On the fringe

It was in the immediate post-war years, in 1947, that the Fringe became part of the Edinburgh Festival.  The name of this alternative to the official arts festival was an invention, but the name stuck and has, over those years, become global and accepted.  We know what fringe events are, the things that happen on the edges.

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The fringe – the edge

I spent most of last week, as followers of this blog will know, at the meeting of the General Synod in Westminster.  If you haven’t seen my various reflections, once or twice a day, then you can find them here.  One of the things that I seldom comment about, however, is the Synod fringe.

As a Group of Sessions approaches we begin to get emails, or flyers, now helpfully bundled together in an official package by the Synod office, enticing and inviting us to different events that happen over breakfast, over lunch and before dinner.  These are alternatively opportunities for hobby horse riders and anorak wearers to invite other riders or sartorial dressers to come along and share their passion, or they are useful information sharing occasions.  Whichever they are they can be huge fun and really helpful.

I am a member of two Synod groups and I regularly try to attend other meetings whenever I can.  The first evening of any Synod is always the occasion when ACiS (Affirming Catholics in Synod – everything has an acronym) meets.  There are a number of ‘tribal’ gatherings, this is one of them.  Whether you are a conservative evangelical or catholic, an open evangelical or a progressive catholic, whether you are in a tribe that doesn’t like to think of itself as a tribe, there is a group for you.  So EGGS meets almost always when ACiS meets (EGGS is the Evangelical Group in General Synod) but being as no one would want to be at both of these that doesn’t matter.  There are the ‘Catholic Societies’ which doesn’t include members of ACiS because the latter is in support of the ordination of women (it’s basically Affirming Catholicism and the Society of Catholic Priests meeting together though not entirely or exclusively).  There’s the Open Synod Group which is none of the above and I understand that there was at this Synod the first meeting of an Evangelical Forum which represents those from the open end of that group.  WATCH (Women and the Church) has a meeting, and … well, you get the point.

At one level, of course there is always the danger of fragmentation but the CofE is already fragmented and tribal, we just have to be honest about this.  At their best these groups allow for letting off steam, for doing some theology, for preparing for debates, for talking through the issues.  I find the ACiS meeting invaluable.  If we are in Westminster we meet for a Mass in the lovely church of St Matthew just around the corner and then have supper and a romp through the agenda.  And that is where I catch up with my friends immediately, at the beginning of Synod.

Whilst the Cathedrals Measure has been on the Synod agenda we have been running fringe events to help members who are interested in cathedrals (we should never assume everyone is) to come along for some information sharing and an opportunity for questions to be answered.  So early on Tuesday we held a breakfast gathering just before the debate on the Measure happened.

And I always try to go to the Synod group meeting on sexuality.  This time, in the aftermath of the Bishops’ Statement, there was a fantastic and positive session on services of prayer, fitting the bishops’ guidelines and encouragement, that churches and cathedrals have offered to single-sex couples.  What was shared was so imaginative and inspiring and encouraged people in the room to think positively and creatively.

So thank God for the fringe.  Of course, it was there, on the fringe, that Jesus did so much of his best and life-changing work.  The fringe was where the excluded gathered and as Jesus walked through the communities, that was where he found people, on the fringe.  They were on the fringe of their society, on the edge of community, the marginalised and at the margin he brought them back to the centre, which in fact was the heart of the love of God.

The irony was that a woman on the fringe found healing by the fringe.

Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ (Matthew 9.20-21)

Her plight was excluding her, the fringe brought her to the centre.  The edge can be a most creative place to be.

God, may those who live on the fringe
know your love as the centre.
Amen.

There’s a storm a’coming!

Nowadays we’re given a great deal of warning about storms.  The Great Storm of 1987, that occurred during the night of 15-16 October, passed me by completely with me noticing nothing.  That is a bit odd when I tell you that I was staying that night with a friend who was then living in Surrey.  We had had a nice evening and a few glasses of wine.  I went to bed and slept very well.  I woke early and looked out from my bedroom to see devastation around us.  We walked out, stepping over fallen trees.  18 people died as a result of that storm and since then weather forecasters have urged on the side of caution!  So we are bracing ourselves for the arrival of Storm Ciara and will see what it brings.

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Oh dear! This happened just down the road from where I was staying!

