Sunday, 28 May 2017

Deptford & Kent

Just two more Sundays of the sabbatical to go and then we are back at St James and St Anne's.

We have visited two very contrasting congregations today and last Sunday.

Today we were at St John's, Deptford - on the road from New Cross to Lewisham - for their communion service. A good mix of ages, a large number of people of African heritage, very much an inner London congregation.

This contrasted with St Mary's, Great Chart, a rural parish near Ashford in Kent where we worshipped last week, a congregation of mainly older people, all white. There was a good message being proclaimed in both congregations, but there were very different congeregations serving very different contexts, all part of the diversity of the Church of England and that is just at the evangelical end

Before the service at St John's Deptford

St Mary's Great Chart

Before the service at Great Chart

Monday, 15 May 2017

Church of the Martyrs, Leicester

To Leicester to spend a weekend with university friends, John and Sharon, and to share in worship with their church, the Church of the Martyrs.

Sharon is training for the ordained ministry and was away at her placement church elsewhere in the city, but we joined John at the Martyrs where as well as singing in the music group, he was leading the prayers.

The Vicar, Richard, was leading this service of Holy Communion, and one of the Readers, Shayne, was preaching.

The theme of the service, and of the sermon, in a series entitled 'Children of Freedom' was 'Measure your giants correctly.' It was based on the incident in Numbers 13 when the team who have been sent to explore the land of Canaan report back to Moses and Aaron 'All the people we saw there were of great size...We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.'

It was a really good service, with a great mix of people, including lots of children, and a good selection of songs, old and new, led by the music group. The Martyrs is an active church with lots of midweek activities, including street pastors, a toddlers group, debt counselling, a puppet based schools ministry and a Saturday morning breakfast based fresh expression of church, called 'Tomatoes.' There's a lot going on in this part of Leicester. Excellent.

Monday, 8 May 2017

St Nicholas, Tooting

To St Nicholas Tooting for their Sunday service.

We lived in Tooting when we first got married and I was a teacher in a local school for 5 years.
We went to a neighbouring church but it was good to visit St Nicholas today.

Tooting is a very mixed, multi-racial area and the congregation of St Nicholas, under the leadership of Rector, CJ Davis, reflected that.

A young black lay assustant led the first part of
the seervice. CJ (right) preached - he is a very good preacher, the kind that really keeps your attention - and then he led the Communion.

The church had been nicely re-ordered and communion was brought to you in your seat, so to speak. The bread and the wine was passed along the rows. There was a good bit of liturgy, a modern language version of the prayer book service, and some good hymns and songs led by a small band. Everything, including the notices,  was on the screen so the only book the congregation needed was the Bible in the pews

The worship area was nearly full, and outside in the church centre various children's groups were taking place. There was a good friendly buzz as everyone met up for refreshments afterwards.

The theme of the service and the sermon was prayer - part of a short series on that subject, and, judging by the notice slot, there is a lot of good things going on in St Nicholas midweek.

It was good to share in the worship of St Nicholas and encouraging to see a lively gospel-hearted church in the very centre of Tooting.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Remembering Clive

To Christ Church, Beckenham, yesterday for the funeral of the Revd Clive Porthouse (left). Clive was the vicar of St John's, Eden Park, Beckenham, my wife's home church and he was the vicar who married us in 1982.

The preacher was Bishop Gavin Reid, who met Clive on the day they started at Oak Hill Theological College together.

Gavin said that Clive had died on Easter Day, the day of the resurrection. Without the resurrection he would be preaching a very different sermon, one that went like this: 'Clive Porthouse was my best friend. He lived a very interesting life. I will never see him again.'

But, because of the resurrection of Christ, there was a completely different sermon that could be preached on this occasion. It came from 2 Corinthians 4.16-5.8, which Clive had chosen for his funeral (it was his last sermon to us, said Gavin).

Gavin focussed especially on the first two verses of chapter 5: 'Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal home in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.'

Suffering and death come to us, as they came to Clive, said Gavin, but we look forward to the life of the world to come, guaranteed by the resurrection of Christ.

We sang 'In Christ Alone', and  'I lift me eyes to the quiet hills.' Verse 4 seemed particularly appropriate: I life my eyes to the quiet hills, and my heart to the father's throne; in all my ways, to the end of days, the Lord will preserve his own'.

As we thanked God for a life well lived in the service of the Gospel we sang 'How great thou art' with its wonderful final verse:

'When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home - what joy shall fill my heart! Then shall I bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, my God, how great thou art.'

Monday, 1 May 2017

Serving the down to earth God

To the Church of the Cross (left) in Thamesmead estate in south-east London, to join in their morning worship, led by the vicar, the Reverend Jonathan Macy.

