Away again?

For a number of reasons I am away this weekend. After visiting the south coast where I hadn’t been for years I am now in the Lake District where I haven’t been, well, certainly for ten years or so, since I led a retreat at the now closed URC retreat house in Windermere. That was a significant moment as, apart from meeting a great group of people, I encountered the work of ArtPeace for the first time.

The sheer beauty of the landscape

Like most retreat houses there was a little shop that you could browse in the silence and make purchases from through one of those loyalty boxes. Amongst the holding crosses and lavender bags there were, surprisingly, some Zimbabwean soapstone carvings. They were lovely and there was a leaflet alongside them to explain where they were from. I took a leaflet and brought it back to Southwark.

As you may know, we have a long standing relationship with the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. Whilst ArtPeace is in Harare which is the one area of the country with which we are not linked (they are twinned with the Diocese of Rochester) the story was a good one and we decided that we would be a second outlet through the Cathedral Shop.

From that point we have stocked the carvings and supported the artists. The project is one run by the Jesuits in Harare and a few years ago I was fortunate to visit the place and meet the artists. It is basically a collective, the Jesuits providing them with a place from which to work, a studio and grounds in which to display their work which ranges from tiny crosses to large carvings designed to be outside.

So we get to hear, on a regular basis, what is happening to the artists and it is not good. Life in Zimbabwe is terrible at the moment and it is not just due to the pandemic. There are shortages of everything and the security forces are being particularly aggressive towards people who are protesting. Our artist friends are caught up in this. And, of course, with our shop being closed there are no sales and no money being sent from us to them. With the retreat house in Windermere having closed the Cathedral is now the main outlet for the carvings. So this is a terrible situation. As soon as we can reopen the shop then we can encourage sales and can get that stream of funding back in operation.

A far cry from Zimbabwe – but it was here that we met

So that is what I am thinking about at the moment. Surrounded by the beauty of the Lakes I am with my friends in Zimbabwe. This is where we ‘met’ and it was a moment of divine serendipity. But that is often how the best things in life happen!


Stabat Mater

The day after the Feast of the Holy Cross (which if you are reading this on Sunday was yesterday) is the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  There is logic in this, of course. John tells us that Mary was at the foot of the cross with the beloved disciple and suffered the pain of which Simeon had spoken so long before at the presentation of her child in the Temple in Jerusalem.

‘And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Luke 2.32)

The city in which the prophecy was spoken was the city in which it would be painfully fulfilled.

Whilst visiting all those Spanish missions in California, as I was doing a few weeks ago, I was looking at numerous statues of Our Lady of Sorrows, in the Spanish tradition, of course, dressed in real clothes.  The dress she wore was often purple velvet.  Painted on tears fell from her downcast eyes.  Whilst not particularly my taste in statues (there was a much more discrete one in the Upper Church at Mirfield when I was at college there) yet there remains something terribly moving and relevant about this image. Women stood there with me, real, rather than painted, tears on their cheeks.

Mother 1

Not to everyone’s taste

It seems to me that life and religion, and that is a false and unnecessary separation, are about making connections.  I think I have said before that what is now grandly called ‘theological reflection’, is really about thinking about things, but with God in mind.  So I cannot think about Mary at the foot of the cross without thinking about the mothers that I met in Zimbabwe.

The Mothers’ Union is everywhere you go in Zimbabwe and, I suspect, in other parts of ‘Anglican Africa’.  They make sure you can see them by wearing a uniform – black skirt, white blouse and ‘Mary blue’ hats and sashes.  They stand out from the crowd.  And they are always working, cooking the food, cleaning the church, playing the drums, singing their hearts out, running projects, making you welcome and bearing the pain of the reality of the situation that their children are growing up in.

Mother 2

Mothers of Zimbabwe waiting to welcome us

The mothers of Zimbabwe are no different to mothers in so many places.  Who can forget the grief of the mothers in various countries in South America, holding the pictures of their children who have ‘disappeared’?  They cry out to Mother Mary, they cry out to Stabat Mater.  They recognise in Mary one who has shared the sharp pain when the fruit of their womb is suffering before them.

So keeping the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows may not be your particular thing.  But perhaps it is the opportunity we need, each year, to stop and remember the sorrow that so many mothers have to bear, and to stand, as does Mary, alongside them.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners, now
and at the hour of our death.


It’s always good when someone asks you a question that comes from left field, as it were.  I was attending the Resolve course at Southwark Cathedral last week.  It was the third of four sessions and we were looking at the soul after looking at the body and the mind in previous meetings.  In the conversations that happened afterwards one of the members of the small group that I was in asked, in a very interested way, why those of us who were Christians prayed.  It was a good question because it made me really think about what was a reasonable answer I could give.


