THE “Musicians’ Church”, St Sepulchre’s, in the City of London, is attempting to restore its standing with the music community by clearing one Saturday a month for concerts.
In a reversal of its announcement in August (News, 18 August) that the church would no longer be available for hire for performances or rehearsals, the Saturday-evening slots can be booked by any musicians for concerts of sacred or secular music. Rehearsal time for these concerts will also be available.
In addition, a series of Monday-evening events focusing on music in worship is planned; and consideration is being given to a residency by a choir or small ensemble.
On Thursday of last week, the diocese of London announced that it was developing a website, www.musicianschurch.org, to be launched on 1 November, to pool the resources of several other London churches.
This development came after a meeting between the Acting Bishop of London, the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, and senior colleagues 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 that it wished to use its premises solely 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 musical 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 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 — needs 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.”
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.”
Dr Andrew Earis, a former director of music at St Sepulchre’s and now director of music at St Martin-in-the-Fields (Comment, 1 September), has been involved in the discussions between the church and the diocese. He said on Tuesday: “Whilst St Sepulchre’s have offered positive proposals towards a more significant in-house music programme, they have confirmed that, despite huge pressure from the musical community, the diocese of London, and the Church of England, the church will still be closed to all but a handful of outside musicians. Even with the proposed 12 concerts a year, this still means a more than 90-per-cent reduction in access to St Sepulchre’s for the musical community.”
He says, however, that he is hugely excited by the diocese’s plan to create an “open and inclusive” national Musicians’ Church, operating across several London churches through the new website, involving an annual programme of worship and concert activity, and increasing access to space for hire for rehearsals and concerts. “There has already been much interest in this idea from churches not only in London, but throughout the UK.
“If we get this right, it could provide a blueprint for a new model of church partnership and a beacon of hope for the whole Church of England.”