On the buses

Routemaster 60What with preparing for the move (including assisting my new circuit to find and purchase a house for us to live in) and covering two churches for a sick colleague, blogging has had to take a back seat. There were many things I wanted to write about, but just didn’t have the time or inclination. But I’ll mention one event in July that I did enjoy, and that was a rally of old buses in Finsbury Park to mark the 60th anniversary of the iconic Routemaster bus.

There are still Routemasters running in London, though they are confined to a couple of short ‘heritage’ routes catering mainly for tourists. Outside central London you are more likely to see them running as ‘specials’ for weddings and other occasions, though during the tube strikes earlier this year there were a number of veteran buses running extra journeys during the rush hour periods.


Veteran buses on duty at Camden Road, Holloway during the tube strikes earlier this year. The bus in front is an RT in Greenline livery; the bus behind is the stretched version of the Routemaster, or RML

The impressive line up of buses at the Routemaster 60 event

The impressive line up of buses at the Routemaster 60 event


This is not a Routemaster – me and RT2177. The 12 bus route runs past my new church on Camberwell Road.

At Routemaster 60 there were over 150 vintage buses on display, including the immaculately restored prototype Routemasters RM1, RM2 and RM3. There were other buses as well, including examples of the older RT buses that are often confused with the Routemaster. The RT, which this year celebrates its 75th year since entering service in 1939, was still running on the 65 bus route which ran past the end of our road in Kingston on Thames in the early 70s, and I have fond memories of travelling on this type of bus to school (fare 2p for a short journey, 3p for a longer journey!) In 1975 the RTs were replaced by Routemasters, which were slightly larger and more comfortable. The 65 bus ran from Ealing Argyll Road (I always wondered what this exotic place at the beginning of the route was like) to Chessington Zoo, now the Chessington World of Adventures, but then still a plain zoo. I can still recall the graffiti scratched into the paintwork of one of the RTs: ‘I am Thunderbird 2, fly me to the zoo.’ Much as I enjoy the Routemasters, it is the sight of an RT trundling along that never fails to make me smile.

Line up of buses

Another view of the line up of Routemaster buses

Having said that, I wouldn’t want to be riding one of these old buses on a regular basis. Since 2007, when I sold my last car, my primary form of transport has been buses. In that time we have seen ‘bendy buses’ come and go and most recently the NB4L (‘New Bus for London’ aka the ‘New Routemaster’ aka the ‘Boris bus’) which looks colossal next to the Routemaster and the even smaller RT. Modern buses are far more spacious and comfortable than the old types. Yes, it can take longer to get from A to B, but as far as I am concerned this isn’t wasted time – it’s time for reading, for thinking, for writing emails, and not infrequently for bumping into church members and the conversations that inevitably follow. And for just looking out of the window and watching the world (my parish!) passing by.

For more photos of the old buses than ran during the tube strike visit this Facebook album (You don’t need to be signed up to Facebook to view it). For more photos taken during Routemaster 60 visit this Facebook album.

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Saying goodbye properly

Group photo of the congregation of Islington Central church

Saying goodbye – after my last service at Islington Central Methodist Church

Churches have various ways of saying ‘hello’ to a new minister/pastor/priest. In some denominations this includes a formal licensing or induction at the beginning of a new period of ministry. The Methodist Church does things slightly differently; as we are already part of a Connexion, Methodist ministers are ‘welcomed’. My own welcoming service at Walworth Methodist Church takes place on Saturday 30th August, just before the commencement of the new Methodist Year. This service will inevitably be a time of looking to the future; prayers will be said, commitments and promises made. I’m sure it will be a splendid occasion.

We’re good at saying ‘hello’, but I’m not sure we are always so good at saying ‘goodbye’. For this there is in Methodism no set form of worship or any requirement to do anything in particular at all.

One of my predecessors in circuit indicated that he didn’t want any particular fuss made when he left. Despite being Circuit Superintendent (and therefore having a relationship with all the churches of the circuit) he asked that only the churches in his pastoral charge organise their own farewells; there was to be no circuit occasion. What was plain when I came into the circuit was that there were many who missed the opportunity to say goodbye properly; the lack of a formal farewell was a cause of regret and even hurt. Yes, this had been according to the wishes of the minister concerned, but I wonder whether this is something too important to be left to the whims of the person leaving – a good farewell is as important for those who stay as those who go, for it recognises the loss we feel at such times and acknowledges that this particular pastoral relationship has come to an end. This is especially important in the Methodist context, where one minister going is followed so rapidly by the new minister coming.

For this reason I have always requested, on leaving a circuit, a worship service that includes a ‘liturgy of leaving’. Originally this particular liturgy was recommended by a colleague, and I knew it only as a photocopy, but there are many variant versions about on the internet, and it appears to originate in Human Rites by Hannah Ward & Jennifer Wild (Mowbray, 1995). For me the most moving and significant part  of the service is where the congregation says to the departing minister:

As you journey onward,
we ask forgiveness where we have failed you;
we give thanks for all you have given us;
we assure you of our love and prayers.

And the departing minister replies:

As I leave,
I ask forgiveness where I have failed you;
I give thanks for all that you have given to me;
I assure you of my love and prayers.

As I move on I am acutely aware of things left incomplete, problems unresolved, loose ends left untied. Many of the hopes and dreams I had coming to the circuit nine years ago were unfulfilled. Of course this is not my responsibility alone, though sometimes I have thought it was, and for this sin too I need to say sorry; ministry is shared by minister and people. To recognise this and offer mutual confession and forgiveness is part of the process of saying goodbye and moving on.

Leaving the Islington and Camden Circuit after nine years of ministry there has not been easy, but I found the last month very affirming. All four churches organised a meal or presentation or both on my last Sunday preaching there –and I was moved by people’s generosity. There was also a circuit event which included the aforementioned act of worship, some very kind speeches and refreshments afterwards. This was also an opportunity to invite ecumenical colleagues and some of the people from the community I’ve worked with over the years, not just to say goodbye but also to publicly recognise those relationships, which I hope will continue under my successor’s tenure. Perhaps it is not for me but others to say – but I think we did say goodbye properly.

Farewell gifts

Farewell gifts presented at the Circuit Farewell – a blessing from the Lindisfarne Scriptorium; flowers in the colours of the Philippine flag; a cross from the Eritrean Orthodox congregation; and a plate presented by preachers from Westminster Central Hall

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Holloway Rev – in Exile

I started this blog as a project for a sabbatical; originally I had no intention of keeping it going beyond a few months. So when I called it ‘Holloway Rev’ I didn’t really look ahead to the day when I would no longer be a Rev in Holloway. Well that time has come – after nine years as Superintendent Minister of the Islington and Camden Mission Circuit I have moved across the great cultural and geographical divide that is the River Thames and am now (back) in South London.

So ought I rename the blog? The church I am moving to is Walworth Methodist Church, which is as much in Camberwell as Walworth. We’re living in Peckham, just off Old Kent Road. This opens up a range of possibilities – Camberwell Rev, Walworth Rev, Peckham Rev. But if I pick one of them, I’m only going to have the same problem a few years down the road. For the time being it looks like I’m stuck with Holloway Rev.

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A government that cannot understand its own statistics cannot understand the reality of poverty

News release from the Methodist Church media service:

‘Let’s get the facts straight’. Yes, Mr Cameron, please do.

  • Government stats misleading on Monday, wrong on Wednesday
  • Prime Minister neither understands his own figures nor the real consequences of welfare reform, say Churches

Four major British Churches have criticised David Cameron for neither understanding his Government’s own figures nor recognising the reality of more and more people facing destitution.
The Church of Scotland, Baptist Union of Great Britain, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and charity Housing Justice, which collectively represent more than a million people, have responded to an article by the Prime Minister in today’s Daily Telegraph. In the piece, Mr Cameron claims that the number of workless households doubled over the last decade, when ONS data shows that they increased from 3.7 million in 1997 to 3.9 million in 2010, not 7.4 million as his claim would suggest.

“Mr Cameron repeats tired and discredited numbers which paint an inaccurate picture of ‘welfare dependent’ families spending years on benefits and receiving huge amounts of money,” said Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser and author of The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty, a report dispelling six common myths about poverty.

The Prime Minister stated that that almost a million and a half people spent the last decade out of work. He did not mention that most of these people were sick or carers. Only 1,000 were unemployed for a decade – the remainder were unable to work due to illness or caring responsibilities. According to the government’s own statistics, more people received benefits due to terminal illness and yet survived for a decade, than were unemployed for a decade.

He also spoke of people claiming ‘unlimited amounts of housing benefit’ and yet in 2010 only 0.01% of households received more than £40,000 in housing benefit. In the same year, more than half of housing benefit claims were for less than £4,000 for the year.
“If Mr Cameron can’t even understand his own figures, how will he ever grasp the reality of UK poverty?” added Mr Morrison. “We have spent this past year campaigning and writing to Mr Cameron and his ministers about how his Government’s misuse of statistics denigrates the poor – and we have yet to receive either explanation or correction.

“It is disappointing that the response to the Archbishop has been characterised by misleading numbers from the DWP Press Office on Monday and straightforwardly untrue numbers from the Prime Minister on Wednesday.

