The ‘Musicians’ Church’ goes virtual as St Sepulchre’s sticks to its guns

28 September 2017

BASHER EYRE/GEOGRAPH

Fallen quiet: an empty music stand inside St Sepulchre’s, in central London

Fallen quiet: an empty music stand inside St Sepulchre’s, in central London

THE term “Musicians’ Church” is unlikely to apply to St Sepulchre’s for much longer. The new leadership at the City of London church has continued to resist attempts to persuade it to reverse its plan to close its doors to those who wish to hire it for concerts and rehearsals.

Instead, the diocese of London is developing a website, www.musicianschurch.org, to be launched on 1 November, to pool the resources of several other London churches.

On Thursday, the diocese reported that the Acting Bishop of London, the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, and senior colleagues had been in discussions with the Priest-in-Charge of St Sepulchre’s, the Revd David Ingall, and his PCC about the row that has developed since the church’s announcement, in August (News, 18 August), that it wished to use its premises for church-related activities.

Mr Ingall came to the church in 2013, when groups from Holy Trinity, Brompton, and St George’s, Holborn, formed a partnership with St Sepulchre’s as part of the diocese’s church-planting strategy.

A letter of protest at the church’s plans was signed by many of the top names in the music world (News, 24 August).

Bishop Broadbent reports that he represented this view to the leadership at St Sepulchre’s: “The Church of England is called to be a welcoming, inclusive, and engaging Church. I have re-emphasised the importance of this to all those at St Sepulchre.”

The Bishop none the less expresses sympathy for the church’s stance. “I recognise that the hiring of space in churches, and in particular providing space for musicians to rehearse and perform, need to be balanced with all the activity that a parish and community wants and needs to take place. It is sometimes not an easy balance to strike.”

St Sepulchre-without-NewgateSt Sepulchre-without-NewgateIt appears that the church has made a few concessions. Bishop Broadbent says: “Major flagship concerts, and rehearsals in preparation for these concerts, will still take place at St Sepulchre, and the PCC is developing a wider programme of music which they will be announcing soon.”

But his statement signalled a significant shift in policy: “Although St Sepulchre has for many years been the spiritual home of the National Musicians’ Chapel, and will continue to be so, many of our churches can rightfully claim to exercise a role as a musicians’ church.”

Andrew Earis, a former director of music at St Sepulchre’s, and now director of music at St Martin-in-the-Fields, has been involved in the discussions between the church and the diocese. He said in a statement on Thursday: “It is regrettable that the Revd David Ingall and the PCC of St Sepulchre’s have not changed their position despite huge pressure from the musicians’ community, the diocese of London and the wider Church of England.

“Whilst they have offered positive proposals towards a more significant in-house music programme, they have confirmed that the church will be closed to outside hirers. Church rules mean that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to overrule this decision.”

Such a decision, he writes, “is doing irreparable harm to the Church as a whole”.

But he goes on: “If St Sepulchre’s is unwilling to honour its role as an open and inclusive National Musicians’ Church, then now is the time to re-define what the Musicians’ Church means beyond St Sepulchre’s.”

He says he is excited by the diocese’s plan to create a Musicians’ Church operating across several London churches.

”There are two key elements to this: an annual programme of worship and concert activity, and increasing access to hire space for rehearsals and concerts across the City of London. This offers huge opportunity to grow music-making in the churches of the City of London and beyond.”

Richard Robbins, who has led the campaign by musicians to reverse St Sepulchre’s decision, has effectively conceded the church will not change its mind. He did say, however, that he was pleased the diocese had made a commitment to “improving access to all the city churches” and welcomed the new website.

“It’s sad that the actions of St Sepulchre’s have been the catalyst for this but, as Bishop Broadbent says, many churches can claim to be a musicians’ church, and performers and musicians will look forward to a new welcome in those places. St Sepulchre’s will always be the historic spiritual home, but musicians will look forward to engaging with new communities.”

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