Durer’s image of praying hands

Others in the group gave their responses, a lot about the ongoing conversation that we have with God, the idea that it is always there in the background, in the way that T S Eliot talks about it in his poem ‘Little Gidding’, part of the ‘Four Quartets’.

And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

There was also of course something about the kind of ordered prayer that we engage in in church, the words that we’re given to pray.  I made the point that I was obviously ‘paid’ to pray, that it was part of what I’m required and called to do on behalf of the church.  But all the talk also made me think about how important prayer is, to me, as a response to situations where I simply cannot do anything else.

The news emerging from Zimbabwe is disturbing and distressing.  The Diocese of Southwark has had a partnership link with four of the five dioceses in that country for many years and the Cathedral is part of that, having a direct partnership link with the Diocese of Masvingo.  That is the most recently created of the dioceses, in the rural south.  The people we have been able to get to know are simply wonderful led by Bishop Godfrey and his wife Albertina.  Coupled with that is the relationship that has grown through the Cathedral Shop with the ArtPeace project based in Harare.  The artists who produce the stone carvings we sell are a resilient and talented bunch of people, supported by the Jesuits, and through our contact here in the UK we get to hear their very real stories of dealing with the poverty that has blighted the country.

The recent protests and the violent response of the army and police has affected all these groups of friends.  Members of artists families have been beaten and some have taken refuge in the Jesuit house.  The situation in Masvingo, away from the capital, is difficult as well.  And what can we do?

Zimbabwe prayer

The prayer vigil underway

Well, we have been praying.  After the Choral Eucharist last Sunday members of the congregation spent time before the map of Zimbabwe that is in the nave of the Cathedral holding a prayer vigil.  Few words were said, most of the time was spent in silence, candles were lit and people focused their attention on the map and the people that lay behind it – holding it all before God.  The wonderful thing is that the people for whom we are praying are so encouraged by the response that we have made.  They believe in the power of prayer and the promises of Jesus.

‘Truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18.19-20)

It’s an encouragement to pray and an encouragement to agree on the words that we want to pray, agree on the purpose of our prayer.  So when I was asked to write a prayer for others to pray in response to the crisis I was delighted to do so and even more thrilled when I learnt that our friends in Zimbabwe are also praying, using the same words.  Please pray with us – I’m not sure what else we can do at the moment – and I believe that this is an effective response in itself.  God’s will be done.

May there be … no cry of distress in our streets. (Ps 144.15)

Loving God,
strong and merciful,
we hear the cry
of our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe
and we place them into your hands.
May the hungry be fed,
the sorrowful consoled,
the injured healed,
the hopeless encouraged
and the dead have new life in you.
May justice flow like a river
and may your peace rest upon them.

Symbolic acts

Almost ten years ago Archbishop John Sentamu was on the BBC’s ‘Andrew Marr Show’ and cut up his dog collar saying that he wouldn’t wear it again until Mugabe was no longer President of Zimbabwe.  It was a powerful and symbolic act that captured the imagination of people. Since then I’ve seen the Archbishop on many occasions – at services, in the closed rooms of the Crown Nominations Commission, at his home at Bishopthorpe in York, at Synod in that city or in Westminster – and I can honestly say that he has never had a bit of plastic around his neck.  However important the occasion, whoever was in the congregation, the absence of that bit of gleaming white plastic was obvious.  Perhaps now the collar will be reinserted.


There goes the collar! (Picture BBC)


It has been a rollercoaster of emotions, these days since it looked as though Mugabe would be going immediately and then appeared to be hanging on and then, finally, in the face of impeachment, went.  My thoughts and prayers have been with my friends in that wonderful but beleaguered country.

I’ve been thinking about the priests from Zimbabwe that I spent time with at St George’s College in Jerusalem last November.  We were studying together, clergy from the Diocese of Southwark and clergy from our link dioceses of Matabeleland, Central Zimbabwe, Manicaland and Masvingo, with clergy as well from the Diocese of Harare.  It was great getting to know each other on the neutral territory of the Holy Land and a great preparation for my return to Zimbabwe in February of this year.  With Bishop Christopher, the Bishop of Southwark, as well as the Archdeacon of Southwark, Jane Steen and the Director of Communications, Wendy Robins, we travelled around each of those five dioceses, an opportunity for me to see all the cathedrals as well as visiting a variety of projects.  As ever it was amazing to witness the resilience and sheer joy and hopefulness of the people.  Their generosity knew no bounds as they fed us like honoured guests with food, I suspect, that they could hardly spare.