I have known Jonathan since he was a Southwark curate doing IME (curate training). I particularly remember the seminar he led on his theological work on the subject of angels, which had his fellow curates spellbound .

Before he went to college he lived in Bermondsey and was a member of Christ Church on the Old Kent Rd.

Jonathan Macy
The estate at Thamesmead is an area of significant social deprivation. I visited Jonathan there about 18 months ago to hear about the great things he is doing to reach out to the estate with the gospel, but this was the first time I had attended a Sunday service.

First I noticed the transformation of the building: attractive new and comfy chairs, a newly laid wooden floor, and a new projection facilities. Everything was cleaner, brighter, lighter and more welcoming.

Like many estate churches, Church of the Cross, is low on musical resources so they sing to recorded music - but this was done well and I particularly enjoyed singing 'My Lighthouse' by Rend Collective, a personal favourite.

There was a good mix of ages and races. The children were very well-behaved. There was a warm relaxing feel to the service and a great sermon by Jonathan on John 14. There were about 35 people present but Jonathan told me quite a few people were away ill.

The area is quite transient in its population. New people are constantly moving in and others are moving out. In due course the whole estate will be demolished and rebuilt but in the meantime the Church of the Cross is in good heart under Jonathan's inspiring leadership.

It felt really good to be there.

Meanwhile yesterday was the annual UNLOCK WALK, a sponsored walk in a different part of London each year (Bermondsey was last visited two years ago), designed to raise money for Unlock's work in supporting urban churches proclaim the good news of the 'down to earth God.'

We go every year and for me this year it was very familiar territory - Battersea, where I grew up, and Clapham. It even went past my old school, and it included the church, Holy Trinity, Clapham (right) where I was ordained priest in 1990.

Holy Trinity was the home of the Clapham Sect, the group of evangelical clergy and lay people, who, among other things, campaigned for the abolition of slavery. At the heart of that group, and a regular worshipper at Holy Trinity, was William Wilberforce who was the leader of the parliamentary campaign against slavery.

All this is recalled in the blue plaque in the church's portico:

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Back in the UK

I think I have just about recovered from jetlag. Apart from the differences in time, there have been the differences in temperature. In the deep south it was very warm. In Washington DC on Easter Day it was 85F, but by the time I got to Chicago the temperature had dipped to 50F, although the sun was shining.

Christian display in downtown Chicago. In a spirit of fairplay there was also an atheists' display entitled 'In Reason We trust.' I tried to photograph it but my camera batteries died at that point. Or was it divine intervention?
I am now going to start to write up my reflections on the trip and I've got a few books on order to read as soon as they arrive. It has been good to visit some of the sites and museums connected with the history of slavery and civil rights. Typically they were very well presented and it felt good that these things are being remembered and not just glossed over or quietly forgotten. It was often very moving. I need to reflect more on these things and to consider lessons they have for us here.

'From the mountain of despair, a stone of hope' Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington DC

I will also be thinking about the second part of my sabbatical study: ministry to working class people in England. It's a subject I think about a lot, and I value the opportunity to consolidate my thoughts and to put something down in writing. A sabbatical is a great opportunity to take stock and reflect. I hope that our churches of St James and St Anne's will benefit from it.

One of the unusual things for a vicar that a sabbatical offers is the chance to visit other churches, and I will continue to give a brief report of each church visited in this blog.

Meanwhile, back in Bermondsey, the stonework of St James's was being surveyed today in preparation for the future repairs. It was quite a sight. Architects must have a head for heights.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

After an overnight flight from Chicago's O'Hare Airport I arrived back at Heathrow at 7.30am, though to me it seemed like 1.30am as my body clock was still on Chicago time.

During the morning of my last day in the city I visited the Art Institute with its wonderful selection of paintings, and I observed a huge demonstration for World Earth Day in support of climate change and science.

There were lots of placards with Trump-related messages, such as 'Science trumps....' and one that said 'What do atoms and Trump have in common? They make up everything.'

There aren't many nations of the world where you can insult the head of state so freely and publicly, but you can in America. Watching over it all was this:

Friday, 21 April 2017


I arrived yesterday morning in Chicago after an overnight journey from Pittsburgh by train (left).

American trains, like Canadian ones, are rather slow, and this one crawled along at about 20 miles an hour for the last hour an half into Washington.

The sleeper compartments were, to say the least, compact, so compact in fact that I don't think they could accommodate about half of the portly American population.

The track was bumpy, and the suspension was springy, so it was a bit like sleeping on a trampoline for most of the night, but breakfast in the dining car was outstanding.

Lake Michagan from downtown Chicago
Chicago is spectacularly sited on Lake Michagan, more of an inland sea than a lake, with a beautiful
park running along the lakeshore. The city is bisected by the Chicago River and it is justly famous for its modern architecture- and that was the point of my visit, for this last couple of days across the pond.

