My Lord Archbishop,

My wife and I worshipped at Southwark Cathedral on Sunday morning last [19th August] and I write to ask you to be so good as to inform me if the practices to which we were there made a party are now accepted for our Church. I refer especially to the posturings at the altar out of sight of the congregation and the mumblings out of their hearing. I thought it was one of the accepted principles of the Reformed Church of England that the congregation should have fully and intelligently in all the worship at this service. At Southwark the congregation can neither see nor hear what is going on at the altar. We feel as many others do that if we wanted that sort of thing we could and should go, not to an Anglican cathedral, but to Brompton Oratory.

I am yours faithfully

Percy Hurd

This was 1934 and Sir Percy Hurd was at that time the Member of Parliament for the constituency of Devizes. The correspondence begun by this letter of complaint sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury continues for some weeks and it is all to be found in the archives of Lambeth Palace Library.  The Archbishop’s Chaplain at that time tried to do the right thing, to bat the complaint in the direction of the Bishop of Southwark, but the MP would have none of that. ‘We have nothing to do with the Bishop of Southwark’ he wrote. ‘As members of Parliament we are concerned with the Church in its corporate capacity and as represented for us in yourself.’ The correspondence stumbles on until September 1934 when the Chaplain basically tells the MP that there will be no more communication on the matter.


Sir Percy Hurd, a fine looking gentleman

There was obviously a great deal of posturing going on and it wasn’t all in the High Altar sanctuary at Southwark Cathedral!  Sir Percy obviously had a few axes to grind. One axe seemed to be against the newly introduced 1928 Prayer Book which had failed to gain parliamentary approval but was being used in places, such as the Cathedral, where some of the ‘inadequacies’ in the Book of Common Prayer as some Anglo-Catholics would have it, were sorted out.  Interestingly we, like many cathedrals I suspect, still use the 1928 Prayer Book, day by day. But he was probably opposed as well to some of the catholic practices that were becoming more common in the post-war (First World War) Church of England.  Perhaps there was a lot of ‘bowing and scraping’ going on up at the altar.  Sir Ninian Comper, the Cathedral Architect and a great mediaeval revivalist had certainly dressed the High Altar Sanctuary for the part.  The walls and pillars were draped in pink damask (the material was made into the copes that the Archdeacons in the diocese now wear, a kind of Maria act from the ‘Sound of Music’ with those curtains!) and the reredos was now modelled on the Pala d’Oro in St Mark’s Venice.  Cloth of gold Eucharistic vestments had been designed and made and it would have all looked very splendid.

The mumblings could have been about the difficulty of hearing from the nave if services were held at the High Altar, but that was nothing new.  So maybe Sir Percy heard some more pious, private mumblings going on, the ‘Secret Prayers’ that many priests say during the Eucharist.  They are meant to be said sotto voce but they can appear, I suppose, like mumblings and mysterious incantations.

But there is posturing and there are mumbling that put us in touch with important elements of the Feast of the Incarnation that we are still celebrating.  It is right that we use our whole selves in worship, we bring our whole body, our five senses into prayer.  We see and touch and taste and smell and hear.  True liturgy invokes all those senses and that sixth sense that recognises the divine in the midst.  So one of the Epiphany hymns that we have been singing begins with this verse

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
Bow down before Him, His glory proclaim;
With gold of obedience, and incense of lowliness,
Kneel and adore Him: the Lord is His name!

Worship, such as the worship of the Magi in the presence of the Christ Child, involves bowing and kneeling and adoration.  It feels to me like the natural response to being in the presence of the divine.  The Magi point us to this reality of ‘God among us’, of the Word made flesh, through their posture, for as St Matthew says

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. (Matthew 2.11)

They saw the child and they knelt in homage, and so do we.


‘Kneel and adore him’


And then, those mutterings.  One of the things that High Church priests were accused of doing when the ritual trials were going on at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries was around the mixing of the chalice.  We no longer fight about this in the Church of England since we discovered sex! In fact, it seems so normal perhaps few people realise it was a problem.  In most offertory processions that I see perfectly reasonable, law-abiding people bring forward cruets of wine and water.  It’s the mixing of those in the chalice, this so called ritualistic practice, that caused the problem.  But what is the prayer that the priest says as they do this?

