New Year, new start?

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

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

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

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

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

The Deanery hall at Christmas

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

And back to normal

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

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

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

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


What a beginning!

I’ve been on my post-Christmas holiday.  I had to wait on this occasion until after the New Year had arrived and my colleagues had had their time off.  So it was great to be able to preside at the Eucharist early on New Year’s day, the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus (Mary Mother of God in the Roman Calendar), and to pray for God’s blessing on the year and the new decade that lay before us.


Wonderful fireworks in London to welcome a new decade

Having been warned off horoscopes as a child by our vicar when I was preparing for Confirmation – it was one of the sins mentioned in the list of potential sins that we were given, a kind of checklist of naughtiness – and never having ventured into Madam Zaza’s gypsy tent on a pier to have my fortune told, I’ve never really been that interested in knowing in advance what is waiting round the corner for me.  As Jesus so wonderfully puts it in St Matthew’s Gospel and in the translation of the King James Version

‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’ (Matthew 6.34)

But the events that we have been dealing with so far this year have been monumental in their different ways. In Australia the year began as it ended, with fire sweeping across the bush and the forests and threatening communities and lives.

Then President Trump decides to order the assassination of Major General Qassem Suleimani whilst he was in Iraq.  As so many commentators have said, his actions have caused the deaths of many people.  But it felt like an act of real and dangerous provocation on the part of the President without any sense of what the next steps would be. Then the news of the crash of the Ukrainian Airline flight and the death of 173 people was terrible.  And now we have learnt that this was as a result of a catastrophic mistake when a missile was launched against it the level of danger in the region is even more real.

And finally the Duke and Duchess of Sussex make their announcement about how they see their future and none of us quite knows where this leaves them, or the rest of the Royal Family but we are assured that all will become clear very quickly.

Whilst all of this has been going on, the House of Commons approved the ‘Brexit Bill’ and it has now been passed to the House of Lords.  The cameras and the crowds have left College Green, the flags are no longer waving and the whole business if our withdrawal is now moving towards its inevitable conclusion.  Cathedrals are being asked whether or not they will be asking their ringers to ring on the night of 31 January a peal of joy but maybe silent prayer is the answer in these circumstances.

Then some very good news as the Northern Ireland Assembly makes a return to Stormont and takes up the responsibility of the governance of the Province.  Those who have managed and encouraged this have to be congratulated.

What a beginning!  I never saw any of this coming!

At Southwark Cathedral we are beginning our Year of Vision.  Each term during this year we will be concentrating on one of the three key words in our value statement – inclusive, faithful, radical.  So this term our focus will be on what it really means for us to be an inclusive community and that has to be much more than being LGBT+ friendly, which is what we are so often known for, though it will continue to mean that, but more besides.  What I do know is that with all that is happening it is vital to have vision. As it says in the Book of Proverbs

‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ (Proverbs 29.18)

Whether it is in relation to the environment, global politics, internal order, the shape of our institutions, the lives of individuals, the place of the church, we need vision, and we need to hold to it.

God, give us clear vision
and a commitment to it.

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?


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.



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.


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.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark