A brief time away

It may seem a bit strange to be away from the Cathedral on the Feast of Pentecost, Whitsun as we used to say, but I am. This was the only opportunity we had to get up to see the flat we have bought for retirement and do a bit more cleaning. But I have a great deal to tell you and share with you.

Beautiful Delphiniums

One of the many highlights of last week was going to the Chelsea Flower Show. A friend treated us and it really was a treat. So enjoy a couple of pictures and I will tell you more when I am back at the Cathedral.

Dame Mary Berry amongst the blooms

Until then, every blessing for Pentecost.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people and kindle in us the fire of your love. Amen.


Stations of the Church

I have been making a number of journeys over the past few weeks.  All of them apart from one have been virtual, of course.  The one that wasn’t was ‘Beating the Bounds’ and making that journey was great fun.  But the idea of ‘stations’, first ‘of the cross’, then ‘of the resurrection’ inspired me to think again.  So for the Feast of Pentecost, which is the birthday of the church, I came up with another journey – fourteen ‘Stations of the Church’ – mostly taken from the Acts of the Apostles.  So I invite you to make the journey with me.  The text is below but you can watch and listen to the recording here.

Stations of the Church

Father in heaven,
whose Church on earth is a sign of your heavenly peace,
an image of the new and eternal Jerusalem:
grant to us in the days of our pilgrimage
that, fed with the living bread of heaven,
and united in the body of your Son,
we may be the temple of your presence,
the place of your glory on earth,
and a sign of your peace in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The First Station: The witnessing church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.


Peter said, ‘One of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. (Acts 1.21-26)

Lord, may your church be a faithful witness to the power of your resurrection. Amen.

The Second Station : The fiery church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

2 Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2.1-4)

Lord, may your church so speak that others may understand. Amen.

The Third Station : The living church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

3 Early church

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2.44-47)

Lord, may your church be a living community. Amen.

The Fourth Station : The serving church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

4 Deacons

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. (Acts 6.1-6)

Lord, may your church always seek to serve those in the greatest need. Amen.

The Fifth Station : The suffering church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

5 Stephen

Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. (Acts 7.58-8.1)

Lord, may your church hold nothing back in serving you. Amen.

The Sixth Station : The converting church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

6 Paul

For several days Saul was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ All who heard him were amazed and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?’ Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah. (Acts 9.19a-22)

Lord, may your church speak with compelling, converting zeal. Amen.

The Seventh Station : The inclusive church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

7 Inclusion (2)

He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. (Acts 10.11-16)

Lord, may your church live only in the spirit and life of inclusion. Amen.

The Eighth Station : The discipling church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

8 Christians

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they associated with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’. (Acts 11.25-26 )

Lord, may your church be known as your body, your self. Amen.

The Ninth Station : The commissioning church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

9 Laying on of hands

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13.1-3)

Lord, may your church continue to set apart those called for ministry in the world. Amen.

The Tenth Station : The growing church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

10 Growth

For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
“I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles,
so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” ’

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. (Acts 13.47-49)

Lord, may your church see growth in depth and breadth. Amen.

The Eleventh Station : The gathering church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

11 Synod

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us.’

The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. (Acts 15.7-9, 12)

Lord, may your church act with wisdom. Amen.

The Twelfth Station : The ministering church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

12 choir

On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16.13-15)

Lord, may your church rejoice in the ministry of all its members. Amen.

The Thirteenth Station : The pilgrim church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

13 camino

But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets. I have a hope in God—a hope that they themselves also accept—that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. (Acts 24.14-15)

Lord, may your church be your pilgrims on the way. Amen.

The Fourteenth Station : The eternal church

This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

14 sunrise

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
(Revelation 7.9-12 )

Lord, may your church be our eternal vision. Amen.

Lord God, the source of truth and love,
keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
united in prayer and the breaking of bread,
and one in joy and simplicity of heart,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘Let us pray’

Those three words ‘Let us pray’ create a variety of responses.  You have to be careful when you’re presiding or officiating at a service how you use them.  If you say the words and then pause in a particular way people fall to their knees or sit down.  Men adopt the ‘Le penseur’ position, woman a more gentle bow, children fidget.  But sometimes you don’t want them to do any of those things, such as when you are about to pray the Collect.  So you have to say the words in a way that suggests that they shouldn’t move at that moment.  Don’t ask me how, you just learn how to do it – like people learn how to command their pet dog (not that I would possibly compare a congregation to a poodle though I have met some rottweilers in my time!).