But what I have also been thinking about in these days has been assembly at Cathedral School.  Each week one of the clergy from the Cathedral goes into our parish primary school, to do, as clergy across the church do, lead assembly.  Assemblies and expectations of the clergy have changed in the 34 years I have been ordained when I began leading assembly at St James’ Middle School, in Manston on the outskirts of Leeds.  We may have taken in a visual aid but that was it – the rest relied upon us talking.  But now I have to go armed with a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate what I’m going to do.  It’s not a bad thing and I really enjoy both preparing and delivering the assemblies.  But whatever it is that we are thinking about we conclude with a prayer for Zimbabwe.  The children have learnt it off by heart and with hands together and eyes closed they say a variant of the Prayer for Africa.

God bless Zimbabwe
protect her children
transform her leaders
heal her communities
and grant her peace.
for Jesus Christ’s sake.

That regular praying for Zimbabwe which takes place in the Cathedral School and at the map of Zimbabwe in the nave of the Cathedral, is not a symbolic act, of course, not like the statement made by the Archbishop, destroying his collar.  As we pray we believe that it will make a difference.  And it has, certainly to our friends in Zimbabwe.  I have told them about assembly and about all the children caught up in prayer.  And then I filmed a bunch of children at one of the schools in Masvingo greeting the Southwark children with a rapturous greeting. The children back home loved it – they saw the faces of the children they were praying for!


Children from one of our link schools


I love the Letter of James.  It always feels to me that it could have been written yesterday, so relevant, so direct, so challenging, whether it be about how the rich treat the poor, how the tongue can run away with itself, or where our priorities lie.  And then in the final chapter James talks about prayer.

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. (James 5.16b-18)

That fervent prayer made a difference and we believe that prayer, beyond being symbolic of our love and concern, is effective, it changes things.  Sometimes that is hard to see, very hard to see, but I do not lose faith that in God’s season things change and the harvest comes.

Whether or not ++Sentamu takes up his collar again we will continue to pray that prayer. As the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, said

‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’

The people of Zimbabwe have stepped out, now their leaders have to step up and we need to pray for them and journey with them. So join the children of Cathedral School and pray with us.

God bless Zimbabwe
protect her children
transform her leaders
heal her communities
and grant her peace.
for Jesus Christ’s sake.

Putting the pieces together

I have to apologise.  After my last post from Masvingo there’s been the blog equivalent of ‘radio silence’.  The simple explanation for that is that after we left Masvingo on Wednesday there was either no Wi-Fi or no time! So I need to put the final pieces together of the Zimbabwean journey that we’ve now completed through the five Anglican dioceses.

One of the themes of the visit, and indeed of the life of the church in Zimbabwe and I suspect in other parts of the world in which the church has been formed by missionaries, is the presence of ‘missions’.  In both the diocese of Masvingo and the Diocese of Manicaland which we went on to, there are significant missions.

The first we saw was Christ the King, Daramombe, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the diocese and perhaps the Zimbabwean church.  This was a return visit for me and a very welcome one.  The mission comprises a primary school, residential secondary school, a clinic, a church and, of course, attendant agricultural projects.  The mission is more like a village in itself, providing for the lives of the local people and people from a wider area the things they need, practically and spiritually.  As before we were met at the gates of the mission by a corps of drum majorettes who led us triumphantly into the secondary school and to a very hot hall in which the whole school was assembled awaiting our arrival.


Being marched to assembly


It was an impressive sight, as was the ‘computer village’ now nearing completion.  USPG are funding this latest development which will provide the students at every level with state of the art computer facilities for learning.  It was wonderful to see.


Touring the new ‘computer village’


The visits we made in the Diocese of Manicaland were often to a school alongside which something else was happening.  So at the Holy Family School we saw the construction of new blocks to enable the school to expand and provide residential facilities.  At Mary Magdalene’s School we saw a maize project covering 17 hectares of land that will provide for the local schools and communities in an effort to increase food security.


Building new blocks


But the place I wanted to go to was St Augustine’s Penhalonga.  Again, this is a mission in the diocese, a few miles outside of Mutare. In that mission there is both a primary and secondary school, a convent, and a magnificent church.  It’s a school that achieves excellent results and has a high reputation.  But the reason I wanted to go was because of the association with the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.


