A night of terror

Thank you to all who have been sending such messages of solidarity, hope and care.  Your prayers are so appreciated.  At the moment we don’t know when we will be able to get into the Cathedral.  Until then, on this Day of Pentecost, I am praying this prayer.

Loving God, when terror came to our doorstep
and stalked our streets
you were there with us
in the fear and agony.
Remain with us
and with all those caught up
in the horror of these events,
the injured and distressed
those who died
and all who seek your peace
which passes understanding.


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.

London is open

Hashtags are an interesting part of the whole Twitter business.  You can get some hilarious ones, others simply help to gather together the reactions of people, others create something.  The Mayor of London has been encouraging us to use a hashtag this week ‘#londonisopen’ to get across the message in this post-brexit Britain that we are open and doing business.  He was pictured at the doors of City Hall and so, not to be outdone, I was at the doors of Southwark Cathedral.

But that hashtag has a deeper message too and a more long-lasting one and a more life changing one.  It’s all to do with hospitality.

I was watching the news on Friday evening, seeing again the aftermath of a terror attack, this time in Munich.  It was only a week after Nice and in those intervening eight days other terrible things have happened, and some, I suspect, have gone unreported.  One of the things that really moved me, however, was the report that social media was being used by the people of Munich with the hashtag #offeneteur (open door). It was a fantastic, generous, human, hospitable response in a crisis.  People were stranded as a result of the lockdown in the city; no one knew who was out there, or who had perpetrated the crime, and here were people saying to others ‘my door is open’.

When Abraham looked up from his tent he

‘saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.’ (Genesis 18.2)

He didn’t know who they were, he didn’t know why they were there, but the instruction went to his wife Sarah that food was to be prepared for their guests and the men were made comfortable and welcome.  As it says in the Letter to the Hebrews

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13.2)

The people of Munich even in a moment when the doors might be bolted for fear of what was outside, opened their doors to the stranger and to angels.


Enjoying the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah

Last week we had the privilege at Southwark Cathedral of welcoming the family of Sam King MBE for his funeral.  They brought with them friends, former and present Mayors of Southwark, representatives of the wider community and hundreds from the Jamaican-heritage community in London and beyond.  Sam was the first black Mayor of Southwark and the first Jamaican to be Mayor anywhere in the world outside of Jamaica.  But Sam was so much more, one of the founders of the Windrush Founder, the Notting Hill Carnival, a champion of human rights, a member of the RAF, an inspirational family man and a dedicated Christian. It was a fantastic funeral service.

But in one of the tributes to Sam King that we heard in the service there was a reminder that when he arrived in London after sailing across in the SS Empire Windrush he was met with a notice on the doors of lodgings ‘No Irish. No blacks. No dogs.’ It was the complete antithesis of #londonisopen or #offeneteur.


One of the many dangers that it seems to me that face us in this challanging and at times frightening age is the closing of doors and the assault on that basic spirit of hospitality that should be the hallmark not just of Christians but of humanity.  It was disturbing to hear US Presidential Candidate Donald Trump reiterating his pledge in his acceptance speech that he would build a wall across their border with Mexico and saying that ‘americanism not globalism will be our creed.’ This contradicts so directly that amazing sight that welcomed new arrivals in the States, the Statue of Liberty outside of Manhattan, ready to welcome, suggesting the open door, for it was an open door.

It could have gone wrong for Abraham and Sarah, opening their home up like that for those three men, but in fact it was the reverse – it brought them a blessing. Just before the strangers arrived God had made a covenant with the old man

‘This is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.’ (Genesis 17.4)

By letting the strangers in blessing and fulfillment flowed and a child was born to Sarah and Abraham became our ancestor. When we open our doors we welcome people like Sam King MBE and others who make a difference. The hashtag says ‘London is open’ – the challenge is to ensure that it continues to be and perhaps the Munich hashtag has a lesson to teach us.

you welcome me,
your house is open to me,
may I welcome others
and may my door be open.