Here are some photos of the city:

Chicago River

Chicago's elevated railway circles the city centre
 Day two in Chicago and I travelled to the suburb of Oak Park, famous for the location of an American architect called Frank Lloyd Wright. Here are  two of the houses he designed:

In the afternoon I went on another journey into the suburbs, but this time south, to see the campus of the University of Chicago. It is absolutely colossal, but here are a couple of pics of the oldest part of the campus, the main quadrangles;


And at the very centre of the university there is what some regard as Frank Lloyd Wright's finest house:

Tomorrow evening I fly back to London but not before I hope to have the chance to visit Chicago's Institute of Art. It really is a great city.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Pittsburg day two

Outside the fish market at the Strip.
Local team The Steelers colours are black and gold (Pic by Kat)
On the evening of my first full day in Pittsburgh  I went with Alex and Kat to PubClub, a kind of Christian discussion group that meets in a room over a pub in downtown Pittsburg. There's a bar, a speaker, and usually some discussion and Q and A.

On this occasion a local minister, Tish Harrison Warner, a friend of Alex and Kat, was speaking about her book 'Liturgy of the Ordinary.' It's all about how our faith relates to ordinary everyday events and it has intriguing chapter titles like: Brushing Teeth, Losing Keys, Checking Email, Sitting in Traffic and Calling  Friend. Afterwards I was chatting with her about her book and she very kindly gave me her own copy of it (and signed it). A great evening.

Next day we went to a local cafe and had the kind of breakfast that you can only have in America and which just about sates your hunger for the whole day. As well as a cup of coffee, endlessly refilled by the waitress as soon as you drink any, my mega breakfast consisted of Corned Beef hash, fried potatoes, toasted Ciabatta bread, and two eggs (cooked 'over easy' as the Americans say). It was superb - especially the corned beef hash.

Then we visited the Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh (where Tish and her husband are on the staff team). It's a large and lively church doing great church in the city. It has an impressive Victorian building (with a picture of the Ascension), a great suite of modern rooms, and a basement entirely given over to the youth group.

Later in the day the Rector, Jonathon (another Brit), popped into Alex and Kat's house and we had a fascinating discussion about the work of the Ascension, and the way Anglican churches with their liturgy, are appealing to a fresh generation of young Americans, many of whom are moving from mega churches.

Part of the youth area at the Ascension

Next we visited The Strip in downtown Pittsburg, an area of markets, independent food stores, full of character and life. After that Alex said 'let's go and have a beer at Church Brew Works. This is a micro-brewer cum pub that has taken over a disused Roman Catholic Church. The Latin version of 'This life I life in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me' from Galatians is still prominently displayed over the chancel (which now holds the giant vats in which the beer is brewed). It was a very enjoyable if somewhat surreal experience, sitting in this beautiful historic building, sensitively adapted for a radically different purpose.

The Strip
The strip

After a relaxing afternoon and a visit to Ben and Hannah's school - just a few feet away from the Rectory and next door to the church - and a chat with Rev Jonathon it was time to bid a fond farewell to Alex and Kit and head for the Railway Station in Pittsburgh where I due to catch the overnight sleeper to Chicago, departing Pittsburgh a minute before midnight.

Alex and Kat at Church Brew Works

I loved my time with Alex and Kat. It was lovely to see them so happy and settled in their church community - and, it was clear from the members of the church I spoke to, that their ministry has been deeply appreciated for the new ideas and vigour they brought, for their love of people, for their commitment to biblical truth, and above all for their wholehearted desire to grow God's kingdom. May God bless them richly.

Finally, I loved this quote from JC Ryle, the great 19th century Bp of Liverpool, that Alex had in his study: (click on the picture to enlarge it)

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

With Alex in Pittsburgh

Here's the Rector of Christ Church, Fox Chapel, in his commodious office on the first floor of the church building.

American pastors tend to work from an office in the church, rather than from their home, as is more common in the UK, and Alex is no exception.

Christ Church is a most beautiful building on the rural edge of the city of Pittsburgh. The building used to be a private home before its conversion as a church.

Here are a few pictures of the building:

An here is Alex flying the flag of his home country and his host country outside his garage:

And here are some photos of downtown Pittsburg:

And here is the location of the Christ Church church plant working to share the gospel in a less prosperous part of the city

And here from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is the desk of Karl Barth, the most famous protestant theologian of the 20th century. No one seems to know how it got there but it is nice to think of Prof Karl working away at producing his big books at this very desk:

Deptford & Kent

Just two more Sundays of the sabbatical to go and then we are back at St James and St Anne's. We have visited two very contrasting c...