Mystery Worshipper: Ken T. Poste
Church: St Margaret Lothbury
Location: City of London
Date of visit: Wednesday, 19 October 2016, 12:50pm
Like many in the City of London, the church was destroyed by the Great Fire of London 350 years ago and rebuilt to a design by Sir Christopher Wren. If you didn't know it was there, it would be very easy to miss, as it's just another pale building tucked between two more pale buildings behind a really big pale building. But the simplicity and unostentatious exterior belies what meets you as you step into the church. The inside is absolutely sumptuous. What strikes you is the elegance of the dark wood of the pews and the rood screen, highlighted with the occasional artwork on the walls and the stained glass windows. The rood screen partly hides the high altar in the chancel, but one can see that above it is a copy of the Ten Commandments and one of the creeds. There is a third panel, but I couldn't read it from where I was. Much of the woodwork was moved here from other Wren churches that have been demolished.
The church is mostly made up of people who work in the city and, as such, there are no services at weekends. The church is twinned with St Mary Woolnoth, which is less than a five minute walk away. Between them, they have two main midweek services. The church seeks to serve the financial community and is also the spiritual home of several livery companies (including the Scientific Instrument Makers' Company), with special services held for them each year.
The church is sat immediately behind the Bank of England, in the middle of the square mile in London. Its the heart of the financial district and comes with a few peculiar characteristics. Many of streets are incredibly narrow and labyrinthine, making it very easy to get lost, but also providing great opportunities for exploration if you have a bit of time to spare. During the week it is generally bustling, with extremely busy periods at the start and end of the working day, as well as at lunchtime, when it becomes difficult to walk along a pavement without bumping into somebody. During the weekends, though, the area is deserted and seems quite creepy in comparison.
The service was led by the vicar, Revd Preb Jeremy Crossley. The sermon was given by James Gerry, one of the church wardens. The sung worship was led by Tom (no surname given).
What was the name of the service?Informal Worship and Teaching
How full was the building?
People came and went, but it was pretty full for most of the time. I estimate that at its maximum there were about 70 people present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. As I came in, someone was reading the notices on a board at the back of the church, but they evidently weren't part of any welcome team. Entering the main part of the church, I noticed the worship team and the preacher were in a huddle, praying before the service began. I took my seat and exchanged silent nods with a few people as they filtered in.
Was your pew comfortable?
Oh, it was wonderful! Every pew had a long cushion on it, but it was a proper cushion, rather than a strip of carpet. In the front of every seat were some very plump, firm leather kneelers, though whether they were new or just unused, I couldn't tell; they were certainly pristine.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was all rather quiet and prayerful. A welcome contrast to the bustle of the city outside.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Thank you Jesus. Thank you for the presence and work of your Spirit." (These words only came at 1.20pm, as the vicar was late in arriving after being delayed on the London tube network.) The first half hour of the service was all sung worship.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The words to the songs were displayed on a couple of screens at the front of the church. The reading was given from The Holy Bible, Today's New International Version, a copy of which was in front of every seat.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, guitar and drums.
Did anything distract you?
I daresay one or two of the ladies in the congregation could divert one's attentions momentarily.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I was pleasantly surprised in finding it a very low church. I'd been expecting something relatively austere, but it was relaxed, unstuffy and very comfortable. The sung worship, which took up most of the service, was modern in style, including songs by such songwriters as Phil Wickham and Matt Redman. Most of the congregation were dressed more formally than the preacher. Towards the end of the service, prayer was offered for people with various pressures, whether that be dealing with work, family, Southern Rail, friendships, etc. Anyone who felt they needed prayer in one of these areas was invited to stand, whereupon about 80 per cent of the congregation did.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – James Gerry spoke with a handful of notes, pacing around a little on the floor and with an accent that I thought was either American or Canadian (the two are nigh on indistinguishable to an English ear), but there was a slightly unusual extra twang in it that I couldn't place.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
They were doing a series entitled "Why take Jesus seriously?" Today's title was "He thrives on pressure" and was based on Matthew 9:18-26 (Jesus raises a dead girl and heals a sick woman), though with significant reference to Luke 22:44 (Jesus sweating blood). Jeremy confessed that his research on Jesus under pressure started with a Google search, where he found many references to Jesus being supremely calm. Yet he then contrasted this Googled version of Jesus with the Jesus of the gospels who could say some pretty harsh things to the Pharisees or his own disciples. We find a Jesus who is no less God even though he could get frustrated with us when we are blockheads. He could lose his rag with people, and because of that he is all the more credible.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The whole service was heavenly. I loved the modern worship in a traditional setting. The two complemented each other and gave a marvelous sense of completeness. It was stripped free of all ceremony and gave the impression of Christianity in the raw; there was nothing superfluous here. A real oasis where one can express spirituality in the midst of global capitalism.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The only thing I could identify as being out of place was the guitarist's trousers, which had massive holes in the knees. I know it's supposed to be informal worship, but ripped jeans are maybe taking liberties a little too far.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The "come and go" nature of the service made this hard. By the time it finished, most people had already gone. As I got up to walk to the back, drop my offering and MW card, someone wished me their blessings before turning away, so there wasn't anyone for me to talk to. I then just walked out and became another anonymous face in the city.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No refreshments of any kind were on offer. Not that there was any shortage of establishments down tiny side streets in the square mile from which one could purchase a beverage and a snack.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – It was an absolute joy. I only regret not having found the church during the time I worked in the square mile, and if I ever do again in the future, I will be sure to come back here. Every week.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The sense of completeness.