Monday, 10 January 2022

7. St Stephen's Walbrook, City of London: January 2022


On a recent ‘day off’ I attended the lunch time Sung Eucharist at St Stephen’s Church, Walbrook, next to London’s Mansion House.  This is the church where The Revd Chad Varah, founder of The Samaritans, was vicar.  It’s an architectural masterpiece designed by Sir Christopher Wren with a stunning domed rood, yet it has recently been ‘modernised’ inside with ‘circular pews’ around a central stone altar.

I was encouraged, as I approached the church, to hear its bell ringing out announcing that a service of worship, at which about 30 would attend, was about to commence.  I was given a very warm welcome and handed both hymn book and service sheet. 

This service, held every Thursday is recorded and then uploaded onto the church’s website on Saturday, effectively also becoming their Sunday eucharist too.  St Stephen’s, being in The City, is not really a weekend church, catering instead for a weekday congregation.  Indeed, the young man attending the service in the pew in front of me slipped out quickly after the blessing, I presume his lunchbreak was up and he was off back to the office.

It struck me that so much effort had been put into this lunchtime service, as in many senses it was the church’s main event of the week.  That meant there was wonderful music provided by a young lady organist who played beautiful, with a soloist who sang some inspiring anthems.  The clergy and helpers were dressed in full attire and there was a significant sense of ‘occasion’ during the 45 mins we were together.

St Stephen’s uses a communion liturgy based on the Anglican 1928 Prayerbook, the one never sanctioned by parliament!  This prayerbook has a lot of words!  I suspect that compared to the AFC Communion Liturgy it was three times as long.  I think it made me realise what a wonderful opportunity Free Churches have of writing their own liturgy, spending time crafting words that give a nod to history but reflect the rhythm of the way we speak today.  It’s also true that so many words give the officiant the great challenge of ‘getting through them’ without speaking too quickly.

It being the Feast of the Epiphany, the characters of the three kings were ceremonially put into the church’s crib scene at the beginning of the service, complete with incense.  Indeed we were told that St Stephen’s keeps a ‘long Christmas’ right up to 2nd February and the Feast of Candlemas, and until then the Christmas Tree will stay in place!

The sermon was very good and finished with a tribute to Desmond Tutu who died on St Stephen’s Day last year.

During the offering I was interested to see that not only did the steward hold a basket for cash and envelopes, but in the other hand was a card machine and, indeed, some people around me did swipe their cards as they sang the offertory hymn!  Times are changing!

After the service, although I didn’t stay for it, a light lunch was served at the back of the church and it was obvious that this gathering would be well attended by folk who made it their regular ‘meeting up’ time.

I came away so impressed by St Stephen’s Walbrook and its integrity in doing something so relevant to its context, that of a Thursday lunchtime Eucharist.  Such energy and commitment is keeping this community of faith alive and vibrant and maintaining a wonderful witness to Jesus Christ at the centre of the City of London.

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