This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in the wake of Saturday’s terrorist attack in London.

Borough Market in London is a place I used to know well when I lived just a few miles away. Go down any time and it was like being drowned in smells and sounds and languages from around the planet. I once bumped into a television news foreign correspondent by a cheese stall – a man normally seen in a war zone somewhere remote. I wondered – but was too shy to ask – how he coped with moving between the two worlds: the world of unspeakable violence in parts of the Middle East and the world of safe, domesticated ordinariness of home.

This weekend the two worlds collided once again in the brutality of extremist violence on an ordinary evening in an extraordinary city. Two weeks ago it was Manchester, last week Coptic Christians in Egypt, this week mourners at a funeral in Kabul, and a day ago people getting ready for another working week in London.

Perhaps the most uttered prayer – even on the lips of those who claim no faith – might be that of Psalm 13: “How long, O Lord, how long…?” How are we to respond to yet another act of cowardly violence, and the prospect of more to come?

Borough Market runs alongside Southwark Cathedral – a place not just of prayer, but that attests to the reality of human life in all its colour. Here it is that Chaucer’s pilgrims met before embarking on their journey to Canterbury. Chaucer was clearly at pains to bring together a motley group of diverse people who had stories to tell, lives to share, fears to explore, deaths to face. They spare no hiding places as they walk and talk and laugh and weep and wonder at what it means to be mortal. Read Chaucer and there’s no escape from the fact that the freedom to love brings with it the freedom to hate; that the freedom to worship brings the freedom to mock the objects of another person’s adoration or value; that the freedom to fear accompanies the freedom to hope.

For some people freedom is precisely the problem: why doesn’t God stop it all? For others, prayer is the problem: if these crazy people would be rational, then they wouldn’t do these terrible things. But, prayer, even if it involves us opening our hearts to an expression of all we desire, is primarily an exposing of ourselves to reality: the reality that we are mortal, that loving in the face of murder seems weak, that giving in to the cycle of violence and retribution does nothing to solve the problem.

When people say they are praying for London, they will mean different things. But, for me and other Christians at least, it involves commitment to all the world can throw at us, never exemption from it. Like the man on the cross at Calvary, this commitment refuses to give violence, death and destruction the final word.


There is something uniquely British about moaning. We are sceptics. As George Orwell once suggested, the reason no one ever goose-stepped down English streets is simply that everybody would laugh. There is a sense of distance that you don't see in the 'we-are-the-greatest-nation-on-earth-and-can-do-anything' USA.

Perhaps we are temperamentally 'glass half empty' nations rather than natural 'can do' optimists.

And maybe that has something to do with our climate, it's changeability engendering an innate caution that whatever we an might get stuffed by the weather.

Or, maybe it has to do with a mature recognition from our history that any glimpse of greatness is always temporary – that empires come and go and that they often appear in retrospect to be less great than our rhetoric or transient glory seduced us into believing.

Anyway, we can only hope that for the next couple of weeks the media might be sidetracked from looking for all the holes (of which there will be many – but when did the commentariat last organise anything for which they would be held eternally accountable?) and celebrate the once-in-a-lifetime communal party of pride that will be the 30th Olympiad.

Jonathan Freedland hits the right buttons in this morning's Guardian. I might not get to see huge amounts of sport during the next couple of weeks, but I feel proud of what has been achieved in even getting to this point.

Yes, seconds after the closing ceremony the commentariat will start to question everything – and the 'legacy' questions will need to be asked – but I hope we might first celebrate before we criticise.

Some friends of ours live on a boat on the River Thames.

That statement in itself would have made me laugh a few years ago. Having grown up on the Mersey, the Thames always seemed like a poor substitute for a good, working northern river. Living in London for the last ten years has changed my view considerably (the South Bank is just fantastic at any time of year), but in my experience the Thames ended at Vauxhall.

This afternoon we drove over early because the sun came out sooner than expected and life slowed down remarkably. Our friends drove their boat-home down the river from Surbiton to Hampton Court where we went for a walk before returning in time for dinner on the river. It was beautiful, relaxing and felt like an unexpected gift in a rather frantic life.

The last time I went to Hampton Court Palace was also the first time I had been there. That time I went because a couple of foreign vistors wanted to see it. I did my best to swot up on the history and tried hard to think of something good to say about King Henry VIII who developed the place built originally in 1514 for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. But, what I remember most from the day was a sign outside the chapel.

It was on a tripod and said simply: ‘This is a working chapel’. Fair enough – there was some scaffold and a few blokes looking as if they were trying to look busy. (I’d seen another sign outside a college chapel that read: ‘WORK IN PROGRESS’ – equally aposite) But, it struck me that the sign accurately described the activity for which the chapel existed in the first place: worship.

The Greek word from which we derive our word ‘liturgy’ – leitourgia – means ‘work’. I often feel a terrible tension these days between the need for worship to be ‘accessible’ – without compromising the reality that worship is testing, demanding, exercising – and ‘transcendent’.

I grew up in the bad old days when worship leaders or clergy would begin a church service with the injunction that we should leave outside all the cares, activities, concerns and worries of our lives in order to let us worship God without distraction. Our minds were to be free of the clutter of life in order to enable us to gaze on God (or something similarly questionable). It was as if God could not cope with the stuff that clutters our lives and minds and memories.

But, what sort of worship is it that separates us off from the real stuff of our lives? Worship surely involves bringing all that stuff into the place where we come face to face with God and one another – looking at it in the light of God’s presence and transforming light. So, worship demands something from the worshipper, expects a price to be paid for the experience. It is not an easy activity designed for the convenience of consumers who want everything in life to be smooth and easily accessed. We all know that valuable things are costly.

Worship of God, an encounter with the Creator, Sustainer, Lover and Healer of the world is not a thing to be treated loosely or lightly. An engagement in worship or reflection will come at personal cost and will demand that the worshipper be exposed, challenged and transformed by the experience.

This is not trendy stuff. A convenience society of powerful consumers is not patient with anything that makes you work or wait. Shouldn’t religion be easy and accessible, we ask? Well, God is a realist and never sells people illusions. Jesus told his friends that if they wanted to follow him they would have to pick up a cross and carry it – in other words, it might cost them their life in one way or another.

I guess the chapel can only be described as ‘working’ if those in it move from being tourists or consumers of ‘worship experiences’ to people ready to do business with God – or have God do business with them.

The Southwark Diocesan Clergy Conference ends this morning and then we get our specially chartered train back to London. It has been excellent – something I can happily attest to as I had nothing to do with the planning of it.

We had a wide range of speakers from a range of perspectives addressing themes around the basic Renew, Revive, Refresh idea. Every speaker brought something challenging and encouraging – and the fact that different people got upset by different elements means that we probably got it about right. The great thing is that (probably with one or two exceptions) the wide variety of clergy coped with walking together throught the minefields of their theological or ecclesiological differences. No one had a hissy fit – or, at least, not in public.

One speaker came from another diocese and had the rather unplanned effect of making our clergy glad to be in the Diocese of Southwark and not in his diocese. Dr Paula Gooder set our hearts and minds on fire with her Bible studies and Bishop James Jones surprised many with a passionate, thoughtful and deeply (and realistically) pastoral sermon yesterday – wonderful stuff.

Two things among many, many good elements stand out for me from this conference. First, Paula Gooder demonstrating from Philippians 2 that when Jesus ’emptied himself’, coming as one of us, he chose to do so. This might sound obvious, but we human beings (and Christians are not exempt) love to shift responsibility onto someone else – especially if there is a risk of something going wrong. Those who follow Christ must do so because they choose to do so and they must be people who take responsibility and not shirk it or shift it. We need to grow up.

Secondly, last night brought the conference to a social head with a quiz night, a showing (and discussion) of Slumdog Millionaire, and a Singalongamammamia. I had a team in the quiz until we heard about the Mamma Mia… It was a scream. Over 100 of us sang, danced and laughed our way through it and then kept the dancing going for a long time. It was the funniest night I have had for a long time and a welcome conclusion to several weeks of conferences.

James Jones had talked (as an aside, obviously) about the place of humour and laughter in a healthy community. Today we go back to South London and East Surrey having worshipped, studied, listened, discussed, prayed, danced and laughed together for a few days in Derbyshire. Which sounds pretty healthy to me.

This morning I led worship at the Mayday Hospital in Croydon. I try to go there at least once each year. There is a great chaplaincy and a load of volunteers who turn up week in week out to bring patients down to the Chapel and take them back again later. This is quiet, undramatic service, but hugely valuable and I feel an insistent need to value and encourage them.

Today was also rather poignant. A couple of days ago a man was stabbed at a bus stop in West Croydon, watched by his three-year old daughter. He was taken to the Mayday Hospital where he died. He had collected his daughter from childcare before going to the Mayday Hospital to visit his wife and the son born only that morning. The tragedy is awful and people in Croydon find it hard to imagine how such a thing could have happened. People outside Croydon might simply add it to a list of unarticulated prejudices about the place.

Before I moved to South London in 2000 I had no idea where Croydon was. All I knew was that David Bowie went to college there and that it sounded a bit naff. When I was appointed to my current post in 2003 and we moved to Croydon, I swallowed deeply as I prepared to get to know yet another place as well as possible. And it has been fantastic.

Croydon is a brilliant place to live. Having thrown up a lot of high-rise concrete buildings in the 1960s, the nettle has now been grasped and there is a very ambitious plan to re-build parts of the town. Seen as ‘London’s third city’, it has a vibrancy and creativity that took me by surprise. Only fifteeen minutes from Central London and sixteen minutes from Gatwick Airport by train, it combines business, retail, leisure and green space in a way that offers the best of all worlds in a fairly small area. The new-ish Chief Executive of Croydon Borough Council, Jon Rouse, has set about the task of tackling education, business and ‘living space’ with energy, vision and determination. It is a place, despite the global financial downturn, that feels confident that a bright future is being formed.

My office is situated between East Croydon station (surrounded by derelict land now awaiting susbstantial redevelopment – probably delayed by a year or two) and Croydon College, led through great transformation with equally brave vision by Mariane Cavalli. This places us in a stream of humanity of all shapes and sizes as it flows around the town centre and the transport hub. The whole world is here and it is brilliant.


What characterises people like Jon Rouse and Mariane Cavalli is the sheer hard work and long hours that they commit to what are extremely demanding tasks. In a complex part of a complex South London, they and others apply themselves – often at personal cost – to working for the people of Croydon in a way that I want to salute. How they do it when the local media seem obsessed with reporting only bad news and diminishing confidence in public authorities, I have no idea.

Croydon churches are also thriving. Yesterday I had a two-hour breakfast meeting in my office to consult further on how we should re-shape our ecumenical cooperation in Croydon. There are over 240 churches (of different flavours and complexions) in the borough, yet there is more cooperation than competition. Mutual support and encouragement are the hallmarks of such work and we want to develop these further in the future.

But, again, the contribution of the churches is often either overlooked or dismissed as a sort of weird private enterprise. Yet our churches do not exist to serve themselves, but the wider community in which they are set. Particularly for Anglicans (who organise geographically so that everybody lives in a parish and has access, if they wish, to their local church community and clergy), we are there to serve not just Christians, not just Anglicans and not just ‘people like us’: rather, we are there to show Christ (the one you read about in the Gospels) to people and bring people to Christ. We serve our neighbour without ulterior motive. Consequently, thousands of hours of voluntary service are given every day to making life better for others.

There are loads of stories to tell, but we are not always good at telling them. We just get on with it. And maybe that’s not entirely a bad thing in a media-dominated world where motives are always suspect.

I love living in Croydon. It isn’t the prettiest town in the world just now, but the plans to transform the environment are exciting and ambitious. The doom-mongers and nay-sayers will always complain about everything anyone does to change the world, but I will be supporting those who – often against the odds and in the face of personalised public opposition – not only see a better future, but apply themselves to making it happen.

One of the joys of living in London is having to negotiate the transport system – especially the Tube when there are delays, cancellations and other problems that demand quick thinking and re-routing. And I am not being sarcastic when I use the word ‘joy’. Travelling inLondon is never boring.

A coupe of days ago I was having a particularly ‘joyful’ journey across town when, in a crowd of people looking determined but fed up, I caught a glimpse of the new T-Mobile advert. It was just a snatch of some people dancing, but it was enough to make and others stop, go back and continue the journey smiling. The strapline is simple: ‘Life is for sharing.’ And, funnily enough, it made complete strangers look at each other, smile and exchange words.

It was recorded at Liverpool Street Station on 15 January 2009 and is wonderful. The station announcer starts to announce a train departure and then Lulu launches into the classic ‘Shout!’ (which I heard her do forty years after the original at the Royal Albert Hall in November 2008 with Jools Holland). The concourse is transformed by people dancing to a string of songs. Watch the faces.

If anything illustrates the human need for society, this does. With wall-to-wall misery on every front (from the economy through Gaza and Zimbabwe to Liverpool’s lousy form), this expression of sheer fun and surprise is just lovely.

 I so wish I could dance…