It’s quite a challenge to look back on my time as Archdeacon of Southwark.  They have been years of joy and mourning, of challenge and hope, of struggle and resilience.  Here are some highlights.

I came to the role of archdeacon after eight years as Canon Chancellor of Southwark Cathedral.  The 2017 and 2019 terrorist attacks on London Bridge and at Fishmongers Hall horrified so many people and were without doubt the most shocking events of my years as archdeacon.  In 2017, the cathedral remained closed and closed and closed, but the very grief of so many at being alienated from its holy space did remind us how important it is for people to have access to such places, hallowed by prayer and worship day in, day out.

The terror attacks also reminded us all that we are stronger together.  Three of the clergy of the archdeaconry participated in the borough resilience team meetings after the attacks as we looked at life after the attacks.  One of the real joys of being an archdeacon is seeing, and participating in, the links which exist between the church and civic society.  Southwark Council has good relationships with the Cathedral and I have been involved in resilience, faith community and other work – and that has been great.

Partnership is, I hope, one of the things which other people as well as me will remember from the past eight years.   It has been a real delight to see deaneries grow in confidence and in working together, either as a whole or by informal partnerships which come and go for particular pieces of ministry as need arises.  I think the lesson of making friends, as it were, before we need them is one that I have seen become increasingly embedded across the parishes and wider life of the archdeaconry and that’s really great.

Partnership has undoubtedly increased in the last few years and I think that is a reflection of the monastic charism of stability.  We saw a lot of change when I first started.  At one time, a third of the archdeaconry parishes were seeking a new incumbent.  Bishop Michael left to go to Lichfield.    Bishop Karowei arrived.  I went on sabbatical.  But since 2018, we have seen fewer changes in ordained ministers, and I think that has helped us navigate the changes in the area.

And we have not been short of those!  Since I started as archdeacon, the Heygate estate has entered the pages of the history books, and the Aylesbury estate has begun to join it.  In the twenty years I have been in the Diocese, the population of Southwark has changed as people have come here from the Caribbean, West Africa, Latin America, Europe (west and east) and, more recently, Asia.  The population of our parishes has changed too and the make-up of our congregations with it.  We have, I am glad to say, welcomed people from the world over but I would also say this:  we must not forget the people who haven’t change, the historic populations of this area who are still so much a part of our life; and as we welcome people from different places, let’s not become monochrome.  We are the Church of England and our churches are for all the people who live in England.  I do pray that each and every person who worships in those churches seeks to welcome different people – and people different from each of us – into the household of faith.

I had very little experience of the world church when I started as archdeacon.  That began to change with remarkable rapidity when Bishop Christopher invited me (or, perhaps, told me?  I seem to remember he said, ‘Come!’) to join him, the Dean and Canon Wendy Robins when they went to all five dioceses in Zimbabwe.  That was an incredible privilege.  Bishop Cleopas Lunga and his wife welcomed us to start with and I owe them so much for their kindness and generosity.  Bishops Godfrey Tawonszvi, Erick Ruwona, and Ishmael Mukuwanda showed us their dioceses, struggles and high points, and we visited some amazing schools and projects.  We had a very interesting meeting with Bishop Chad Gandiya in Harare before leaving. Indeed, I was so overwhelmed with the joyfulness and delight in God of the Church in Zimbabwe that I set off for Ghana the next month and later in the year was able to go to India and Nepal.   Knowing Christians from across the world in Southwark has certainly changed my life!

Speaking of world-wide Christianity, no review of the last eight years would be complete without a mention of Brexit.  Just as the whole Church has cause to give great thanks for those from Africa and the Caribbean who have kept faith with the Church of England despite treatment which must drive us all to repent, so I am grateful for the clergy and their families from Europe who lead parishes in this Archdeaconry and kept faith with us in their turn.

And then came Covid and if I didn’t know what a brilliant Archdeaconry I ministered in before, I certainly did when we found ourselves in lockdown.  Priests wrote emails and letters to their people, parishes, thanks to the sterling efforts of laity and clergy alike, streamed services and Zoomed services and pre-recorded services and put them out on YouTube channels.  The way in which church life was not only maintained but also expanded was just wonderful.  Every church to which I have been as lockdowns have eased has had people who have said to me, We found you online.  Alongside the spiritual life of our churches, social mission stepped up too.   The stars of the show were, of course, Pembroke House and S George the Martyr but foodbanks, volunteering and pastoral care were apparent up and down the archdeaconry.  So much of that work still continues and it has been a great blessing.

So, let me end with some thanks.  First, to all the unsung heroes of the Church of England:  hardworking churchwardens who sustain ministry in their parishes by supporting their clergy, making things happen and working very hard during vacancies.  Second, to all the clergy and lay leaders who have sustained the ministry which I have just described and to whom I would say, be gentle on yourselves and allow time for recovery and recuperation.  And third to Bishop Christopher for appointing to an amazing ministry, to Bishop Karowei with whom I wish I had worked more than I have done, and to Alastair Cutting, the Archdeacon of Lewisham & Greenwich.  We were installed in the same service and never looked back.