|870: St Martin-within-Ludgate, City of London, England|
|Other reports | Comment on this report|
Mystery Worshipper: Newman's Own.
The church: St Martin-within-Ludgate, City of London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: This is a Sir Christopher Wren design, nestled in the bustling atmosphere of the City of London. The interior is cruciform and spare, with typical Wren columns, a large depiction of the commandments above the altar, and stained glass windows showing Saints Peter and Paul flanking a (presumably archetypal) figure of a Bishop of London.
The church: St Martin is a guild church. Though the communion on each Thursday is its only regular service, it is well known for its midday concerts. The history of St Martin's dates to the middle ages (the current structure having been erected after the former church was destroyed in the Fire of London in 1666). Currently, its vicar is chaplain to certain City guilds, and it remains the Chapel of the Honourable Society of Knights of the Round Table.
The neighbourhood: The church is located in the heart of "the City" (London's financial district) , and the history of the area could fill volumes. Just to cite a few examples, St Martin's is very close to St Paul's Cathedral, Blackfriars, and the Courts of Justice, among other notable places. I found the church to be a sanctuary in the midst of the bustle of business and tourist attractions.
The cast: Rev. John Morley, vicar.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion (1662 Book of Common Prayer, with hymns). It was the feast of the ascension, and, with my being of a high church persuasion, this feast normally would have drawn me to smells and bells, yet the simple, unembellished dignity of the Prayer Book service somehow was exactly what I wished that day, much as it was with a group who do not cross themselves.
How full was the building?
There were 15 worshippers (mostly elderly), which was about one-quarter of the number who could comfortably fit.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The vicar greeted each worshipper individually at the doorway after the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes there was ample room.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a bit of talking and bustle as a few people, clearly regularly involved, organised a few details related to the service. Worshippers were quiet and recollected.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name..."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A leaflet containing the order of service, the 1662 Prayer Book, and Hymns Ancient and Modern.
What musical instruments were played?
Only an organ. It is as historic as the building, despite rebuilding here and there, since it is a Bernard Schmidt design dating from 1684.
Did anything distract you?
The verger, who was stout, of ruddy complexion, and possessed of a rather bristly head of grey hair and beard, looked exactly like a stereotypical tavern keeper or boatman in a film set in the Tudor era. I nearly expected Sir Thomas More to say, "Bless you, Matthew."
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The entire service had an impressive simplicity and dignity. As a regular Mystery Worshipper, I'll admit to having tired of the frequent embellishments intended to make the liturgy more attractive, and happily relaxed into the beautiful elegance of the rite of our English Church. Somehow, I was reminded of the Caroline Divines, and their desire to make the eucharist central to Anglican worship.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Two parts of the service were especially celestial. First, the quiet dignity, where the liturgy was allowed to stand on its own, and the worshippers were active, recollected, and reverent. This reminded me of how, throughout a gruesome history (of which St Martin's has seen much including burning twice and surviving the blitz), the work of the people remains, with common worship sustaining the church for 2000 years. Second, the music was impressive in an unusual fashion. It was hardly a marvellous performance the organist dragged the tempo on the two hymns and not all voices resembled those of angels. Yet the small congregation rocked the rafters with their enthusiastic singing.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was a great deal of noise outside from the extensive construction going on in the area, and I was also worried because I had seen armed police officers patrolling the area near St Paul's.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
This was not a setting where people would be conversing.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. However, the thirsty may find the Bell, Book and Candle pub next door to be fun. Its eerie atmosphere is enhanced by drinks named after the seven deadly sins.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 St Martin's is not a parish and has no Sunday services, so obviously it could not be one's regular church, but it is definitely a lovely place for a weekly communion.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Most definitely. Christians gathering for the work of the people reminded me of the brilliance of those who knew, centuries ago, that, whatever our differences and quarrels (not an unknown church quality), our unity can always be expressed in worship.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The utter peace and reverence of the service.