Celebrating diversity

It is quite hard – even for me – to put into words the atmosphere in Southwark Cathedral yesterday when Sadiq Khan entered to begin his mayoralty. As preparations were being made and people were arriving there was a party atmosphere. Some, I suspect, had had no sleep for a few days and so were working on adrenalin and caffeine – but for others there was a palpable sense of anticipation and excitement. I was in the Tutu Room with Mr Khan waiting for the signal that meant that all was ready for us to enter the Cathedral. People had been asked to take their seats and wait quietly. Others in the Cathedral told me later that the silence that then fell upon the place was better than we sometimes achieve before a Eucharist. But it was the silence of expectation, in a place of awe and wonder.

The Mayor acknowledges the applause

The Mayor acknowledges the applause

Then I led the new Mayor through the sacristy door and into the waiting and anticipating cathedral and it erupted. People sprang to their feet and applauded, long and hard. It was tremendously moving as I showed the Mayor to his seat and then took my place at the lectern. The applause would have gone on if I hadn’t indicated to the Mayor that he should sit.

When I was asked whether I would consider hosting this legal ceremony, normally conducted in City Hall, in the Cathedral I didn’t hesitate for long. Of course! Why not? It wasn’t about being party political, it wasn’t about taking sides, it was about London, it was about community and it was about trying to do that work of reconciliation that needed to take place after so many dirty tactics by some in the campaign and especially around the issues of race and religion.

Mr and Mrs Khan listen to the welcome

Mr and Mrs Khan listen to the welcome

You may not have heard what I said in my welcome. The important thing was to hear what the Mayor said and that got all the coverage. So this is part of what I said.

Friends – welcome to Southwark Cathedral on this exciting day for London and all its citizens. Our great city is full of treasures, wonderful hidden corners, world class attractions but above all people from around the world who make this their home and help to make this, perhaps, the greatest city on earth.

One of the saints of the Christian Church, Lawrence, was a deacon in Rome. It was a time of terrible persecution of Christians by the state. In 258 the pope was killed and Lawrence was immediately dragged before the Roman Prefect and ordered to hand over the treasures of the church. And he did – he brought to the Prefect the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering, and said ‘These are the true treasures of the Church.’ It didn’t end well for him and he followed the pope as a martyr but it’s a great story and it applies to us all – whatever our faith, whatever our politics, whatever our social advantages or disadvantages.

St Lawrence presents the treasures of the church

St Lawrence presents the treasures of the church

In a city of treasures and wealth and opportunity the true treasure, the true wealth and the true source of opportunity is every single person, every neighbour we have. We can celebrate that in this moment of new beginnings, building on the past and looking to the future.

We are grateful to our new Mayor for bringing this ceremony for London out of City Hall and into this place.

This cathedral is a bit of a hidden gem. Everyone knows where the Shard is, loads of people visit the Borough Market but not as many know where we are. Yet there’s been a church on this site since the year 606.

It was here that the monks decided to provide for the sick by building the first St Thomas’ Hospital; it was here that back in 1561 the members of the church decided to set up schools for boys and eventually girls that are still providing wonderful education; it was here in 1991 that the first, and still only cathedral chapel in this country, was dedicated to those in the community living with or affected by HIV AIDS. It was here that Shakespeare came to church and buried his brother; it was here that a Mohegan Chief from the States was buried in 1736 not as a stranger but a friend. It is here that the victims of the Marchioness disaster are remembered, here that a bishop asked people to be honest to God, here that President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu opened and gave their blessing to our new buildings and here that day in and day out we seek to be a holy place for all people, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or ability – a real community.

Our vision statement says that we’re ‘an inclusive Christian community growing in orthodox faith and radical love’ and one of the marks of our community is that we ‘love London and the world’.

So we were delighted when we were asked to host this event as Mayor Sadiq Khan begins his term of office, our first Muslim mayor, something of which we as a Christian community are proud, where he can make his oaths and commitments to the citizens of this capital city and receive from us the support that he will need as he takes on this task for all people, for the real treasure of London – its people!

It was amazing, as were comments I received afterwards, including those from other deans, one of whom said

‘It was a stunning and unique snapshot of what a 21st century cathedral should be about.’