The disciples ask Jesus a seemingly straightforward question

‘Lord, teach us to pray.’ (Luke 11.1)

The thing Jesus doesn’t seem to do was to teach them to put their hands together and close their eyes.  That is what I was certainly taught.  Instead, Jesus gives them the words to pray, he gives them what we call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, the most often used prayer in the world.  And as part of that prayer there are the words that we are focusing in on in these ten days between the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost – ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.  For the disciples these days became a time devoted to prayer.  As we are told in the Acts of the Apostles, the eleven

‘were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.’ (Acts 1.14)

The crucible in which the church was formed was a crucible of prayer.


Searching for God, Almighty Hands

On Ascension Day we welcomed into Southwark Cathedral a sculpture that is accompanying us through these ten days.  ‘Searching for God, Almighty Hands’ is a monumental work by Nic Fiddian Green.  Nic was our Lent artist back in 2013 when he brought ‘Christ Rests’ to the Cathedral, a beautiful thorn-crowned head of Christ.

‘Searching for God, Almighty Hands’ measures 10 ft in height x 4.9 ft wide and is hand-beaten in sheet lead. The image of hands at prayer is a familiar one to us, either from our own life experience when someone told us to ‘put your hands together and close your eyes’ as we learnt to pray, or from works such as the engraving of praying hands by Albrecht Dürer.  The sheer scale of Nic’s work means, however, that we cannot ignore these hands, this call to prayer, this invitation to engage with the God who, in Jesus, engages with us.


Nic at work

They may be made of beaten lead sheets but whilst metallic they have a softness, a gentleness about them.  The hands are together, in that attitude of prayer recognised world-wide by so many people.  ‘Put your hands together and close your eyes’ said mum to us when she was teaching us to pray.  ‘Put your hands together and close your eyes’ said the teacher when we were sat cross-legged on the floor of the school hall for assembly.  ‘Put your hands together and close your eyes’ we tell ourselves as we attempt to block out the distractions around and concentrate on praying.

But looking at these giant hands reminded me of something else.  In some cultures the joined hands lifted towards the head is a humble greeting, that wonderfully polite way in which we are on occasions welcomed.  Perhaps for some entering the Cathedral whilst this installation is in place what they see will not speak so much of prayer but of welcome.  That is the beauty of art; for one it will take them into prayer, for another make them feel welcomed and at home. Both responses can only but be welcomed.

Almighty God,
our hands reach up in prayer
our hands reach out to you.
With healing,
holding hands
embrace us,
embrace me.

Warming the heart

Listen sweet Dove unto my song,
And spread thy golden wings in me;
Hatching my tender heart so long,
Till it get wing, and flie away with thee.

In every generation there are great story tellers, Homer and Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens, Blyton and Rowling.  They all tell their stories and those stories, which we then tell to each other, help to interpret truth to growing generations.  Among my favourites is Hans Christian Anderson.  By the harbour in Copenhagen sits the Little Mermaid testifying to the power of his storytelling.  But my favourite amongst the stories he tells is ‘The Snow Queen’, which, as the story begins, we hear ‘Tells of the mirror and its fragments’.

A new generation know a bit of that story through the work of that other great storyteller of our times, or rather an interpreter of stories, Disney, because Hans Christian Anderson’s great story can be glimpsed, just about, in that popular animated movie, ‘Frozen’.


Heartlessness on the Israel -Gaza border

Both versions of the story centre on what happens when a shard of the evil mirror or the frost from Queen Elsa’s hand, enters the heart.  The heart at the very centre of the person is frozen, dies, is turned to stone.  Humanity is lost, love is lost and, as in those final moments of the film ‘Frozen’ on the icy wastes of the harbour, it takes an act of true love to bring the warmth and life back to the heart.

‘I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ (Ezekiel 36.26)

It’s the promise of God through the prophet Ezekiel, it’s the life of which St Peter speaks so eloquently to the enraptured crowd on that first day of Pentecost.  The apostles, with Our Lady, have been locked away in the room that’s become for them both security and prison ever since, in an expression of true divine love, in that space Jesus broke bread and shared it, poured wine and drank it, gave them his body and blood and washed their feet.  But that warmth of divine love was replaced by the chill of fear.  The windows were bolted, the doors were barred, their hearts were locked until the wind blew out what locked them in and fire warmed their frozen hearts.

George Herbert uses another metaphor to tell the story in his poem ‘Whitsunday’.  Instead of a frozen heart, a stone heart, he likens it to an egg being hatched.

Listen sweet Dove unto my song,
And spread thy golden wings in me;
Hatching my tender heart so long,
Till it get wing, and flie away with thee.

The mother bird sits on her eggs not allowing them to get cold.  She uses her own heart’s heat to warm those eggs until life breaks through the shell and the chick takes wing ‘and flie away with thee.’ It’s a wonderful image.

