’s, Notting Dale under the leadership of Fr Alan Everett became the community hub, for prayer, yes, of course, but also for all the other things that churches do.  And we do those things not as an afterthought, not because we have lost confidence in the gospel in someway, but because this is the gospel.

The Acts of the Apostles is a great book for helping us to understand some of the difficulties and dilemmas that confront us even now, even after we have had two thousand years of trying to work out how to be the church that God wants us to be.  In Acts 6 we are given this insight into a problem that has a modern resonance.

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.’ (Acts 6.1-4)


To serve the word and the people


The Apostles knew that they were called to prayer and ‘serving the word’ but they also knew that the church needed to make a practical and just response and serve the needs of the body.  That was why they chose seven men to be the first deacons.  These included Stephen. And from that initial solution the church has always understood that its calling is to serve the word and serve the people and that this is as much the task of our buildings as the ministers themselves.

I had three lovely churches in Leeds but we couldn’t keep them open all the time. I have huge sympathy with those who want to have their church open and cannot do so for reasons of security , or lack of volunteers, or whatever.  But the principle of being open and accessible, being a place to serve the word and serve the people, being the repository for community history as well as the community at worship, being the place of refuge, physical and spiritual, being a place of feeding at the altar and the table, being a place of warmth for the body and the soul, is what we shall all be ascribing to.

T S Eliot in his beautiful poem, ‘Little Gidding’ one of his ‘Four Quartets’, muses in part on the experience of entering that small church in the middle of the fields. At one point he says

‘If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same’

We do not always know why we wander into a church in springtime, at night, broken, not knowing why we came, but when there is an open door we can enter and find the home and refuge we sought all along.

you open your doors to us,
you open your life to us,
may we close neither.

Year’s mind

It’s strange how you hear things when you’re a child, perhaps not that strange I suppose when in fact you very often have no idea what’s being said and so just imagine what words are being used.  When, as a child, we said at home the prayer ‘Gentle Jesus’ every evening before going to sleep, I thought for many years that we were praying ‘pity mice implicitly’ rather than the more correct ‘pity my simplicity’ (though if you read last week’s blog you will know that I have had a soft spot for mice, so maybe ….). So I had no idea what people were saying when in the intercessions at Mass in our church the priest, coming to the end, sailing through the sick list and arriving at the dead, would read out a list of names and then add ‘whose year’s mind occurs this week’.  It took me a long time to realise that ‘year’s mind’ was church-speak for anniversary and most particularly, the anniversary of their death.

There are a number of things that divide members of the Church of England and not only the things that last weeks ‘Nashville Statement’ focus on.  The hymn book you use (if you still use one) A&M or NEH; whether you have kept your pews; if you make ‘real’ coffee for after the service or use instant! But one of the big divides is whether you pray for the dead or not, and if you do whether you just ‘remember’ them or ‘pray’ for them. It’s part, I suppose, of the heritage that this 500th anniversary of the Reformation that we are keeping is commemorating, this reluctance on the part of some to pray for the dead.  And, if you do pray for the dead how long do you pray for them?

The church up to the Reformation was clear that there was no end date on the need to keep the dead, by name and intention, in our prayers.  The rich built Chantry Chapels and endowed priests in order to be assured that the prayers for their own souls would go on and on and on, until, well, until the end came and the dead were raised and prayer was needed no more.

So in the back of our intercession book at Southwark Cathedral, as in many churches I suspect, is a list of the dead, with the dates they died and dutifully, each day and each week we pray for the souls of these people at the Mass, these people, our family, our friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ.


