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|2548: St Martin-in-the-Fields,
Worshipper: Church Mouse.
of England, Diocese
of London, Deanery
A neo-classical building on the edge of Trafalgar Square in
the centre of London. The current church was built in the 1720s
and has a rectangular nave divided into arcades by sizeable
columns that lift into carvings up to the roof. There is a gallery
that I have seen used but wasn't on this occasion. The windows
are plain glass, with a modern design for the east window. The
lighting is from brass candelabra. Seating is in box pews.
St Martin-in-the-Fields is well known for its work with the
homeless, in which it is supported by the BBC, with which the
church has a good relationship. It also provides services for
the Chinese community and is the church for the Royal Family,
10 Downing Street, and the Pearly
Kings and Queens (an organisation, steeped in tradition,
of charitable groups), whose Harvest Festival is held there
in October. St Martin-in-the-Fields holds concerts throughout
the year and has a deserved reputation for amazing music.
When the church was built, it was literally in the fields between
the City of London and Westminster. Today, St Martin-in-the-Fields
is in the centre of London, next to Trafalgar Square and near
to galleries and the theatre.
The Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, was the preacher.
The Revd Dr Sam Wells, vicar, was the celebrant. Readers were
the Revd Roger Hutchings and the Revd Sharon Grenham-Toze. Prayers
were led by Sister Gemma Simmonds, of the Congregation
of Jesus. Music Director was Richard Tanner; organist was
The date & time:
Ascension Thursday, 9 May 2013, 8.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
A Celebration for Ascension Day.
How full was the building?
Downstairs was full. I don't think the gallery was in use.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
It was a ticketed service because it was also broadcast, so
we were greeted via the BBC routine of checking tickets, adding
stickers, and scanning the barcodes. There was someone from
St Martin-in-the-Fields also handing out tickets at the door
to regular members of the congregation.
Was your pew comfortable?
Box seating isn't wonderfully comfortable, but I didn't find
the height of the edges actively painful. It neither caught
me in the neck or required me to crane my head to see over it,
as I have experienced in other churches.
How would you describe the pre-service
Expectant hum. We had to be seated by 7.40pm, but we were in
20 minutes before that and had settled down. For the half hour
from 7.25pm to 7.55pm, Clair Jaquiss, the producer, greeted
us and explained the format of the service. We rehearsed some
responses with the vicar, and the first verse of the hymns with
the music director. Where there was a split between voices,
we also practised that. Part of this rehearsal time meant we
were crossing out hymns on the booklet, as the rehearsal had
shown they were running longer than an hour. We were also warned
that should we be overrunning, someone would come into the central
aisle and hold up a card with instructions for omitting verses
of the hymns. One of the things Clair Jaquiss said that really
stuck with me was that the congregation were not just those
of us in church, but included the thousands of people listening
in. It really did feel like being part of the wider communion.
What were the exact opening words of the
From about 7.55pm we were sitting in silence, waiting for the
signal to say the BBC news broadcast had finished and that we
were to start. When we started, we did so by singing "Hail the
day that sees him rise." The vicar then said: "Alleluia! Christ
is risen," to which all responded: "He is risen indeed. Alleluia!"
What books did the congregation use during the
Preprinted booklet with the hymns, readings, responses and prayers
written in. Not sure of the Bible version, but suspect the New
Revised Standard Version.
What musical instruments
Organ. Music was also provided by members of the instrumental
group Canzona (strings, woodwinds, brass, timpani, and what
looked like a harpsichord); the BBC Radio 4 Daily Singers Choir;
and Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields.
Did anything distract
The whole service was taken apace to fit within the 8.02pm to
9.00pm slot, which didn't leave much time for distraction. The
choir and orchestra provided settings from Bach's Mass in
B Minor: several movements from the Gloria; the
Sanctus, and the Dona nobis pacem movement
from the Agnus Dei.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It was a formal eucharistic service with Bach settings, hymns,
and Common Worship format. It didn't feel stiff-upper-lip, as
there were no processions or incense. The feeling was warm.
When the peace was exchanged, we stayed in our pews but shook
hands around: both sides, front and back. Because of the time
constraints, only the clergy took communion, although the congregation
were provided for later, as will be seen.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 The bishop spoke well, taking his subject from the
texts and theme of the service and making them into something
the congregation might experience in their own lives.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The ascended Christ is often depicted as a triumphant figure
sitting at the right hand of God. When the noted early 19th
century Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen crafted the clay
model of what would become one of his most famous works, the
the ascended Christ, he modeled it as a triumphant figure. However,
when he left it in the workshop overnight, it sagged, leaving
him with a Christ figure reaching out to the world. Thorvaldsen
thought that this was a better depiction of Christ, and so incorporated
that posture into the final work. We, too, should be following
in the footsteps of Christ, reaching out to those who are struggling.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Wonderful singing and great music, thought provoking sermon
and prayers. The hymns were glorious: "We have a gospel
to proclaim", "Crown him with many crowns", "Lord
enthroned in heavenly splendour", as well as (unsurprisingly)
Bach's Heut' Triumphieret Gottes Sohn, BWV 630.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
It was bitterly cold and wet queuing outside. Compounded to
that was some confusion about who could and couldn't come in,
until the gentleman from St Martin-in-the-Fields appeared with
his stash of tickets, all stickered with a label saying "Production
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the broadcast service had finished, the orchestra departed
and the congregation were asked to come forward to take communion,
to the accompaniment of organ music. We then had our own blessing
and sang another hymn before leaving. When we finished, it was
about 9.30pm, and most people were rushing home for the night.
As I had arrived early, I headed down to the crypt to eat and
was joined by members of the choir, who were very friendly and
How would you describe the after-service
There wasn't any.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 I'd like to visit this church for a regular Sunday
morning service. My feeling is that this service had been put
together with great care, both to meet the needs of the listeners
at home as well as the present congregation. It was all very
thoughtful and inclusive.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That we are part of a much wider church.
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