The greatest image of a storm must be in ‘The Wizard of Oz’.  Poor Dorothy caught up in the eye of the storm and deposited in another world, a parallel universe almost.  It could be metaphor for the other storm that could be brewing, the General Synod of the Church of England, which meets at Westminster this coming week – very often something of a parallel universe!  From Monday until Thursday we will be battening down the hatches and remembering the immortal words of screen legend Bette Davies in the 1950 classic ‘All about Eve’,

“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

I shared my opinions last week about the Bishop’s Pastoral Statement which rather trod on the toes of the Living in Love and Faith project, and exposed the thinking of the members of the House of Bishops (or some of them).  The publication of that Statement has provoked a large number of questions which will come to Synod on Monday.  There are 121 questions on the Order Paper and at least 15 of them are about the Statement.

But as with all Groups of Sessions what might not seem contentious can provoke a bit of storm.  One of those things may be The Channel Islands Measure, which I will have the privilege of chairing through all its stages in this Synod.  But the predictions of a bit of a squall might be exaggerated.  We wait to see.

Whatever actually happens, I hope that you will follow my Synod blog.  You can find the link here.  I do my best to update the blog as often as I can and to be as honest I can be about what goes on.

What reassures me in all of this is that the gospel experience is that Jesus brings calm to the storm.  The disciples thought their end was nigh as the wind picked up and the rain fell and they were being tossed about on the waters of the lake.  And then Jesus speaks as Mark tells us

Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ (Mark 4.39-41)

Jesus speaks words of peace into each of the storms that we face, the ones we know are heading our way and the ones that seem to come from nowhere, and that catch us unawares.  But as the wind builds up and the trees around us shake we need to have faith in the one whom even the wind and sea obey.

Lord Jesus,
speak your word of peace
into our storms.
Amen.

Poverty, chastity, obedience

The church that I was brought up in, All Saints Wigston Magna, had for quite a few years produced a number of vocations to the religious life.  This meant that every so often during the year there would be a nun in church on Sunday who was on leave and had come back to stay with her family.  As a boy and a teenager I was in the choir and the stalls where we sat had lovely fretwork at the front.  During communion we all had to kneel down and being little I was able to peek through the designs carved into the woodwork and see these nuns walking past – and especially their feet.  This is a long time ago, so nuns dressed ‘properly’ – wimple, veil, habit and sandals, without socks! So I got to know nuns’ feet very well.

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A selection of members of Anglican communities

The other side of life was that the church day out every year was to visit one of the convents that one of the nuns from the parish was living in.  So one year we went to Clewer, another to Wantage, another to East Hanningfield.  What I remember about Clewer where Sister Pamela was was simply how vast the corridors seemed to be.  At Wantage we were visiting Sister Mary Columba – how could you have a boy’ and a girl’s name I wondered?  There I remember the lovely statue of Our Lady in the chapel carved by Mother Maribel.  Then at East Hanningfield where the Sisters of the Community of the Sacred Passion were I can remember being fascinated and appalled to see prosthetic limbs being made in huts in the garden for those suffering from the effects of leprosy!

The reason I am telling you all of this is because of something that happened at the meeting of General Synod last week that I didn’t really talk about in my Synod blog.  A bit of history was made.  For the first time since the Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries the Church of England has formally, in her Canons, recognised the existence and importance of religious communities in our life.  A number of representatives from our religious communities are elected onto the Synod, so that they can share their particular perspective on the life of the whole church.  But there was nothing in the Canons and therefore nothing to provide legal structure and regulation for communities which is something that is needed and especially with the rise of new forms of monasticism, such as at Lambeth Palace and elsewhere.

So that was put right and the legislation went through its final stages in this Group of Sessions.  A couple of the religious stood to speak and then nobody else did.  I was going to stand and missed my chance, and I am really sorry about that.  I wanted to say, thank you.  Thank you to the members of the communities who, I believe, give so much to the church and to the Church of England.  As was pointed out in the short debate they aren’t ‘better’ Christians but they are living the Christian life in such a distinctive way, a way that gives encouragement to the rest of us.

Those nuns feet and those days out from Wigston helped me to know that training for priesthood alongside the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield would be perfect for me, and that particular community and its members have helped me, and help me, to be the Christian and the priest that I seek to be.

The passage that has been attributed as inspiring many to enter a religious, consecrated life, people like Benedict and Francis, is from St Mark’s Gospel.

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10.17-22)

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‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him.’

Poverty, chastity, obedience – possessions, intimate love, freedom – however you define these vows that others seek to live by I’m afraid they are beyond me.  Like the rich man I turn away, unable to give so much up.  My only consolation is that Jesus will look on me and love me; my only hope is that some of my sisters and brothers have the courage to live without these things and to show me that it is possible.

