Silver and red

The house in which I have the real privilege to live whilst Dean of Southwark is lovely but nowhere near as historic or photographed as the house the other side of Cardinal Cap Alley.  That house, 49 Bankside, even has a book written about it, ‘The House by the Thames’ by Gillian Tindall.  The book is a real social history of Bankside and whilst the author debunks some of the myths around the property, principally the story that Wren lodged there during the building of St Paul’s Cathedral, nevertheless the real stories of the house are even more interesting.

One famous resident was Guy Munthe, from my understanding an exotic and rather wonderful socialite. He came to mind on 1 December as I returned to the Cathedral following my sabbatical and presided at the early morning Eucharist.  It was World AIDS Day and so the Mass that morning was in St Andrew’s Chapel which is in the retrochoir of the Cathedral.


I arrived in the chapel, kissed the altar and went to the ligilium to begin the liturgy.  As I did I looked to my right and quickly read the plaque on the wall commemorating the dedication of this chapel as the ‘AIDS Chapel’, the place which provides a focus for our prayers and witness on behalf of those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.  I immediately noticed that the dedication took place in 1991 and as this was 2016 it was the 25th anniversary, the silver anniversary, of the chapel.  I mentioned that in my introduction to the Mass; it was something to give thanks for.

And my former neighbour? Well, he died in 1992, one of those caught up in the horror that at that time was sweeping through the gay community in London and beyond.  He is commemorated alongside that chapel in a simple and non-ostentatious plaque.

I remember that when I arrived at the Cathedral in 1999 as the Precentor, one of my responsibilities was to organise the AIDS Day Service which took place on the first Sunday in December.  It was a large service, ecumenical and inter-faith.  We had Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Zoroastrians all taking part with a large and broad Christian group.  The London Gay Mens Chorus once provided the music, we sang ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ (of course), candles were lit and processed, a quilt was brought  in, we all cried and remembered those who had died since the last service and prayed for them.  It felt like a vignette of the world of Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’ with a few Mrs Madrigals amongst the crowds of men.

Seventeen years later there is no service. The energy ran out of it. It no longer seemed necessary and our partners who helped with the service all faded away. The issue had changed, people now lived with a positive status, they didn’t die.  It was no longer a male, white, gay issue, it had changed.  One of the things that had changed in south London was that the community now facing up to the challenge of HIV/AIDS was made up of a great many more recently arrived black migrants and they weren’t as organised or cohesive as the gay community and we had no easy way of making contact with them. It is a sad story for me to write and one in which I have no pride.  The ‘big’ event drifted away from us, though we still offer the Mass every Saturday in the AIDS Chapel for those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS and we still wear our red ribbons.

But things have changed again. The numbers of those being infected and living with HIV has increased. Over the decade 2006 to 2015, there has been a 73% increase in the number of people in the country accessing HIV care. 46% of these people live in London, and almost 96% of infection is as a result of sex, split almost equally between heterosexual and homosexual sexual encounters. The Boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark now account for almost 25% of HIV cases in England.

The other changes are, of course, around the success of drug and other regimes that mean that people can live with the infection and not see a positive diagnosis as a death sentence.  The debate on whether Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, should be paid for by the local authority or by the NHS is a side-show compared with what could be the effect of this drug being made available.

The commemorative plaque in St Andrew's Chapel

The commemorative plaque in St Andrew’s Chapel

Over the years we have wondered from time to time whether it was right to keep St Andrew’s Chapel as an AIDS Chapel.  But each time we talked about it we decided it was.  To our knowledge it is the only one in this country.  It still makes people stop, think, ask questions and, I hope, pray.  It still serves as a focus for our prayer and concern as a Cathedral community.  In fact, when in response to our new vision statement we were working out what our priorities should be renewing this ministry and looking at ways to live out in action what we proclaim in prayer as far as the HIV+ community is concerned became one of our priorities.  Given the changes that I have already mentioned and the extreme needs in Lambeth and Southwark it feels as if the chapel is a relevant today as it was 25 years ago.

The most important thing, of course, is to continue to witness to the unfailing, hospitable and transforming love of God through all of this.  It is right that we do the praying in St Andrew’s Chapel for it is Andrew who we remember ‘first found his brother’ (John 1.41) and brought him to Jesus.  We do the same with all our sisters and brothers.

Lord Jesus,
you love us
just as we are.
May we love
as you love.



It hardly seems possible but there months have gone since the ‘last post’ on this Living God blog.  But it is.  Time passes very quickly and seems to concertina until it seems no time at all since I embarked on three months of sabbatical leave.  But today I was back at Southwark Cathedral as we celebrated Advent Sunday and the beginning of another Christian year and this season of preparation for Christmas.  It has been a fantastic three months and those who have been following my sabbatical blog will know some of the things that I got up to.  For those who didn’t get a chance to read it you can see all the blogs here.

