Sounding a very sour note at London’s St Sepulchre Church
St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in Holborn, central London, has been known as the National Musicians’ church for more than 70 years.
The ashes of Sir Henry Wood, founder of the Proms, lie in its north chapel, which commemorates eminent British musicians.
But last month, Rev David Ingall, above, who moved to St Sepulchre’s four years ago from the arch-evangelical Holy Trinity Brompton, wrote to professional and amateur musicians and ensembles to say they could no longer make bookings from the end of this year.
Ousting the musicians appears to be the latest move in a bid to give a stronger focus on Christian worship. In order to do this, Ingall, together with a planted congregation of sixty, was installed at the church.
This, the new management believed, would draw larger congregations. They were wrong. Instead of attracting more worshippers, they drove people away, according to Dr Andrew Earis, above, Director of Music at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, and former Director of Music at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate.
In this piece, Earis writes:
It is a commonly held belief that the arrival of a church-plant always breathes new spiritual life into a building, where a planted congregation of sixty soon becomes six hundred.
This has not, however, become the reality at St Sepulchre’s, where the Sunday congregation is rumoured to be shrinking, not growing.
He explained that after the evangelicals seized control:
There was a gentle rebalancing of external rehearsals and concerts to make space for new worship activities. The Bishop of London put in place a Bishop’s Mission Order to protect and safeguard the music programme. We were optimistic for the future.
But, from early on, there were seeds of anxiety. In particular, there was unease regarding those music groups and concerts that, up to this point, had been welcomed with open arms, but were now being seen as less acceptable, owing to the new leadership’s interpretation of Christian teaching …
St Sepulchre’s now has to decide whether it is going to withdraw into a narrow theological ideology, or whether it is brave enough to embrace an inclusive vision for the whole church and be a leader in a new model of church partnership.
Meanwhile, a petition calling on the church to reverse its decision has garnered almost 7,500 signatures, and, according to the Guardian, dozens of Britain’s most distinguished musicians have backed a campaign to keep a central London church open as an important concert venue and rehearsal space.
Aled Jones, Julian Lloyd Webber and Judith Weir, above, the first female master of the Queen’s music, are among more than 50 signatories to a letter urging a reversal of the ban, saying they cannot understand why the church is willing to abandon its “unique national cultural remit”.