The magnificent St Augustine’s Penhalonga


When I was at the College of the Resurrection to be formed for priestly ministry I would often idle away time looking at the college photo albums.  For those now there I feature in the pages that cover the years 1980-83! But earlier in the albums were pictures from the life of the Community in Africa.  CR was present and significant in both South Africa and, what was then, Rhodesia.  The focus of their life in what is now Zimbabwe was at St Augustine’s and I remembered looking at the black and white pictures of the twin towered church so reminiscent of the community church in West Yorkshire.

As we drove down the dirt road that leads to the mission all of a sudden, through the trees, I saw the two towers and it was a really emotional moment.  Drawing into the grounds and before the west end of the church is amazing.  This enormous, brick built, cathedral-like structure, is awe inspiring.  We did the formalities, met the Headmaster and the Chaplain and were then led into the church.  What we found was not just a magnificent basilica in the heart of Africa but a church filling up with students.  The Practice, I suppose begun by CR (it was so reminiscent of life at the College and Community), was for the young people to undertake their private prayers, meditation and devotions in the church before the evening Office.  Two boys were knelt in silent adoration before the domed tabernacle in the side chapel where the Sacrament is reserved.  The nave was full of children praying silently, preparing for Evensong.


The Blessed Sacrament altar


I wandered around, delighted to be there.  It felt a bit like coming home, coming to a very special place, a very special mission, God’s mission for God’s people – a final piece in the jigsaw.

Alongside the church is the Convent where we met the eight Sisters who are resident there.  I was asked to visit an elderly sister, Sister Hilda, who was ill in bed.  Would I pray with her before I left, I was asked. I was led to her room and there was the elderly sister in bed, in her habit, and it was a privilege to pray for her healing, to lay hands on her and bless her.


With the sisters at Penhalonga


The Zimbabwean journey ended for us in Harare. That diocese if actually linked with the Diocese of Rochester but we took the opportunity to meet Bishop Chad and some of his clergy, not least the Dean and those who went to Jerusalem with clergy from Southwark and Rochester, to study at St George’s College.  It was fantastic to hear what the church is doing and planning to do in that part of what is a fantastic country.

So, from the ‘Smoke that thunders’ through five dioceses, along miles of roads, many destroyed by the floods that have followed the drought, we’ve seen more maize than I’ve ever seen before, thousands of chickens and hundreds of pigs being reared, even more children being educated, women being empowered through the work of the Mothers’ Union to serve their communities and feed their families, missions making Christ known and a church in very good heart.

Next year the nation engages in fresh elections and people are looking to those and praying for a peaceful expression of their hopes for the future.  It was wonderful for me to meet my five fellow Deans and see the cathedrals in which they serve, to meet the friends I made in Jerusalem and talk about how we can continue to study together and learn from each other, to experience the hospitality of people who’ve very little but from hearts overflowing with love will wash your hands and sit you at their table and feed you richly.


Overflowing generosity


It was that hospitality that reminded me so much of an episode in St Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus has been invited to supper at the home of Simon the Pharisee.  A women turns up, a notorious woman, who ministers to Jesus much to the shock of the other guests at the table.  But it’s the comparison that Jesus draws between Simon and the woman that’s so important.

‘I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment ….. she has shown great love.’ (Luke 7.44-47)

The love that I experienced, the care, the generosity, was Christ-like.  It’s a challenge to me, as was the breadth and reality of their concept of mission, their devotion to the Lord through prayer and praise and the sacraments, their passion for responding to the needs of their society, their deep down optimism that in Christ all will be well. We have so much to learn.  Putting these pieces together has been one lesson for me.

This is the prayer that we pray each day at the map of Zimbabwe in the nave of Southwark Cathedral and that the children pray each day at assembly in Cathedral School.  Pray with us – please – for the great people of Zimbabwe.

God bless Zimbabwe;
protect her children,
transform her leaders,
heal her communities,
and grant her peace,
for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

The Lion and the Lamb

I’ve never been one for trophies. I think it all stems from the fact that I have never been given one! Not having had any success on the sporting field, in the swimming pool, playing chess, coarse fishing or in a beauty pageant or any other of the million and one ways that people seem to get trophies I haven’t had the need for a trophy cabinet. Neither have I brought back any animal that I have slaughtered to have it stuffed for display on my walls.

My great-aunts lived in a house not far from ours. They lived like Victorians – well, they had been born in that era so they had an excuse. It was a dark house with a good supply of antimacassars, cranberry glass, seed cake and heavy oak furniture. On the way to the front room – where children were not permitted without an accompanying adult – you passed through a hall which was both frightening and intriguing. Above one door was a fox’s head above another the head of a deer. ‘Can we see the fox?’ we’d always ask and if they had time we would be taken to see it, it’s glass eyes winking at us from the wall.

