Living with gods?

Hannah Boulton is our church PCC secretary and works at the British Museum. Here she discusses some of the issues raised by a recent exhibition about religious belief.

There is no known culture in the world or in history without religious beliefs. But is there a connection between believing and belonging?  It is a question explored by a current exhibition at the British Museum which looks at – through objects – the practice and expression of religious beliefs in the lives of communities around the world and through time.

Scientists and Archaeologists believe that for the last forty thousand years – for as long as human beings have had the same sort of brain as we do – it seems that groups of people living together have tried to find patterns underlying the natural world on which they depend. All groups appear to come to a shared story, which seeks to explain their community’s place in the world, and to reconcile the transience of an individual life with the enduring existence of the group. They also develop rituals and festivals which reinforce the belief in that story. These shared stories and the rituals together powerfully help us forge a shared identity. They are something that bind us, even if we don’t always acknowledge it. For us as Christians, our faith, our meeting together at church and our prayers are part of this.

The exhibition is full of objects that reference these shared stories or are used in such rituals, from the everyday to the spectacular; from the celebrated Ice Age sculpture of the ‘Lion Man’ to posters relating to Soviet atheism, to an 18th century replica of a Hindu ceremonial chariot and the deeply moving Lampedusa Cross (pictured) – a cross made from pieces of wood recovered from a capsized boat which had been carrying refugees. These objects show that believing and belonging appear, everywhere in the world, as definers of community.

The exhibition runs until 8th April at the British Museum and the accompanying BBC Radio 4 series is still available to download via the BBC website.

Hannah Boulton

Who supplies your wisdom?

In our services throughout Lent we’ve been looking at the “Freedoms of Jesus” – his habits and disciplines that gave him the freedom to love God more and love others better. Last week we looked at the Freedom of Study and Stories. Here are 10 ways we can follow Jesus by turning up the wisdom of the Bible in our own lives… Please contact Dave ( for any more info on any of these.

1 Quiet Time. Some people enjoy spending time alone each day reading the Bible sometimes with reading notes or books to help.

2 Small Groups. Studying with others in an open and accepting environment is perhaps the best way to get to grips with the Bible. We have several Bible study groups at St John’s and St Mary’s – why not consider joining one?

3 Podcasts. While walking the dog, or on your commute, you could listen to some Bible discussion. WordLive, Richard Rohr, Tim Keller sermons, Godpod or even BBC Radio 4’s “Thought for the day” are good ones.

4 Audio Bibles. Many people prefer listening to the Bible being read – rather than actually listening to it. Some apps will do this for you, and the website contains audio versions of the Bible in English for free. These can be downloaded as mp3s.

5 Apps. The Bible App will give you a new verse for each day on your phone home screen – a good way to look at just one verse at a time and maybe consider how that verse impacts your life.

6 Query the Bible. Read – and ask questions. Ask the vicar!

7 Read a different version. For example, the “Message” version which is a translation of the Bible in modern, contemporary language.

8 Action Bible. A version of the Bible drawn as a comic strip – illustrated by a Marvel comics artist who converted into the faith. Great for all ages.

9 Online. has many English versions available for free.

10 Come to church and hear the sermons. The sermons are often recorded so if you missed one you can always catch it later.

Florence Baker – 100 Years and still going strong

Florrie Baker has been a regular of St John’s for many years and lives very near the church on St John’s Road. On the 26th February she celebrated her 100th birthday with her family and friends at a small party held in her honour at her home.

Are you from Isleworth, Florrie?

No, I’m not – I’ve “only” been in Isleworth 59 years. I used to live in Waterloo. But since I’ve been here I’ve been involved at the church – I’ve helped welcome people, and with the chalice, the women’s fellowship and fundraising and many other things! We’ve seen a lot of changes at church over the years. I’ve seen quite a few vicars come and go.

What are some of the things you’ve done in life, Florrie?

