Ponderings

There’s such a lot to think about at Christmas.  For all of us the pressure is on in one way or another. Personally, I’ve always found it hard to get all the stuff done in church and all the stuff done at home.  I’ve never failed – yet – but there always comes this crisis moment, like this weekend, when you realise that time is running out and you have to get things done and you ask yourself, ‘Where am I going to find the time to do it all?’  Anyway, it all focuses the mind and helps when you are trying to imagine, desperately, what to buy for certain individuals!

At the same time as struggling this reality I hear myself telling people to use this precious time of Advent for that deeper level of preparation, ‘take time’, I say, ‘don’t just get caught up in all the frantic busyness; take time to think.’ Physician heal thyself!

St Luke uses a lovely phrase about Mary in his gospel, something that has always stayed in my heart as I have thought about Mary and the example she gives to me, gives to us.

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Mary ponders

 

After the shepherds have left the stable, after they have greeted the new-born Jesus, Luke tells us this

‘Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.’ (Luke 2.19)

That word ‘pondering’ is the translation of a Greek word ‘sunballousa’ which means “placing together for comparison.” Mary treasured the experiences, she stored them up, so that like someone taking one piece out of a valued collection she could bring out the memory, bring out the experience and, metaphorically, turn it in her hand, like a precious object and look at it from every angle.  It’s a beautiful way of thinking about what we do with our memories, pondering them, pondering on them, properly valuing and curating them.

We can use the word ponderous however, quite negatively. It seems to imply someone taking too long to think about something, as though thinking should be a quick thing, instant, reactive instead of this beautiful, meditative way that Mary shows us.

I was pondering on this in the last few days because we have seen a week that has involved remembering.  On Wednesday we were joined at Southwark Cathedral by Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.  Charles and Camilla had come to visit the Borough Market and the community at the Cathedral six months after the terror attack on our community.  They came to see how we were getting on.  The next day they were in a packed St Paul’s Cathedral across the river remembering another community, the community that died and the community that survived in the disaster at Grenfell Tower.

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A moment for pondering in Southwark Cathedral

 

The service they attended in Southwark Cathedral was small and quiet, a simple Service of Light on the Feast of St Lucy, as the sun set outside and the Christmas lights illuminated the shoppers in the Market.  By comparison the service in St Paul’s was huge but full of poignant acts, children singing, scattering hearts, relatives clutching the photos of their dead loved ones – pondering.

We will sing the familiar and beautiful poem, ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Christina Rossetti, many times this Christmas and we have probably sung it many times already.  In one of the stanzas it says this

But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

Part of the process of pondering is to be able to kiss and love the love the memory – that is the treasuring that Mary displays. That is hard when the memories are painful, when they are terrifying.  As she stood at the foot of the cross, not so many miles where she had first held her baby in her arms, Mary’s treasury was given new and harsh memories, the images of the agony of her son, his painful final words, his last breath and as she collapsed into the waiting arms of her fiends and John, the new son given to her from the cross, Mary’s heart, pierced by the predicted sword, was full to overflowing.

Mary, the eternal ponderer, has to be a model for me of what I do with the good and the painful memories.  I must not seek to forget, not try to forget but somehow, somehow to treat every memory, even the most terrifying, as to be ‘placed together for comparison’, to learn to ponder.  It will take time.

Lord,
teach me to ponder,
like Mary,
and to kiss the memory
however hard.
Amen.

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Suffering, endurance, hope

Thank God for Oscar Wilde who bequeathed us so many epigrams in his plays and writings.  In that wonderful play ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ he writes

‘The truth is rarely pure and never simple.’

What can be said of truth can be said of life, it is neither pure nor simple. If it were simply grim then we couldn’t bear it, but it isn’t. But these have been some grim weeks for those of us in London and these have been a grim few months for us as a nation as a whole. For some what is grim for others has been life-changing and life-destroying.  For the injured and the bereaved, Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge mean that life will never be the same again. For the residents of Grenfell Tower the horror that they have gone through is unimaginable, the real stuff of nightmares. The loss of life, the injuries, the stress, the implications for ongoing life when your home, your things, your papers and documents, the stuff that holds your memories are all taken from you in an instant must be beyond description.  I was with someone the other day who had been through a devastating fire herself.  The pictures from Kensington brought it all back.  ‘I can still smell the smoke’ she said and she always will.  The smell lingers in the memory as much as physical scars which are always reminders of horrendous experiences.

prince-harry-makes-surprise-visit-to-borough-market-after-terror-attack

Prince Harry with Paul in the Borough Market

 

This past week has been one of trying to begin to get back to some kind of normality, a new normality, in the community around Southwark Cathedral. The church was the first of the major places to reopen. The Borough Market opened on Wednesday and in between the bars and restaurants gradually opened.  Just before the Market bell was rung by one of the traders at 10.00am on Wednesday morning to announce the commencement of trading, the Bishop of Southwark with some of the Cathedral clergy and servers went out with holy water and incense to cleanse and re-hallow the area after the horror of what had happened.  The procession then arrived in the Market as it reopened.

I was talking to Paul, the trader who rang the bell, who was visited, amongst other by Prince Harry on Thursday.  He runs a fruit and veg stall in the market, a proper east-end market trader. And he told me that not only was he reopening and supporting the market in that, but he was organising his fellow traders to send food over to Kensington for the people now made homeless.  It’s acts like that which relieve the grim reality and reveal that deep-seated goodness that is a true part of human nature.

On Friday we hosted at Southwark Cathedral a ‘Service of Hope’ at which were survivors of the attack, families of the injured and those who lost loved ones gathered with first responders in an act of solidarity and hope.  The stories of bravery and the acts of goodness that I’ve hard in the past two weeks, the tremendous images of community acting together around the base of that burnt out tower are humbling.  Good people are everywhere.

I was reminded of a passage from the Letter of St Paul to the Romans.

‘Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.’ (Romans 5.3-5)

Hope

Suffering, endurance, hope, an experience of community – and every part of that needs to be recognised for what it is, along with the acts of goodness, generosity and love that are woven through it.  The grim reality remains in broken lives, destroyed homes, shattered dreams but into that is shot the transcendent love of God that is revealed in broken humanity and transformed in divine and everlasting life.

God, take our suffering,
build our endurance,
crown it with hope
and may all be suffused
with your love.
Amen.

‘I am with you always’

This is the text of the sermon I preached at Southwark Cathedral on Trinity Sunday 2017 the day on which we were able to reopen the Cathedral following the terrorist attack on our community a week before.

Saturday night last week was like a living nightmare. It’s the kind of experience that only happens to other people, not to you, not on your own doorstep. But it happened to us, it happened on our own doorstep, literally; it happened in our own community that we love and that we’ve served in Christ’s name for over 1400 years. Those years have seen their share of war and pestilence and fire but I doubt that ever before has the church been inaccessible to worshippers for a week, inaccessible as the place of peace and contemplation that people expect and need, inaccessible as the place of welcome and embracing, radical hospitality and love that we seek to be. But it happened.

Flowers

When I first heard that something was happening in the London Bridge area I put on my dog collar and headed down Bankside to try and open up the Cathedral so that we could be a place of refuge. But initially I didn’t get far.

So I went through the back alleys and got as far as Park Street and Neal’s Yard Dairy and the Market Porter. But heavily armed police barred my way and forced me back. ‘Run, run’ was all they shouted. I was directed on to Southwark Street and there saw people lying on the pavement being cared for by the emergency services. ‘Run, run’ was all I could hear through the sound of sirens and helicopters and I was forced on and on until I got back to the Deanery and shut the door behind me on the living nightmare.

Around midnight I received a text from Amir Eden, a young man who lives on Park Street, a lawyer who was a pupil at Cathedral School, a practising Muslim who’s the chair of the Bankside Residents Forum. ‘Could I come to yours? I can’t really go anywhere.’ was his text. I texted back ‘Of course’ and so he arrived and with 8 other people spent the night in our house.

