A belated Happy New Year to all our readers. Whether you receive this in your inbox or your postbox, I’m hope you are finding The Gander to be a lively and informative way to keep in touch with the St John’s community. I’m enormously grateful to all our contributors this month, you are in for a treat!
We cover wellbeing: with Anne Coates’ article about the rollout of the Covid vaccine and participating in a vaccine trial; Sue O’Neill’s timely article on health - both physical and psychological; my own musings on art and faith; and Tayo Olatunde's description of reading the whole Bible in one year - clearly a very rewarding experience, and a challenge we might all like to consider.
A couple of years ago we supported Deep Roots in one of our special collections in church, and it is interesting to hear more about their work. I especially loved our profile of Silbert Crichlow, and it has been delightful to welcome him to our online services. Do get in touch with us if you’d like to join online, but are not sure how to make it work.
As I write, the UK has sadly announced that over 100,000 people have died from the coronavirus. Each one of those numbers is a person with a story and a value beyond measure. Each one leaves friends and family in the devastation and isolation of grief, and healthcare staff with a burden of trauma. As the church, we hold one another, and all who suffer, in our prayers, and hold on to the hope we find in our shared faith: that no-one is forgotten, no-one is beyond the compass of God’s love. As I read this edition, I utter a prayer of thanks for our community of friendship and faith, and hold on to the hope that one day we will be gathered together again.
Revd Gill O'Neill
Whenever I visit an art gallery, and I suspect I am not alone in this, I notice that it often elicits in me the same kind of sensibility and awareness I experience when I visit a cathedral or beautiful church. I’m conscious that I am in a space that has been set aside for a particular kind of perceptive experience; a very present and immediate awareness of things above and beyond the commonplace.
Art is often a reaching after truth and meaning, a sculpting and shaping of matter in a way that touches deep questions about our shared human experience. As such, I, along with many others, have found art to be a wonderful theological resource and friend. Art can embody and express theological ideas, and be a kind of visual language. Moreover, art can connect the mind and the heart in ways that the purely intellectual cannot.
Our experience of worship, especially the kind of worship to which we are used at St John’s, which embraces the experience of the senses, is all about making that heart-mind connection: helping those things we know in our heads, that we are each beloved of God, for example, to be understood in our hearts, and in our very being.
Mother and Child installation
This is why I love to engage with art and artists in mission and ministry, and it is why, in the midst of the pandemic, and in this very restricted time, I was keen that we should try to make some kind of public art, as a gift to our neighbourhood, and in keeping with the phenomenon of street art around East Dulwich.
We would ordinarily welcome hundreds of people into church at Christmas. Without that possibility, what might we do instead? I pondered this question with friend and artist, Sara Mark, earlier last year, who came up with endless possibilities, eventually whittling down to the idea of a contemporary icon of the Virgin and Child.
The “Mother and Child” icon is a video installation created by Sara, with filmmaker Julian Civiero. Funded by the All Churches Trust, and back-projected in the porch of St John’s, the icon is inspired by the painted wooden icons venerated in the Eastern Orthodox tradition.
The ancient custom of ‘writing’ icons dates from 3rd century AD Byzantium and they are considered to be a form of prayer rather than art; each colour and composition has a spiritual significance. Icons depicting the saints, biblical stories and The Virgin Mary and Jesus are often given a red border, symbolising life-giving energy or eternal life.
The two poses included in the video are: the Virgin Hodegetria: ‘the Virgin who shows the Way,’ and the Virgin Eleousa: ‘the Virgin of Tenderness.’ The video is an invitation to contemplate God's coming in a body to be amongst us at Christmas, so as to show the whole world the way of tender love and peace.
A member of the community emailed to say: "The installation at the church is powerful and mesmerising. I can see that art really helps us to reflect on our faith and it is wonderful to see the church lit up and projecting that image of hope in these dark times. I stood in front of the image thinking of how much we had missed out on this year but also of what is to come if we can just hold on to hope. My friend, who is Jewish, thought it was beautiful; she said she “got it”. I wouldn’t know what that meant to her but I do think the installation is a gentle and beautiful way for the church to bear witness in the world.” You can see a short film about the installation here.
Advent Art study course
Another arts-based initiative was the Advent Art Study course we offered in December. A pilot course, put together by members of the theology department at King's College London, it used the online resource, the Visual Commentary on Scripture, and explored how artists have told the stories of the characters of Advent: the patriarchs, the prophets, John the Baptist and Mary.
In this painting by Pieter Bruegel, called The Sermon of St John the Baptist, painted in 1566, you can spot the Baptist, almost hidden in the crowd. His left arm points towards Jesus, similarly concealed, and only identifiable by his almost radiant robe. An anachronistic audience receive his message, and who knows if it finds a welcome? We see a mesmerised crowd, though some are distracted, leading us to wonder what might distract us from hearing the message of John, and what, if anything, might we want to do about those distractions?
At a time when we can visit neither churches nor art galleries, that we can engage with the arts outdoors and online is a gift. I would encourage anyone to spend a little time with a “biblical” painting or sculpture online, and try to hear what it is saying to you, what questions arise in your heart, what truth it touches. I hope we will be able to offer another Art course in future, an opportunity to look afresh at our enduring biblical stories in these unsettling times.
Do take a look at the Visual Commentary on Scripture.
The Goose Green Coffee Morning on Wednesday 24 February is going to try something a little different. We are hosting a book group and the book we are reading is Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo (Penguin, 2019).
This is Bernadine Evaristo’s eighth book. She was born in London, her mother is white from England and her father is black from Nigeria. The experience of growing up as someone with dual African and European heritage is something that that Bernadine Evaristo draws on in much of her writing. She won the Booker Prize in 2019 for this book, making her the first black woman and first black British person to win the prize.
This book follows the lives of 12 very different women who, one way or another, are connected, even if they aren’t aware of the connection themselves. It’s an ideal book to read for a book group as I am sure every reader will be able to find something in at least one of the characters that resonates with them.
The first woman we meet is Amma, a playwright, and the book opens with the first night of a play she’s written which is being performed at the National Theatre. Over the course of the book, we meet her daughter and best friend and learn about their lives as black women. Alongside them we also meet other women and hear their stories. What I particularly liked was the very personal and at times intimate view we get into the lives of these characters. In doing so, I felt a greater understanding not just of these individual characters but also of the communities from which they come.
Each of the characters is black, or at least has black heritage, but the book does more than simply engage with this one identity. There is a real cross section of identities in these characters and so we are able to hear the voices of people who experience privilege and prejudice in different ways, sometimes even in unexpected ways.
Bernadine Evaristo appeared as a guest on Desert Island Discs in September 2020. You can listen to her interview here.
Review by Revd Raymond Baudon
Vicar Revd Gill O’Neill 020 7564 0058, 07958 592 425, email@example.com
Assistant Curate Revd Raymond Baudon 07934 817 431, firstname.lastname@example.org
Assistant Priests Revd Anne Clarke email@example.com and Revd Alistair McCulloch firstname.lastname@example.org
Parish Administrator Bradley Collins 020 8693 3897, email@example.com
Churchwardens Jim Nurton 07765 881 556 and Julie Whitney 07786 686 385
Parish Safeguarding Officer Tina Hampson (contact via Parish Administrator)
PCC Secretary Christine Camplin
PCC Treasurer Sarah Goudge
Stewardship Martin Howell
Director of Music John Webber
Electoral Roll Officer Bradley Collins
Church Flowers Sally Gross
Goose Green Centre Bradley Collins
Editors of The Gander Revd Raymond Baudon, Christine Camplin, Jim Nurton, Tayo Olatunde and Sue O'Neill
(Contact each of the above via Parish Administrator)
St John's & St Clement's C of E Primary School, Adys Road, London SE15 4DY
www.stjohnsandstclements.org, 020 7525 9210
The views expressed in The Gander are not necessarily those of the Editors, Vicar or PCC.
Notices and items or articles for possible inclusion in the next issue of The Gander must be with the Editors by the 15th of the preceding month. Please contact the team in person or by email to the Parish Administrator with any questions.