“Last year half a million people relied on foodbanks, this year we expect that number to be much higher. The key question – why Churches and charities are seeing more people in abject destitution – remains unanswered.

“Mr Cameron says he wants to stick to the facts, and that is the fact he urgently needs to address.”

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Food review: Retro Fondue and Your Bike Shed, York

As well as ruins, walls and old churches one thing York has in abundance is coffee shops, tea shops and cafes. There are of course the usual chains such as Costa, Starbucks and Nero. But there are also plenty of independents including institutions such as Betty’s (which we never managed to visit as there was always a long queue, and British though I am, I do object to queuing in the rain). Even independent coffee/tea shops can seem rather formulaic. But there are two cafes we visited in York which really seem to have something original to offer. It was only after talking with the staff that we discovered that, coincidentally, both are newly opened ventures.

The first was Retro Fondue. If the name isn’t enough of a clue, then the bright orange logo and seventies style furniture rather gives it away. The cafe is an homage to anything that can be dunked, whether it is the original Swiss conception of dipping savoury stuff on the end of forks into melted cheese, dunking sweet things into chocolate or even their own take on nachos.

Retro Fondue

Mary Ann in her retro parka outside Retro Fondue

We enjoyed Retro Fondue so much we went twice. On the first occasion we had a seafood fondue for two. This came with seafood (mussels, squid and other aquatic creatures I can’t now recall) predunked in the sauce, but plenty of bread on the side. With our traditional fondue forks it was a bit like spear fishing on a very small scale. The thing about fondue is  it’s a fun and sociable way of eating – the last time we ate like this was in the Philippines at a shabu-shabu restaurant. And because it is an unhurried way of eating it is also surprisingly filling. It was certainly a good choice for a light lunch.

Chrros at retro Fondue

Mmm… churros

On the second occasion I had a craving for churros. If you are not familiar with churros, they are a variation on doughnuts. (I thought they originated in Mexico until I looked on Wikipedia which suggests they were originally from Portugal or Spain). The design of churros is very clever – they have lots of ridges which makes them ideal for dipping in chocolate sauce. the trick of course is to get the churro in your mouth before dripping chocolate all down your front. Otherwise there’s not much you can say about churros – the churros at Retro Fondue were freshly made and the chocolate sauce was suitably rich and chocolately.

Not only is the food good at Retro Fondue, but the prices are very reasonable. The cost of a Fentiman’s lemonade was, if I remember correctly, £1.65. I sound them being sold for a higher price in a store up the road. I asked if there were any other branches (hoping that there might be one somewhere in London) which is when I discovered that this was the only branch and it had only opened a couple of weeks previously. However they are actively marketing Retro Fondue as a franchise opportunity. I hope they do well and one day I get a branch a bit more local than York.

Retro Fondue is on Goodramgate, which is on the east side of York city centre, not far from the Minster. The other cafe we visited is on the opposite side, on Micklegate. We had spent the morning doing a very convoluted walk around the city, following the city walls anticlockwise from Lendal Bridge to the Bishopgate St bridge, up to the castle, down to Ousegate, back over the river and up Micklegate. By then we were gasping for something to drink, and were surprised by the lack of cafes in this, admittedly more residential, part of the city. We were just about to give up when we saw a cafe ahead of us. This was Your Bike Shed, which is described on its website as “is an exciting new place where cycling and café culture meet in one relaxed and friendly environment”. Basically it’s a cafe with a bike repair shop attached, or possibly a bike repair shop with a cafe attached. An unusual feature of the cafe is the indoor bike rack by the front door. In fact, most of the patrons (including us) looked like they arrived on foot rather than by bike, but no matter – it was a wet Monday afternoon and the place was really busy. A enjoyed a good cup of coffee and a decent pasty. The milk shake was a bit disappointing though – I was expecting a thick shake but this was just flavoured milk – admittedly freshly made. Not quite as good value for money as Retro Fondue, but a nice ambiance and an enjoyable place to spend an hour on a wet afternoon.

Apparently Your Bike Shed opened in November and it’s obviously doing well. I hope both cafes continue to thrive and are still there for us to visit next time we are in York.

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Preaching houses and cathedral choirs

Last week we took a short break of four nights in the beautiful and historic city of York. This was a gift from my parents; a much-delayed 25th wedding anniversary present. Mary Ann had never been to York before and the last time I was there was in 1984 with a group of students from Nottingham University who went to see the Mystery Plays. I don’t recall how much sightseeing we did then; as I found York totally unfamiliar, probably not very much.

We stayed at the Best Western Monkbar Hotel just outside the city walls, which turned out to be a good choice. It was a great base for exploring the city. Although the weather was pretty wet, it meant we could easily go back and forwards to the hotel to rest and/or dry off.

