Monday, 24 December 2018

Let us go to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place' Midnight Mass 2018

First preached as a sermon at Midnight Mass at Croydon Minster, Christmas 2018. Luke 1.1-20.


“The shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us!’”

So where is Bethlehem? And how do we get there?

As is pretty well known, Bethlehem is a town located in the central West Bank just over the border from Israel in the Palestinian Authority. You may need your Satnav to know that’s it’s just over 6 miles south of Jerusalem.

And how do we get there?

Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem travelling from Nazareth, some 100 miles to the north. There because of the census being taken, with Mary about to go into labour, and finding no room or shelter, except a place for animals to feed in.

The shepherds got there from the fields somewhere in the region around Bethlehem, called by the angels.

Later on Magi from the East, probably some 700 miles away if they were coming from modern Iraq, as we might imagine; they were led by a star.

Well, unlike Mary and Joseph, unlike the shepherds, unlike the Magi, we’re not going to get to the real Bethlehem tonight. And even if we drove down the M23 to Gatwick, flew into Jerusalem and got a taxi to Bethlehem we would find it hard to get into the City of David because of the security wall that separates it from Israel: a sign that humanity has not yet accepted the angels’ proclamation of the birth of the Prince of Peace.

That’s not our journey tonight. Tonight we make a different sort of journey altogether, what might be better called a pilgrimage. It’s a journey you began as you left your house this evening.

Our journey, our pilgrimage tonight is, like all good pilgrimages, both physical and spiritual and its destination is to a place of encounter where we may meet the Living God.

The heart of the Christmas proclamation is that in Jesus Christ we meet both true God and true human being, the fullness of God the fullness of humanity: Son of God, son of Mary.

We will say in the creed shortly, ‘For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man’.

These are words so profound and at the heart of things that ancient practice is to bow or bend the knee when speaking them, such is their weight.

Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, is not simply a great teacher or a prophet from a distant era, but is God: yesterday, today and for ever.

So we make our pilgrimage to Bethlehem in the company Mary and Joseph, shepherds, Magi and countless pilgrims over the ages: but we’re not on the next El Al flight, rather, we are here in the ancient heart of Croydon.

Croydon? Bethlehem? Where would you rather be?

Before you answer, there is another thing worth knowing about Bethlehem. The name of the town literally means ‘House of Bread’. Bethlehem is the House of Bread.

Every church is a House of Bread, because its heart is the celebration of the Mass, in which bread is offered, broken and shared. Here in Croydon is the House of the Bread of Heaven, Jesus Christ.

“The shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us!’”

We might say to one another, ‘Let us go to the House of Bread to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us’.

We’re here tonight, not summonsed by a census and quite possibly not even by a choir of angels, yet something has called you and me this House of Bread, this Bethlehem, as pilgrims to encounter the Living God.

This bread is for life, not just for Christmas!

May we always be eager like the shepherds, preserving like the Magi, devoted like Joseph and Mary in our pursuit of an encounter with Jesus Christ the Bread of Life, born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread.

Tonight, draw near, dear fellow pilgrims, in this House of Bread receive, in Holy Communion, the Bread of Heaven.

In that way we will all have travelled to Bethlehem, like shepherds and Magi who have gone before us, with countless faithful souls through the ages, let us fall down at the feet of Jesus Christ, the bread of Life the beginning and the end of our journey.


© Andrew Bishop, 2018


The turn of the year is always a good time to take stock of life, direction and purpose. I want to take this opportunity to set out some of the reflections I have as the new incumbent three months or so in to my time here as we look towards 2019 in this parish.

I have begun to share these thoughts at the two meetings of the Parochial Church Council (PCC) that I have chaired since my licensing in September and to explore them with the newly constituted ‘Ministry Team’, comprising a College of Priests (the clergy of the Minster and St George’s) and College of Lay Minsters (the Readers and Southwark Pastoral Assistant [SPA] from the Minster and St George’s)

There Are Gifts And Talents Here!
At the outset my first reflection is that this parish has an abundance of gifts and talents in the people who worship here and pass through the doors and that there are countless ways in which the church can serve the parish, the centre of Croydon and all who worship here. There are good and strong foundations to build on. We need to be confident in what God has already given here.

Changing Times Mean New Responses
Nevertheless as society changes in its values and thinking, the ways in which the church is called to respond change too. This does not for a minute mean diluting the essentials of the Christian faith, but often it means articulating them for people for whom a living knowledge of Jesus Christ is remote or alien. It does mean that what we have used successfully in the past may no longer serve the present. The PCC has already begun looking at how and what we communicate and with whom. This has opened up deeper questions about who we are, what we are really passionate about and how to draw others into that.

There are some steps that will give us a good footing to engage in fresh ways. We will need to review our Mission Action Plans (MAP). St George’s plan is very much up and running and focused in the community of Waddon. For the Minster there is a more thorough going to task of review that needs to be undertaken, but this is an opportunity if we see the MAP as a tool to focus our vision, values, mission and purpose here.

More widely the Minster, St George’s and St Andrew’s will be exploring the opportunities of being drawn together as a Team Ministry which means that strengths can be shared and shortcomings supported. Fr Gareth Powell is also working more widely with Bishop Jonathan on how mission is undertaken to central Croydon in partnership with St Michael’s, St Andrew’s and this parish as an application to the Church Commissioners for a Strategic Funding Bid which is about sustainable mission in a new shape for a new age.

Fostering a Culture: From Passive Recipients to Active Participants
My task as Priest-in-Charge here, shared with colleagues, is to celebrate the sacraments, preach the word of God and lead the church. All of that is about fostering a culture that opens up the mission of the church and in which everyone is enabled to become an active participant in the life of the church and not a passive recipient.

This is about unleashing and releasing gifts and hopes and being open to growth, personal and corporate. That is a threefold task: first, we open ourselves up as disciples under God in worship and learning at all ages and stages of life; secondly, we are responsive to the needs of our church in looking out for one another; thirdly, that we go out in peace each Sunday intentionally to love and serve the Lord in workplaces, homes, the wider community and with those with whom we share our lives.

This does not happen in isolation, in my head or in plans on my desk; this is a corporate task that I share with churchwardens and the PCC in the operational and strategic oversight of the church and with each one of you. I have put a challenge to the PCC: what might God be up to here; how do we take leadership and encourage the whole church to respond to that?

Challenges and Responses
We are entrusted with a stunning building at the Minster, but it is a financial burden in heating and lighting as well as ongoing repairs. And, of course, as in every church when we look at the accounts we worry and break into a cold sweat. With excellent churchwardens and treasurer we have the right people in place to work with our professional advisers, such as the church architect and auditors, to spot warning signs and respond effectively.

Croydon Borough Council values the setting of the Minster and its historic place in the community, and to that end they want to improve the environment in terms of aesthetics, safely and wellbeing. This is a process that the churchwardens and I are actively engaged in and that the PCC has fed in to. I am also acutely aware of just how many people pass our doors: the challenge to us is to help them connect with what we’re about and to serve them. I would love to see a way for us to keep the church open at regular times, and not all dependent on Denise Mead as our verger.

It is easy to focus on buildings, and our heritage within Croydon is a real asset, but prior to that are the ’living stones’ of the church, its people. That means a number of things: first, excellent pastoral care is essential, both to those who are ‘casual callers’, those who are of our number but may be housebound or in hospital, and indeed those who come to church bearing many burdens and buffeted by life; secondly, that people are fed and nourished in the faith through study and discussion opportunities; thirdly, that we offer worship in which we glimpse the beauty of God through care and attention to what we do and in music that lifts the heart; and fourthly that we care well for all those employed by the church.

To that end reviewing our stewardship is a priority for 2019. This connects directly to our discipleship. This will need to be an imaginative engagement with the priorities that the Ministry Team and PCC begin to identify – there is so much we could do, but we want to do a few things and do them well. I am not keen any more on the phrase ‘stewardship campaign’ because of associations with campaigns that are about extracting money; they are doomed to lead to disillusionment. Stewardship that is about reconnecting with our faith will be blessed by God. We don’t need ‘campaigns’ but an ongoing daily awareness of God’s presence and our joyful, generous response. We will announce a day for all members of the church, probably a Saturday in Eastertide, to come together to be enthused and engaged in where we go from here.

The Greatest Threat
The greatest threat to the church here is not material poverty, but poverty of imagination: poverty of imagination comes when we put our trust in ourselves and not in the word and works of God as our inspiration and hope. Poverty of imagination is expressed in phrases that veto of anything new or fresh such as: ‘we’ve always done…’ or ‘we tried that 10/50/100 years ago and it didn’t work…’ All our hopes, aspirations and plans will be blessed if we seriously ponder them in our hearts and pray for them to be blessed.

The Greatest Hope
I believe God is passionate about this place and its mission, and that God challenges and inspires each one of us to work out his purposes here. That’s why I came to join you in that task. We’re all in this together! We are the Body of Christ, in one Spirit we were all baptised into one Body. Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Christmas: a future with hope in Jesus Christ

An address given to St Andrew's High School, Croydon at the Christmas Carol Service in St Andrew's Church


The gift of something very wonderful is given at Christmas.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ we are given the gift of hope, and we are assured that our future is secure in God’s purposes and love.

The Nativity from the
Reredos of the Minster Church of St John the Baptist,
When a baby is born all seems so fragile. They’re tiny! They are totally dependent on others for care, warmth, food and support. When love is added to the mix they have the chance to thrive and grow.

Without being able to say anything - beyond crying - a baby speaks of the future, and not the past; baby speaks of hope and not despair.

This is the gift of God to us: revealed in a tiny baby, who is laid in an animals’ feeding trough.

When I see Jesus Christ lying in the manger, I see my hope and my future: I see God’s life and love.

This child is both our hope and our future.

Mary nurtured this hope and future in her womb, and Joseph tended him with her when he was born. Shepherds rushed to Bethlehem because of this hope. The Magi, wise seekers after truth, invested time and money in travelling on a long, perilous journey because of this hope.

Followers of Jesus today place their hope in God’s future because God has not abandoned hope in us; God has a future for us: why else give us the gift of His Son?

This is at the heart of the Christmas message of the birth of Christ: all humanity, men, women, young people and children, can have hope and a future that is not subject to the vagaries and whims of human beings but in God.

God does not give up on us; let’s not give up on him.

And this is where the challenge lies for you and for me this Christmas.

The challenge is to find - for the first time or to find afresh - where true hope and a fulfilled future lies.

The celebration of Christmas and the proclamation of the Gospel which this church and your school declares, is that Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the hope and the future of humanity. In a changing, confusing world we can place all our hopes and fears in Jesus Christ, as we look to the future, a future embraced in God’s love.

© Andrew Bishop, 2018

Monday, 10 December 2018

Seeing the Light; Giving shelter: A Carol service address

An address to the Cumnor House Carol service at Croydon Minster on Monday 10th December, 2018.


In the Bible, St John tells us about Jesus Christ coming into the world.

He does that in really beautiful and mystical words, including these:

‘in him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory’ (John 1.4, 14).

When I look at the scene of the baby Jesus laid in a manger, with ox and ass either side of him, this is what I see: God. God who said in the beginning of time, ‘let there be light’ (Genesis 1.3) and God who, in Jesus Christ, shares what it’s like to be a human being, child and adult, and who came to live among us, as one of us.

Now I would like to ask you to look at the front cover of your order of service.

I wonder what the picture makes you think and feel.

I thought of St John’s words when I saw this beautiful picture.

When I saw the candle I thought of the light that God gives to the world in the very beginning and the light of Jesus Christ which shines in a cold, dark world, giving light and warmth.

When I saw the house in the background I remembered that St John tells us that the Word – God - became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory.

That house could be the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born where he began his life among us.

That house could also be a house that is full of warmth and Christmas cheer but where people who live on the streets or who are born in stables today can’t get in.

That house could be somewhere that people are caring for people who are cold, hungry and homeless at Christmas time.

At the end of this evening’s service there is a retiring collection. The collection will go to Croydon Churches Floating Shelter. The people who run the shelter give to people with no home somewhere warm to eat and sleep in the depths of winter. They give shelter; they give light.

Jesus, the light of world, lived among us but had no home. This Christmas can you make room in your heart for him, so that you can know his light and life and love?

‘in him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory’ (John 1.4, 14).


Sunday, 9 December 2018

Comfort, forgiveness and redemption is at hand! An evensong sermon

First preached at Evensong on the Second Sunday of Advent at Croydon Minster. Readings: Isaiah 40.1-11; Luke 1.1-25.

Like many people, I have always found the opening of the Aria ‘Comfort ye, my people’ from Messiah by Handel, sends tingles down my spine: carried on the tenor voice, Isaiah’s words float out to the Holy City, Jerusalem.

The message: comfort, forgiveness and redemption is at hand!

How our world needs to hear that message today, not least Jerusalem herself. We are living in what has been described as an ‘age of anger’, an ‘age of upheaval’ and of disruption.

How our world yearns to hear that ‘[our] warfare is accomplished, that [our]
Iniquity is pardoned’.

And indeed for those reading Isaiah’s words in the light of the revelation of Christ we are bold to claim that those words are of global, and even universal application, as well as personal.

In St Luke’s gospel Isaiah’s words are directly applied to John the Baptist, our patron saint here at this Minster Church. John’s is ‘the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (Luke 3.4).

But at the moment I am getting ahead of myself. For our reading from St Luke’s gospel has not yet taken us out into the wilderness, but rather it places us back in Jerusalem where, intriguingly, Luke’s gospel will end.

Isaiah’s message was, in the first place, to Jerusalem, because Jerusalem, the Holy City, is the place of encounter with God, focused in the Temple.

The Temple was both a physical and symbolic place of encounter with the very presence of God.

The Temple was a microcosm of creation and at its heart was the holy of holies, the place that only the priests would enter.

This was true in Isaiah’s day and into the time of Jesus Christ.

And so it was that Zechariah, an hereditary priest married to Elizabeth also of a priestly line, a descendent of Aaron the Priest, was on duty at the Temple.

Luke records it in a way that it reads as if this was all a bit by chance: Zechariah was at the Temple ready to serve, if need be, and was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary.

Placing on his priestly robes, Zechariah entered into the heart of the Temple, which was at the heart of Jerusalem, which is at the heart of the world. And there a transformation begins.

As Zechariah pours incense on to the coals of the brazier the angel of the Lord appears.

This is Gabriel; Gabriel, who will appear to the Blessed Virgin Mary to disclose God’s purposes for her as the Godbearer. But now Gabriel discloses to Zechariah that his son, born of Elizabeth, will be the Forerunner.

It is from the Temple in Jerusalem that the Forerunner, the one to prepare the way will come: as Gabriel declares, John will turn the hearts of people ‘to make a people prepared for the Lord’.

The centripetal pull of the Temple, drawing all into the focal point of Israel’s encounter with God is now being propelled outwards in a centrifugal action that embraces the whole world.

John is to prepare the people for the coming of God’s Messiah.

John is like the farmer who tills the soil to make it receptive and ready so that the seeds can grow: John prepares us so that the seed of God’s word will grow within us.

After John’s birth Zechariah’s tongue is unloosed and he speaks the words of the Benedictus, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who has come to his people and set them free’.

This is the new message of comfort to all God’s creatures, that now we may all be adopted by grace as God’s children.

After preparing us John then declares of Christ, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’

And this takes us back to the imagery of the Temple. The sacrificial Lamb is Christ the Lord.
John is the fulfilment of the prophets and of a priestly line because Jesus Christ becomes both temple and priest, the very presence of God in human flesh: as the hymn puts it ‘Thou on earth, both priest and victim in the Eucharistic feast’.

In the Temple the presence of God was believed to be on the Mercy Seat, flanked by the cherubim. We will come to see the presence of God laid in a manger, flanked by ox and ass.

In this child of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ, is all the fullness of God: our life, our hope, our salvation.

In Christ is a message of Good News to the ends of the earth, and lodging in our hearts.

Fear not: comfort, forgiveness and redemption is at hand!

Sunday, 2 December 2018

'A posture of expectation' an Advent Sunday sermon

A sermon preached at Croydon Minster at the Eucharist on Advent Sunday, 2nd December.The readings were Jeremiah 33.14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3.9-13 and Luke 21.25-36.

‘Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’ (Luke 21.28)


Most families have their own quirky phrases. One of the phrases in my family is addressed to someone who is slumping in their chair or not standing up straight: ‘posture police’.

In other words stand up straight, get your posture right!

The season of Advent is a season of watching and expectant waiting. If you are watching and waiting expectantly, you are on the lookout, so your posture has to be alert and upright.  

Advent is a season when we are called to adopt a posture of expectation. We need this posture throughout the year, of course, so that we are alert to Christ’s presence in the world, in word and sacrament day by day: watching and expectant waiting is for life; not just for Advent!

Our patron saint, John the Baptist, didn’t use the phrase ‘posture police’, but figuratively speaking, that’s what he was saying: ‘gird up your loins’; ‘be watchful’; ‘posture police’.

John the Baptist adopted the posture of expectation because he was watching and waiting expectantly for the coming of Christ day by day. That’s why he was ready to see, recognise and point out Jesus Christ in his midst.

There was John, out in the wilderness, baptising countless people yet he sees Jesus. John the Evangelist records it in a quite prosaic way, ‘the next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Behold! Look! Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1.29)

That is the posture of expectation. A life attuned to seeing Christ in our midst and proclaiming him to all.

That is why John has such a high profile in Advent.

Another aspect of our tradition that raises its profile in Advent, and actually should throughout the year, is the reading of the Old Testament. Most obviously at this time of year we can draw on the promise given to our ancestors in faith, the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Moses and Deborah and Sarah - and the prophets – most notably Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah.

But the Old Testament is not there simply to be appropriated when it suits us. Reading the Old Testament throughout the year is to read a collection of books that witness to the posture of expectation and God’s faithfulness, because read through Easter eyes they point us to Christ: incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended: Adam’s ‘no’ to God in the garden of Eden points to Christ’s ‘yes’ to God in Gethsemane; Noah’s deliverance from the flood prefigures baptism; Abraham’s abortive sacrifice of Isaac points us to the Lamb of God, the sacrifice God provides for his people; Hannah’s yearning and rejoicing in her child inspires Mary’s Magnificat, her song of praise to God; Jacob’s twelve sons become God’s people, Israel, the forerunners of the twelve apostles and God’s people the Church: the people yearn, expectantly for the coming Messiah of God.

Expectation and yearning, ‘O Come, O come Emmanuel’: come ‘God with us’.

Posture is important. It is said that over half of human communication is non-verbal, in other words, body language. A key component of body language is posture, and you can read it all too well.

Try these. [Arms folded] this posture is defensive; [clenched fist] this one aggressive; [yawning, looking around] this one switched off, [eyes open hands outstretched] this one engaged.

Posture tells us what’s going on inside and helps us become something we are not yet.

I am not asleep! And I can’t go to sleep standing where I am. Bring me a duvet and pillows, let me lie down and I have adopted a posture for sleep, I will become a sleeper. Likewise prayer is more likely to bubble up in me if I adopt a prayerful posture, attending to my hands, considering whether I kneel or stand, breathing deeply and meditatively.

So the Advent posture is one of watching and expectant waiting: a posture of expectation.

When a church adopts a posture of expectation things happen. We don’t make them happen, God does, but our posture is ready for God to act, and, like John the Baptist, we see Christ, we proclaim Christ and others are attracted to Christ.

This Advent let’s shape our habits around expectation.

In Christian liturgy body language and posture are used and matter – over half our way of communication, remember. We stand, kneel and sit; we stretch out our hands to receive.

In many ways it is sad that the most expansive gestures and posture seen in churches are those of the priest: [open arms] ‘the Lord be with you’ [orans] ‘let us pray’[extended hands] ‘send your Holy Spirit’.

So this Advent in our worship let us be alert, upright, ready to see the Christ who comes to us as his word is opened up, as bread is broken, as he promises. In our prayer let us adopt a posture of expectation: not praying by clasping our sinuses, but by kneeling in our adoration; not by praying as if we are blinding ourselves, but joining our hands in supplication or stretching them out to receive; not by slumping into our pew but setting ourselves expectantly; not by sitting back for a performance of words and music, but expectantly engaging with the Lord who comes to us.

This is what the scriptures call us to: in Jeremiah’s words, ‘the days are surely coming says the LORD, when I fulfil the promise I made to Israel and the house of Judah’. This shapes us, as St Paul in the first letter to the Thessalonians says, that we may ‘abound more and more in love’.

The Lord is near. Now is the time to restore what is lacking in our faith. Now it is time to wake up, sit up and take notice. As Jesus says in the gospel: ‘Be alert at all times…’ (Luke 21.36)

The days are surely coming, so let us be watchful, expectantly waiting for the Lord who comes: ‘Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’.

© Andrew Bishop, 2018