Thinking Anglicans

Musicians, HTB, and the Church of St Sepulchre

There has been considerable media coverage of a developing row over the policies of the Church of St Sepulchre Holborn,in London.

The story was first reported by Olivia Rudgard in the Telegraph Proms conductor in row with musicians’ church after it bans ‘non-religious’ concerts. She reported:

…a London church has become embroiled in a row with one of Britain’s best-known composers after it announced it would close its doors to choirs and orchestras because their music was not religious.

Now part of a network founded by evangelical church Holy Trinity Brompton, St. Sepulchre Without Newgate Church, in Holborn, central London, will stop taking bookings from the classical musicians which have relied on it as a rehearsal and concert venue for many years.

The church became part of the evangelical group, which is known for its youth-friendly rock-band style of worship, in 2013.

The Church Times picked up the story and initially reported this way: Musicians feel betrayed as St Sepulchre’s ceases as a concert venue and St Sepulchre’s plan to limit hire-space upsets musicians.

The following week there was: Music luminaries protest at St Sepulchre’s plans.

And the Church Times Press Column also covered it: Andrew Brown: City church-plant resists secular overtures. Do read the whole column, but he noted that:

…So far, St Sepulchre’s has not backed down, and even if it now does so, it will have done a lasting piece of disevangelism. What makes the whole thing so completely ridiculous is that it may well have happened by accident. Perhaps no one in the leadership team has ever listened to Classic FM, let alone Radio 3, and so they all vaguely suppose that classical music is part of the old, moth-eaten musical brocade that they are tearing down to reveal the clean, authentic Ikea Christianity that lies behind it.

The church itself has published this statement:

The Parochial Church Council of St. Sepulchre’s, the National Musicians’ Church, recently took the decision to close its hiring programme from 2018. Hiring will continue as previously planned for the rest of 2017, and all existing bookings for 2018 will be honoured.

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.

Over the weekend there has been a significant response online and via social media to this decision, and 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, including particularly Dr. Andrew Earis (Director of Music at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and former Director of Music here at St. Sepulchre’s).

Finally, we are committed to our on-going programme of weekly Choral Worship, and our on-going programme of choral and organ scholarships. We will maintain and develop our excellent professional choir, which recently recorded a new album to be launched in the Autumn.

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Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

Evangelicals turning out to be anti-intellectual philistines? Who would have guessed it?

Susannah Clark
Guest

St Johns Waterloo comes to mind: open-minded, welcoming, and host to some great classical music:

http://stjohnswaterloo.org/concerts-and-recitals

and host to great festivals too:

https://www.waterloofestival.com/

…how to engage with your local and wider community…

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

Those at St. Sepulchre do realize how much of classical music has a Christian religious basis, right?

And for any institution billing itself as the “National Musicians Church” to restrict its use as a concert venue is very odd, indeed.

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

I fear that a little perspective is needed here. As someone who attends concerts several times a week in central London, I sympathise with musicians aggrieved by some of the policy decisions being taken by the newish management of St Sepulchre, but it should be noted that certain choral services had frequently been attended by more performers than those in the congregation (at least in my experience). Also, I was told that the church had faded badly under a recent but unpopular minister (who may be known to some TA readers as a disagreeably dyspeptic and reactionary blogger and former… Read more »

Victoriana
Guest
Victoriana

This would be the mission-shaped church in action…?

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

I’m curious as to where HTB intends to draw the line.

Is a Bach invention religious or not? How about a Chopin nocturne?

Presumably Handel’s Theodora qualifies? It is said that the ladies of London did not attend it, in the 1750s, because the story was too virtuous.

In which there may be a lesson.

Laurie Roberts
Guest
Laurie Roberts

‘Evangelicals turning out to be anti-intellectual philistines? Who would have guessed it?’ Posted by: Interested Observer on Sunday, 27 August 2017 at 6:50pm BST I for one, am totally flummoxed ! So anti-incarnational and anti-evangelistic. A veritable own goal ! What of the servant church ? Susannah Clark makes great points and helpful pointers. As does Pat O’Neil. I have been reflecting only this week, how hard it is for Churches to pass on christianity / gospel in an effective and enduring way. For example Nichiren Buddhism is a lay movement, whose members are encouraged to share a simple mantra… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

‘Evangelicals turning out to be anti-intellectual philistines? Who would have guessed it?’

And this comment is helpful how???

Fr Andrew
Guest
Fr Andrew

Tim, this blog is called Thinking Anglicans rather than Helping Anglicans.

I do wonder if it was necessary to cancel all bookings? Surely something like reducing the number of days per week when they were taken would have made more politic sense / fitted better with an established parish community church charism rather than simple propagation of a Protestant cult? Surely they’re not going to be Alpha-worshipping 24/7?

The PCCs press release, however, is an absolute gem of vacuity. Ending with a plug for the choir’s new album is beyond parody.

Perry Butler
Guest
Perry Butler

Interesting post Froghole…i wonder what Chapter Meetings are like..?? But is it really necessary to have so many eclectic mostly evangelical congregations in such a small geographical area? Here in east Kent the rural C of E will have more or less collapsed.So it looks as if the future will be congregations in towns.Icabod!

Janet Fife
Guest
Janet Fife

Froghole, thank you for your comments. I’ve been following the story in the Times and was unaware of this perspective (London being a foreign country to us northerners). However, the new leaders at St. Sepulchre do seem to be making a massive mistake. Maybe it’s time for HTB to try reviving a church within its existing tradition, rather than imposing their own model? Or using their experience and resources to ‘target’ a different demographic’?

By the way, what’s FCC?

David Runcorn
Guest

Are we allowed to rejoice here that a previously declining church is now needing time and space in its own building and facilities for worship, discipleship and mission? It makes for an welcome reversal from dead churches sold on for gyms, art galleries, bingo halls – or concert venues. I cannot comment on how the booking issue has been handled – nor can many of us here I suspect. But the reason for this is good news and something to celebrate.

Shamus
Guest
Shamus

I like Janet’s suggestion of HTB reviving a church within its existing tradition. I’m not aware of that being done, but I believe if HTB did that, they would gain greatly from it, and would be respected a great deal more by those of us for whom their style of worship is a complete turn-off.

Simon R
Guest
Simon R

This is entirely consistent with a certain sort of evangelical agenda, cf Justin Welby refusing to be a President of the Royal College of Organists in 2013 because he wanted to “concentrate on more mission-focused initiatives.” What was worse, was the failure of the RCO and organisations like the RSCM to publicly challenge him. Does Welby – and those who share this view – not realise that music-making in church is, statistically, one of the significant factors for attracting young people and non-church families to regular worship? In that sense, organists and choir trainers are, per capita, better enablers of… Read more »

Father David
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Father David

Congratulations Froghole on your encyclopedic knowledge of London churches – I’m impressed. I too would like to know what FCC stands for?

David Rowett
Guest
David Rowett

Me, I’m saddened by the theology of hospitality and community implicit in this decision. A servant Church doesn’t say,’Our expanding (cultic) needs are of greater importance than our being available to our community.’ It’s not a theology of generosity but of,’You can have what we don’t need, and only as long as we don’t need it,’ a ‘crumbs from the table’ service. Joan Chittister OSB in her commentary on the Rule says that chapter 53, on hospitality, is an invitation to the visitor to come in and turn the heart of the monastery outwards, readying itself to be disturbed and… Read more »

Father David
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Father David

To allow “Shine Jesus Shine” and not the music of the great Mozart is enough to make God weep. As we all know when the angels play to entertain and distract the Almighty from His many and onerous duties, they play Bach. When the angels play to entertain themselves, they play Mozart. If it’s good enough for heaven ….

David Emmott
Guest
David Emmott

They have obviously taken no account of Philip North’s criticism of church planters only interested in Zones 1 and 2 of London Transport. Is the population of the entire City of London much bigger than that of a normal urban parish? Where are they coming from, these people?