There were a number of places and attractions we wanted to see, and we managed them all: the Minster, the city walls, the Jorvik Viking centre and the National Railway Museum. But we also enjoyed the atmosphere of the Shambles and the surrounding centre with its many surviving mediaeval and Tudor shops and churches.

As we were there over the weekend, on Sunday we went to church. In the morning we attended worship at Central Methodist Church in St Saviourgate. Built in 1840 in neoclassical style, one enters through an imposing portico with four pillars. Inside is a traditional nonconformist preaching house with an oval gallery and box pews that can seat a congregation of 1,500. The focal point of the church is a mahogany pulpit which was apparently reduced in height for the Wesleyan Conference of 1907 and above it an even more impressive organ, also finished in mahogany, which according to the church’s website has 2,500 pipes. Expertly played, this provided a fitting accompaniment to worship, alongside the small choir that sang an introit and led the congregational singing. Inevitably the congregation today does not even begin to fill this splendid chapel, but has done a splendid job of keeping it in good repair. After the service we enjoyed fellowshipping with the church members over a cup of coffee.

York Central Methodist Church

The very impressive portico of York Central Methodist Church



York Central Methodist Church

York Central Methodist Church – the view from the back pew

There could hardly have been a greater contrast with the second service we attended, which was evensong in York Minster. We had visited the minster the previous day and done the tour of this magnificent building. On Sunday we returned for worship.

For evensong the whole congregation was seated in the choir. There were many seats available so we picked a spot right next to the choir. We were sitting opposite an older gentleman who was obviously a regular congregant and followed his cues when to stand up and sit down. The choir was, of course, superb. I didn’t recognise any of the settings, but then I am an infrequent visitor to choral evensong. The sermon was preached by the Dean, the Very Reverend Vivienne Faull, and was on the subject of music. Taking her cue from the first reading (Ecclesiastes 3 ‘there is a time for everything…) She spoke about the importance of pauses and silences within the liturgy – the words are not just to be rushed through in the shortest time – and likened this to the rhythm of life and the importance of making time and finding space.

It so happened that in our position facing ‘sideways’ across the choir the pulpit was behind us and to our left, which meant that we could only see the preacher if we were willing to put up with a crick in the neck – very different from the Methodist chapel, which was designed with all eyes on the pulpit. Different styles of worship have a profound influence on different styles of church architecture, and you don’t get much more different than a neoclassical preaching house and a gothic cathedral choir. We enjoyed both types of church and both types of worship. York Minster was special, and the quality of singing technically superior to that in the Methodist chapel. But I missed the fellowship that we found in the morning with the people of Central Methodist. And for me, the tradition of singing just one congregational hymn at the close of evensong just isn’t enough. I love to listen to a good choir. But I also want to sing along.

York Minster

York Minster


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Baby Jesus is missing!

My sermon for Christmas Day – with thanks to Revd Dr Janet H. Hunt (Dancing with the Word) for suggesting the theme and for several quotations.

Now that our children are grown up, we don’t try quite so hard with our Christmas decorations. Yes, we have a tree, and we always get a real tree – I guess because my family had a real tree when I was a boy and you know how Christmas traditions tend to stick in families. Or perhaps it’s because Mary Ann comes from the Philippines and the only Christmas trees there are artificial, so a real tree is really something special.

Anyhow, whatever the reason, we have a tree. And we always have two other things. Above our front door we have a star shaped lantern. Every home in the Philippines has one of these, whether it’s a humble construction of cane and tissue paper, or a more extravagant affair with flashing lights and bright colours. In fact the province that Mary Ann comes from is famous as the home of the star lantern, or parol, as it’s called in the Philippines. The main roads going into the cities are lined with little shacks where the parols are both made and sold. All lit up, at night time they make a beautiful display.

And the third decoration we have also comes from the Philippines, and that is a nativity scene. We bought ours from a craft fair a few years ago and it is slightly unusual. All the figures are turned from different types of wood and they are simple and abstract rather than ornate. Not only are there all the usual suspects – shepherds, wise men, the ox and ass – and, of course the holy family – but there’s a stable with two doves on the roof, a couple of palm trees and above it all, a star. In the Philippines they call a nativity scene a Belen, which is simply the Spanish word for Bethlehem.

We also have a nativity set in the church – can you see it? Let’s check if everything is there…

A couple of weeks ago I was at an event in a church hall, where there was a very nice tree and a nativity set. But something didn’t look quite right – what was in the manger? Instead of baby Jesus, there was a little piece of paper with a face drawn on it! What has happened to baby Jesus, I asked. Oh – he’s gone missing, they said.

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