Lord, bless those you call into community
and give me the courage to learn from them
the things that truly matter.
Amen.

Turn to another page

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Last week I was at General Synod.  So if you want to read some of my reflections on some of what was discussed visit my other blog pages here. Living God will resume next week.

I’m at Synod

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There won’t be the usual Living God blog this weekend.  I’m at the meeting of the General Synod in York. So if you want to see what we are up to visit my General Synod blog here.

What’s been happening?

If you want to know what I’ve been up to this week visit my General Synod blog.  Follow this link here.

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PS see if you can spot me in this photo! I am there. Sorry, no prizes.

A touch of green

You know it’s heading towards spring when all the papers for the February meeting of the General Synod land through your letter box (you can get them electronically but I still like them printed – sorry) and your realise that the chamber in Westminster is becoming you.  The other way you know is just by stepping outside. So I ventured into the Deanery garden to find some bulbs coming through the soil.  Spring is on the way.  The fresh green of new life will very quickly reassert itself over the brown of winter.  And, as if to join in with what is happening around us, the church has moved from gold to green, from the end of the Christmas and Epiphany seasons into what is known as Ordinary Time.

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This is the first Sunday ‘back in green’ and it is good to see it.  This is the miracle of liturgy and tradition, echoing life in the worship of God.  The green we see at the altar mirrors the green I see emerging, triumphant in my garden.  Life reasserts itself.

If you are interested in that other prelude to the arrival of spring I will be keeping a General Synod blog going.  You can find a link on this page.  As ever it’s a mixed agenda – our relationship with the Methodist Church, the work of the Crown Nominations Commission (I know quite a bit about that after serving 8 years on it), food waste and that really important debate on valuing people with Down’s Syndrome. Synod can get very absorbed with the inner workings of the church and the niceties of doctrine and practice but ‘the green blade rising’ as that lovely Easter hymn describes it, reminds me that life is the most important thing that we should be concerned about.  So that is a debate I will be fascinated by.  After all Jesus said

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

Abundant life, lived by all – that is the Gospel – for all people, of all abilities.

So enjoy the green, for about ten days, for Lent is fast on its tail and pray for us who gather in Synod at the end of this week.

Creator God,
breathe fresh life into me,
into the church,
into the world.
Amen.

Farewell 2017

Like you, perhaps, I’ve been thinking over this last year.  It hasn’t been an easy one and I’m not weeping as we approach the beginning of 2018.  So just a quick review of each month as far as it has been for me.

January – the bells came back to Southwark Cathedral.  That was a fantastic event and a great service when the Bishop baptised two of them and rededicated the rest.  I think it was seeing those twelve bells, dressed and lined up down the nave which is the lasting impression.  Or could it have been meeting the Revd Kate Bottley who then came with the ‘Songs of Praise’ crew to film them being raised to their place in the tower?

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With lovely Kate

February – I went off for a tour of Zimbabwe with Bishop Christopher, the Archdeacon of Southwark and the Bishop’s Press Officer.  I’d been to Southwark Cathedral’s own link Diocese of Masvingo but never to the whole of the country.  Amazing.  But who would have thought that this same year we would see the fall of President Mugabe and the Archbishop of York replacing his dog-collar?  The highlight though, I have to say, in the midst of all that amazing hospitality and wonderful worship, was visiting St Augustine’s Penhalonga, where the Community of the Resurrection had been based, and walking into a church I knew so well from photographs and now seeing it in all is splendour.

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The basilica of the bush

March – the Consecration of Karowei Dorgu as Bishop of Woolwich was a wonderful occasion.  The lack of diversity amongst the bishops was being addressed as far as gender was concerned but not with regard to ethnicity. Bishop Karowei was, and is, a clear sign of hope.  But then that same month the attack on Westminster Bridge and the killing of people there and then of PC Keith Palmer, doing his job, defending our democracy, was a shock to the system.  Hope all of a sudden seemed to be under attack.

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If the hat fits …

April – a month that should have been focused on Holy Week and Easter began with us hosting the funeral of PC Keith Palmer in Southwark Cathedral.  Cressida Dick became the Commissioner that same day so that she was in post to represent the whole of the Metropolitan Police Service at the funeral.  It fell to me to preach.  It is hard to describe what that feels like, knowing the streets and bridges were full of people, listening.  All I could do was remember that this was a funeral and that Keith’s widow and daughter would be there, listening.

May – one of the joys of life over the last eight years has been to serve the Society of Catholic Priests as their Rector General.  So it fell to me to visit SCP in Ireland and to encourage those few priests there who would identify as coming from the ‘catholic’ tradition.  It was a great visit.  What a wonderful country and people!  Later in the year, however, my time as Rector General came to an end.  But what a privilege it has been to visit and speak to members of our Society – women and men, black and white, gay and straight, single and partnered, with differing abilities – serving the church faithfully in the places to which God has called them.

June – the month began as any other and then the evening of 3rd June would see an event which would affect the whole of the remainder of the year.  The terrorist attack that evening on London Bridge and the Borough Market left 8 people dead and 48 people injured.  It also left a community scarred and changed.  Being unable to get into the Cathedral for almost a week meant that we had to learn how to be ‘the Cathedral’ differently; the local community came together with a new strength; we learnt about each other as people.  It has changed me – for the better I hope – and given me a new appreciation of my Muslim brothers and sisters.  Speaking at Friday Prayers at our local mosque in the week after the attack was a privilege I never thought would be mine and then hosting the long planned Grand Iftar in the Cathedral ten days after the attack has created new relationships and a greater understanding.  But at such cost!

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Three of the great Street Pastors who cared for us after the attack

July – General Synod is always a feature of my year but in 2017 the Synod in York became very significant.  Had the tide turned? Was there a different feel? The debates on welcoming transgender people and the banning of conversion therapy with regard to homosexual (in evangelical speak ‘same-sex attracted people) in church were powerful, brave and decisive. The irony was that at the same time a group of 50 people including 15 priests from Southwark Cathedral and the Diocese were marching in the London Pride parade, with pride.  It was a delicious and painful irony, a vignette of where we are as a church.

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Marching with Pride

August – I turned 60 at the end of July.  That was a fantastic occasion – great to see so many friends and family as we celebrated.  And then it was off to Spain for my usual ten days in the sun, catching up on reading and simply relaxing.  The highlight? I suppose visiting the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona now that it is almost complete.  Bonkers it is, but impressive bonkers.

September – it’s always one of those getting back to work months and this September was like that.  The terrorist attack in June meant that I was unable to lead the Cathedral Pilgrimage in the steps of Martin Luther, to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  But in September we held a reunion for all the pilgrims – so I got to see the photos and hear the stories!

October – as part of my first sabbatical in 2006 I visited Tamil Nadu in India – I’d always wanted to go back to that country and see another area.  A group of us had planned for a long time to do this and so in October eight of us, plus our organiser and guide, headed off for 15 days in Rajasthan.  It was everything we had hoped for – lovely people, wonderful sights, new experiences, delicious food, warmth and sunshine and something memorable.  For me it was the Taj Mahal, the scaffolding removed and there, resplendent, perfect, a monument to love and unsurpassed by the skill of humanity.

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Stunning

November – we use the nave of the Cathedral in many ways and occasionally for grand dinners.  One such dinner happened in November.  The chairs were cleared and round tables installed, the flowers were arranged and the lighting perfected, the candles lit and people gathered.  The event was the retirement of one of the Partners at EY (Ernst and Young) who have offices not far from the Cathedral.  Why mention this?  Well, the person retiring lives with a bad stammer but had not let this prevent him living his life and progressing in his profession and had set up a stammering network in the firm which is the largest such network in the UK. He spoke and sang at the dinner and with such confidence – it was very moving, and humbling.  And why at Southwark? Because at a memorial service for a colleague that we hosted he was asked to read and doing so was the beginning of a journey which has brought him to where he is, and praying in that holy place is one thing that has sustained him throughout.  Tremendous.

December – it is my favourite month and I make no secret of that.  We welcomed thousands of people to the Cathedral for carol services and concerts, as we do every year.  But this year people wanted to remember the events I have mentioned, but also Finsbury Park Mosque, the Manchester Arena, Grenfell Tower and the atrocities and the disasters that have happened in so many communities around the world during the year and that have given this year its particular feel and flavour.  All of it was brought to that vulnerable baby in the crib, all our own vulnerability that we have learnt so much of together, in the hard times and the good times of 2017 and that knowledge that God has been with us and God is with us.

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Ending the year in the Borough Market

 

So where do we go from here? There is only one direction and that is forwards.  It has been hard but it has not been all bad.  But all I can do is remember the words of perhaps the most famous poem for the turn of the year, the one that caught the public attention and the popular imagination when King George VI quoted it in his 1939 Christmas broadcast to the British Empire. It was written a number of years earlier by Minnie Louise Haskins.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

And that is my prayer and that is my intention – to put my hand in God’s hand as we walk into 2018.