One of the final things that I did in Jerusalem, where I spent half of the sabbatical, was to attend an Act of Remembrance at the Commonwealth War Cemetery on Mount Scopos.  In the early heat of the day we sat amongst the beautifully kept war graves and the Last Post and Reveille sounded out across the Jerusalem hills. This Advent Sunday is something of a reveille call for me, waking me up, bringing me back, alerting me to the things I have to do, reengaging me with the ministry at the Cathedral.


Bugler and piper on Mount Scopus


That was really the thrust of my first sermon back at the Cathedral and so I post the text here.  I’m looking forward to resuming this blog and my Twitter prayers.  The sabbatical has been energizing and renewing and so, woken up and alert, I look forward to what lies ahead.

The readings for this Sunday are as follows: Isaiah 2.1-5; Romans 13.11-14; Matthew 24.36-44

Do you wake up naturally or do you need an alarm clock to get you up, someone shaking you, the smell of tea or coffee by your bed, or the sound of the ‘Today’ programme easing you out of your slumbers and into the harsh reality of the world? We all wake up differently – some are blessed to be able to leap from their beds with enthusiasm, new every morning, and some need dragging from their pit.

The poet Dylan Thomas in his play for voices, ‘Under Milk Wood’, paints for us pictures in words of the getting up routines of the people in the village of Llareggub.

The Reverend Eli Jenkins, in Bethesda House, gropes out of bed into his preacher’s black, combs back his bard’s white hair, forgets to wash, pads barefoot downstairs, opens the front door, stands in the doorway and, looking out at the day and up at the eternal hill, and hearing the sea break and the gab of birds, remembers his own verses and tells them softly to empty Coronation Street that is rising and raising its blinds.


Mary Ann Sailors, opening her bedroom window above the taproom calls out to the heavens
‘I’m eighty-five years three months and a day!’

It’s Advent Sunday and I can’t believe it. A couple of weeks ago I was in Jerusalem and it felt like summer. I come back to London and the streets are full of lights and the windows full of trees and it feels like winter and it looks like Christmas.

One of the last things I did before I left Jerusalem was to sit on the Mount of Olives and look at the view that Jesus and his disciples were looking at when he gave them the dire warning that we heard in the gospel. Well, it wasn’t the same view of course – no Dome of the Rock, no mosque, no Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jesus’ day, but some of it was the same.

What Jesus was saying to the disciples, what St Paul was saying to the Romans, is the call of the alarm clock, ‘Wake up’.

‘It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep’.

We begin a new Christian year today and what a year the last one was. To be honest I felt I must have been sleep walking, deluding myself about the nature of our society, about what the values were that define us, what the values were that motivate us, what kind of communities and societies we wanted to build for the whole of our society. In our Mayoral election I saw a glimpse of an affirmation of that but everything that’s happened subsequently has suggested to me that I was deluded.

The first part of my sabbatical I spent in Canada, perhaps the most liberal, accepting, inclusive and polite society I’ve ever encountered. That was in September and everyone we met was looking south across the border with the States and wondering what on earth was going on – but imagining, from their urbane liberal perspective, that the right thing would happen, that common sense and common values would prevail.

In Jerusalem at the Anglican Cathedral with its guest house and college loads of people from the States were coming and going. By October they were beginning to be anxious but it was going to be alright.

But the shock of Brexit became the shock of Trump and the image of the anti-elitists, Farage and Trump, standing by the gold-plated lift in Trump Tower said it all.


No comment


‘It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep’.

I’ve been reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s fantastic biography of ‘Jerusalem’. When Jesus was predicting the destruction of the city it wasn’t, to be honest, something unusual that he was talking about – Jerusalem, as Montefiore describes in his book, is a city that’s been destroyed and rebuilt in almost every generation. Something, somewhere as iconic and wonderful and central and holy, the city of God on earth, is supremely vulnerable. The stones and the structures make no difference – things are vulnerable and tomorrow not one stone can be left standing on another. I think that we all now recognise the fragility of so much that we’ve trusted was stable and lasting and had the touch of the eternal about it. But there’s been a wakeup call and we have to respond.

Isaiah of course gives us a vision, not of desolation, not of destruction, not of the negative but of the positive, of building, establishing something good. The city will be built, something to look up to, the weapons for killing will become tools for planting. People will come to the mountain eager that God ‘may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’

His is a fantastic word for us today as we embark on this new year of grace, as we wake up and realise that each new day and each new season and each New Year is laden with possibility. The wonderful thing about Jerusalem is that it was never really left a desolate heap of ruins for long, people came back, time and time again, Jews, Christians, Muslims, to rebuild it because it mattered, because it’s an icon in itself and more than humankind can imagine, it’s the City of Peace.


Jerusalem – city of peace


The wakeup call that we’ve all had – and that’s regardless of the way in which we’ve voted, or the way that we’d have voted in the States – is that we need to work together on what the values are, the values that drive our society, the values that undergird the vision of what and who we want to be.

We’ve been clear what they are in this cathedral and I’m delighted to be back to continue with you and my colleagues to pursue them. Remember what we’ve said and committed ourselves to.

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

We’re still inclusive and we need to be so even more than ever before. The fear of the other has been given a new legitimacy and is being articulated all around us. We have a better, God-given vision of the mountain to which all head, equally, as sisters and brothers.

We’re still committed to the faith that we’ve received and which is the ground in which we grow. Our faith in God is the bedrock on which we build this house of the Lord.

The love that we express and live, the embracing of one another, is even more radical. We’ve always been a community unafraid to challenge the zeitgeist now we have to be even more challenging and even less afraid to be the prophetic community that we know God calls us to be.

This is no time for sleeping, my brothers and sisters. This new year is God-given and in a few weeks’ time we’ll see how God gives, as in a manger we see a baby and recognise God with us. He will be rejected, cut down, destroyed, but his life and his words will not be defeated and out of the rubble he builds us, his living stones, into a true temple to glorify God.

This is no time for sleeping, it’s the time for rising and eating and breaking the fast and in the strength of the food that God gives, his own flesh, his own blood, this Eucharistic banquet, we can be the people that he’s called us to be, in the church he wants us to be, for the people that he calls us to serve, in such a time as this.

Wake us, Lord, from our sleep,
alert us to the world around us,
that with your passion
we may include those others would exclude,
love those others may hate
and witness to our faith
in a faithless world,
for Jesus’ sake.

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.

A feminine face – Part 2

I was talking about being at the Crossbones Graveyard yesterday.  Amongst those speaking there on International Women’s Day was Simon Hughes MP and Valerie Shawcross AM, London Assembly Member for Lambeth & Southwark.   Val said that she had an ‘angry feminist poem’ to read out, something that she had written for the occasion.  Listening to her, there in the street, outside the graveyard where so many women, excluded, exploited women, had been buried over the centuries, I thought that it was worth seeing if I could share her thoughts more widely.  Kindly Val said I could – so here is her ‘angry feminist poem’ (her words not mine) – performed by her yesterday.

Deep beneath the soil and skin of Southwark lies within,
the scaffolding of life, our kin.
Our family women’s bones,
their stories soaked with the rain of a hundred decades and,
always cold, never ever told.
At dead of night below the traffic hiss,
of electric lights and London mists,
hear the whispers of their songs –
we are with you and before too long you will remember us
and recall –
without us women you’d have nothing at all.
They kept beloved struggling straggling children fed,
by allowing men with money into their bed.
They lost the fight for life in every way
and yet still next day they came to wash the tears,
the dirt and the blood away.
Even today I know your sisters and where they stay,
force-locked in houses and beaten,
unschooled, and they pray
like you that their daughters will get away.
So what do we modern women do?
Do we wear a suit and pretend to be the new senior man in the church,
or bend the rules on the bankermans floor –
do you small talk the political bore?
Do you ever hear yourself say with cupboards overflowing
I haven’t got a thing to wear today?
She is whispering below, she is saying
don’t thank those men that around you stand,
they have given women nothing out of their hand.
Your life and freedom was my gift so now your turn,
divest your fears, and fight our fight –
give life to our girls and do it with all a women’s might.

An ending and a beginning

The news of the death of Nelson Mandela was in one sense, of course, not a shock. We had braced ourselves at many times for what we knew was inevitable. But on each occasion the great man seemed to pull himself back from the brink. However, even though we knew that it would happen, when the news was announced that he had died, there was a clear sense of shock. I was just sitting down after having hosted a pre-Christmas drinks evening in the Deanery for some generous supporters of the Cathedral when the news came through.

An act of remembrance in the Mandela Porch

An act of remembrance in the Mandela Porch

Very quickly we organised a memorial act at the Cathedral – but not in the church itself but instead in the north porch of the Millennium Buildings – what we call the Mandela Porch. The flag stones there are inscribed with the name of Nelson Mandela who opened the buildings in 2001. That was a great day. We were meant to be joined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu but he was unwell and so we were joined by Dr Mandela. The former Dean, Colin Slee, beamed from the beginning to the end of the visit to the moment when we waved the President goodbye. I had the enormous and unforgettable privilege of sitting alongside Mandela and guiding him through the service. It was clear that we were in the presence of one of the greatest people in human history, not simply an iconic figure, but someone who was teaching us a better way of being.

Colin Slee and me with Nelson Mandela

Colin Slee and me with Nelson Mandela

What was so moving for me was to meet this man who had suffered so much during his imprisonment and who had so courageously campaigned and worked for the freedom of his people against an evil regime based on racial prejudice and yet showed no sign of bitterness and was not driven by the instinct and desire for revenge. It was as though he understood the teaching of Jesus in a way that I simply had not taken on board. As I was putting together the short liturgy for Friday morning I chose a reading from St Matthew (Matthew 5.38-48) in which Jesus says to us

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.’

It speaks of the way Nelson Mandela lived.

Nelson Mandela was the father of his nation and he has been a father to each one of us; he created a rainbow nation in which, at its best, all have a home. As we enter the Cathedral through the Mandela Porch I hope that we are entering a place that lives by his values of inclusion and Christian reconciliation and love. Nelson Mandela did not just change South Africa, he changed the world and he did it from the basis of his faith in Jesus Christ and his deep love for all humanity.

One of the beginnings of the past week was the first of the Advent Course sessions. This week we welcomed the Revd Alistair McCulloch, the Lead Chaplain at the Royal Marsden Hospital. He spoke about ‘God comes…in darkness.’ By all accounts it was a fantastic evening enjoyed by a good crowd of people (sadly I couldn’t be there) as Alistair talked about the issues surrounding death and dying. This is what some of those present said afterwards.

“It was the first still point in my day and a welcome chance at the threshold of a new church and secular year to ask in a warm and supportive atmosphere the big and important question of how, in dying, we should be living.”

“Being here this evening was a great relief. It’s been… a wonderful opportunity to really address central issues… To have people taking time out to address something that’s usually avoided has been fantastic.”

“I think this was something I really needed to explore and hadn’t done … I’m still discovering what I need to do in my spiritual journey…but this was really useful.”

“I think, for me, it was about having the permission to think differently about Advent… to have the freedom to think that it’s not all about the approach of Christmas… to be able to share in what others feel as well has been a huge privilege.”

“I think this evening has been really positive and constructive in terms of bringing people together and creating an opportunity to talk about the sorts of things that we need and want to talk about, but actually find quite difficult to vocalise and to explore. This has been really helpful in terms of enabling us to do that.”

On Wednesday we will welcome the Dean of Monmouth, the Very Revd Lister Tonge, to talk about ‘God comes…in silence’. Do come along at 7.00pm.

The other new beginning happened this weekend with the Dedication of the new Church of St Hugh which is part of the Cathedral parish. Those who saw the recent documentary about the Cathedral will have seen Canon Bruce Saunders talking about the new St Hugh’s. The short version of a long story is that St Hugh’s, part of a settlement established by Charterhouse School, had to move from its old building whilst that was being redeveloped. The congregation has been meeting at St Georges’, Southwark for almost two years and this weekend we moved back in.

The Dedication of the new St Hugh's Church

The Dedication of the new St Hugh’s Church

On Saturday evening we were joined by Bishop Christopher Chessun, who dedicated the church in the presence of a huge crowd of people. One of the most moving moments was when, as well as marking the walls and the pillars of the building with the Oil of Chrism, he anointed the foreheads of many of the ‘living stones’, the people of God, the real church.

This morning the Bishop of Woolwich, Michael Ipgrave, joined us for the first Eucharist in the new church. Again there was a great crowd of people. One of the features of the church are its huge windows at street level. It means that we can see out whilst we worship and people can see in. Bishop Michael told the congregation that as people look in they will ‘see the face of God in all gathered here’. It was a powerful message – people living the Living God.

The Spirituality Panels in St Hugh's

The Spirituality Panels in St Hugh’s

It is so exciting to have this wonderful new place of worship in the Cathedral parish and such a wonderfully vibrant, diverse and inclusive congregation – just the vision of how things should be that Nelson Mandela lived for and the spirit in which he died. It was significant that the new church was dedicated in the days following his death. May we be as courageous as he was.

This is the prayer we are praying in the Cathedral in the days leading up to Mandela’s funeral.

Nelson Mandela waves farewell to the people at the Cathedral

Nelson Mandela waves farewell to the people at the Cathedral

Father in heaven, we praise your name
for all who have finished this life loving and trusting you,
for the example of their lives,
the life and grace you gave them,
and the peace in which they rest.
We praise you today for your servant Nelson Mandela
and for all that you did through him.
Meet us in our remembering
give us thankful hearts
and fill our lives with praise and thanksgiving,
for the sake of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

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