Here in the North west are many struggling congregations who would welcome resources and encouragement from such as HTB. Many of them are evangelical by tradition and would not find the worship alien. But that would mean well-paid City solicitors having to take a pay cut and move to the dreaded North.

american piskie
Guest
american piskie

FCC = Friends of the City Churches (I think).

http://www.london-city-churches.org.uk/index.html

Fr John E Harris-White
Guest
Fr John E Harris-White

HTB and Justin Welby are from the same egg, and if allowed their way will continue to narrow our beloved Church of England to a narrow minded, bigoted church with only room for those who believe as they do. THIS IS NOT THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND handed down to us from our ancestors. The Church of England as we declare in our creeds is a ONE HOLY CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH . It is time the Bishops, clergy and members of the Church of England woke up to what is happening on Welby’s tenure, and took back the church to… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

To be fair, I don’t think we know the ins and outs of the situation at this church. The Church of England is diverse, and different church communities will address mission and service in different ways. In directing people towards the musical works hosted by Giles Goddard’s lovely Christian community in Waterloo, I was not trying to critique St Sepulchre’s approach to mission. I know nothing about their church. Also, as HTB was a part of my own Christian formation, I’m inclined to be cautious about assuming their lives, work and service are without worth in the eyes of God… Read more »

Anne
Guest
Anne

Janet Fife, I believe you will find that St Augustine’s, Queens Gate is just that, an HTB church plant in a ‘liberal catholic tradition’. In fact I remember reading some time ago in Trushare that HTB were to be congratulated on the great lengths they went to to ensure that celebrants understood the catholic tradition in the C of E. See http://trushare.com/0206%20July%202012/06%20looking_to_the_future.htm by Philiip North: “A few weeks ago I was invited to go and speak to the clergy team at Holy Trinity Brompton. They have taken over an Anglo-Catholic parish called St Augustine’s, Queens Gate and, having promised to… Read more »

Michael Mulhern
Guest
Michael Mulhern

Am I imagining things, or does this seem very similar to what happened at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney, when the Jensen brothers took over around 15 years or so ago? Out went the choral foundation, the altar acquired a set of wheels so it could be pushed out of the way when not in use, and the whole operation took on an exclusive and sectarian character. Because the HTB formula doesn’t allow for mystery or the implicit, the possibility that God might speak through art, architecture and music is completely dismissed. When is the Faculty going in for the… Read more »

Bernard Silverman
Guest
Bernard Silverman

A typical outside musical occasion at St Sepulchre’s is the English Baroque Choir singing days. See http://www.ebc.org.uk/ — on Saturday 3 Feb 2018 all day there’s a day singing Bach’s B Minor Mass, for example. Typically occasions of this sort attract a large group — probably a couple of hundred — of people whose main interest is choral singing. These are important communal activities for their own sake and are greatly enjoyed by their participants. The last time I went to one of these occasions at St Sepulchre’s it was (I think) the Monteverdi Vespers. No doubt the church took… Read more »

Bernard Silverman
Guest
Bernard Silverman

PS…my wife more recently went to a similar occasion in connection with the Proms. At the bus stop afterwards, a mild mannered elderly lady said “Have you heard about how St Sepulchre’s has thrown us out?” — she was clearly a bit upset about this. Pat O’Neill says that to continue to describe St Sepulchre’s as the National Musicians’ Church is “very odd”. That’s a bit polite…”lying” would be more accurate. There’s a large memorial to Henry Wood (who grew up in the parish) at St Sepulchre’s. Wikipedia says “Wood received little religious inspiration at St Sepulchre, but was deeply… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

‘Tim, this blog is called Thinking Anglicans rather than Helping Anglicans.’

Indeed. And I find the insinuation that evangelicals don’t think to be insulting in the extreme.

Tim Chesterton
Guest

‘Maybe it’s time for HTB to try reviving a church within its existing tradition, rather than imposing their own model?’ I understand what’s being suggested here, but for me, it prompts a bigger question: where are the growing, thriving, church-planting Anglo-Catholic and Liberal Catholic parishes who could export a hundred parishioners and revive churches of their own traditions? Instead of criticizing HTB for being true to its charismatic/evangelical traditions and beliefs, why not look to healthy churches of other traditions to do the same thing in their own dying parishes? After all, we’re constantly being told that the evangelical/charismatic brand… Read more »

badman
Guest
badman

The last time I was at St Sepulchre’s was for a stunning performance of the St John Passion before Easter earlier this year. It was a religious experience for me and reached a wider audience than regular attenders at any church. It was packed, big though the church is. But it was booked by the choir which performed it and the new policy would rule it out.