I was thinking about this as we remembered the ‘year’s mind’ of Diana, Princess of Wales, last week.  I have no special memories to share, I never met her or even saw her.  So my memories are those of most people – of the blossoming of a young, shy, girl into a beautiful, confident, troubled, dignified woman.  I remember the moment when I woke on that Sunday morning twenty years ago to the terrible news of the crash and her death, how I put on the tele and watched, transfixed, until I realised I had to go out to preside at the Eucharist and say … something, to a congregation who would be as shocked and speechless as me.  I remember going on the Friday evening before the funeral to the Mall and from there through Hyde Park to the gates of Kensington Palace and witnessing a nation in such indescribable grief and an outpouring of sorrow such as I had never seen and thought we were incapable of. I remember watching the funeral and those boys and their dignity, Elton John singing ‘Candle in the wind’ as never before, the beautiful and haunting Tavener, ‘Song for Athene’ and that address.

I was listening to some of the coverage on the BBC ‘Today’ programme last week and hearing the rather surprising question which went something like ‘Is this 20th anniversary it then? We won’t be keeping the 30th and 40th anniversaries will we?’ and I thought, ‘Of course we will’.  It might not be with such a deluge of mawkish documentaries but of course we will remember – because that is what we do.

One other difference that separates the sheep from the goats in the CofE is whether or not you will read from the books of the Apocrypha at the end of what Christians call the Old Testament.  But if you are prepared to look at them then you can read of the stories of the courageous Maccabees.  In one part of the Second Book of Maccabees it tells of a battle in which many men died.  Judas, their leader, took up a collection and sent it to Jerusalem requesting that a sin-offering be made on their behalf.  It goes on to say of Judas

For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Maccabees 12.44-45)

I find that a powerful passage when I’m reading that ‘year’s mind’ list and both remembering the ones I can remember and praying for them and for those I have never known and can’t remember.

The Cathedral is full of memorials like many churches and most are to people, put up after they died, to help other people remember them for generations to come.  They’re like the ecclesiastical version of Dylan Thomas’ lovely phrase in ‘Under Milk Wood’ about the pictures on the walls of the sleeping houses being the

‘yellowing, dicky bird-watching pictures of the dead.’

If I’m taking a group around the Cathedral for a tour I will most often than not stop at one plaque.  It’s very simple, not finely wrought or engraved, but for me it’s the most beautiful and poignant of them all.  It says this

Susanna Barford departed this life the 20th of August 1652 aged 10 yeares 13 weekes. The non-such of the world for piety and virtue in soe tender yeares.  And death and envye both must say t’was fitt her memory should thus in brasse bee writ. Here lyes interr’d within this bed of dust a virgin pure not staind by carnall lust; such grace the king of kings bestow’d upon her that now she lives with him a maid of honour. Her stage was short, her thread was quickly spun, drawne out and cut, got heaven, her worke was done. This world to her was but a traged play, she came and sawt dislikt and passd away.


You can find the plaque in the south choir aisle


I have no idea who she was, young Susanna.  Was she the daughter of someone connected with the Rose or the Globe Theatres?  I love all the theatrical references and they make me wonder.  Did her mother spin thread for a living, or was she helping make the costumes for the stage.  But then, on the other hand, Susanna was living through the years of the Commonwealth, tumultuous years especially for those who had made their living in or had a connection with the theatre. Was the tragedy she witnessed being played out part of all this?  She would have been 7 when the king had been executed just down the river in Whitehall.  Had she seen that in ‘soe tender yeares’?

I don’t know.  But what I do know is when I pass that plaque I pray for her, these 365 years later and will continue to do so.

Lord of time and eternity,
you hold us in life and death.
As you never forget us
may we not forget those
who have gone before us.
including young Susanna.

It’s a cat’s life

Mum was, I suppose, what you might call ‘house proud’. There’s nothing wrong with that.  When we were kids we always knew that the house would be clean and tidy, things put away where they belonged, that we would have clean clothes and there would never be a pile of washing or ironing to be done. I suppose at her worst she could be a bit of a Hyacinth Bucket but only in a little way.  But the implication was that we never really had a pet, I mean a pet that was free to roam.  My first pet was ‘Snowy’ the white mouse, neatly caged, but after its body rebelled on a diet of cheese and milk (Mum took her mouse care lessons from Tom & Jerry by all accounts) it went to meet its Maker.  We then had a number of goldfish, mainly from fairs, some swam around a bowl for a while but none made long-term pets.