It’s a prayer that takes us to the heart of the doctrine of the incarnation, and something that we remember every time we celebrate the Eucharist. The priest will ‘mumble’

By the mystery of this water and wine
may we come to share in the divinity of Christ
who humbled himself to share in our humanity.

As mumblings go its pretty wonderful, I think.

So, Sir Percy, if you’re still looking for an apology I’m afraid you’re not getting one from me. We will continue to offer worship in Southwark Cathedral worthy of that holy house in Bethlehem, worthy of the God who dwells with us, worthy of Jesus, the Word made flesh before whom we kneel in wondrous adoration. We can do nothing less.

Holy God,
you bring us to our knees
in humble adoration.
Accept the worship we offer
as we accept the love you show for us
in Jesus Christ our Lord.


God save the Queen

I know my life is nothing like that of my opposite number across the river, the Dean of St Paul’s, who hosted the wonderful service of thanksgiving on Friday to celebrate the 90th birthday of The Queen, but even with our more modest celebrations at Southwark time has slipped through my fingers and so this is a very short but loyal blog.

A favourite book

A favourite book

I have always been fascinated by Her Majesty and when I was first bought the Ladybird Book of London I was captivated by the picture of the Palace and wondered what went on behind those many windows. So it was one of my greatest delights that on the eve of the Millennium I stood in the churchyard of the Cathedral with the lights and cameras trained on us awaiting the arrival of The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. All of a sudden there was a crescendo of cheering and down the steps came a diminutive but so familiar figure. I had to pinch myself to make sure that it wasn’t just another of my many dreams of sharing a cup of tea with her.

But what struck me so powerfully then and I’m ever more conscious of is how central her faith is to her reign. On that occasion, before she had to arrive at the Dome and share in ‘Auld lang syne’ with Mr Blair, Her Majesty wanted to begin the evening with prayer. So that’s what we did. The Queen lit the Millennium Candle and we prayed and the choir sang a new anthem using the text that King George VI quoted in his Christmas broadcast in 1939, words by Minnie Louise Haskins

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

We always notice that Her Majesty so often walks unaided, no one is holding her hand. But it’s clear her hand is in the hand of God and her life has been one of service. From that beginning as one century ended and another began, I’ve had a sense of real privilege each time we have welcomed The Queen to Southwark. That culminated in her coming to see the Diamond Jubilee window – and what a thrill that was. As I stood at the west end of the Cathedral beside The Queen we sang the National Anthem and I was struck by two things which may to you seem blindingly obvious but affected me powerfully – a) that this was the person I was singing about and b) she was the only person not singing. It is a wonderful thing that our National Anthem is not about the country but is a prayer for this person. It sets us apart as she sets apart.

A special moment

A special moment

These are unsettling days as we approach the Referendum. I will be voting to remain and I am delighted that the Archbishop of Canterbury has given us the leadership to state our own positions. Yet, whilst being in Europe I remain rightly proud to be British and proud to sing that prayer of blessing on the person who continues to give us so much of our sense of identity.

God, save The Queen
and bless our nation
and bless our peoples.

Can we agree to disagree?

It was an interesting year, last year.  For one reason or another I spent quite a lot of time thinking about leadership, my personality type and how I and others work together.  It wasn’t that I’d not thought about some of these things – in many ways I think I’m quite self aware.  Part of that has come from having a Spiritual Director and making my confession (fairly) regularly over many years.  Doing that and talking to somebody about my relationship with God, my prayer life, my inner and outer life and by confronting the ‘sin which clings so closely’ (Hebrews 12.1) has enabled me to know something of my strengths and something of my weaknesses.

It was a really good and helpful year as one set of training and discussion built upon another.  But whatever I did something that I know that I’m ‘guilty’ of became clearer and was constantly confirmed – I am conflict averse.

There are some people who love a good ‘dust up’, we all know them and there are others, like me, who will tie themselves in knots to avoid a fight.  When I see conflict approaching I try to deflect it, avoid it or solve it before it arrives – and I wish I did more of the last of those things than in truth I do. The problem with deflection or avoidance, as we well know, is that problems become even greater if not dealt with honestly and often creatively as soon as they arrive.

This week I will be sharing in something else which I hope will further help me not just to know even more clearly that I have to have the courage, under God, to address the conflict that confronts us all in a whole variety of circumstances but also how we might deal with its reality as a community.

