Friday 25 April 2014
Deepening our Fellowship and Extending our Mission: Some Proposals about our Pattern of Worship
There have been discussions for a few months about our weekly pattern of worship, arising out of the action-planning process. These conversations have resulted in the following proposed alterations, which would come into effect in September. This brief note is an attempt to summarise the rationale for these alterations.
Our central act of worship at St Martin-in-the-Fields is the 10.00am Parish Eucharist. In it we meet God and one another in word and sacrament, shedding our burden of sin and estrangement from one another, lifting our hearts in song and prayer, and being renewed for mission and discipleship.
In addition to the Sunday 10.00am Eucharist (and excluding special, pastoral and seasonal services), we also offer three other kinds of occasions for worship through the week:
- Attractional services. These are acts of worship that capitalise on our location and choral tradition and are friendly to people who work in or visit central London. These include Choral Evensong (Wednesday and Sunday), Choral Eucharist (Wednesday), and Great Sacred Music.
- Quieter moments of encounter. Most of these are small and take place in the Dick Sheppard Chapel: e.g. the Monday, Tuesday and Friday lunchtime communion services. These we offer to people who can’t come on a Sunday, who are passing through, or who want a more secluded moment to be with God in sacramental way in habit or in crisis.
- Regular pattern of morning and evening prayer, which is part of the clergy rule of life and is, at St Martin’s shared with lay people both in participation and in leadership.
Reviewing this list, two things stand out. One is that we don’t have a regular occasion aimed at deepening the fellowship of those for whom St Martin’s is their church home and who want to meet God and one another together without the constant need to be visitor-friendly. The other is that, while we are very conscious that we have a particular stance in the church at large, and often see things differently from the mainstream or the prevailing ethos, we seldom take the opportunity to articulate or explain how and why – and almost never explicitly do so in a worship setting.
To address the first opportunity, the proposal is to create a new communion service, with music, each Wednesday (excluding August and December) at 6.30pm. It would follow the ‘Bread on the Edge’ style often used at Sunday 6.30pm services, including creative liturgy and significant lay involvement. The service would be followed by supper in 6 St Martin’s Place and time for interaction at a deeper level than is possible in the stand-up coffee format of Sunday mornings. This would be a major initiative in the life of the congregation, and the idea arises from pastoral conversations with those many who find companionship, enrichment and challenge at St Martin’s that they don’t find elsewhere in their lives. (To avoid duplication the Sunday 6.30pm services would be discontinued. Meanwhile Wednesday Evensong would move to 4.30pm to facilitate rehearsal time for the choral scholars; and the current Wednesday 6.15pm Communion would be folded into the new 6.30pm service.)
To address the second opportunity the proposal is, once a month, to offer a sermon at Sunday evensong. The sermon would be a substantial 15-20-minute engagement with a significant issue of life and faith, particularly in areas where insiders and outsiders look to St Martin’s for a lead or a different perspective from that sometimes found elsewhere. The current congregation is largely tourists and occasional visitors: the hope would be to grow a wider constituency of those who look to St Martin’s as a beacon of hope in a conflicted church and confused world.
Along with these two proposals, there are other proposals to amend our weekly service pattern.
- In line with the rest of the site the church would be opened at 8.00am on weekdays and daily Morning Prayer would be said at 8.30am. This arises partly out of security concerns and the vulnerability of a person opening the church at 7.30am when there are no security or other colleagues around.
- Thursday 6.00pm Communion often clashes with hospitality events in ways that don’t reflect well on the joined-up thinking of the whole organisation. It’s suggested we discontinue this service.
Finally there is a proposal to discontinue the 8.00am communion on a Sunday. Historically the 8.00am came into being in the days when the main act of worship on a Sunday morning was Mattins. When the Parish Communion movement swept the country in the middle of the last century the 8.00am became a quieter, spoken alternative to the choral eucharist. After the liturgical reforms from the 1960s onwards, the 8.00am became in many places the last preserve of the 1662 liturgy. Today at St Martin’s it is a very quiet service indeed, with only 2-3 regular congregants, and it no longer fits the demographic of our congregation, most of whom travel into town later in the day. My own feeling is that the time has come to recognise that this service, while beautiful, is no longer reflecting the mission of St Martin’s in the way that it once did, and that the level of attendance reflects that.
I understand that change invariably evokes strong views and feelings, and that it will always be easier to make a case for beginning something than for ending something else. The PCC discussed these ideas at its meeting on 18 March. I am happy to discuss these proposals personally, or to take questions publicly at the congregational open meeting on 4 May, to which you are warmly invited.