Sunday, 4 June 2017

Eastern Germany

Nearly at the end of the sabbatical and we were off for a half term break to visit our friends, Linda & Roger (left), who are working as missionaries in the German city of Lepizig.

It was great to catch up with them, hear all their news, and to hear about their work for the Lord with the church in Leipzig.

This photo is taken at Colditz Castle, the ex POW camp made famous by the 1970s TV series, which we visited on a day trip from Leipzig.

Leipzig is a beautiful place, the city
where JS Bach was the choir master in the local church and the city where huge prayer meetings took place before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reintegration of Germany (Leipzig was in Communist East Germany).

From Leipzig we bade a fond farewell to Linda and Roger and took the train to the city of Dresden, heavilly bombed in the War, but beautifully restored.

The cross on the top of the Frauenkirche, was a gift from the people of Great Britain, when this building, completely destroyed by bombing, was wonderfully rebuilt after the fall of communism. Its a kind of sermon in resurrection and reconciliation in stone.

Here are some pictures of Dresden:

Martin Luther in front of the Frauenkirche

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:

Monday, 17 April 2017

Greyhound journey

Greyhound bus en route for Pittsburgh
With Ruth safely back in the UK in time for the beginning of term at St James's School tomorrow, it was time for me to head to the Greyhound bus terminal in downtown Washington DC for a seven-hour ride to the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Alex, formerly curate in my last parish of Redhill is rector of the church in the community of Fox chapel.

The bus was packed. The driver was firm but fair. After his initial warning about over loud audio and following a complaint  he said 'I will say this just one time to turn your audios down, after that I will pull this bus over.'

It's not exactly the fastest form of travel - there are quite long stops to pick up and set down passengers - but the scenery was great and it was good to see a another slice of American life. I thoroughly enjoyed my first Greyhound experience. Whether I would go for the full 18 hours to Chicago being attempted by another passenger I am not sure.

Greyhound Terminal, Washington

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter joy

It's been great to meet up with our friends, Phil & Suzanne, also visiting the US at this time, and to be together for worship this morning on Easter Day.

We went to Falls Church Anglican in Arlington, Virginia (a suburb of Washington) for their packed 8.30am Festive Communion Service (it was the second service of the day and two more were to follow).

Falls Church Anglican has recently been deprived of its historic buildings over its stand for biblical truth and the historic faith of the church, but they are in good heart, holding their services in the auditorium of a Catholic high school, pending the construction of a new set of buildings.

It was a great service, full of Easter joy, with a really good sermon by Rector, John Yates, great hymns and songs, accompanied by an orchestra-cum-band and a choir.

We were a long way from home but we felt curiously at
Alleluia! Christ is Risen. At Falls Church Anglican
home, here in America with our brothers and sisters, celebrating the resurrection of Christ.

Then we were back into the city centre to see two more of the memorials that grace the capital, that to President Rooosevelt, and that to Jefferson:

Jefferson memorial
Yesterday had been a day of museums. The National Mall is lined with them. Sadly we were unable to visit the (new) museum of African American History (it is so popular it is booked up months ahead), but we did enjoy visits to the National Museum of Air and Space, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the splendid National Gallery of Art. All free. All excellent.

Nat Mus of American Indian

Nat M American Indian
Nat Gallery of Art
Nat Gall of Art
From the galleries of American art

Rembrandt's Descent from the Cross

Eastern Germany

Nearly at the end of the sabbatical and we were off for a half term break to visit our friends, Linda & Roger (left), who are working as...