One of the things that Archbishop Justin has been encouraging us to do is to imagine what ‘good disagreement’ looks like in the church.  And we should know what that is like from our history.  Any reading of the scriptures makes you quickly realise that disagreement, if not outright conflict, has been part of the story of faith.  On occasions we read how this has been dealt with well and it’s reading that which has to be an encouragement to us today.

The Council of Jerusalem

The Council of Jerusalem


I love the account in the Acts of the Apostles which tells of Paul and Barnabas coming back to Jerusalem to address the meeting of the Council.  The message had got back that the uncircumcised were becoming part of the church but that didn’t fit well with those who in those early days were trying to maintain historic Jewish discipline on certain issues, such as circumcision, with membership of the Christian church. It was a fundamental dispute, the same kind of dispute that we see being played out by Christians today, not least within the Anglican Communion.

The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. (Acts 15.12)

In respectful silence the whole assembly listened to what was being said and in that environment of prayer and discernment Peter and James spoke.  A decision was made and a letter sent to the gentile Christians which is powerful and which delivered such good news

‘It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials.’ (Acts 15.28)

The church both listened to the Spirit and also had the confidence to make a decision – ‘it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.’ We can easily imagine that those opposed might not have been wholly convinced but with good disagreement the church moved forward in mission and ministry. Indeed, the issues that confront us today are in a similar way around purity and faithfulness to the tradition and openness to the promptings of the Spirit – not that the two should always be seen in opposition.


The book we’re reading in preparation for our conversations


So I’m excited about this week. If it gives me further insights into my own leadership, all well and good, but if it gives me confidence to work positively and creatively to create good disagreement, without being frightened by that, even better. And wherever disagreement exists – in our communities, in our relationships, in our workplace, in our local church – I’m sure that there are lessons to learnt that can help us to help peace and reconciliation flourish in good ways.

as you faced conflict
and transformed it,
give us the courage
to confront disagreement
where we find it
and to seek your will
in all things.

‘That turbulent priest’

Whether or not King Henry II said ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome (or turbulent) priest’ of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, the phrase has entered our vocabulary and how some look at the clergy. I heard on Radio 4 a preview about a profile of Archbishop Justin with this as the title of the programme broadcast on Monday. 

The use of the phrase often suggests that priests, bishops, archbishops should not be troublesome, should not be turbulent. That’s nothing new. Read the Old Testament and it is full of clashes between prophets and kings, the out spoken, speaking the word of the Lord, and those in government who would rather not hear it. Jeremiah ends up in the stocks, imprisoned, down a well, isolated but he won’t stop speaking out, because he knows that this is his vocation.

A House about to change

A House about to change

A bishop being welcomed into the House of Lord is not so unusual – it happens regularly as one prelate drops off the end of the bench and another takes their place. But when the Bishop of Gloucester is admitted tomorrow (Monday) it will be a moment in history. As Bishop Rachel takes her seat she will be the first woman to sit with the Lords Spiritual. One of the exciting things that I had to do when I was Chaplain to the Bishop of Southwark was to make sure that my bishop was properly briefed when he was on duty in the Lords. It was exciting and a privilege because it felt as though we were doing something so important. It could easily be seen as an anachronism, to have bishops in the legislature, but I think that for all faith communities in our land, they need to be there and they need to be disturbing the waters when they need disturbing. I look forward to hearing Bishop Rachel’s voice in the debates.

The remains of the pools of Bethesda

The remains of the pools of Bethesda

One of the great stories in St John’s Gospel happens at the pools of Bethesda. Visitors to the Holy Land can see the remains of the pools and the porticos that surrounded them just beyond the beautiful crusader church of St Anne. In John 5.1-15 we hear the story of the healing of a blind man. He can’t get into the water by himself and certainly not at the critical moment. He says to Jesus

‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.’

It was in the turbulent waters that healing came. The Spirit of God disturbed the waters and peace and healing flowed.

Stirring the waters, speaking truth, is seen as creating turbulence. But into this situation God speaks and acts. If from our pulpits, in our mission, in our service as priests and people together we are not being troublesome for justice then I believe we are not really doing our job, not fulfilling our vocations. And when we are in such challenging times as these then we have to pray that as the Spirit stirs the waters so the hearts of those in positions of influence will be stirred so that justice. mercy and peace can be experienced by all.

God of the troubled water,
may we disturb the comfortable
and comfort the disturbed.

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