Hand of God, hold us.
Hope of God, sustain us.
Vision of God, direct us.
Love of God, enfold us.
Peace of God, fill us.
Amen.

I’m in York

Just in case you were waiting for a Living God blog today, I’m at the meeting of the General Synod in York. So, please, follow me on my General Synod blog and you will catch up with what we are up to.

The echo of a vision

It was a hard week, last week.  If you haven’t read my various blogs from the General Synod then you can find a link through on the sidebar.  But no doubt you will have heard about the debate on Wednesday in response to the report from the House of Bishops on sexuality and same-sex marriage.  Since then a number of things have happened.  The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a statement – you can read that here – and various bishops have issued Pastoral Letters, including one by the Bishop of Southwark which you can read here.

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A silent vigil at the start of Wednesday

 

Other groups will be preparing their statements, making their assessments of what was said, reflecting on the vote, lauding or criticising the House of Clergy, suggesting its the best outcome or the worst.

One thing that encouraged me, however, was hearing Archbishop Justin’s speech, the last one in the Take Note debate on the report, much of which found its way into the Archbishops’ Pastoral Letter.

The letter says

‘We need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church …. The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.’

There was something of an echo of a vision in this.  I know that makes no sense, but bear with me, please.  You may remember that at Southwark Cathedral we’ve been working on new vision and priorities for the next season of our life.  The vision statement that we finally arrived at is this

Southwark Cathedral an inclusive Christian community growing in orthodox faith and radical love.

That is the vision and in what the Archbishop said there were clear echoes of what the community at the Cathedral has pledged itself to be and pledged itself to working together to be more perfectly.  So I was delighted.  It means though that we really have to move forward and to get on with the work and the witness to which we believe God is directing us.

However, that will not be easy because there will be many in the Diocese for whom we have care and concern, for whom we are the Mother Church, who will not agree with us, who will have serious disagreements with us.  At the end of the day this all boils down to how you regard Scripture and what authority it has in the life of the church.  The Archdeacon of Southwark, Dr Jane Steen, in her first speech in Synod, compared the way in which the Church of England coped with the remarriage of those previously married who have a former partner still alive, even though Jesus is very explicit in his teaching on the subject.  Nevertheless, in 1992 the House of Bishops issued guidelines to help the clergy make a decision about whether such a marriage could take place in church and those same clergy were given latitude in their decision on the grounds of their own conscience based on the reading of Scripture.  Why can’t the same apply in deciding whether or not to bless a same-gender relationship?

Well, talking to some who do take a different position they suggest that Scripture envisages and allows for the fact that relationships fail but that the issue of committed relationships is part of the created order, because there it is in Genesis 2

‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.’ (Genesis 2.24)

This critical verse is then repeated in Matthew 19.5, Mark 10.7 and Ephesians 5.31.  That really does make this an authoritative text for many.  It’s interesting that the debate has moved on to focus on the issue of marriage rather than the issue of homosexuality.  Perhaps people are beginning to accept that LGBTI people really do exist but cannot accept that they can live in blessed relationships because such a relationship is contrary to scripture, contrary to creation, and thereby is sinful and what is sinful cannot be called holy by blessing it.

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With this ring …

 

So that is where we seem to be and its going to take some radical love within the church to move that one forward.  But the end point of the discussions seems to have been identified and that is the really good thing that has come out of the Synod debate – that ‘we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church.’ That is the task and that is the goal.

I was at Premier Radio’s studios on Friday recording some ‘thoughts for the day’ but also being interviewed for another programme.  That involved, in ‘Desert Island Discs’ style, choosing three favourite pieces of music.  I won’t give it all away but one of them was a hymn written by Fr Faber.  Frederick William Faber was ordained a priest of the Church of England before converting to Roman Catholicism.  He was a Victorian and a friend of John Henry Newman.  But he’s best known for his hymns.  The one that I chose is ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.’

It was written in 1862 but it seems so modern and relevant and its sentiments seem to echo the vision that we have in Southwark and that we now have in the Church of England as a consequence of last week. One verse says

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

It’s a fantastic expression of the vision, an echo from another age into ours.  We now need the grace and the guts to get on with the task.

Lord,
direct your church
as we seek to embrace the vision
and sing songs that echo with your love.
Amen.

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

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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

LIVING GOD

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