New Year, new start?

The crowds had gathered on the Millennium Bridge outside the Deanery; we had had a good dinner and had watched ‘The Glass Onion’, now we were ready for the bongs from Big Ben and the subsequent fireworks. You can’t actually see them from where we are on the River Thames. The bends in the river, so familiar to people nowadays from the opening titles for ‘Eastenders’, mean that the London Eye and Big Ben are almost at 90 degrees from where the house is. But if the wind is in the right direction you can hear a distant boom and loud cheers. We opened the windows to catch the sound and watched the fireworks on the tele – the best of both worlds maybe.

The clock struck twelve and 2022 faded into the distance and 2023 began and I realised in that moment that this was to be, for me, a momentous, turning point year. Advent and Christmas had absorbed all my attention and I hadn’t really realised that I had six months left at Southwark Cathedral, and in this role, and in this house. In that split second of seeing out the old and bringing in the new it all became apparent to me.

New Year is always a bit odd. It is as though we imagine that what was happening is in the past and we begin anew, afresh. If only that could be true and particularly at the moment. I had said this in my Christmas Day sermon in the Cathedral

We leave this year knowing that there’s a great deal of unfinished business that will inevitably carry over into next year. The war in Ukraine is still going on; prices are rising and will rise; strikes and pay demands are unresolved; refugees continue to arrive because there’s no safe and legal way for them to get here; people will continue to starve as crops fail and water holes dry up because we cannot really commit to what is required to combat climate change; the rich will still get richer and the poor will still get poorer. But as I constantly say, and I really believe it, is that into all of this God enters and reality and mystery meet.

There is a lot of unfinished business, we begin this year with a full in-tray and already other things have come along that are grabbing our attention and challenging some of the elements of our life, not least Prince Harry and his series of revelations and allegations that are being drip-fed into our news and consciousness at the moment. Added to that there have been a whole series of deaths within our community, the loss of people, much loved and significant, without whom this new year will be the poorer. And, of course, the crisis in the NHS appears to be getting worse by the day and I feel as if I look helplessly on as it seems that a much loved part of our national life is collapsing with severe implications for each person and every household in the nation.

The Deanery hall at Christmas

On Twelfth Night we took the trees down for the last time in the Deanery and carefully packed them away, with the lights and the baubles, wondering what we will do with them. The hall looked stark after the beauty of the tree had been packed away, beauty that we had lived with for a full month.

And back to normal

Thank God, therefore that Epiphany happens at this time of the year. Without all of the glitz and frippery of Christmas itself, the epiphany events speak of divine revelation and divine gift in a powerful way. From revelatory gifts, to the divine voice of affirmation and the first miracle of the kingdom pointing to the overwhelming generosity of God, this season of manifestation gives us hope. In gold, frankincense and myrrh, in baptismal waters and miraculous wine, we begin to understand the nature of the God who is ‘one with us’. And as St John says in his Prologue which echoes through this period

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’ John 1.5.

I’m looking forward to these next six months and seeing all the ways in which our living, loving God speaks into and transforms all that we currently face. One of the collects in Common Worship for this season speaks so powerfully to me and I will be praying it regularly as a New Year resolution I can keep!

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


‘The drowned world’

This is the sermon I preached at the Choral Eucharist on the Feast of the Baptism of Christ.  I thought you might like to read it.  The readings were Isaiah 43.1-7; Acts 8.14-17; Luke 3.15-17,21,22

What’s your earliest memory?  Amazingly, given how momentous the event is, none of us, so it seems, remembers being born.  Those of us baptised as babies don’t remember that. To be honest I find it hard to think of what my first real memory is because I get confused with the memories that other people have given to me, telling me about what I did up the nurse’s dress, for instance, when I was laid as naked as the day I was born in the scales at the Welfare.  I don’t remember that though my Mum clearly did!

I don’t really remember the day my sister was born upstairs in our house.  I’ve been told that I kept asking whether Mummy was alright and whether the baby was alright every few minutes after it’d happened but I don’t remember it.  I suppose I really remember getting lost – in the market in Leicester near Lineker’s stall and grabbing some other woman’s hand and particularly getting lost in Scarborough on the only good day of the holiday, on the zigzag path, running on ahead and then getting lost but finding my way back to the boarding house where we were staying.  I was seven and I do remember it and my family have never let me forget it.


For Jesus his baptism was a not to be forgotten moment.  He’d come to where the crowds were gathering by the River Jordan, to listen to John’s uncompromising preaching and then, when everyone else had gone down into the water, to follow them.  It was a moment that he wouldn’t forget because that was also a moment of affirmation for him, a moment of declaration as the Spirit descended and the voice of the Father was heard.

But like many of the moments of revelation in the Bible, like many in the Gospels, this was not so much for Jesus – affirming as it must have been – it was a moment for us. As Jesus would say elsewhere, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine’.  (John 12.30) We may not remember our own baptism but in some way we share in this act of baptism of Jesus, we’re baptised with him, we enter the waters with him, we die and we rise with him.  As St Gregory Nazianzus wrote

‘Jesus rises from the waters; and a drowned world rises with him.’

If baptism is about being reborn, re-entering the experience that none of us can remember, and emerging refreshed, cleansed, grace and light filled, then each time we celebrate this feast we remember again the enormity of what happened by that riverside and the profound nature of the epiphany that took place there.

Because this of course is all about epiphany.  Last week it was wise men who we were remembering, strangers who made their way from distant lands to the threshold of the house where Jesus was and they knew him as the promised one of God.  Next Sunday we’ll be taken to Cana, to a wedding where the wine had all been drunk.  Jesus takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary, he takes water and it becomes wine and he’s revealed once again, as a miracle worker, as one who held creation in the palm of his hand, but perhaps even more importantly for us, the one who will transform our poverty into riches, who will make wine of the stuff of the lives of those around him.

We heard some of the most powerful words from the Old Testament in our First Reading.  These words of Isaiah are staggering to me, they change the way that I look at life, they are words that give me confidence when my confidence is flagging.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
   and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
   and the flame shall not consume you.

My sisters and brothers, this is the God who is being revealed to us, the God to whom we bring ourselves as meagre gift, the God with whom we die and are reborn, the God who will take the water of who we are and transform it into the wine of the kingdom.  This is Jesus who will pass through the waters, through the rivers with us and we will not be drowned, who will walk through the fire with us and we will not be consumed.  This is the God who is alongside us and that is the truth that is at the very heart of the Christmas celebrations that we’ve just enjoyed, the alongside God alongside us.

The antics in Westminster inside and outside of Parliament last week were a disgrace, name calling, threatening behaviour, intimidation.  We reap what we sow and at the moment we’re reaping a whirlwind in our society and in our city.  The deaths of Lee Pomery killed on a train in front of his 14 year old son and then the brutal murder of Jayden Moodie, himself just 14, will be things that we will not forget.  But they reveal a level of brutality and anger, a willingness to undertake violent acts, a basic lack of humanity that’s simply staggering and frightening.  It’s as though Pandora’s Box has been opened and wickedness and intolerance and an abandonment of civil and civilised behaviour has been unleashed.

Whatever happens this week in Parliament as our MPs take part in the ‘meaningful vote’ as it’s called, whether we get the deal or no deal, whether in the end we remain in Europe, there’ll be a huge task of reconciliation and community rebuilding to be undertaken, and undertaken by the likes of us, who believe that rebirth is possible, that ‘the drowned world’ can rise with him, to use St Gregory’s words.

I can’t remember anything else quite like this.  I can remember entering the Common Market, I can clearly remember decimalisation, I remember the three day week and the winter of discontent, the electricity strikes, I remember Mrs Thatcher snatching our milk off us, I remember the Gulf War, I remember so much but I don’t remember this level of division that now exists – and it must grieve the heart of God.

But God says to us

‘Do not fear, for I am with you …you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you.’

God says as much to his son as the waters break and Jesus re-emerges from that deep watery womb into the life of the world and God says the same to us, the drowned world.

With those words of reassurance and in that moment of revelation Jesus heads off into the wilderness, it wasn’t over yet.  There was much more to be discovered, there was a testing epiphany to take place and it would take hard days for him to realise what was God’s will.  We emerge from the waters with Christ and perhaps we also have to expect the wilderness with him as well.  That is the way it might be.  But God is with us, we have God’s word for it and I remember that God has been with us in the past and is with us now and will remain with us, through the water, through the flames and we will not drown and we will not burn, we will not be consumed, for we have God’s word for it.

And in this most divine liturgy in which bread is broken and wine outpoured we will experience the God who places his very being into our hands, the vulnerable God sharing his vulnerability with us, the strong God sharing his strength with us.

We remember, we forget, that’s life, but in the days that lie ahead of us know this now as Jesus knew it then, that God is with us and God’s spirit rests upon us. In this time of huge uncertainty that much is certain.

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