This is an inward-looking and exclusionary move, quite contrary to any rational interpretation of evangelicalism.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

I’ll be charitable here, and assume there’s no malign motive (as Anne rightly says, HTB’s not necessarily bigoted about other traditions). Hanlon’s razor is blunt, but often correct. In short, looks like someone screwed the pooch. But regardless of what HTB did or didn’t do, so long as they’re making a success of it, the church will naturally turn to them. Say what you like about charismatic evangelicals, least they’re getting results. We should be seeing liberal churches planting and networking with the same vigor as HTB and the rest. Why aren’t they? HTB are what they are. Liberals won’t… Read more »

Fr Andrew
Guest
Fr Andrew

‘I find the insinuation that evangelicals don’t think to be insulting in the extreme.’ @Tim Chesterton

So would I Tim. Any such insinuation is entirely imagined and to read it in my post, to be honest, bizarre.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Tim and I finally agree on something on TA! Rejoice!

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“Pat O’Neill says that to continue to describe St Sepulchre’s as the National Musicians’ Church is “very odd”. That’s a bit polite…”lying” would be more accurate. “

I always try to be at least a bit polite….

Pete Broadbent
Guest
Pete Broadbent

Conversations are taking place with The incumbent and PCC. Not helped by being August and therefore (a) holidays and (b) slow news season, generating more heat than light. [I had hoped for a quiet August!] I’ll leave at that for the moment…

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

There’s a bit of narkiness floating around, with people taking offence. But I must say that using labels weighed down with the writer’s assumptions is not helpful. I’m a cradle Wesleyan. I treasure Holy Scripture. I’m an evangelical, and not offended to be so called. I like dressing up and filling the church with incense to honour the altar, the Gospel book, the priest as representative of the people. I am deeply wedded to the sacraments and I value drama and ritual. I’m a catholic, and not offended to be so called. I suspect the St Sepulchre’s business arose from… Read more »

Jim Pratt
Guest
Jim Pratt

It is refreshing to know there is some theological diversity (or inconsistency) among HTB church planters. We have an HTB plant in our diocese, that has been very aggressive in renting out the building: a concert series sponsored by the city, other concerts, and corporate events, including a staff meeting/training session by the local McDonald’s franchisee. And this is not just in their parish hall; the church itself has been renovated for a multi-function space. Indeed, we seem to hear as much, if not more, about the rentals and community use of the building, as we do about their Alpha… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

‘So would I Tim. Any such insinuation is entirely imagined and to read it in my post, to be honest, bizarre.’

Fr. Andrew, the original comment I was replying to was ”Evangelicals turning out to be anti-intellectual philistines? Who would have guessed it?”

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Well now. Tim & I, despite being at opposite ends of the theological spectrum, had exactly the same thought. Fascinating, Jim! Fun as it is to snark at evangelical foibles (just as it’s fun to snark at liberal, moderate, and Anglo-Catholic foibles), when that includes kit as rudimentary as plasma screens (probably OLED these days, unless they got spun a line down the hi-fi store) and decent coffee, it just may point to liberalism’s blind spot: allowing traditional forms of service to rebuild a barrier knocked down by open-minded theology. If good audio-visual and catering’s now a party badge, then… Read more »

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

@Perry Butler: I imagine that meetings of local clergy are quite interesting: the likes of St Magnus Martyr or St Alban Holborn are as unlike Bishopsgate as it is possible to imagine within a single denomination. I imagine you will have found the difference between your old church and, say, St George Queen Square illuminating. I was also interested to read your remarks about east Kent, since I attended services at every available church in the county between 2009 and 2013. My feeling is that there were a few shafts of light, but that the situation was for the most… Read more »

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

@Janet Fife and Fr. David. Yes – as has been noted, the FCC is the Friends of City Churches. It was established by Marcus Binney (of SAVE, and the saviour of Calke Abbey, Derbyshire) in response to the Templeman Report, which threatened to do to the remaining City churches what the Bridges Report had risked doing in Norwich. John Paul of St Andrew by the Wardrobe (also the home of the Friends of Friendless Churches) provided critical support, although the FCC is now at St Mary Abchurch, having also spent some time at St Magnus Martyr. I believe that Mr… Read more »

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

@Perry Butler: Sorry – I forgot the old church of St Michael Hawkinge; that was another one turned into a house, controversially in that case, because it was Grade I and therefore ought to have been within the sights of the CCT (who seem to have known nothing about it, at least when I asked).