I left school quite early and trained in dress-making, and did my apprenticeship at Marshall and Snelgrove on Oxford Street. We sometimes had to fix dresses for royalty! I had to stop after I got married – those were the rules back then. During the war, I worked in a factory making shells and military equipment. In the evenings, at 6pm we would have to make our way to the bomb shelter, which for us was under the arches at Waterloo. I have kept my needlework over the years, I’ve always enjoyed that.

My husband served in the war for a while. He lived until he was 98 years old and died just a few years ago. We raised our two daughters, and I have a granddaughter.

Did you get your card from the Queen?

Yes, I did. It was organised through the pension. It says, “I send my congratulations and best wishes to you on such a special occasion.” I also got a letter from Esther McVey the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

What’s your secret to living to a good age and remaining so sharp?

Work hard. I’ve always had things to do and kept myself busy.

Picture above: Florrie with her card from the Queen, and the vicar!

Prayer morning at Gumley House

Stephen Perry is a regular at St Mary’s. Last Saturday he joined about a dozen people from St John’s and St Mary’s who went to the prayer morning organised by the sisters at Gumley House.

Have you ever been to a Gumley House prayer morning before?

To be honest, I haven’t. I have read a little about Christian meditation, I wanted to find out more. Also, I have lived in this part of London for a while but have never been inside Gumley – and I was curious to have a poke around. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought the Catholic sisters would be wearing habits, but they weren’t! I also thought their chapel would be old-fashioned, but it wasn’t really. It was a nice, spacious room.

Did you find the morning useful?

I did. We focused a bit on Jesus in the wilderness – a story we often think about at the time of lent. I have been studying Genesis for myself and I found it helpful that one of the sisters explained that the story of Adam and Eve shows how humans had to leave God’s presence because badness entered the world, but the story of Jesus shows us God coming out to find us, goodness entering the world.

Was it helpful for you to have some time to pray?

It was a great morning – and a chance to slow down and reflect. The sisters showed us how prayer can be helped by lighting a candle or using music or hymns to provide a focus for prayer. Sometimes silence is the best context for praying. We were guided in these things. I am learning a little and will try them out myself.

Would you recommend the morning to others?

Yes – we were made to feel welcome. I would definitely go back if we did this again. The atmosphere was lovely and relaxed. We felt very supported. The only reminder of the city was the occasional sound of the airplanes.

If you would like to give contemplative prayer a go, please join us at St Mary’s, on Wednesday evenings from 7:45pm throughout lent. 

God is Stranger – by Krish Kandiah

Several people at church have read and enjoyed Krish Kandiah’s book God is Stranger (with a foreword by Archbishop Justin Welby). 
If you’re looking for some spiritual reflection this Lent, this could be a good book for you. It’s available to buy online or from local Christian bookshops, although we would happily lend a copy if people would prefer (just email

God is Stranger. This enigmatic title invites the reader to explore how throughout the Bible God turns up in unexpected ways, and how we need to be ready to meet him through our encounters with others.

Each chapter deals with characters from the Bible, such as Abraham, Jacob, David, Ruth and Mary and their encounters with a God who always challenges what we think we know of him. God’s appearance in the Scripture can be majestic and mighty or in the form of a humble baby, born to live as a refugee child in a foreign land. Krish Kandiah asks us to reconsider our view on who is the stranger in each of these stories, and he links this to his own experiences in welcoming the stranger into his own home through refugee work and through fostering or adopting children.

As we venture through the book it becomes apparent that in each situation when God appears, he is teaching us to obey his call to neighbourliness, hospitality and welcome. We often have a fear of the stranger and ‘otherness’ but this is exactly who God calls us to love. Jesus made this very clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Lent is a time when people think about fasting. This week I have been struck by the Isaiah 58 reading a few times where God says that the real kind of fasting he looks for is to share food with the hungry, to provide the wanderer with shelter and to clothe the naked. Throughout this book you can almost hear God’s voice asking people to listen to Jesus’s demand for radical hospitality and to put our fears aside so that we can welcome in the stranger who may even be God himself. I hope this becomes our story more and more at St John’s with St Mary’s.

Rachel Burnell