St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St. Martin-in-the-Fields
Location: London
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 October 2020, 8:10am

The building

Beautiful 18th century church in the centre of London, beautifully kept, with original woodwork, plasterwork, galleries. The striking modern east window is plain glass. The vaulted brick crypt is a flourishing cafe. There is much discreet recent building, mostly underground.

The church

It caters for the homeless. Really. It also has a flourishing shop, brilliant music, a whole underground culture, and it is alive with ideas.

The neighborhood

St Martin's Lane had theatres. Trafalgar Square had tourists. London was on its doorstep. Much of this has changed with Covid but it has not been extinguished.

The cast

Priests who serve at St Martin’s.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Worship.

How full was the building?

The service was broadcast on radio. I don’t know how many may have been tuned in.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Impossible under the circumstances.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Radio has to plunge straight in.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Lord, Thy Word Abideth’ (sung).

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The only resource is the BBC website.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. Not sure what else.

Did anything distract you?

Wondering whether I recognised the preacher's voice. (I switched on during the first hymn.)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

An original form of service that managed to be both unlike any conventional service and very traditional. A hymn was followed by a welcome from the priest, who introduced Bible Sunday, taking care to stress that the Bible is a library, not just one book. She defined worship as examining the Bible. Another hymn was followed by Kyries (both said and sung) used as a confession and followed by an absolution. The collect for Bible Sunday and the psalm were chanted. (All the singing was brilliant.) Next, two readings from Exodus (the burning bush and the name of God) were separated by a hymn. Then the sermon, which was followed by a vibrant African Alleluia. The service ended with prayers, both said and sung.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

So sorry, I forgot to time it, but you can listen again and time it for yourself.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 — Without being histrionic, the preacher spoke with great passion. He did not use logic, but conveyed a link to a different reality.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

You read the Bible. Then the Bible reads you. Moses was terrified. So are we. But God's message is: I am on fire with love for you.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The sermon, but also the African Alleluia that followed it: exciting rhythms, perfectly sung in a very Anglican way.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Not being there.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

You miss that too, of course.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee was the least of my worries.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 — Radio services are a lot more enjoyable than services online. They've had longer to polish and improve. But there's no substitute for the beauty of the place.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

It certainly made me feel that the CofE is not dead yet.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

‘You read the Bible. Then the Bible reads you.’ Alleluia.

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