Father David
Guest
Father David

Thank you Froghole – your knowledge of the Church of England and its church buildings and what goes on inside of them is staggering and most impressive.

Jonathan Mitchell
Guest
Jonathan Mitchell

Amid all the crossfire of this particular controversy, there is an important missiological dimension that needs to be kept in focus, regardless of whether you are liberal, evangelical or anglo-catholic. It is the apparent failure to fully understand the context. Just like those anglo-catholics who go in to parishes imposing the Roman Missal and the Roman calendar as the badge of ‘kosher’ identity; so evangelicals have a tendency to be naive and selective about what they see as ‘context’ in an associational understanding of the Church. ‘Membership’ is not the native vocabulary of The Church of England. It is here… Read more »

Perry Butler
Guest
Perry Butler

You are a mine of info froghole! But St Albans Holborn is actually in the South Camden deanery of the Edmonton Area…

Perry Butler
Guest
Perry Butler

Looking at my original post I meant to say the collapse would come in 10 yrs..but obviously it’s creaking already.Friends in Devon and Oxfordshire say the same.I suppose church planting is foreign to liberal/ catholic and middle churches because they mostly see themselves functioning as parish churches.They accept a wide range of commitment like layers of an onion, their congregations come because it’s the local church and the clergy priorities are occasional offices, the parish school, the residents association and so forth.I suspect the City churches don’t do many funerals and I gather these are some parishes of a particular… Read more »

Janet Fife
Guest
Janet Fife

‘Instead of criticizing HTB for being true to its charismatic/evangelical traditions and beliefs, why not look to healthy churches of other traditions to do the same thing.’ I’m afraid I didn’t make myself sufficiently clear. I did not intend to criticise HTB’s charismatic/evangelical traditions and beliefs; I’m from that stable myself. Or was. When I spoke of reviving a church within its own tradition, I didn’t mean just theology and churchmanship. Tradition encompasses a lot of other things, customs, and events that often mean more to the congregation and the church’s wider network than its attitude to Bible interpretation, prayer,… Read more »

T Pott
Guest
T Pott

In January 2014 the Bishop of London attended a special service at St Sepulchre’s celebrating the establishment of a successful partnership between the existing Sepulchral community and a team of people from HTB and St George’s Holborn. https://www.london.anglican.org/articles/bishop-of-london-joins-celebration-of-new-working-partnership-at-st-sepulchres-without-newgate/ This partnership seems to have broken down. One factor may be the unrepresentative nature of the PCC. The electoral system, a single constituency in which everyone has as many votes as there are seats, works well in a fairly homogeneous parish. It does not work well in ensuring representation for heterogeneous groups, since the largest subgroup secures all the seats. Are the… Read more »

Anne
Guest
Anne

Tim Chesterton: “Instead of criticizing HTB for being true to its charismatic/evangelical traditions and beliefs, why not look to healthy churches of other traditions to do the same thing in their own dying parishes? After all, we’re constantly being told that the evangelical/charismatic brand of Anglicanism is a huge turnoff to modern people. So by all means, let the healthy liberal catholic parishes step up to the plate.” This is exactly what has happened with the St Augustine church plant in Queen’s Gate, see my comment above. Just look at the church website and you will see that the liberal… Read more »

Iain McLean
Guest
Iain McLean

I wasn’t going to comment as Pat O’Neill, badman and Bernard Silverman among others speak my mind. But as Bishop Pete above has hinted at a rethink, can the rethinkers please come to any professional-standard performance of the st john Passion or the Monteverdi Vespers (or indeed cathedral evensong) and understand what it is to be spiritually moved? It is true that there are lots of central London venues for these things but st Sepulchre’s is acoustically special and very beautiful. (Full disclosure – i did a conducting course there).

Pete Broadbent
Guest
Pete Broadbent

Bevis Marks is a Synagogue…

But yes, FCC do an excellent job, and work closely with the Diocese.

Laurie Roberts
Guest
Laurie Roberts

‘Say what you like about charismatic evangelicals, least they’re getting results.’

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 28 August 2017.

May I respectfully ask what these results consist in ?

It interests and concerns me very much.