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Musicians feel betrayed as St Sepulchre’s ceases as a concert venue

15 August 2017

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

THE leadership of St Sepulchre’s in the City of London has said that it will “reflect and pray and consult”, after a vote by the PCC to stop hiring the church to outside organisations provoked outcry from musicians.

Recognised as the National Musicians’ Church, St Sepulchre’s has been used by groups such as the London Youth Choir and City Chorus. Its website says that the church is “filled with music and musicians throughout the week”. Sir Henry Wood, the founder of the Proms, learned to play the organ in the church’s chapel, and his ashes lie there, beneath the St Cecilia window, where he is commemorated.

In an online statement issued on Monday, the church confirmed that the PCC “recently took the decision to close its hiring programme from 2018. . . An increasingly busy programme of worship and church activities has led to ever higher demands on the church space, and the hire space is also shared with the church administration office.”

It says that hiring will continue as planned for 2017 and that all existing bookings for 2018 will be honoured, though hirers are asked to try to find alternative venues.

A letter from the Priest-in-Charge, the Revd David Ingall, dated 9 August, says that, in addition to practical challenges, “we have been conscious of the challenges of using a space dedicated to worship for non-religious hiring.”

It continues: “Our ministry as the National Musicians’ Church continues to be a core part of our church’s identity and vision. One of the key elements of our Mission Action Plan is to be ‘a spiritual home for musicians and a place where excellence in music is used to the glory of God’. While its expression may be changing, that underlying vision remains unchanged.”

Mr Ingall took up his post in 2013, when groups from Holy Trinity, Brompton, and St George’s, Holborn, joined the existing community at St Sepulchre’s in a new partnership, part of the diocese’s church-planting strategy.

The composer John Rutter told The Daily Telegraph this week that the church had “betrayed” musicians. “What this current vicar seems to be saying is that music is OK so long as it’s part of a worship service. The concerts that take place in just about every church in the land, they’re not OK, and rehearsals are not OK either. That flies in the face of the Anglican tradition.”

A petition — “Save the National Musicians’ Church” — has been signed by more than 2600 people. It was organised by Richard Robbins, a chorister at St Sepulchre’s. It describes the PCC’s decision as “a blinkered and outrageous act of cultural sabotage that betrays the tradition and unique remit of St Sepulchre’s”.

On Tuesday, Mr Robbins said that the church was particularly valued by musicians because of its heritage and for practical reasons: it is large and has no fixed pews. In addition to the petition, he is helping to form a committee to “put forward a positive vision of what the Musicians Church actually is. . . Trying to find a way that both music and ministry can co-exist together in a very open way.”

There was a need for “some sort of committee or trust that has influence on the PCC, that can ensure that musicians feel welcome in the future, not just internally but externally too.” It was important to ensure that “the heritage and culture of services like choral evensong are maintained and nurtured.”

The St Sepulchre’s statement says: “We have been greatly moved by the concern expressed for the musical life of the church. We do wish to re-iterate that we remain committed to our ministry as the National Musicians’ Church. In the coming weeks we will reflect and pray, and consult with members of the musicians’ community about how best to fulfil that ministry moving forward.” It was committed to its Tuesday evening choral evensong and its choral and organ scholarships.

In addition to weekly services, the church hosts a number of activities, including Alpha, marriage-preparation courses, and discipleship groups.

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