Farewell 2017

Like you, perhaps, I’ve been thinking over this last year.  It hasn’t been an easy one and I’m not weeping as we approach the beginning of 2018.  So just a quick review of each month as far as it has been for me.

January – the bells came back to Southwark Cathedral.  That was a fantastic event and a great service when the Bishop baptised two of them and rededicated the rest.  I think it was seeing those twelve bells, dressed and lined up down the nave which is the lasting impression.  Or could it have been meeting the Revd Kate Bottley who then came with the ‘Songs of Praise’ crew to film them being raised to their place in the tower?


With lovely Kate

February – I went off for a tour of Zimbabwe with Bishop Christopher, the Archdeacon of Southwark and the Bishop’s Press Officer.  I’d been to Southwark Cathedral’s own link Diocese of Masvingo but never to the whole of the country.  Amazing.  But who would have thought that this same year we would see the fall of President Mugabe and the Archbishop of York replacing his dog-collar?  The highlight though, I have to say, in the midst of all that amazing hospitality and wonderful worship, was visiting St Augustine’s Penhalonga, where the Community of the Resurrection had been based, and walking into a church I knew so well from photographs and now seeing it in all is splendour.


The basilica of the bush

March – the Consecration of Karowei Dorgu as Bishop of Woolwich was a wonderful occasion.  The lack of diversity amongst the bishops was being addressed as far as gender was concerned but not with regard to ethnicity. Bishop Karowei was, and is, a clear sign of hope.  But then that same month the attack on Westminster Bridge and the killing of people there and then of PC Keith Palmer, doing his job, defending our democracy, was a shock to the system.  Hope all of a sudden seemed to be under attack.


If the hat fits …

April – a month that should have been focused on Holy Week and Easter began with us hosting the funeral of PC Keith Palmer in Southwark Cathedral.  Cressida Dick became the Commissioner that same day so that she was in post to represent the whole of the Metropolitan Police Service at the funeral.  It fell to me to preach.  It is hard to describe what that feels like, knowing the streets and bridges were full of people, listening.  All I could do was remember that this was a funeral and that Keith’s widow and daughter would be there, listening.

May – one of the joys of life over the last eight years has been to serve the Society of Catholic Priests as their Rector General.  So it fell to me to visit SCP in Ireland and to encourage those few priests there who would identify as coming from the ‘catholic’ tradition.  It was a great visit.  What a wonderful country and people!  Later in the year, however, my time as Rector General came to an end.  But what a privilege it has been to visit and speak to members of our Society – women and men, black and white, gay and straight, single and partnered, with differing abilities – serving the church faithfully in the places to which God has called them.

June – the month began as any other and then the evening of 3rd June would see an event which would affect the whole of the remainder of the year.  The terrorist attack that evening on London Bridge and the Borough Market left 8 people dead and 48 people injured.  It also left a community scarred and changed.  Being unable to get into the Cathedral for almost a week meant that we had to learn how to be ‘the Cathedral’ differently; the local community came together with a new strength; we learnt about each other as people.  It has changed me – for the better I hope – and given me a new appreciation of my Muslim brothers and sisters.  Speaking at Friday Prayers at our local mosque in the week after the attack was a privilege I never thought would be mine and then hosting the long planned Grand Iftar in the Cathedral ten days after the attack has created new relationships and a greater understanding.  But at such cost!


Three of the great Street Pastors who cared for us after the attack

July – General Synod is always a feature of my year but in 2017 the Synod in York became very significant.  Had the tide turned? Was there a different feel? The debates on welcoming transgender people and the banning of conversion therapy with regard to homosexual (in evangelical speak ‘same-sex attracted people) in church were powerful, brave and decisive. The irony was that at the same time a group of 50 people including 15 priests from Southwark Cathedral and the Diocese were marching in the London Pride parade, with pride.  It was a delicious and painful irony, a vignette of where we are as a church.


Marching with Pride

August – I turned 60 at the end of July.  That was a fantastic occasion – great to see so many friends and family as we celebrated.  And then it was off to Spain for my usual ten days in the sun, catching up on reading and simply relaxing.  The highlight? I suppose visiting the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona now that it is almost complete.  Bonkers it is, but impressive bonkers.

September – it’s always one of those getting back to work months and this September was like that.  The terrorist attack in June meant that I was unable to lead the Cathedral Pilgrimage in the steps of Martin Luther, to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  But in September we held a reunion for all the pilgrims – so I got to see the photos and hear the stories!

October – as part of my first sabbatical in 2006 I visited Tamil Nadu in India – I’d always wanted to go back to that country and see another area.  A group of us had planned for a long time to do this and so in October eight of us, plus our organiser and guide, headed off for 15 days in Rajasthan.  It was everything we had hoped for – lovely people, wonderful sights, new experiences, delicious food, warmth and sunshine and something memorable.  For me it was the Taj Mahal, the scaffolding removed and there, resplendent, perfect, a monument to love and unsurpassed by the skill of humanity.



November – we use the nave of the Cathedral in many ways and occasionally for grand dinners.  One such dinner happened in November.  The chairs were cleared and round tables installed, the flowers were arranged and the lighting perfected, the candles lit and people gathered.  The event was the retirement of one of the Partners at EY (Ernst and Young) who have offices not far from the Cathedral.  Why mention this?  Well, the person retiring lives with a bad stammer but had not let this prevent him living his life and progressing in his profession and had set up a stammering network in the firm which is the largest such network in the UK. He spoke and sang at the dinner and with such confidence – it was very moving, and humbling.  And why at Southwark? Because at a memorial service for a colleague that we hosted he was asked to read and doing so was the beginning of a journey which has brought him to where he is, and praying in that holy place is one thing that has sustained him throughout.  Tremendous.

December – it is my favourite month and I make no secret of that.  We welcomed thousands of people to the Cathedral for carol services and concerts, as we do every year.  But this year people wanted to remember the events I have mentioned, but also Finsbury Park Mosque, the Manchester Arena, Grenfell Tower and the atrocities and the disasters that have happened in so many communities around the world during the year and that have given this year its particular feel and flavour.  All of it was brought to that vulnerable baby in the crib, all our own vulnerability that we have learnt so much of together, in the hard times and the good times of 2017 and that knowledge that God has been with us and God is with us.


Ending the year in the Borough Market


So where do we go from here? There is only one direction and that is forwards.  It has been hard but it has not been all bad.  But all I can do is remember the words of perhaps the most famous poem for the turn of the year, the one that caught the public attention and the popular imagination when King George VI quoted it in his 1939 Christmas broadcast to the British Empire. It was written a number of years earlier 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.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

And that is my prayer and that is my intention – to put my hand in God’s hand as we walk into 2018.

Hand of God, hold us.
Hope of God, sustain us.
Vision of God, direct us.
Love of God, enfold us.
Peace of God, fill us.


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.

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017


Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark