Programme for Children’s Work conference: Saturday 16th April

Training for the Wandsworth Churches. Saturday 16th April

Venue: St Barnabas Southfields 146 Lavenham Road, London SW18 5EP

  Arrival:  Tea Coffee and pastries available from 9.45.

10.00 – 10.20 Worship including Godly Play story                            Hugh Ridsdill-Smith + AN Other

10.20-10.55     Why are we doing this?                                                          Hugh Ridsdill-Smith

10.50 – 1.00    Practical techniques, ideas and resources for Leading Sunday School sessions                                                                                                                                Ali Campbell 

Farewell to Zelda and friends

After 16 or so years with us the New Testament Assembly church has had to close. We will be praying for Zelda and her flock this Sunday as they hold their last service with us. They are having a special celebration from about 1pm to which we are all invited. Bishop Delroy Powell will be leading the service.

Easter morning sermon.

Last Friday I followed in the Queen’s footsteps.

On Thursday she opened the new lion enclosure in London Zoo. On Friday Ruth and I were among the first members of the public to visit the new attraction, as part of a special preview for zoo members

We did get more than a glimpse of the lions- we actually saw them running and heard them roaring, which was first for me in nearly 50 years of visiting. As you know, lions, in captivity tend to pace or sleep!

I will never forget that.

But just before we joined the queue for that feature something, even more unforgettable happened.

I had my closest ever encounter with a Blue Morpho butterfly.

I was just about to leave the butterfly house when someone said ‘you seem to have a friend.’ And pointed at my coat.

There indeed was a large butterfly with its wings closed; so all I could see was the grey parchment- like, owl eyed exterior of the wing.

And then it opened its wings for a second and I glimpsed the iridescent  blue inside. If you haven’t seen a Blue Morpho, the effect-  produced by the refraction of light- is a kingfisher’s wing crossed with a summer sky- or the cloak of the Virgin Mary for those of you who know your medieval art!

As I knew I had to leave soon, to see the lions and I couldn’t let my hitch-hiker come with me, as the cold would kill it, and you are rightly forbidden to touch such fragile insects, I had a problem.

So I just stood there, waiting for it to take wing of its own accord.

But it didn’t budge, but just stayed their flashing its wings.

At which point the peace of the butterfly house was shattered by a troop of Primary school children. Most of whom were either nervous or terrified of the butterflies zooming around their heads- because of  their unpredictable flight paths , speed, and size- some about the same size as this hymnbook.

So the children wanted to get out as quickly as they could.

Seeing that some were waving their arms about and were in danger of swiping the fragile insects, I gently remonstrated with them.

As I did so and turned, my Morpho opened its wings and the last group of the class saw it and stopped dead. The fear was immediately replaced by wonder. And they remained entranced, until I, having to get to the lions, coaxed it on to my finger and transferred it safely to a flower.

Here on Easter morning, we are at a moment when the terror of Holy Week, is eclipsed by the wonder of Easter Morning.

Jesus Christ, unjustly condemned, betrayed, abandoned by his friends, is put to death on a cross.

There are flashes of the butterfly’s wing too, of God’s and man’s glory- for example, Jesus washing his disciples’ feet during the Last Supper, as a great sign of the power of service for others, and the faithfulness and compassion of Jesus’ women followers, who don’t abandon him.

But it is only on Easter morning that the true wonder is revealed. The women are first at the tomb, and they are terrified. St Peter is next, and he is duly amazed. Which in the Greek has a much stronger sense than it does today.

To re-appropriate Yeats’ century old phrase about the Easter Rising;

the Resurrection has a terrible beauty.

Which is what we would expect- if we understand it as the decisive flashing forth of God’s glory in the world, which points towards the ultimate fulfilment for all creation of God’ loving purposes.

For centuries butterflies have been taken to represent the Resurrection, because of their beautiful transformations- as have flowers!

And candles have long been lit to help the faithful get their minds around the dazzling glory of Easter morning.

But such things were not originally seen as merely symbolic reminders of theological truths to tickle the mind. They were perceived as direct accessible examples of God’s power to transform, mend and enlighten.

God’ s glory was seen as all around- in nature, and the everyday stuff of human life. All that brings forth wonder and love.

I want to conclude with the powerful Easter prayer, written by one of the great Fathers of our Christian Church Gregory of Nazianzus, nearly 1700 years ago.

Let us pray.

Today we rejoice in the salvation of the cosmos.

Christ has risen; let us arise in him!

Christ enters new life; let us live in him;

Christ has come forth from the tomb;

The gates of hell are open,

 And the powers of evil are overcome!

 In Christ a new creation is coming to birth;


Lord make us new,

 Alleluia. Amen





Lent books and courses

We are studying” I am with You’, by Kathryn Greene-McCreight , which is The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book.

We begin our course on Wednesday 24th February at 8pm; In the Upper Room.

And will meet weekly until March 16th

Please let Ian or Joy know if you want to join us.

Another option for those who would like to do some daily reflections is to follow Reflections for Lent , from Church House publishing; which is also available on kindle or an App. Features reflections by Andrew Davison, Paula Gooder, and others.

St Paul 2016

I don’t imagine that Jane Austen ever thought that one day there would be a sequel to Pride and Prejudice called ‘ Mrs Darcy versus the aliens.’ But there is- as one reviewer put it’ ‘ it is much funnier than the original and has a lot more aliens.’

Jane Austen’s popularity is such that fictional films are made about her life, all sorts of sequels are written- such as the one above, but also by detective and mainstream writers- and even self help books have appeared drawing on the wisdom of her novels.

I recently read an academic book about her which compared the way her books are now treated to the way the Bible used to be.

That is an interesting thought, particularly if you think, for a moment, about the characteristics of this contemporary reverence.

It sometimes takes the form of a nostalgic wish to live in a world, mistakenly believed to be hers, which is ordered, parochial and safe. The dirt, the dangers of disease, the foul characters seemingly fair, and the truly evil manifestation which is Mrs Norris in Mansfield Park, all carefully excised.

Or more commonly her work is taken to be about romance, featuring Mr Darcy ,of course, as the dark and brooding hero.

When one of her persistent themes was the folly of a sensational view of the world, which is mocked most severely in Northanger Abbey, but gently teased in every other.

To her the gothic and the romantic were types of delusion; which is why when it comes to marriage sympathy, compatible social status, and freedom from delusion are so lauded by her.

The love between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy only flourished once the pride and prejudice withered, and they could see each other clearly.

Not quite getting Jane Austen is thus one of the main drivers in appreciating her.

Which I would argue is a good way to come at that seemingly totally different literary figure, St Paul.

Those who we conveniently call conservative Christians look to him for inspiration when they protest at a world where conventional sexual norms are being over-turned. His disapproval is taken to mirror God’s.

But those often labelled liberals also look to him when they seek inspiration for the over-turning of conventional social distinctions. Innovation is an initiative launched by God, and St Paul agrees- so there.

In his letter to the Galatians he writes of the sort of things that will exclude a believer from the kingdom of God- most are nothing at all to do with sex,- such things as strife, in-fighting, jealousy, anger, quarrels are included- but top of his list is fornication, impurity and licentiousness.

But then, 2 chapters earlier he wrote these clarion words, which have inspired all sorts of changes and new ways of thinking in the church.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer Jew, or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

But of course there are not 2 St Paul’s. Neither is he just being muddle headed- a conservative one minute and a liberal the next.

Just like with Jane Austen- to appreciate him is to not quite get him.

About a decade ago the acclaimed biographer Claire Tomalin, who had a track record of rescuing the reputation of neglected women, such as Dickens’ mistress Nelly Ternan,

managed to produce a life of Jane Austen, which almost entirely ignored her intellectual and religious hinterland.

But we know that Austen had access to the well- stocked library of her clerical father, and from hints and references in her letters and novels, that she was steeped in the best Anglican thought of her day- philosophers such as Earl of Shaftesbury, John Locke and Bishop Berkeley and her great favourite Samuel Johnson.  That was her world- her context- she thought and breathed it.

And Claire Tomalin hardly engaged with it at all. She doesn’t seem to be able to tune into the right frequency.

Which I think echoes the problems we have today with St Paul. We Christians are likely to cherry pick his words to suit what we already believe on other grounds, and people who are tone deaf to faith just tend to gravitate towards all the things he wrote which are inimical to the modern point of view and ignore everything else.

Maybe the comparison to Jane Austen is helpful here again?

Although the purpose of each writer was totally different- I do think it would be hard to claim that St Paul was in any way seeking to amuse anybody- both were storytellers.

Austen wrote entertaining fictions for publication from her home in Hampshire, whereas St Paul, travelled the world founding new and encouraging already established Christian communities, argued in market-places, endured ship-wreck and imprisonment, and poured forth his thoughts and advice in letters.

But he was still a storyteller.

The Gospel- in the form that he delivered it- was much more complex than is sometimes thought. Too often, as I said, he has been seen as a marvellous sound- bite and doctrine generator.

‘ But the greatest of these is love.’ 

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.’

We hold that a person is justified by faith.

Just 3 of a host of phrases which have brought comfort and controversy to millions.

But St Paul had a much bigger over-arching story to tell. It was part autobiographical because it was shaped by what had directly happened to him- by the journey he had taken.

It was historical because it drew on the prompts of God’s grace found in the lives of such as Moses and Abraham.

It was cosmological because it addressed again and again God’s purpose in creation. The night sky and the unfolding of the future were seen to communicate meaning.

Christ was the focus of everything- his love and sacrifice.

And St Paul was trying to tell this multi-layered story, from within, and into a diverse variety of contexts.

This man, who was Jewish, and thoroughly immersed in the culture of his first language, Greek, was also Roman citizen. In all he did and wrote we can see him trying to come to grips with the fresh experience of God that he had received.

I think that is vital point- he was not just passing that story on, but was in the story himself and well aware of that.

He might be convinced that ‘all things work together for good for those who love God.’

But he didn’t expect the road forward to be painless and smooth. And others would be sure to have their say.

I find this helpful when I am tempted -which is very often- to despair and agonise about the state of the church today.

Because we are part of an unfolding story too, our own and God’s.

There are bound to be conflicts and failures of understanding along the way- as there always have been.

If understanding St Paul is difficult- the man who has been called the second founder of Christianity- and a fellow member of our own church such as Jane Austen, who lived barely 2 centuries in the past can be so baffling- no wonder we have so much trouble with our contemporaries.

Perhaps some more of St Paul’s words will bring us some comfort and perspective, as they have many times before to people in much worse circumstances than ours. The story is still not ended. Romans 8.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation awaits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God .

If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Advent Quiet Day details 21 November


 St Barnabas Quiet day 2015


The Reflections will be based on the Advent Book:

The Meaning is in the Waiting, By Paula Gooder.



10am: Morning Prayer with reflection.

12 noon: Midday Prayer with reflection.

1pm Lunch break:

If you wish you can bring a simple lunch to eat in the patio room.

Light refreshments provided.

2.30: Reflection.

3.30: Tea and biscuits.

4.30: Night Prayer with reflection.

All worship and reflections will be in the Lady Chapel.