I think that’s right and I pray that is what we try to be, a place where diversity is celebrated. The reason for that will be apparent in two weeks time when the church arrives at Trinity Sunday. The diversity within the Godhead is at the heart of what we celebrate in our faith. As Jesus says in St John’s Gospel

‘The Father and I are one.’ (John 10.30)

We celebrate diversity

We celebrate diversity

Sitting with representatives of the faith communities in a place of Christian worship used continuously since the 7th century and welcoming our first Muslim Mayor for London was a moment of history and a powerful moment. If a message can go out from Southwark and London and the UK to the rest of the world, to the USA and Paris and the Middle East and so many other places, that celebration rather than tolerance is the way forward it will have been a good day’s work and witness.

God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
bless all our communities
as we celebrate and live
the diversity
into which you have created us.

Fifth Station – Feet

For the past five week we have been walking, in a virtual way, around the Lent art installation in Southwark Cathedral.  The pieces, all by the artist Peter Burke, are made from soil – hence the title we gave them, ‘Earthworks’. I liked that title when it was suggested because it described the pieces but it also took us into the possibility of theological reflection and that is the real point for me. Lent is a time for going deeper, into God, into self, into discipleship and whether it’s through some self imposed discipline, or a study group or reading a Lent book or doing good works or just (and that is no value judgement) looking at art, all these things help us in that aim.

But the title worked on another level for me as well.  All around Southwark Cathedral there are development and redevelopment sites.  The most dramatic have been around the Shard and London Bridge Station but there are many significant building sites a stones throw from the Cathedral. As a lad I often went out with my dad on a Saturday.  He was in Building Control but at the weekends was a part-time architect.  We’d often go and inspect the progress on a building site.  The first stage is of course the ground works, or, lets call them, the earthworks.  Getting those right was essential for what was going to be built above.  Vast and deep caverns are opened up in the ground to take the buildings around the Cathedral and much is exposed as that happens.  In Borough High Street we’ve seen in recent months the foundations of inns from the time of Chaucer, Roman bath complexes, a renaissance palace, all exposed.  Digging down produces treasure and helps us build – and that must be part of Lent.


Digging beneath London Bridge Station


The final station on our ‘Earthworks’ journey is at the High Altar where we find an incomplete circle of feet.  They emerge and disappear beneath the altar, an ongoing and mysterious circle.  Our virtual feet have brought us to this point and now we look at these feet.

‘Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ (Mark 16.7)

Where are these feet heading? Where are your feet taking you? What journey are they on? What journey are you on?

One of the powerful themes throughout the Bible is that of the journey. We are a pilgrim people, people on the move, ‘with no abiding city’ (Hebrews 13.14). Our father Abraham travelled, Moses and the children of Israel travelled, the exiles to Babylon travelled back to their land of freedom, Jesus spent his ministry on the road. After his resurrection he is on the move again and goes ahead of the disciples, messaging them to follow him.


You have travelled round this Cathedral, stopping, looking, thinking, praying and now you arrive at these mysterious feet. We see most of the journey – but not all of it. It seems to disappear, beneath the altar, out of our sight, out of your sight, and we are left wondering – where are these feet heading, what journey are they on and where am I heading?

The truth for each of us is that, whilst we may not know the details of the journey, we never travel alone as none of our forebears did. Our God treads this earth from which we were made, accompanies, companions us on the road and pioneers the path ahead.


Wherever you go from here – God will go with you – as will this ancient Celtic blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Battersea to the Barrier

Many jobs – I suppose – have a perk.  One of my first jobs when I was in the VIth form was at what then seemed like a large ‘out of town’ store on the edge of Leicester – Woolco – where I was on the ‘Red Grille’ – a feature of those American style stores.  My job was cooking the chips and occasionally cooking omelettes and in the morning making huge apple pies.  The perk? Well, as many chips as I could eat!  It was worked on the same principle that people told me applied for those working at the Fox’s Glacier Mint factory, also in Leicester – you could eat as many mints as you wanted.  You soon grow sick of chips and mints which is good news for your employer!  So maybe not such a real perk.


The Woolco where I cooked chips!


But the perk I have now is living in the Deanery.  For those who don’t know the house is located alongside the Thames between the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern and as I open my bedroom curtains in the morning I look out on St Paul’s Cathedral rising majestic above the surrounding buildings on the other side of the river. It’s a beautiful house in a fantastic location in the midst of a vibrant and ever changing part of south London – and I know that I am very privileged.

My neighbour and my predecessor in the Deanery, however, knew the place when the riverside walkway had not been opened, when Bankside was a dead-end which stopped at the disused power station. There was no bridge, no art, no theatre and no visitors.  Now we have it all and thousands upon thousands of tourists walking past. I personally don’t mind that.  I like watching people and the house is a great place to do that from and, ok, the buskers can sometimes drive you mad but I would want to live nowhere else and whilst I know that I will have to leave the house when I leave the job I will make the most of it whilst I am here.

I moved into the area in 1999 and since then I’ve witnessed, as all my neighbours have, a complete transformation in the area.  There seems to be a new construction site opening every day, a new building beginning to rise from some deep hole, a new glass and steel structure breaking into the skyline and as all this happens property and land values in the area have modelled the Shard, gone skyrocketing.


Redevelopment areas on the south bank


A couple of years ago I met with the priest from a neighbouring parish, Canon Giles Goddard at St John’s Waterloo.  Giles is in a similar situation, his parish is full of redevelopment and regeneration.  Our conversation was about what was happening to the sense of community in the area and what we could do to ensure that the mixed nature of the area survived all that was happening.  That conversation continued and others joined us until on Friday over 80 people gathered in the Guard Room at Lambeth Palace, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, to talk about regeneration and redevelopment on the south side of the Thames in the area we defined as the title for the event ‘From Battersea to the Barrier’.

We’d invited not just clergy – in fact we were in the minority – but politicians, planners, developers, community builders, academics to share in the conversation about what makes the good city.

It fell to me to chair the event and in my welcome I said this, amongst other things.

We’ve asked you to join us so that we can think together about what makes a good city. The developments along the south bank of the Thames, which has always had a different character to the north bank – a playground for London, a place of industry and commerce but above all a series of urban villages with a riverfront – are so dramatic, so radical that we want to engage with you in making these not just good places to live but life-enhancing places to live.

For Christians the city is essential – God is a city-dweller and the ultimate destination, so we believe, is the perfect, heavenly manifestation of the city. Every day, Jews and Christians read the psalms, a book of Hebrew poetry, and one of those psalms says this

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns
(Psalm 45.4-5)

It could have been written of London. What we’re doing this morning is something that Christians have always done – think about the city. Back in the 6th century St Isadore of Seville was thinking about the difference in Latin between two words for city – urbs, the built environment and civis, the people and he wrote this.

‘A city is a number of people joined by a social bond. It takes its name from the (civis) citizens who dwell in it. As an urbs it is only a walled structure, but inhabitants, not building stones, are referred to as a city.’

You are builders, planners, community makers, we are priests. Together we’re making a city. The question for today is, can that be a good city?

The conversation was good but in the Q&A session which followed there was a real challenge to the church. ‘If this is important to you then you have to be there in the discussions – and we don’t see the church there.’ That was basically what we were told and whether or not it’s true – and at the local parish level I don’t think it is – at the strategic policy level perhaps they have a point and certainly this is their perception. One politician said that the arts and culture section had stolen the march on us. Something has to change.

It set me thinking.  When I was first ordained the report of the Church of England, ‘Faith in the City’, was published.  That was a seminal piece of work and it produced a huge amount of energy and initiative – the Church Urban Fund amongst that.  But do we still have the passion for the urban environment and inner-urban communities that that report documented?  To be honest I’m not sure. Certainly urban dioceses find it much harder nowadays to recruit clergy to the ‘tough’ parishes that once were the apple in the eye of many clergy. Can it be that we are so concerned about our internal disagreements and so transfixed on keeping the show on the road that we have taken our eye off the ball?

Jerusalem as depicted in the Maddaba mosaic

Jerusalem as depicted in the Maddaba mosaic

I want the conversation on Friday at Lambeth to be the beginning of renewed passion for the city where we are.  We are at a critical moment in the life of this city of London and the south bank of the Thames in particular.  Will it be a good city? Will it be a life enhancing place to live, for all, real communities for the future as we have had real communities in the past? How can we make the ‘urbs’ serve the needs of the ‘civis’ and how can we make this city a reflection of that city of destination to which we believe we are heading, where God awaits his citizens.

God, you build your city
with living stones;
may our cities
be as alive as yours
as embracing as yours
as inclusive as yours.

Cold night, warm hearts

It was a magnificent evening. Over 150 people had signed up to ‘sleepout’ in the Cathedral churchyard to raise money for the ROBES Project. That is the local cold weather shelter that local churches provide in north Southwark and north Lambeth. The project covers the period from November until March, although there is on-going support during the rest of the year for those who have been our guests. The model is simple – guests arrive in time for an evening meal, settle down for the night, get up, wash and have breakfast and then leave, arriving at the next venue for the next evening. During the day workers support them in finding work and accommodation. And the ‘success’ rate, in terms of getting people off the streets and back into a more regular and stable life, is very good.


This was the fifth time that the Cathedral has hosted the ‘sleepout’ in the nine year history of the project and this was one of the best years that we have had. I haven’t got the figures but I think this was the largest number of ‘sleepers’ and in fact 80% of those taking part were first-timers. We had all been raising money, sponsorship, before hand and it was great that at the start of the evening we were able to announce that £60k had been raised. This morning we were able to announce that that figure is now £71k and rising. The good thing is that the vast majority of the funds needed for the project to run is raised on this one evening. That means that the energy of volunteers is able to go into running the project and welcoming and caring for our guests rather than raising money.

The ‘sleepout’ evening always follows the same pattern. People arrive, register and then, weather permitting, claim their pitch in the churchyard. There is then a ‘show’ in the nave of the Cathedral to entertain people before they bed down for the night.

This years we welcomed two acts. ‘Katie’s Jumping Fleas’, a ukulele band from St Albans, were paying a return visit and were fantastic. They play the kind of songs that take me back to my days at school. A highlight for me this year was a cover of Steve Harley’s track ‘Make me smile’! That made me feel as though I was back in the VIth form – not a bad feeling and lots of good accompanying memories! The second act, and we were delighted to welcome him for the first time in the Cathedral, was Jon Culshaw, the impressionist well known from ‘Dead Ringers’. He was wonderful to listen to – up-to-date enough to do a good Jeremy Corbyn yet reminding us of Dennis Healey and the many voices of Mike Yarwood. Jon was followed by another famous voice, using his own, Canon Roger Royle who was the auctioneer for the evening. He massaged a good amount of money out of the nave full of people.

So lots of entertainment to get us ready for bed but one of the features of the ‘sleepout’ is that it is held in prayer. So after Jumping Fleas and a myriad of voices we calmed down and said Compline. When people woke up at 6.00am the next morning the first thing we all did was to gather around the altar and share in the Eucharist. Then we had our sausage and bacon butties.

It was amazing to see so many people taking part, and enthusiastically taking part. It’s no joke, sleeping out all night. It had been raining hard before Compline finished, the wind was cold, the bars around the Cathedral were still busy and noisy revellers enjoying Friday evening were every where on London Bridge. The trains rumble past on the viaduct, the buses pass on and off the bridge. Sirens on police vehicles and ambulances sound all the time. The lights from buildings all around disperse the darkness and make something like an on-going day. The city doesn’t sleep and here were these sleepers trying to get some sleep. And that is what it must be like for those who don’t just do this one night of the year knowing they have a hot shower and a comfy bed to return to the next morning, who know that someone will be frying bacon and sausage to make them feel good in the morning, but who do it without any end in sight and often suffering the abuse of those who pass by on the other side.

'Homeless Jesus' by Timothy P Schmalz

‘Homeless Jesus’ by Timothy P Schmalz

But what was even more moving was seeing just how young the majority of those sleeping out were and to see them all coming to make their communion in the morning, with real devotion, real reverence, coming to Jesus in the Eucharist.

As Compline concludes we say

Come with the dawning of the day
and make yourself known in the breaking of the bread.

It is the cry of the people of God before they sleep and God, who is always faithful, heeds our need, recognises our hunger and ‘in broken bread and wine outpoured’ meets the need of his people.