We were in Leicestershire and surrounded by hunts but what they were doing with these two heads goodness only knows. We never dared to ask.

The news of the death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe last week sent shock waves around the world. I cannot begin to understand, to comprehend, what pleasure there is in killing a creature as magnificent as this one was. And his killer had killed many other magnificent animals, for, well, pleasure, the thrill, as another trophy for the wall. The fact that this was a celebrated and much loved lion is in one sense immaterial, but what it has done is to highlight the scandal of this kind of activity and the affront it represents to people who are concerned for how we live with the rest of creation.

Cecil - a majestic animal

Cecil – a majestic animal

I may be a bit of a hypocrite of course. I’m not a vegetarian; I rely upon others to kill animals so that I can eat the meat I enjoy. If I had to do it myself I would have to learn to love lentils. So why am I concerned for Cecil and not for the cow that I enjoyed a steak from last night?

I remember one episode of ‘Come Dine with Me’, Channel 4’s most compulsive offering after ‘Gogglebox’, in which one contestant said that she could never eat the meat of any animal that was ‘pretty’. So pork was ok according to her ethic but not venison! Well, its a way of making a decision. I have a friend who lives in the States who regularly hunts deer – but fills the freezer at home with the meat and the family live off it and live well. But that was not the purpose in killing Cecil – it was simply sport.

When I was in Zimbabwe last year visiting our link Diocese of Masvingo, I was fortunate enough to visit a small game park. We were driven around in search of the animals, most of which were wise enough to hide from us. But we did see giraffe (they find it harder to hide) and some deer of various kinds and it was fantastic to see animals in something like their real habitat. The Ranger who was our guide took such pride in them and in his care of them.

During that visit we also went to the shrine of Fr Arthur Shearly Cripps. It is off the main roads, in the bush and a place of pilgrimage for thousands of people and especially on 1 August each year when the people gather to celebrate their local ‘saint’. Bishop Christopher Chessun, the Bishop of Southwark, was with the pilgrims this year for their celebration Mass.

You’ve probably never heard of him. Well, Arthur Shearly Cripps was born in Tunbridge Wells, educated at Oxford and Cuddesdon and ordained priest in 1893. In about 1897 he offered himself to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) for service in Mashonaland, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) where he went in 1901 spending most of the next half century there.

Critical of church policy but still more critical of government and settler attitudes, he fought a lifelong battle for African rights. Acquiring 7,700 acres of farmland, he built a thatched church near Chivhu at Maronda Mashanu (Five Wounds) and a round hut in which he lived nearby. His tenants paid no rent and farmed as they liked. After 1930 he formally cut his Anglican links, becoming simply ‘a Christian missionary in Mashonaland’. His poetry, novels and a play entitled ‘The Black Christ’ challenged at a fundamental level the assumptions of colonialism. He battled against government policies like the hut tax and befriended black political leaders.

But his greatest significance lay simply in that he was a ‘Francis of Assisi of the African countryside’, enduring the greatest poverty, sharing his food and clothes with the poor. He was blind for the last decade of his life, but unconquerable in his hope. He died on the 1 August in 1952 at the age of 83 years.

His shrine at Maronda Mashanu, which is focused on his hut and his grave, is today this place of pilgrimage, lovingly tended by some of those who knew him and others who acknowledge his holiness and his legacy to the African people whom he served so wholeheartedly.

The simple tomb of Arthur Shearly Cripps

The simple tomb of Arthur Shearly Cripps

He lived so close to the people and the nature that he loved. For me, he was the Lamb in this situation, witnessing to Christ in the place in which the five wounds are always remembered.

Zimbabwe continues to be a wounded place and we keep the people of that country in our prayers and do all we can from the Cathedral and the Diocese to support ministry and mission there. And in this week when the Lion and the Lamb were brought together our thoughts and prayers are with the wonderful people of that wonderful country.

The Lion and the Lamb

The Lion and the Lamb

If I need any trophy on my wall it is the crucified Christ, whose five wounds speak to a world in which pain is continually inflicted on the innocent – people and animals – and it is in those wounds that we find our peace.

This is the Collect for the Commemoration of Arthur Shearly Cripps which we have been praying with our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe.

Everlasting God,
whose servant Arthur Shearly Cripps carried
the good news of your Son to the Shona people of Zimbabwe:
grant that we who commemorate his service
may know the hope of the gospel in our hearts
and manifest its light in all our ways;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

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

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark