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St Sepulchre’s plan to limit hire-space upsets musicians

18 August 2017

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

Musicians’ church: St Sepulchre’s

Musicians’ church: St Sepulchre’s

THE leadership of St Sepulchre’s, 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. 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 (HTB), 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 3500 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.

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 that its consultation will include Dr Andrew Earis, the former Director of Music, now Director of Music at St Martin-in-the-Fields.

On Wednesday, Dr Earis, who worked at St Sepulchre’s before and after the 2013 transition, said that the PCC had shown “quite significant anxieties” when the HTB partnership was proposed, with concerns that the legacy of the church be maintained. He recalled “a lot of really good work, working with HTB, making sure that traditional and modern strands worked together”.

In the intervening years, the membership of the PCC has changed, with members of the original congregation leaving it. Dr Earis was “surprised” by the recent vote, he said. Four years ago, “the Bishop and diocese were making very strong signals to say that HTB had moved on and this was a partnership and not a church plant. . . We tried to really embrace that in terms of saying ‘if this can be the first place to show how traditional and modern can work together, that could be an amazing thing for the C of E.’”

The outcry of the past week showed that there was “an incredible passion for St Sepulchre’s as the musicians church,” he said. It was a broader issue than that of the ability to hire the space: it was a question of whether the church was open to music, secular and sacred, not generated from within. This was a “huge opportunity” to articulate a “stronger narrative for how music and worship happen together in that building” and to offer ministry to musicians. If the two strands of contemporary and traditional music could be combined, it could be a “beacon of hope on how you could bring the Church together”.

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.

Update: On Friday 1 September, the Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller, said:  “At the request of the Acting Bishop of London, Pete Broadbent, I have met with Revd David Ingall to discuss the hiring policy at St Sepulchre’s Church. The diocese of London will continue to work closely with David and the PCC at St Sepulchre’s to achieve a resolution.”

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