The rest I suppose you know about. 8 brutally killed, 48 horribly injured. The Cathedral was forcibly entered by the police searching for more attackers, doors broken down, glass smashed in a desperate effort to stop more bloodshed. It happened on our doorstep, on the threshold of God’s house.

And now we’re here on this Trinity Sunday, back in this sacred place, which is still sacred. The risen body of Jesus bears the marks of the nails and the spear and Jesus shows his hands and his side to his disciples. The Sacristy door shows the marks of the baton rounds fired at it to break open the door and allow the police access. We bear on our body the marks of suffering that so many bear in their flesh and in their soul and spirit.

St Matthew places the final encounter of the disciples with the risen Jesus not on the Mount of Olives, just outside the city of Jerusalem, but back in Galilee, the place where they started, the place of call and from that place of call he sends them out to the nations, to take the Good News, to baptise and teach. But then, before he leaves them he makes a promise, a promise to them and a promise to us.

Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’. (Matthew 28.20)

In the horror of the moment it’s all too easy to imagine that you’re on your own, that you’re abandoned to the nightmare, lost in the terror, but Jesus says ‘No; remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’.

God was not absent on that Saturday night; God is never absent. The Psalmist knows it to be true when they say

Where can I go then from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. (Psalm 139.7-8)

We are not abandoned by the Sprit, we are not abandoned by the Father, we are not abandoned by the Son for we have this promise ‘I am with you always.’

On Friday I was invited to go to our local mosque by the Imam. I went with other clergy from here and we were welcomed with open arms. I’d been invited to speak to a packed congregation. The Imam preached about our shared humanity and our shared heritage through Adam and I was able to respond to that, taking your greetings to our brothers and sisters, telling them that we do not hold the Muslim community to blame, telling them that we recognise that we share so much, praying, peace upon you, greeting them as Paul greets the Christians in the multi-cultural, multi-faith, complex and exciting city of Corinth

‘Live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you’. ( 2 Corinthians 13.11)

That is what we have to do. What we share is what God has given, a shared heritage, a shared humanity, not just with the Muslim community but with all people, all men and women, regardless of anything that others might identify as difference. Difference does not mean division unless we chose to make it so, and we chose to make difference a blessing and an enrichment to our community which is why we celebrate who you are, who we are, male and female, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight – and I will say that again and again and again from this pulpit until it is deep in all our hearts, to the very core of our being.

The great metaphysical poet and Dean of St Paul’s, John Donne, famously wrote a poem, so well known.

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.

‘Any man’s death diminishes me’ which is what the Quran teaches, that killing one life is killing all life. We have all been scarred by what happened last Saturday on our doorstep and we will bear those scars. But they will not make us bitter but make us stronger.

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ said Edmund Burke. We will not do nothing. We will rebuild with the community what good things we have, we will rebuild the joy and diversity, the confidence, the acceptance, the inclusive, radically beautiful nature of this community that has been built over centuries and millennia. The roots go deep and cannot be destroyed by evil men and we will not allow it but will confront that evil with love.

wounds of crucifixion

We bear on our body the marks of Jesus

The Feast of the Holy Trinity is the feast of relationship, that beautiful relationship of diversity in the very Godhead, the Perichoresis, the divine dance into which we’re drawn. And we’re drawn and invited to this altar, through the Spirit, by the Father, to share in what the Son gives to us. With scarred hands he gives his broken body to us, gives his shed blood to us, and he asks us to eat and drink so that through his death we may have life. He is always with us, always, at the altar, in the world, walking through the dangerous places and showing his scarred self to a scarred world and making it, ultimately, beautiful.

Loving God,
when terror came to our doorstep
and stalked our streets
you were there with us in the fear and agony.
Remain with us
and with all those caught up
in the horror of these events
the injured and distressed
those who died
and all who seek your peace
which passes understanding.
Amen.

More tea, Vicar?

Whilst ‘Asparagus-gate’ continued to rattle on in Worcester Cathedral I was getting ready to bless in Southwark Cathedral the First Flush Darjeeling tea for one of the stall holders in the Borough Market.  Would I face the same criticism? I read the reports of the service held in Worcester.  It seemed that the objection was to the ‘pantomime’ of having someone in the procession dressed as an asparagus shoot.  I’ve actually seen more bizarre forms of dress in Cathedral processions than that but, well, there you go! But I was ok.  It seemed that it wasn’t the fact that asparagus was being blessed, or God was being thanked for (though someone asked about a similar liturgy for Sprouts) but that it looked as though God, through the liturgy, was being ridiculed. I breathed a sigh of relief.  No one was going to be dressed as a tea leaf or a teabag and the liturgy that I had written for the occasion was as orthodox as I could make it.

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‘More tea, Vicar?’

 

Obviously the challenge was the reading – the Bible is light on hot drinks – but it is clear that we are to bring the first fruits of the harvest to God, to make an offering and to give thanks. So we read this.

The Lord said to Aaron, ‘All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the choice produce that they give to the LORD, I have given to you. The first fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the LORD, shall be yours; everyone who is clean in your house may eat of it. Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours.’ (Numbers 18.12-14)

It was a lovely occasion and Ratan, the stallholder of Tea2You in the Borough Market, who had been out into the hills where tea grows in northern India to select the best of the harvest spoke eloquently about it.  I quoted another cleric, the Revd Sydney Smith, who wrote in his memoir in the early years of the 19th century

“Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.”

Hear, hear, Reverend Sir! Lots to give thanks for and especially for we clerics who get plied with gallons of the hot brown liquid as we make our pastoral visits, or at least that was the case when I was in the parish.  Developing a strong bladder to see you through an afternoon’s pastoral visiting, which is what we did every day when I was first ordained, was a necessary stage in proper clerical formation. ‘Never refuse a cup of tea’, I was told ‘and never ask to use the bathroom in someone’s house!’ Conceding to both rules was a physical impossibility for me.  But as Oscar Wilde says in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’

‘Tea is the only simple pleasure left to us.’

And so when I was presented with the newly harvested tea in the Cathedral I prayed that all who drank it might be

‘calmed, strengthened
and comforted.’

A simple prayer for a simple pleasure.

Whilst all of this was going on we had been hosting the annual residential meeting of the Deans’ Conference. This gathering of the English Anglican Deans moves around the country year-on-year and this time it was the privilege of St Paul’s and Southwark to co-host it.  Moving around gives us the opportunity to see what ministry in our different cathedrals looks like.  This is important always but especially when the ministry and especially the governance and finances of all the English Cathedrals are under some measure of scrutiny and consideration as the Archbishops’ Working Party begins its deliberations. Some in the press put 2 and 2 together and, with a display of worse numerical dexterity than some Deans are being accused of, came up with 5! The Deans were holding a crisis meeting to talk about failing finances. It couldn’t have been further from the truth.  Of course, the Working Party and the issues around it were discussed but not in some febrile atmosphere. Instead we all look forward to seeing what positive findings the members of the Working Party come up with.

So most of our time was spent looking at the world in which St Paul’s and Southwark seek to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and minister to all his people – London, north and south of the river. To do that we visited what we called the ‘Five Estates’ taken from the famous ‘three estates’ of France’s Ancien Régime. We began with finance by visiting Canary Wharf and the offices of J P Morgan.  That involved a fascinating visit to the trading floor as well as a conversation about Brexit, the markets and the ethics of global finance.  Then to the Corporation of the City of London that ancient and unique local authority.  We had a session with a team from the London Borough of Southwark including both the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council to talk about physical and social regeneration and wellbeing as part of that.  Then we moved to the offices of NewsUK located alongside Southwark Cathedral and spent a fascinating time with members of the editorial, reporting and commentating team of the Times.  What is news? What is truth? What is fact? were our topics of conversation.  And in all of that we talked about how our two cathedrals respond in this fast-paced, fast changing world.

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London

 

The Dean of St Paul’s invited me to preach at the final Eucharist of the Conference celebrated at the high altar in St Paul’s.  It was the (transferred) Feast of St Mellitus, the first Bishop of London.  I concluded my sermon in this way, speaking of what I see the role of the Dean to be, pondering on the question suggested by the readings for the Mass as to whether we were to be builders or shepherds.

‘We have to be what the time and the place need, what Jesus needs of us. And he needs us first and foremost to be disciples, he needs us first and foremost to be priests. It’s our discipleship which helps us to walk with others, it’s our priesthood that enables our ministry to others. What will make a difference is not how high the tower gets but what happens in the pulpit and what happens at the altar, that’s what’ll make a difference, the difference, a place buzzing with theology, a people encountering God in the most sublime worship, a community meeting the risen Jesus in broken bread.

That’s the real Christian project and I believe Cathedrals have to be flagships of that, champions, exemplars of that in a church crying out for confident, radical, inclusive Christian commitment that’s life changing, faith enhancing. We can build it and shepherd it but it will be in people’s lives that we see our real priestly work bearing fruit, fruit that will last.

Whatever we take away from this time we’ve had together in London and Southwark I hope and pray that we’ll take away a renewed commitment and confidence in the task, wherever we are and whatever that particular task is, but knowing that we can only build on one set of foundations, those of Jesus Christ and shepherd only one flock, his.’

That may include blessing asparagus or tea; it may involve walking the City trading floors, debating truth with journalists or looking to the wellbeing of communities undergoing regeneration.  It will involve being the Body of Christ, visibly and passionately and welcoming the faithful and the yet to be faithful, through ever open doors.

God of the Church,
bless our cathedrals
and the communities
they serve,
welcome,
and bless
in your name.
Amen.

Home grown

We all seem to love a farmers’ market nowadays, the place where we have the chance to buy some really fresh food, to meet the person who grew it, raised the livestock, made the cheese, bottled the milk. That’s one of the reasons that the Borough Market that surrounds Southwark Cathedral and that’s constantly full of people is so popular. That’s also why go to any Church Fete or any sale run by the Women’s Institute or any Mothers’ Union cake stall and you’ll find people queuing up to buy the home-made produce.  It was lovely to read this week, for instance, about the woman from Scotland who has just won the best marmalade award.  It must taste home made at its very best, because it is home made.

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Home grown in Borough Market

 

But when we are using that phrase ‘home grown’ in relation to terrorism it evokes another reaction completely.

The events of last Wednesday were shocking, just as every terrorist act shocks and sickens us to the core. For those of us who have been around London for a while we’ve experienced a number of such incidents, fortunately few in number, but each one stays imprinted on our memory – the Baltic Exchange, Canary Wharf, 7/7 – we will remember how each of them affected us, even if we weren’t any where near what happened.  The senseless and depraved attack on innocent pedestrians crossing one of the best known bridges in the world – Westminster Bridge – packed with visitors to London trying to get that precious selfie with Big Ben – and then the attack on the very heart of our democracy, the Mother of Parliaments and the murder of PC Keith Palmer, an officer doing his duty on our behalf, has left us all stunned.

Then we learnt that this wasn’t done by someone who’d arrived in this country from elsewhere, not a refugee from some notorious and dangerous country, not an immigrant who’d recently arrived here but someone born and raised not far from London, someone who’d been living in the Garden of England, the real ‘home grown area’, living in Birmingham, a convert to Islam, not a young man, headstrong, but slightly older than we would expect in acts like this.  Like so many of the perpetrators of atrocities in the USA this was a ‘home grown terrorist’.  The question we need to ask ourselves is how are these terrorists grown?

What I do know is that all the travel banns that President Trump and others want to impose, all the suspicion directed towards refugees who others imagine are like Trojan Horses waiting to be rolled into our communities is meaningless.  No travel ban, no ring of steel round a country, no walls built to exclude are effective when we grow people inclined to think the unthinkable and commit acts that are against the standards of basic humanity.

The seedbed for growing people with these attitudes and desires is much more subtle, much more dangerous and much more familiar.  It has to be around the ability we now have to do as I am doing now, sharing my thoughts and putting them out there for the world to read.  And this platform, like any platform, can be used for good or evil.  But regulating it when the very place that the attacker was directing his hatred towards, the Palace of Westminster, stands for, is built on, the concept of free speech that is at the heart, the core of our democratic values, is very difficult.

During these days leading up to Holy Week we will at some stage hear read these words of Jesus from St John

‘Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’ (John 12.24)

It’s true for the farmer, its true for the martyr, it true in the secular and in the sacred worlds.  In the musical ‘Les Miserables’ the students, manning the barricades, sing a rousing song which includes the lines

Will you give all you can give
So that our banner may advance
Some will fall and some will live
Will you stand up and take your chance?
The blood of the martyrs
Will water the meadows of France!

It picks up on the words of Jesus to us but it also reflects something that must go on in the heads of those who choose to commit horrendous acts of terrifying violence against their neighbours, against, as in this instance, their fellow countrymen.

We are not afraid

I have no answers, only thoughts.  All I do know is that, though shocked, London and Londoners are always defiant.  The slogan ‘We are not afraid’ is a powerful one.  Once we are afraid then those who would terrorise us have won.  And Jesus, the planted seed, bears much fruit in the resurrection and to his startled friends, as he walks across the stormy waters, says

‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ (Matthew 14.27)

We have to say the same to each other.

westminster candle

A candle burns for Westminster in Southwark Cathedral

 

Since the attack a candle has been burning in Southwark Cathedral and this prayer has been offered to people to pray.  please pray it with us.

God of peace,
God of healing,
on all caught up in the incident in Westminster
send both peace and healing.
Give to those who protect us
courage and commitment;
to those who govern us
wisdom and insight;
to those who are afraid
peace and assurance;
and to those who died
life eternal in your presence.
We ask this in the name
of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Cheating at Christmas

Each year the Borough Market lets me take over the demonstration kitchen and cook something for Christmas. It’s a great opportunity to get out there and tell people about Christmas and what’s happening at the Cathedral and, of course, share a useful recipe with people. Today was the day!

Cooking and talking complete with halos!

Cooking and talking complete with halos!

This year it was Christmas Pudding that was our focus. Traditionally it was made on Stir-Up Sunday – the Sunday before Advent, the last in the church’s year. That name comes from the collect in the Book of Common Prayer for that Sunday.

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

But what if you just don’t get your act together and miss out on making one? Well, you could buy one of course – but you might want to present a home made pudding to your family. So I have a solution for you. I found the recipe on the BBC’s Good Food pages and it is simple and delicious.

The Cheat’s Christmas Pudding Recipe

Ingredients
Butter for greasing
300g good quality mincemeat
140 g fine shred orange marmalade
200g molasses cane sugar
4 tbsp treacle
4 tbsp whisky
100 g butter, frozen and coarsely grated
200g self-raising flour

Method
Grease a 1.5l pudding basin with butter and line the base with greaseproof paper.
In a large bowl, stir the ingredients together, adding them one at a time in the order they are listed, until everything is completely mixed.
Tip the pudding mix into the basin and cover with a circle of greaseproof paper.
Microwave on medium for 20 – 25 minutes until cooked. An inserted skewer should come out clean.
Leave to stand for five minutes, then turn out on a plate and flambe with brandy.
Serve with brandy butter and cream.

Now, how easy is that! Remember that it has to be on medium in the microwave otherwise you’ll have a disaster on your hands. But it saves at least 9 hours of steaming and that must be a good thing.

It isn’t really cheating and it is delicious and as rich and wonderful as the feast we are about to celebrate.

God of abundant goodness,
for your amazing love
revealed in the birth of Jesus
we give you thanks and praise.
Amen.

New beginnings

So, we are into a new year, 2014. The reviews of 2013 are almost over, the official papers for 1984 have been unclassified and are being poured over by journalists and historians for the ‘juicy bits’ and the rest of us, well we are just getting on with it. I always have a strange feeling in January. In December you feel as though you have done everything, as though everything is complete and then you wake up on New Year’s Day with everything lying ahead of you, to do, once again. But that is life, it happens each day, each week and each year; there are always new beginnings.

Time passes

Time passes

I’m not saying I find that at all depressing, in fact it is exciting, to think about what lies ahead, what is planned and what will come along to surprise us. And there will be a great deal of both in the life of the Cathedral. We have been spending the last couple of weeks trying to get in place the next stage of Living God which will take us through Lent and into Holy Week and Easter. The theme will be around how what believe about God manifests itself in our discipleship and principally in our prayer life. There are some exciting things in prospect – a month on the Bible; spiritual conversations with the clergy for members of the congregation; a retreat weekend; retreat strands through Holy Week and, as they say, much, much more. When the final details are in place we will be publishing it all.

In addition, in the tradition of ‘Die Harder’ and ‘Christ Rests’, the last two installations for Lent, we are working with two artists whose work will be in the Cathedral throughout Lent and Holy Week and will be stimulating our thinking and our praying, and, I hope, enhancing the Lenten experience for us. Again, the details and the artists have yet to be announced.

So this is all to tantalise you at this stage and I make no apologies for that.

Cathedral Loaf - notice the crosses inscribed into the bread

Cathedral Loaf – notice the crosses inscribed into the bread

So it has been, for me, a quiet week, (apart from discovering a Cathedral Loaf on a stall in the Borough Market) but I have been very conscious of the dreadful conditions that others have been living through in other parts of the country and of the frightening collapse of civil society in South Sudan. I have a particular feeling for that country after having met the Archbishop at a conference in South Africa back in 2007 and having been impressed by him and then having the privilege to organise the service for the members of the General Synod to celebrate the creation of this new, independent country. Then all seemed positive and full of possibility, a new beginning for the people. The news therefore of a challenge to the elected government, of deaths and of people fleeing is deeply distressing. Pray for the people of South Sudan, the Anglican Church there and for Archbishop Daniel Deng. They need our prayers.

The poet T S Eliot (who died this day in 1965) in the first of the Four Quartets, Burnt Norton, reflects on the passing of time

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Past and future are all in God’s hands but it is always in the present where we know God. We see God in the past, we know that God is in the future but knowing God in the present moment is something that we – and I – need to work at. There is a temptation to look to the past or to live for the future but perhaps a new beginning for us could be to live in that present moment where God truly is to be known.

The great teacher on this is the eighteenth century Jesuit, Jean-Pierre De Caussade, who wrote in his book ‘The Sacrament of the Present Moment’

The Jesuit - Society of Jesus - emblam

The Jesuit – Society of Jesus – emblam

The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams but you will only enjoy them to the extent of your faith and love. The more a soul loves, the more it longs, the more it hopes, the more it finds. The will of God is manifest in each moment, an immense ocean which only the heart fathoms insofar as it overflows with faith, trust and love.

So perhaps we could learn to live in the present moment; not be devoted to the past or hankering for the future but lliving with the Living God, who lives with us where we are now.

Lord, may I know you
present in this moment
present in every moment.
Amen.

Seeing stars

This has been the final full week of Advent. What a wonderful season it is. I’m always sorry that we get so little of it now in church. It is inevitable, I suppose, when so many people want to come along for carol services. So I have yet again sung ‘Hark the Herald Angels’ so many times this week but hearing everyone else sing with gusto is a really encouraging thing.

Dawn of a new day

Dawn of a new day

On Monday we hosted News UK at the Cathedral for the first time. This is the name by which we now know News Corp who will, next year, be moving just over the road from the Cathedral into their new home, The Place, which is between us and the Shard. The church is all about new beginnings and so it is good to have this relationship with this news and publishing giant from the very beginning of their time in the Borough. We live in an increasingly complex world and so if people who seek to form opinion and set the news agenda are willing to hear the Good News proclaimed and the simple and life changing story of the birth of a child, the Son of God, then that can only be a good thing.

Later that same day we welcomed the Mayor of London and the GLA to the Cathedral for a carol service for London. It was a great service at which the choir ‘Kaos’ performed. You may remember them singing and signing at the opening of the Olympic Games. It is a choir which brings together both deaf and hearing children between the ages of 4 and 18. It was thrilling to hear them and very moving to see their commitment and joy as they performed a series of Christmas songs. They were supported by a great brass band from Sutton – again, more young people really committed to their art and doing it so well.

The week was brought to a close with another corporate carol service, PWC, who always bring our external carol services (as we call them in the office) to a conclusion. Of course, PWC and others are not external at all but part of the family of Southwark Cathedral. We have had a long and fruitful relationship and they continue to actively support all that we do here. This year, in particular, we have been grateful to them for the practical support they have given through the Emerging Leaders Programme which they run. Members of staff have given time to working with us on the All Hallows’ Project and we are thankful to them for that.

Meeting Simon Boyle at Brigade

Meeting Simon Boyle at Brigade

The lunch after the service was held at the Brigade, a restaurant supported by PWC on Tooley Street. There is a great story behind this restaurant as they train homeless people in catering and hospitality skills. I met Simon Boyle, the Chef Founder of the Beyond Food Foundation project at Brigade. He told me that they have had 300 homeless people through the project. 73 of these became apprentices of which 53 have graduated and 35 are now in full time employment. This is a tremendous story of success and in a season when we are very much thinking about the plight of the street homeless, something positive to celebrate. The food is tremendous as well!

It is through working together and building relationships in these ways – of which the carol services are but an indicator – that we help create the kind of community that we seek, one in which there is interdependence and where the flourishing of the corporate world and responsible government at the local level leads to better lives for those who live here. That is the vision that I, with the Chapter, hold and that we have tried to articulate in the Living God process – because we believe it is at the heart of the incarnation, in which God became one with us in all of the complexity of the world – in order to save us as one with us.

The Advent part of the Living God process came to a conclusion with two events this week. Canon Martin Seeley, Principal of Westcott House, Cambridge, joined us on Wednesday to lead the third session called ‘God comes … in flesh’. He spoke to another good crowd about incarnational theology. This was then followed up on Saturday with ‘God comes … in prayer’ in which the Very Revd Victor Stock brought the strands together – darkness, silence and flesh – into a whole within a vigil retreat.

The response to both of these sessions has been tremendous and many people have been asking for more of the same. We are now putting the final touches to the next term’s programme and I am sure that there will be some exciting and challenging elements for many people within it as we move from Christmas to Easter.

Trying to look cool in the kitchen

Trying to look cool in the kitchen

Perhaps the most unusual thing I did during the week was to cook in the demonstration kitchen in the Borough Market. For some reason – apart from that I seem unable to say ‘no’ – I had agreed to do this some time ago as it seemed a great opportunity to get out and tell people about the true meaning of Christmas. So I woke on the morning of the event not a little nervous. In the end I really enjoyed the opportunity – though it was exhausting, talking and cooking at the same time. My recipe was for some Christmas biscuits which, following a competition amongst the staff of the Cathedral were called Balthastars. They were simple to make but gave me the opportunity to talk about the wise men and the real message of Christmas – along with a lot of other stuff! Well, an hour is a long time to fill!

So an interesting week as we make the final approach to Christmas and the birth of the Living God we know in Jesus Christ. May the star lead us to the crib as it did so many years before and may we there find Christ.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

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A good city for all

A good city for all

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Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015

LIVING GOD

Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

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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