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.


‘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.




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,
and bless
in your name.

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.


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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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