We wish to see Jesus

It was my name day last week, the Feast of St Andrew. It’s always lovely to get to that day; November is all but over and Advent has already begun or about to begin and the Advent calendar is waiting for the first door to be opened. But I actually love the day as well. I am always pleased with the name my parents chose to give me, I think I may have said that before. Why they chose to name me after the two brothers, Andrew and Peter, I don’t know. But they are names that I’m happy to travel though life with.

The reading for Morning Prayer on St Andrew’s Day is a passage from St John’s Gospel. It records an event that happened when Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem. The triumphal entry had just happened and Jesus was there at the heart of the religious authorities and institution, the Temple. Some Greeks approach Philip. They must have recognised that Philip was also of Greek heritage – his name gives the game away and the fact that he came from the town of Bethsaida in Galilee, which was in the hills above Capernaum, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and a place where the population was predominately from that heritage, made him an ally to approach. The request that Philip received and which led him to take these enquirers to Andrew, who then took them on to Jesus, was both simple and profound.

‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’ (John 12.21)

They had heard of him, perhaps someone had described to them what he was up to, perhaps someone had repeated to them some of things that they had heard him saying, heard him teaching – and they wanted to see him and hear him and witness him themselves. ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’.

On the day before St Andrew’s Day this year some statistics were released from the most recent census that had been conducted in the UK. The data around religion proved to be newsworthy. For the first time less than half of those who answered the question – and the response to this voluntary question about religious affiliation was up on the previous census, 94% compared to 92.9% in the previous census which shows that people were willing to engage with the question even though they didn’t have to – identified as Christian. As it says in the census report

For the first time in a census of England and Wales, less than half of the population (46.2%, 27.5 million people) described themselves as “Christian”, a 13.1 percentage point decrease from 59.3% (33.3 million) in 2011; despite this decrease, “Christian” remained the most common response to the religion question. (ONS Census Release 29 November)

However you want to spin it this is a massive drop in numbers, a huge reduction. In the main points on the front page of the release it then says this

“No religion” was the second most common response, increasing by 12.0 percentage points to 37.2% (22.2 million) from 25.2% (14.1 million) in 2011.

We can suggest what this might mean, why people say this, whatever it does or does not mean, that they are spiritual but would not describe themselves as practicing, believing, ‘signed up’ Christians, but whatever gloss you put on it the figure is a stark one.

The day after the release was the Feast of St Andrew, the patron saint of mission. It was a wake up call as we kept the feast that there is a real mission challenge facing the church. If we saw that kind of fall repeated over the next few decades then the church would be in a very very difficult situation. Already people are rightly asking why we have an Established church in a non-Christian country and I am sure the same questions will be asked around the forthcoming Coronation of King Charles III.

I go back to those Greeks approaching Philip with that simple yet profound desire, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’. My question to myself, as a dean, as an ordained minister of the gospel for almost 40 years, as a member of the General Synod since 2005, as someone who could be described as an institutional person, part of the Establishment, is this, is the church really showing Jesus? Do we take people to meet Jesus, or do we in fact block, restrict, obscure, distort that divine encounter. I wonder if the problem is not with Jesus, not with Christ, not with the one who comes amongst us and reveals the depth of the death-defying love of God for the whole of humanity but with the institution. Rightly or wrongly we are seen to be misogynist, racist, homophobic, privileged, exclusive, entitled, censorious, irrelevant, elitist – and you can add to that list – and at times and in places we have been and still are some or all of that. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet

‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’ (Hamlet Act 1 Scene IV)

At it’s best the church is life-giving, life-changing, a blessing, the shepherd’s hut in the midst of a hostile wilderness, a place where we are fed, where miracles happen, where we encounter the Living God. But at our worst … well, I don’t need to spell it out. Yet, and there is a big yet in all of this, yet, we opened booking for our Cathedral Carol Services and all the places were taken within a few hours; yet we have a big online community, with us each morning to pray; yet we have a diverse congregation, age and ethnicity, and sexuality and ability and all the rest. The church is not dead and people are not uninterested but there is something that is getting in the way of us showing Jesus to those who wish to see him. That is the challenge for the whole church and we have to address it today because tomorrow comes along too fast!

Jesus, may we see you, in the church, in the world, in one another. Amen.


You can call me …

There are a couple of friends who always call me Andy, just two of them, Julie and Nick. Why, I don’t know. I haven’t ever asked them to be honest, but if they read this blog – and they know who they are – they might tell me. Actually I don’t mind because it makes my relationships with them somewhat special. They are both friends from school days in Wigston and I am trying to recall whether people in general at Guthlaxton called me ‘Andy’. But I can’t remember that and in fact I think my mum wouldn’t have liked it. She was called Jill and so there was no way of shortening it, making it more familiar. Her dad, my granddad, was baptised John but everyone called him Jack – seems strange to me. My sister has a short name which can’t be shortened but my dad was Peter and I think his sisters all called him Pete, but not sure about that.

The thing is that I think of myself as ‘Andrew’ and I like that. I love my name in fact – Andrew Peter – two good solid saints names, two disciples, I can’t think of anything better than that and I have never really hankered after any other name – except those called David have often seemed to be quite good looking and good on the sports field, in my experience.

On Paul Simon’s wonderful album ‘Graceland’ released back in 1986 there’s a great song and the chorus goes

If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty, when you call me, you can call me Al

There is an echo here in the lyrics of something from one of the famous songs of the Great Depression ‘Buddy, can you spare a dime’

Say don’t you remember, they called me Al
It was Al all the time

Betty, Al, Andy, Pete, all very familiar. The reason I have been thinking about this is because there was a report that a church in Bournemouth, St Michael’s, is in the process of formally renaming itself St Mike’s. The reason that this is being done, according to these accounts, is that doing so will attract younger people who, it would seem, would be put off by the name Michael, or rather be attracted by a place that was a bit more familiar with its patron saint, the warrior archangel, Michael. Well, it’s true, he can be a bit frightening! When you go up the steps outside Coventry Cathedral you are met by the huge statue by Jacob Epstein of St Michael and the Devil. It is an awesome piece of work and I dare you to shout out ‘Hi, Mike’ as you ascend to the church.

To be honest – and I don’t really know what life is like in Bournemouth, or what young people round there are like – I am a little bit sceptical about whether we would attract hoards of young people by renaming our churches – St Phil, St Sy, St Matt, St Kate, St Jack, etc. What would seem to me to be much more effective would be to preach the gospel in such a way that it speaks directly to whoever comes through the door, to be a church that lives in love and faith rather than endlessly talking about it, to be truly inclusive, embracing, safe, and grown up.

The truth is that faith isn’t about being cuddled, it is about entering into the presence of an awesome God, a crucified saviour, faith is demanding, it challenges, it is warm but it isn’t cuddly. When we read the scriptures we read of a God who keeps people at a distance, they couldn’t even touch the mountain of divine encounter, only the High Priest, once a year, could enter the Holy of Holies, even followers of Jesus fell away because being a disciple was too hard and at the end the implications of it all, played out beyond the city walls between two criminals, was just too much and only some women could remain. Then, to cap it all, when Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus in the garden he tells her to keep away, ‘Noli me tangere’ ‘do not touch me’.

As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10.31)

Some times that ‘fearful’ is translated ‘awesome’, ‘terrifying’. Yet we come, we draw near, because this awesome God calls us by name and makes us God’s own, we are attracted, not in some crass way, but by divine love. We can’t sell faith cheap, we do an injustice to the very God that we want people to get to know.

This week the results of the General Synod elections will be known. Those elected have a tough time ahead of them. The Church of England is always walking on the edge, but it feels now more than ever that we are going to fall off. We can spend the new Groups of Sessions falling out about who can love each other, we can talk endlessly about rebranding ourselves and renaming our churches as though the saints were our mates, as though God, in Paul Simon’s words, is our ‘long lost pal’ or we could look like people who have encountered God, in the burning bush, in the holy awesome, sacred space, on the cross, at the altar, in the kingdom food of bread and wine, in wind and flame, in martyrs and in monks, in child-like awe, in silent adoration. Or you can just choose to call me Andy!

Awesome God, draw us into the fire of your love that we may know you in holiness and truth. Amen.

On the streets

When I was in Leeds, particularly when I was a priest in the Parish of Richmond Hill, there were always occasions coming along when we would escape the walls of the churches and get out onto the streets.  There were two principle occasions each year at St Hilda’s, Cross Green, apart from the Palm Sunday Procession and the Walk of Witness on Good Friday, of course.  The first was the May Procession held on the day on which we had the crowning of the May Queen and the other was the Feast of the Assumption when we held a big festival.  There was a massive Roman Catholic Church in the parish, Mount St Mary’s, like ‘a city set on a hill’ and they had a portable statue of Our Lady and so, in a spirit of practical ecumenism, we used to borrow that.

Blessing of Illuminated River 1

Blessing of Illuminated River

Mary was decked out in a variety of plastic flowers and would be carried aloft by some willing volunteers and escorted by servers with their candles and incense, by clergy and by a mixed bag of laity.  It was fantastic.  If you ever saw that great film ‘East is East’ with Jimi Mistry, then the opening scenes of the procession through the streets of Salford where completely reminiscent of us walking through the streets of back-to-backs in east Leeds.  We didn’t just have the pious to accompany us but kids on bikes, babies in push chairs and, of course, dogs who thought we should be well out of their territory and were doing their best to make sure that happened!

Jesus was an itinerant preacher, had a peripatetic ministry, walking the roads and the paths of Galilee, always on the move, taking religion and teaching and prayer out of the confines of the Temple, outside of the formality of the synagogue and into the street where anything could happen.

‘As [Jesus] and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.’ (Mark 10.46)

It happened all the time, those chance encounters on the road that were life and faith transforming for those who were there at the right time in the right place, sitting, standing, waiting by the roadside for God to go past.

We do a great deal of this ‘taking religion out of the church’ at Southwark Cathedral, whether its Apple Day in Borough Market, or Lammas Day with Bread Ahead, our local baker, or Blessing the River in Epiphany, we are there on the streets beyond the confines of thick, protective stone walls.

Blessing of Illuminated River 2

Setting off!

This weekend has been a great opportunity for that.  On Friday evening, much to the amazement of local drinkers in the pubs around the Cathedral and the Borough Market, a procession left Cathedral Square at 9.30pm!  We were not a huge crowd but, despite a bit of drizzle (always a threat to outdoor religion) we were enthusiastic.  The occasion was blessing the Illuminated River Project.  This is a ten year art installation along the Thames in which the bridges will be individually lit but visually connected through the work of the American artist, Leo Villareal.  Last Wednesday the first part of the project, the illumination of London Bridge, Cannon Street Bridge , Southwark Bridge and the Millennium Bridge was launched and on Friday I was asked to bless the work.  So with cross and lights and me in a cope we walked up onto London Bridge and asked Gods blessing on the work.

God bless those who cross the bridges.
God bless those who walk the edges.
God bless those who sail the waters.
God bless those who steer the vessels.
God bless those who care for fishes.
God bless those who light the bridges.
God bless this illumination
light and joy, colour, imagination.
May it bring this river to life
even on the darkest night.

We read from the Book of Revelation about the city and the river, we read extracts from poems by Dunbar and Kipling and Eliot and we prayed, there on the bridge as the buses passed and the party boats sailed beneath us and the walkers nudged past.  And some people ignored us and a few jeered and some made the sign of the cross and many more said hello and smiled.  It was great.


Blessing the Graveyard

Sunday sees us walk, as we do each year around the Feast of Mary Magdalene, from the Cathedral to the Crossbones Graveyard, the unconsecrated ground where early on, the medieval sex workers and their babies were buried and later on paupers were buried and with cross and lights and smoke, with prayers and reading and singing, and, I hope, in the sunshine, we will remember those women and those children and those people used and abused and excluded by our society.

May this be a holy place in our community,
set apart for the past, the present and the future
and a place where the dead and living may know your peace.

Being out there, being on the streets, getting religion out of church, beyond the walls, where we might sit beautifully oddly alongside everything else that is going on, that must be a mission initiative in anybody’s book!

Lord, give us the courage
to walk the streets
and encounter you
as others encounter us
and you.

It’s a cat’s life

Mum was, I suppose, what you might call ‘house proud’. There’s nothing wrong with that.  When we were kids we always knew that the house would be clean and tidy, things put away where they belonged, that we would have clean clothes and there would never be a pile of washing or ironing to be done. I suppose at her worst she could be a bit of a Hyacinth Bucket but only in a little way.  But the implication was that we never really had a pet, I mean a pet that was free to roam.  My first pet was ‘Snowy’ the white mouse, neatly caged, but after its body rebelled on a diet of cheese and milk (Mum took her mouse care lessons from Tom & Jerry by all accounts) it went to meet its Maker.  We then had a number of goldfish, mainly from fairs, some swam around a bowl for a while but none made long-term pets.

Hyacinth Bucket from the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, floral dress and pearls_thumb[2]

Keeping up appearences


The best we managed was a Cockatiel called ‘Beauty’. He was actually my sister’s bird and he loved her but tried to take a chunk out of the rest of us.  When the bird decided he disliked intensely my sister’s boyfriend she had to make that difficult decision that can sometimes face us in life – ‘the bird or the boyfriend?’ – and she chose the latter.  So Mum inherited the care of Beauty even though it continually ‘went for her’.

My point is that we were never allowed a cat or a dog like other people.  No puppy nor kitten added to the fun of our lives.  We had a lovely childhood but no four-legged friend to grow up with us as in so many adverts showing happy, sunny, well disposed children.

Last Sunday at Southwark Cathedral we launched a children’s book called ‘Doorkins the Cathedral Cat’.  It has been written and illustrated by two members of the Cathedral congregation, Lisa Gutwein, the author and Rowan Ambrose, the artist.  It tells the tale, the true tale, of Doorkins who is the Southwark Cathedral cat.  The book is delightful and I’m glad to say is selling extremely well.

I remember the cat arriving back in 2008.  He, actually she is a she but we didn’t know that then, arrived in the Cathedral churchyard.  This cat spent a lot of time in the garden but was also around in the morning when the vergers were opening up the Cathedral. So eventually they decided to feed the cat and put a bowl of water out.  My predecessor, Colin Slee, himself a cat lover and owner (if one can ever own a cat) called him/her ‘Doorkins’ because that was where we first encountered her, in the door.  She was then given the posh name ‘Magnificat’. Doorkins Magnificat gradually found the courage to come from outside to inside, to take advantage of the warmth that was awaiting her.  And so a daily routine developed.  She comes in when we open, has breakfast, has a wander around the place, checking it out, finds somewhere to sleep, gets up during Evensong when she hears her own song, ‘Magnificat’, and then has her supper and as the Cathedral closes she goes back out to her second, night-time home, the Borough Market. It’s a cat’s life!

That’s the ideal of course.  When it’s cold, and now that she is older, she sometimes hides when going-out time comes along and the vergers have the difficult job of finding her and coaxing her out. Sometimes, when she senses that something good is happening she will wander through the sanctuary at just the wrong moment for us but the best moment for her as all eyes are upon her.

Like the whole community Doorkins was caught up in the terrorist attack on London Bridge and Borough Market on 3 June.  By the time that happened she had been put out and the doors had been locked.  As it turned out we were unable to check that she was ok until we were able to get back into the Cathedral ourselves many days later.  At first we satisfied ourselves with the knowledge that she is basically a feral cat who happens to lodge with us and would probably manage alright amongst all the abandoned food from the Saturday night revels into which the horror struck.  But then we heard that the Metropolitan Police, in the midst of everything else they had to do, were making sure that Doorkins did not go hungry.  Without being ridiculous about it that was a moment of such reassurance in the midst of all that was so horrible – we would be ok.

Doorkins book

The Doorkins book – get your copy!


So, why am I mentioning all of this?  Well, simply I suppose because, not being a pet person generally nor particularly a cat person I have come to recognise what the presence of Doorkins does for us and that was reinforced as the book was launched last Sunday.  I’ve noticed that for many people simply seeing a cat wandering around makes the place accessible, unstuffy, in a strange way more human, a manifestation of ‘The Human Haunt’ in Carol Ann Duffy’s poem about the Cathedral.  It’s as though they say to themselves ‘well, if these people accept a cat here perhaps they will accept me’.

But more than that there is something about how Doorkins arrived and settled that is a parable of mission.  The truth is that however warm and inclusive a church may be and think it is, it is still a church and to many people an unfamiliar and strange place. Getting through the door and across the threshold is no mean feat.  And then having arrived people need to feel at home, safe, able to stay, not frightened off by too much attention or too little.  Churches can be enormously off-putting to newcomers.  We may all have had the uncomfortable experience of almost sitting in a seat or a pew to be told ‘I’m sorry you can’t sit there – that’s where Mrs Tubbs sits!’ and you move off sheepishly – none of the ‘come up higher friend’ of Jesus’ parable!  But Doorkins will make herself at home wherever she likes, even in the Cathedra, even in the Dean’s stall – can you imagine and we have to cope with it!

Finally, she is someone (I know she’s not a person) who people love and relate to and that has to be good.  She found us and chose to live with us and now adds to the special place that we are. So I need to celebrate this cat who is the four-legged though rather disant friend that I never had as a child.

In the Book of Genesis the man names every creature God delivers to him.

‘So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.’ (Genesis 2.19)

Amongst them, in a way, was our lovely cat, who we name with love and always give thanks for, who opens doors for others to follow her into the church.

Creator God,
thank you for the animals
that share our lives,
our homes,
and our love
and thank you
for all that they teach us
about what it means to be

The preacher

They say that travel broadens the mind. Well, it can certainly give you some fresh insights into things and you can discover things that you didn’t know before.  This won’t be a long blog as I’m on a few days annual leave with some friends visiting Lisbon. To those who see me on Twitter you may have caught some of the photos of places that we have been to.  I hadn’t been to Portugal before and so this has been a real treat. I had had the famous custard tarts before, the ‘pasteas de nata’, there is quite a large Portuguese community in Stockwell in south London and so I had already tasted one.  But eating it here was a real treat.

So sardines, custard tarts, port and other delicacies make this a great place to come to and so do the churches. What I was surprised to discover, however, was that St Anthony of Padua was actually born in Lisbon.  I thought he was Italian but I was wrong.  So going into the Cathedral in Lisbon and finding there the font in which he was baptised was a real joy.   What was even more splendid was to see the tiles around the font that told part of his story.

Lisbon is full of wonderful tiles that adorn the fronts of houses, sometimes covering the whole facade, sometimes just smaller panels.  The tiles decorate bars and restaurants, churches, the streets,  they are superb.  Some, like the one showing a monkey with a pair of spectacles on a house in a back street, are quirky and sheer fun, some deeply serious and a record of Portugese life.

A monkey with spectacles in the streets of Lisbon

But next to the font in the Cathedral is a wall on which the tiles show Anthony preaching, but in this case preaching to the fish.  It is a young St Anthony before he travelled from Portugal to Italy where his powerful preaching gained him his reputation. But here, as a young man, he is learning and exercising his craft.  The fish have their heads poking out from the water listening attentively.

I suppose part of the rationale of the legend is a response to the commission to the disciples when they were called from their boats and their nets at the lakeside and told by Jesus that they would now ‘fish for people.’ (Luke 5.10) Here is Anthony living that out, preaching the word, preaching Christ. It is an image that is both fun and has so much truth in it.

St Anthony preaches to the fish

There was a report the other day I heard about a preaching competition, for ‘Preacher of the Year’ I think it was. What we each want of a sermon, whether we’re the preacher or preached at, will be different. But I’m a great believer in the power of the sermon, in the power of rhetoric and the importance of spending time on it to get it right. 

The psalmist says, and St Paul quotes this particular psalm of course

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’ (Ps 19.4)

The baptistery in Lisbon reminds us that the ‘fish’, the people of God, need to hear the word and hear it expounded and proclaimed.

God of the living Word, inspire those who preach and those who hear, that you word may live through us and in us, that the world may believe. Amen.

Holy Land

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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