In a world where the bad, the violent, the harsh, the frightening grab the headlines, grab our attention and make us ask the question ‘Where is God?’ I saw him in the good, the gentle, the caring, the generous, the comforting, the kind, who gave up an evening for people they might never know and did it because they do know Jesus Christ who said to those listening to him

‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25.40)

Lord Jesus,
you had nowhere to lay your head,
but what a stranger gave,
may the homeless in our communities
receive the care
and welcome they need
and know the true joy of home.

Where angels fear to tread

It was very moving on Friday at noon. Quite a crowd gathered in the nave of Southwark Cathedral to take part in the minute’s silence that was being kept around the country and led by Her Majesty The Queen, giving us all the opportunity to remember the victims of the terrorist attack in Tunisia. The silence was powerful. It said more than words ever can – after all, what do you say when something like this happens? Anything you do say sounds so inadequate, or angry, or emotional, or aggressive. I was grateful that I could simply stand before God and hold these, my brothers and sisters, and their families and those who had survived and the people of Tunisia and those who, for whatever reason, feel that such acts are legitimate, and say nothing but feel everything.

This week we will be in a similar place and situation as we keep the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 bombings in London. It hardly seems possible that it is a decade since the terrible actions of a few individuals brought terror and death to our streets and our transport system. I was nowhere near the places where the attacks happened but across the river and in the Cathedral. But as the news emerged we all went down into the church as people came in, confused, distressed, lost, unsure what to do and we were able to be with them and talk and pray. It was all we could do.

The power of silence

The power of silence

The language of victims and terror is of course dangerous in itself. One of the reasons that people perpetrate these acts – I assume – is to create a sense of terror which can have the effect of traumatising lives and societies. The language of victimhood makes us act like victims – for those personally involved then the language may be appropriate but not for the whole of society. One of the amazing things about London and Londoners over the years is that neither of these words have been given any currency and life and events have not been allowed to change who we are.

I arrived in London when the IRA were active in England and a ring of steel had been thrown around the City. We were all more vigilant after bombs had gone off outside Harrods, at the Baltic Exchange, in the Aldwych, in Canary Wharf. But life always returned to normal, not with a ‘don’t care’ attitude but one that confirmed that life and confidence and what makes London a great place to be was not going to be destroyed – that Londoners refused to be terrorised or become victims. Thank God that those who engaged in that campaign changed their ways and we have all been beneficiaries of that – not least the people of Northern Ireland. But one group determined to create terror amongst innocent people is replaced with another and with different tactics. What do you say?

The poet Alexander Pope in his ‘An essay on criticism’, 1709, rails against the literary critics of his day and came up with a line which has inspired others including Burke, Hardy, Forster and Joyce

No Place so Sacred from such Fops is barr’d,
Nor is Paul’s Church more safe than Paul’s Church-yard:
Nay, fly to Altars; there they’ll talk you dead;
For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread.

I began by saying that silence seems to be the best place to be when we simply do not know how to respond to the terrible atrocities that seem to assail too many in the world. Rushing in with words is potentially foolish, especially in a situation in which instantaneous social media make out ill thought comment global, immediately.  But I suppose silence can look like cowardice, or lacking conviction. However, I think that there is something more powerful and honest about it, and especially silence, in the Christian context.

In his book ‘Silence – A Christian History’ Diarmaid MacCulloch says

‘for Paul and for those who follow the Christian way, the crucified one is more powerful in his silent suffering than any power of this world or even of the next.’

Silence in the face of the divine, silence in the face of the unknowable, silence in the face of what threatens us or tries to destroy us is the strong, Christ-like response.  After all Job has suffered, after all he has said, after all the advice he had to listen to from his friends, ‘Job’s comforters’, and even after the encouragement his wife gave him ‘to curse God and die’, he comes to the realisation of something I find most profound and helpful.

Then Job answered the Lord:
‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.”
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you; 
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.’ 
(Job 42.1-6)

Job received a great deal of advice about what to say

Job received a great deal of advice about what to say

After all the words Job fell silent and sometimes, more often than we realise, so should we. When there is nothing we can say, we simply hold with the pain and hold with God.

God, when our words fail
be with us in the silence
and may Jesus, your living Word,
speak your peace
into our hearts,
into our lives,
and communities.

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

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