I have never been a person that has enjoyed being terrified.  That does present problems when I am trying to find a film to watch.  ‘Friday Fright Night’ would not be appealing to me and I steer clear of anything that looks as though it might be frightening.  Interestingly, and against all that I have just said, one of my favourite films is ‘Psycho’.  You see, I know what is going to happen, and it is in black and white, and it is tense as opposed to scary, and anyway I think the music and the style of it are amazing.  Having said that I don’t really like shower curtains!


Enough to send a shiver down the spine!

As I was thinking about what to blog about this week when life is so strange and a bit monotonous, there was a report on the radio about a survey that had been conducted into people’s attitudes to this lock-down.  What was being highlighted in the reports was the level of fear that is around among people and, in particular, the fear of emerging from the lock-down and re-entering something that might have vestiges of normality.  Though lock-down is hard to cope with at least most of us are safe in our homes; going outside, meeting people is all of a sudden scary.

Hearing that resonated with something of what I am feeling at the moment.  My excursions from the Deanery are for these reasons – to go to the shops, especially the Borough Market which, thankfully, remains open (thanks to the traders) and our local M&S Simply Food (thanks to the staff there); to go to the Cathedral offices which I do twice a week to ‘do’ the post; and finally, to go for a proper walk, which is my version of exercise.  That is it.  I haven’t been on public transport since 15 March, my Freedom Pass is locked away! To be honest I feel quite safe and I am safely in my routine, online services, Zoom meetings, finish at 5 for the Downing Street briefing and watch ‘Gavin & Stacey’ (rationed) before I go to bed.

So I can understand the fear of what might happen when the PM says to us, ‘OK you can go out now’ or words to that effect.  How will I feel getting on the Tube, on a bus; how would I feel as a member of a real rather than a virtual congregation?  Am I becoming a little bit agoraphobic, a little bit afraid?  Is something beginning to take root within me that I need to address now?

It is a good time to ponder these things.  The twin messages of the Easter encounters with the risen Jesus are ‘Peace be with you’ and ‘Do not be afraid’.  I, we, need to hear this message.  The locked-down disciples needed to hear the message.  In the end they needed to be driven by wind and flame from their room and out into the world.  It would be a scary place for the fledgling church, not everyone was pleased to see them on the streets, to hear the Good News on the streets – but there was where God wanted, needed them to be, out there, setting their fears to one side and being the church.

As I learnt for my history ) Level, in his inaugural address in 1933 President Franklin D Roosevelt said

‘There is nothing to fear but fear itself’

Fear stifles things, but Jesus sets us free from fear.

Lord Jesus,
may fear not overwhelm us
but your life embolden us
for today,
for tomorrow.


Living God

It was 25 years ago that an Australian rom-com film hit our screens and changed our language. The film was called ‘Strictly Ballroom’ and was all about a dancing competition. Sounds familiar? As far as I understand it it was that film that gave the title to the BBC show that for many people has become must-see television, ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, and the way in which the word ‘Strictly’, as the shortened version, has dropped into everyday language.


Dancing without fear

But for a sequins and sparkle film, it also came up with a phrase which I’ve found really helpful this year. One of the characters talking to another says this ‘A life lived in fear is a life half lived.’

This has been a tough years in many ways and for very many people. As a nation we have experienced horrific terrorist acts in Manchester and London. We watched with horror as Grenfell Tower burnt on our screens and seared its way into our memories. We’ve seen refugees fleeing war and the Rohingya fleeing oppression. We have seen a gunman shooting from a Las Vegas hotel into a crowd of music fans. We have seen families without anything in the blockade of the Yemen. We have seen so many things that have made us weep.

Fear has dominated so much of the year – the fear of Brexit for some, of no Brexit for others; the fear of the newcomer and the stranger; the fear of nuclear standoff in the Far East; the fear of the unknown becoming known.

For the community in which I live and where I serve as Dean all of that became very real for us on the 3 June when on an evening when the crowds were out, having a great time in the London Bridge and Borough Market area, three men, armed with a van and knives wrecked havoc, mowing down people on the bridge and going on the rampage in the streets around Southwark Cathedral. As soon as I heard something was happening I headed out of my house close by and tried to get to the Cathedral to open the doors as a place of refuge and safety. But I couldn’t get any where near. The police held me back and I found myself on the main street, Southwark Street, filled with vehicles with blue flashing lights, pavements filled with the injured and the traumatised being tended to.

I don’t mind telling you that I was petrified. I’d seen this on the news, in the movies, but this was the evening when I lost my innocence. Terror came to our streets and we suffered.

All of that followed the attack on Westminster Bridge and the Manchester Arena; the attacks on Finsbury Park Mosque and Parsons Green tube would follow. These were a terrifying few months that we lived through that took from us the young and the hopeful, friends, colleagues, those who were dedicated to helping others, the innocent and vulnerable.

That evening when I got back to the Deanery it all felt hopeless, everything that we sought to stand for, inclusion, cohesion, all those buzz-words of communities nowadays, seemed to be under attack. But the new day dawned and we got on with helping one another through the grief and through the horror to a better place.

Amongst the cards that we will have received for Christmas will be many, I suspect, of a scene in a stable, of a baby with its parents, some sheep and oxen and donkeys looking on. It all happened a long time ago, in a foreign land but each year we remember again something as simple and ordinary as the birth of a baby but something as wonderfully profound, according to Christians, as God living along side us, ‘God with us’.

Beuronese Nativity

A baby is vulnerable, helpless, dependent, humanity at its weakest. The child quickly knows how to get attention, crying out, for food, or warmth or comfort but relying on someone else to provide all of those things, unable to do anything for themselves. And this is how God, Almighty God, enters into the world, not in strength but in weakness, and shares the vulnerability of what it means to be human. That immersion in what it means to be human would take that baby from that crib to a cross, where apparent weakness would be on display for the whole world to see. But this, as we have discovered is the way in which God works.

Although I was frightened that evening and though I felt hopeless I didn’t want the fear to overwhelm me or the hope I do have to desert me. Because I knew then as I know now, I believed then as I believe now, that God is with us and that when we look into the manger and see the baby we see the hope of the world, we see the Living God.

Some years later when he had begun his ministry and called his disciples to follow him, Jesus was talking to them. In the course of what he said he told them

‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10.10)

The ‘they’ is us, you and me, and this is what we are celebrating when we give our presents and sit and eat and spend time with family, an abundant celebration because of an abundant gift, the fullness of life. And that is why that line from ‘Strictly Ballroom’ is so important – ‘A life lived in fear is a life half lived.’ Jesus wants us to live life in its fullness, not a life diminished, half-lived because fear is traumatising us. A fearful life is no life and when we simply give into the fear of where we are going as a nation, of where we are going as a global community, the fear of the person we don’t know, of the one who believes something different to me, looks different to me, acts differently to me, the fear of things that are beyond our control, once we allow ourselves to be taken over by that fear then life is not being lived as it should be. What is more we end up unable to deal with any of the things that have the potential to make us fearful.

That baby in the manger, that child in his mother’s arms, the God who is with us, is the one who desires for us life and gives us life – so that we can live it, fully, and dance if we can. This is the Living God.

Living God,
your life gives life to the world;
live in us,
live in me,
may our lives reflect your life.

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