Hyacinth Bucket from the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, floral dress and pearls_thumb[2]

Keeping up appearences

The best we managed was a Cockatiel called ‘Beauty’. He was actually my sister’s bird and he loved her but tried to take a chunk out of the rest of us.  When the bird decided he disliked intensely my sister’s boyfriend she had to make that difficult decision that can sometimes face us in life – ‘the bird or the boyfriend?’ – and she chose the latter.  So Mum inherited the care of Beauty even though it continually ‘went for her’.

My point is that we were never allowed a cat or a dog like other people.  No puppy nor kitten added to the fun of our lives.  We had a lovely childhood but no four-legged friend to grow up with us as in so many adverts showing happy, sunny, well disposed children.

Last Sunday at Southwark Cathedral we launched a children’s book called ‘Doorkins the Cathedral Cat’.  It has been written and illustrated by two members of the Cathedral congregation, Lisa Gutwein, the author and Rowan Ambrose, the artist.  It tells the tale, the true tale, of Doorkins who is the Southwark Cathedral cat.  The book is delightful and I’m glad to say is selling extremely well.

I remember the cat arriving back in 2008.  He, actually she is a she but we didn’t know that then, arrived in the Cathedral churchyard.  This cat spent a lot of time in the garden but was also around in the morning when the vergers were opening up the Cathedral. So eventually they decided to feed the cat and put a bowl of water out.  My predecessor, Colin Slee, himself a cat lover and owner (if one can ever own a cat) called him/her ‘Doorkins’ because that was where we first encountered her, in the door.  She was then given the posh name ‘Magnificat’. Doorkins Magnificat gradually found the courage to come from outside to inside, to take advantage of the warmth that was awaiting her.  And so a daily routine developed.  She comes in when we open, has breakfast, has a wander around the place, checking it out, finds somewhere to sleep, gets up during Evensong when she hears her own song, ‘Magnificat’, and then has her supper and as the Cathedral closes she goes back out to her second, night-time home, the Borough Market. It’s a cat’s life!

That’s the ideal of course.  When it’s cold, and now that she is older, she sometimes hides when going-out time comes along and the vergers have the difficult job of finding her and coaxing her out. Sometimes, when she senses that something good is happening she will wander through the sanctuary at just the wrong moment for us but the best moment for her as all eyes are upon her.

Like the whole community Doorkins was caught up in the terrorist attack on London Bridge and Borough Market on 3 June.  By the time that happened she had been put out and the doors had been locked.  As it turned out we were unable to check that she was ok until we were able to get back into the Cathedral ourselves many days later.  At first we satisfied ourselves with the knowledge that she is basically a feral cat who happens to lodge with us and would probably manage alright amongst all the abandoned food from the Saturday night revels into which the horror struck.  But then we heard that the Metropolitan Police, in the midst of everything else they had to do, were making sure that Doorkins did not go hungry.  Without being ridiculous about it that was a moment of such reassurance in the midst of all that was so horrible – we would be ok.

Doorkins book

The Doorkins book – get your copy!

So, why am I mentioning all of this?  Well, simply I suppose because, not being a pet person generally nor particularly a cat person I have come to recognise what the presence of Doorkins does for us and that was reinforced as the book was launched last Sunday.  I’ve noticed that for many people simply seeing a cat wandering around makes the place accessible, unstuffy, in a strange way more human, a manifestation of ‘The Human Haunt’ in Carol Ann Duffy’s poem about the Cathedral.  It’s as though they say to themselves ‘well, if these people accept a cat here perhaps they will accept me’.

But more than that there is something about how Doorkins arrived and settled that is a parable of mission.  The truth is that however warm and inclusive a church may be and think it is, it is still a church and to many people an unfamiliar and strange place. Getting through the door and across the threshold is no mean feat.  And then having arrived people need to feel at home, safe, able to stay, not frightened off by too much attention or too little.  Churches can be enormously off-putting to newcomers.  We may all have had the uncomfortable experience of almost sitting in a seat or a pew to be told ‘I’m sorry you can’t sit there – that’s where Mrs Tubbs sits!’ and you move off sheepishly – none of the ‘come up higher friend’ of Jesus’ parable!  But Doorkins will make herself at home wherever she likes, even in the Cathedra, even in the Dean’s stall – can you imagine and we have to cope with it!

Finally, she is someone (I know she’s not a person) who people love and relate to and that has to be good.  She found us and chose to live with us and now adds to the special place that we are. So I need to celebrate this cat who is the four-legged though rather disant friend that I never had as a child.

In the Book of Genesis the man names every creature God delivers to him.

‘So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.’ (Genesis 2.19)

Amongst them, in a way, was our lovely cat, who we name with love and always give thanks for, who opens doors for others to follow her into the church.

Creator God,
thank you for the animals
that share our lives,
our homes,
and our love
and thank you
for all that they teach us
about what it means to be

Challenging the hatred

I thought I’d share with you today the sermon that I’ve delivered this morning in Southwark Cathedral.  It says what I would have wanted to say anyway on Living God.  The readings for this Sunday, the 10th after Trinity, are these Isaiah 56.1,6-8; Romans 11.1-2a,29-32; Matthew 15.21-28.

I want to come clean, to be honest with you, I need to make a clean breast of it – I am prejudiced! Ok, I’ve said it! You want to know what I’m prejudiced against? Well, I can’t abide men who wear shorts, sandals and socks. You may not think as well of me now as you once did. ‘How can he harbour such views’, you may wonder? ‘How is that influencing his decision making as a Dean, his ability to stand alongside such a person – shorts, sandals and socks proud – and not make judgements based on his prejudice?’

You’re right to ask those questions. But I have to tell you before you get all self righteous that there are other prejudiced people here as well and that may, that probably, includes you. They tell me that there are people in this Cathedral, for instance, who don’t like cats! You’re not allowed to express those views on the day on which we launch the Doorkins book – but perhaps you secretly hold that hatred. Disgusting! Call yourself a Christian?

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, has gone outside of his comfort zone. He’s in the region of Tyre and Sidon. There are foreigners there, people outside of the tightly defined family, the tightly defined and regulated community that was the people of God, the Jews.

And a woman comes up to him, a Canaanite woman. A woman is bad enough, a foreign woman, a woman from outside the faith community who worshipped other Gods, this was terrible. And Jesus reacts.

Caananite woman

In this picture Jesus can hardly bear to turn round to acknowledge the pleading Canaanite woman

For me, this is one of the most difficult passages in the whole of the four gospels. In it we see Jesus reacting in a way to this poor woman who’s come outside of her comfort zone to plead to a Jew for the healing of her demon possessed daughter. She’s at the end of her tether, seeking the last resort. She’s probably tried everything, everybody else and so she decides – ‘what can I lose, I’ll go to this Jesus who everyone’s talking about – they say he loves everyone – let’s see if he loves me’.

The really shocking thing about this reading is that Jesus is so rude to her. He speaks about her, not too her, as though he can’t bear to address her; he calls her a dog, likens her to an animal that picks up the scraps under the table when other people are feasting – a dog acting like vermin. He’s been brought up listening to the stories of how his ancestors beat up and defeated the Canaanites and he’s bought into it, swallowed the stories and the prejudice. He might love everyone – but he doesn’t love her and he shows it.

The last week has been shocking. At the moment every week seems shocking. If it isn’t sabre rattling of the most dangerous kind between the USA and North Korea, its Brexit and hair-brained schemes which seem to get us no further forward. If it isn’t the scandalous waste of money on the Garden Bridge it’s the horror of terrorist attacks in Cambrils and in Barcelona, a city as diverse as our own, with a market on the Ramblas, where the attack happened, twinned with our own Borough Market.

And trumping it all has been President Trump with his failure to condemn the alt-right, the neo-Nazis, the KKK and their friends in the USA, his failure to condemn the horror of Charlottesville and the killing of a martyr for peace and inclusion, Heather Heyer, and to clearly state, as our own Prime Minister clearly stated, that there is no moral equivalent between the racist, fascist far right and the anti-racist majority. His failure to do the right thing has given a new legitimacy to views and attitudes and prejudice that have no place in any society.

The prophet Isaiah has a vision of what the kingdom of God will be, is like

‘I will gather others … besides those already gathered’.

The God who Isaiah knows is the God of inclusion, whose vision is for one family, gathered around one table, without difference, bound together by their common humanity for, as God says through Isaiah,

‘my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’.

It’s a beautiful vision, this is what the kingdom is like. So why does Jesus have such a problem with the Canaanite woman?

I don’t think in reality he does but by the way he reacted he perhaps awoke in his disciples and others, who’d travelled with him across the boundaries into a place of discomfort, just how shocking their own attitudes were. Perhaps in reacting like they would, but in a way they never expected he would, he cast a spotlight on the way in which they thought. And for the woman too, who’d have had her own set of prejudices against Jews, she’d have been expecting his first response and only hoping for his second.

And we listening to this Gospel are forced to consider our own prejudices. Because the truth is that we are all prejudiced – it’s part of human nature – but the question is, do we allow those views to run our lives, and dictate our decisions, do we allow those views to define our relationships, do we believe the generalisations about people who are different to us, people of another gender, people of another colour, people of a different sexuality, or age, or economic or social grouping? Have we the guts to confront our own shameful values and deal with them?

At the end of this Eucharist we’ll be commemorating the sinking of the Marchioness twenty-eight years ago today. 51 women and men, most of them young, died that night. As you hear the names read, as you read them for yourselves on the stone, you’ll encounter names from across the world, the names of young men and young women, black and white, gay and straight, people who’d been born here, people who hadn’t, who were having a good time. It was the same with the victims of the terror attack on our community – of the eight who died only one was from this country.

The cry of the racists is ‘give us our country back’ but whose is it? The Christian vision is for an inclusive world in which we’re all equal citizens, free and loved and, as Paul says in his Letter to the Romans, living by the principle that

‘by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy’.

This community has committed itself to this way of living, honest and loving and trying, sometimes well, sometimes successfully, sometimes inadequately, sometimes failing, but always trying to be the reflection and incarnation of the kingdom to which Jesus points, even in that foreign place in which that child is healed.


The beautiful Maya Angelou

The African-American writer Maya Angelou said

Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.

The God we meet in this Eucharist, the God who provides bread and wine for all people, who shares the divine life with all, is the God of the past, the future and the present who makes nothing inaccessible but everything accessible to all.

To the woman before him Jesus says with divine love

‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’

Whoever you are, whoever I am, he says the same, with equal love, to us.

Lord, confront with your love
the hate that lies within me
and cleanse my actions
and my thoughts.

The silly season?

Can you remember what the news used to be like during the summer? It was often called ‘the silly season’ as the news media, print and broadcast, would hunt around for stories and end up presenting us with ones that were just, frankly, silly. But it served as a kind of light relief as we settled down in our deck chairs, made sand castles and waited for September to arrive with the party conferences and politics and the news and we could reengage with reality.

But there is nothing silly about this season.  True, I’ve watched some heart-warming videos of dogs licking cats and a cat rescuing a puppy which people have posted on Twitter but beyond that it feels like we are moving inexorably into a vortex of destruction.


