THE Prayer Book has played a “key role” in boosting Sunday attendance at his church over the past decade, a London vicar believes.
The Vicar of the Thames-side Chelsea Old Church, in Cheyne Walk, Canon David Reindorp, said on Tuesday that his congregation had increased by more than 20 per cent since he arrived in 2006, partly owing to the continued use of the Book of Common Prayer.
“Our worshippers do not describe themselves as zealots of the Prayer Book, but that is what they prefer,” said Canon Reindorp, who is also the Area Dean of Chelsea. “I have worked in a council estate, villages, suburbs, and now I am here; if you’re toughing it out on an estate, you would probably do things differently.”
The Prayer Book is used for all Sunday and weekday services at Chelsea Old Church, including holy communion, matins, and evensong. The church is noted for its choral tradition. It also holds a children’s service at 10 a.m. on Sundays; last week, 66 children and 219 adults attended.
Average Sunday attendance has risen from 250 to 300 in ten years, and an estimated 25,000 are welcomed into the church each year. “People are saying that the Prayer Book doesn’t appeal to people. It clearly does,” Canon Reindorp said. “Modern versions don’t always hit the spot.”
Rising numbers might also be due to the charm of the church’s history, particularly for couples preparing for marriage, he said. “We did 37 weddings last year, all of which were Prayer Book. But it is also a very old church: the inside is medieval; so people know what they’re getting. Where faith is authentic, people respond.”
The building, as it stood before the war, consisted of the chancel, dating probably from the 13th century, with chapels to the north and south (circa 1325). It is where King Henry VIII married Jane Seymour, and where his children and Lady Jane Gray worshipped regularly.
The south chapel was rebuilt in 1528 by Sir Thomas More, as his private chapel. There is a memorial to More (L. Cubitt Bevis, 1969) outside the church. “It is authenticity that people are after, and they obviously find that here,” Canon Reindorp said.
Chelsea Old Church recently became the 60th to sign up for corporate membership of the Prayer Book Society, which encourages the use of the Prayer Book for services, and has 5000 individual members worldwide.