Over the Christmas/New Year holiday we called into Farm Street Church (we were just passing) and felt we had discovered a much-loved building. One thing that struck us straight away was the huge painting by the church’s artist in residence, Andrew White. It’s a modern depiction of the Last Supper and it had me transfixed; I love it.
So, we decided it would be good to join the congregation on one of my Sabbatical Sundays and so we visited them for their 11 o’clock service (one of six they hold every Sunday) on 9th January 2022, a sparkling, blue sky mid-winter day in London.
We’d already discovered a very helpful website and so we appreciated that this would be a service held in Latin with the professional choir in attendance, as opposed to the 9.30am service which was a Family Mass in English, and the 5.30pm service with ‘informal’ music.
Farm Street (incredible to think this area of Mayfair was once Hay Hill Farm!) is a Roman Catholic Church and was established in the mid 1800’s by the Jesuits, around the time when the Roman Catholic hierarchy was restored to England after years of discrimination, even persecution. It makes a bold statement even today with its very powerful neo-gothic architecture. I found it a very welcoming space, one that ‘envelopes’. On this occasion it was still rather beautifully decorated for Christmas.
I confess that at 10.55am it did all seem a little last minute! People were arranging service books and communion vessels in the chancel, the choir only just managed to get to the gallery by 11 am and only about twenty people seemed to be present. However, by 11am, although not a minute sooner, everything was in order and the congregation had at least tripled! From that point on this was an utterly seamless and well-ordered service.
I appreciated the service book which doubled as a hymn book (with 80 hymns at the back) because alongside the Latin text, clearly loved and appreciated by the congregation, there was an English translation.
We sang just one hymn during the entrance procession and to be honest not many people did! Obviously in Free Church worship hymns are foundational to worship, on Sunday it was clear that the liturgical responses, mainly sung by the choir, took their place in this service. And the choir, ten of them, were great! The music (organ and voice) was so uplifting.
We had a super American reader who led the lessons and intercessions from the pulpit. She did so with warmth and great poise. The intercessions were relatively short and consisted of Bidding Prayers.
The service proceeded without announcements, everyone seemed to know exactly what to do at the right time. After the prayer of consecration, I looked up and realised only Rachel and I were not kneeling! The sense of deep sincerity was palpable.
Although predominately ‘retired’, there was a mix of ages with a number of children present. I looked at one little boy, so excited to be going up for communion and cupping his hands in anticipation with a big smile on his face.
Another significant ministry, set up with the blessing of Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, is that Farm Street actively reaches out and welcomes members of the gay catholic community. They are encouraged twice a month at the 5.30pm Mass to ‘contribute’. Surely this is to be commended.
Personally I have attended very few Roman Catholic services, and I’m in no position to make any specific critique of the Church’s traditions. However, on Sunday at Farm Street I came away with one overriding impression. SINCERITY! I think we encountered a community that so desired for Jesus to be at the centre; indeed, at one point the priest said: Your personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important thing in the world.
The folks on Sunday may have been expressing that relationship in a tradition with which I am unfamiliar, but I came away in no doubt that the love of God in Jesus had been very evident among us as we gathered. We both felt it and walked off to lunch pleased to have shared in worship with such a sincere congregation in the centre of Mayfair.