Pentecost brings us to life, like a hatching egg, a tender heart brought to true life, so that that heart beats with the beat of God, the rhythm of life is the rhythm of God.

The heartlessness of so much around us needs challenging.  Watching the horrific scenes from Israel last week as live ammunition was used on unarmed protestors on the Israel/Gaza border, seeing how the administration of the USA could heartlessly and for purely political and ideological reasons make a change to the status of Jerusalem by moving its Embassy and so unsettling and threatening what is always a fragile paece, registering how our own government deals with the status and rights of long term residents of this nation, our friends and neighbours, all these things remind us that the cold, frozen heart is not just something that can exist in the individual but in the structures that we create, in the places and communities that we inhabit.

When Jeremy Irons was in this Cathedral a few weeks ago reading to us T S Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’ he read these words

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror

The descending dove hatches the egg, warms the heart, turns stone to flesh and brings us to life, so that our heart beats in time with the divine heartbeat making Easter live for the whole of creation, as what was dead was brought to life.


A heart warmed by the Spirit

As Peter says to the listening crowd

“You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”


This is a story really worth telling, the truth of God come down from heaven which gives life to the people and thaws the frozen heart and makes flesh the heart of stone.

Come, Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your people
and kindle in us the fire of your love.

With many voices

I loved watching Eurovision yesterday evening – anyone who follows me on Twitter will have realised that! To be honest, over the last few years I’d become a bit bored by it all but for some reason yesterday’s 60th anniversary show seemed to have regained something of the Eurovision magic. A competition out of which emerged ABBA can’t be all bad and there has been a lot more besides that has been good besides ABBA. To be honest, I’m not sure that our entries have ever really been that fantastic, even though we have won on a number of occasions in the past and it looks as though it will be very hard for us to win in the future. But I may be wrong as we do have one thing on our side.

ABBA - but even they sang in English

ABBA – but even they sang in English

I was struck even more forcibly yesterday evening by the number of entries that were sung in English. The French of course sang in French and why wouldn’t they – it’s a lovely language to hear sung. But what about the rest? I’d have loved to hear songs in a multiplicity of tongues. You can easily hide banal lyrics when you have no idea what someone is singing about. But of course I understand that if you want your song to do well commercially then English opens up lucrative markets around the world. To go to Zimbabwe, to go to India and so many other places and hear young children singing English pop songs whilst not particularly understanding English as a language is amazing. But that is the world we live in.

It was great that the Eurovision Final was held on the eve of the Feast of Pentecost. Those who were preaching today will have been reading in preparation the account from the Acts of the Apostles of the events of that first Christian Pentecost and these wonderful verses within the passage

At this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ (Acts 2.6-12)

The writer of Acts was obviously trying to describe the creation of a church that went beyond the world of the local Jewish community. The list of countries, the list of communities from which people came, draws a picture of the known world of the time. And the fact that miraculously the apostles were able to speak in a variety of tongues has to be something about the way in which the universal church has always spoken in all languages.

'What does this mean?'

‘What does this mean?’

But the question that is asked by the amazed and perplexed onlookers is the most important one ‘What does this mean?’ Perhaps that is the question that preachers should address on this day, ‘What does this mean?’

One thing that it means to me is the very thing which concerned me about the lack of variety of languages in Eurovision. There is always a concern in church nowadays that we are ‘on message’, ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’. But the newly born ‘Pentecostal Church’ that we have been celebrating today was multilingual from day one; the message that the apostles delivered was understood across cultures; people were hearing in their own language and in a way that they could understand.

Whatever happened that morning at nine o’clock it was a defining moment for the nature of the church, for our ecclesiology. And there was something uncontrollable and passionate about it all. The Spirit took over and the apostles found their tongue and their confidence despite almost being blown off balance by the experience.

What does this mean? To me it means that we have to speak in different languages to different cultures and that thinking that one language can describe God, one way of explaining things, one way of defining things, one un-nuanced set of ethics will do does not do justice to what God does with us at Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit is unpredictable and uncontrollable – that is what is so exciting about the third person of the Trinity. Wind and flame are exactly the right metaphors for what defies too much definition. Try to control either and you risk being blown away or getting your fingers burnt; seeking to close down variety will simply not work because the wind will blow through the gaps and fire of God will break out.

I want to hear many voices and languages in Eurovision; I want to hear many voices and languages in the church.

Holy Spirit,
speak through us
with an authentic voice,
challenge us with new language,
unsettle us in our desire to control
and break out of the confines of the church
with wind and flame;
blow and burn as you will.

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