The crew of the Enola Gay

I was on holiday in Spain when the Feast of the Transfiguration occurred.  It was lovely to be at Mass in the church of Santa Maria del Mar in the Barri Gotic in Barcelona, a church sometimes called ‘The Cathedral of the Sea’, a gorgeous gothic building, the construction of which inspired the novel of that name by Ildefonso Falcones, a kind of Spanish equivalent of ‘The Pillars of the Earth’. Anyway, I was at the International Mass that they have each week at 12 noon, a great service if you are in Barcelona on a Sunday.  But this was the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord and so my mind was captured by the strange conjunction of two images, the first of the Lord Jesus bathed in divine light and the second, the demonic intense light that came with the explosion over Hiroshima that day in 1945 of the first nuclear bomb to be detonated. The immediate horror for me was that the rhetoric between two unpredictable and dangerous leaders – Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un – was drawing us closer to another nuclear conflagration.

On the holy mountain the three disciples, Peter James and John, saw the Lord

‘his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.’ (Matthew 17.2)

In that amazing light the disciples were able to see clearly who Jesus really was, the light revealed it, they saw him in both his human and divine natures in that moment of theophany. We know that light can do this.  Let the sunshine into a room that has been closed up and its rays reveal the cobwebs and the dust that have accumulated in the corners, unnoticed in the gloom. We see clearly as never before – the beauty and the chaos.

When the American aircraft, Enola Gay, discharged her payload over Japan we saw clearly what humankinds intellect, at its best and at its worst, could achieve, a weapon that could destroy the whole of creation, a weapon that could destroy what God had so beautifully created.  It was a moment that should have brought us to our senses, and to be fair, for many people it was and it did.  Those great days of the Aldermaston Marches, the time when CND was at its strongest and most vibrant, amazing people like Bruce Kent, who for me was an inspirational figure, a priest-prophet as an activist against nuclear armament.

In September 1980 a pop group called ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’, more often called OMD, released a single called ‘Enola Gay’ – those of you as old as me may remember the song and the chilling line in the lyrics

These games you play they’re going to end in more than tears some day.

I suppose it was that song and beginning my formation as a priest at Mirfield with strong priestly figures like Bruce Kent and others around, that made me join CND. I may not agree with all that Jeremy Corbyn says but when he was being pressed as to whether he would be prepared to press the nuclear button I wanted him to stand up for not being prepared to do so.  How could any person be asked to slaughter millions of innocent people? No nation, no regime, be they capitalist or communist, be they democratic or despotic, have the right to hold weapons of mass destruction and to threaten, like kids in a school yard, to unleash them on each other.

Phrases like ‘fire and fury’, ‘locked and loaded’ fit neatly into Tweets but as that pop song of 37 years ago said ‘These games you play they’re going to end in more than tears some day.’

I still believe, and you can call me naïve, that the only way to control nuclear weapons is by not having them, through multi-lateral disarmament.  I know we cannot ‘un’-invent them, I know that the technology will always exist, I know that the terrorist groups which will always emerge might try to get hold of them, but the very fact that legitimate, democratic and supposedly responsible nations have them gives them a global legitimacy and those not in the ‘nuclear club’ will always seek to get in by fair means or foul.

transfiguration 6

In your light shall we see light

Look, I am only a priest, these things are bigger than I can deal with, but at some stage those like me who are petrified at what seems to be happening have to be able to say STOP! Until then all I can do is fall on my knees before the one who in divine, dazzling, blinding and healing light reveals God to us. As the Psalmist writes of God

‘with you is the well of life
and in your light shall we see light.’
(Psalm 36.9)

This is the psalm prayer from Common Worship : Daily Prayer that was written in response to Psalm 36 – pray it with me, please.

O God, the well of life,
make us bright with wisdom,
that we may be lightened with the knowledge of your glory
in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Happy holiday 

I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t blog for the next couple of weeks. I’m on holiday. Whatever you are doing, God bless you. 

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