Thursday, 23 June 2022

14. St James', Piccadilly, London: 19th June 2022

 It’s a weird sensation to be in central London having an al fresco coffee on a Sunday morning because there is hardly anyone about! 

Well, that was our experience last Sunday as we sat opposite St James’ Church in Piccadilly.

At 11am we made our way into this beautiful Wren church that sits in its own courtyard.  We were joined by around 80 other worshippers.

The music before the service was provided by piano and cello and created a great atmosphere in the building.  During the service the congregational singing was somewhat ‘muted’ as I suspect the two Iona hymns we sang, although they had excellent words, were accompanied by unfamiliar tunes.  The last hymn was Sing Hosanna and that went with a real swing!

During the service the liturgy was often sung by an impressive choir called The Lay Singers, these were conducted by a very able (and happy!) musician and at some points we were led by a wonderful tenor cantor.

From the very first word spoken, by the Rector, The Revd Lucy Winkett, it was clear we were being led by very warm-hearted and positive clergy.  Their use of language, which was both inclusive and contemporary, was exemplary and it was soon clear that certain bits of Iona liturgy had been skilfully woven into the service.  Everything that was said, sung and done at St James’ on Sunday felt life affirming.

The sermon was preached by one of the churches Self Supporting priests, an American academic from one of the London colleges.  His text wasn’t easy as it was the healing of a ‘demon possessed’ man and the subsequent mass stampede of a herd of pigs.  However, this was a good sermon (in my view at least!).  I may not have agreed with every point being made, yet I was both challenged and inspired by the way these issues were dealt with, ranging from what it means to be made in the image of God when we have mental health issues, to the care and good husbandry of animals.  And that, for me, was one of the most important lessons I learnt from Sunday.  The preacher said some really challenging things, even controversial, yet the way he said them, with an obvious gentleness and positivity, made me engage with him, travel with him and willingingly think about the issues.  I’ve always ‘hoped’ that a sermon could both challenge and comfort, and on Sunday I personally experienced that.

The outstanding feature, I felt, of St James’ Piccadilly is that, although it is in the centre of a capital city, enjoying the company of tourists (like us!), it has a ‘real’ sense of community about it.  I suspect that, in no small part, is due to the inspiring ministry of The Revd Lucy Winkett (who was educated here in Amersham at The Girls’ High School!).  Nothing at St James’ is ‘dumbed down’ or in the least bit ‘gimmicky’.  In many ways it is quite a serious church, alongside being one that shows great commitment and practical compassion.  It obviously offers the warmest of welcomes to the LGBT community and twice a week provides 150 hot breakfasts to rough sleepers.

This church has a big challenge in front of it as it seeks to raise no less than £16m to refurbish and update its buildings.

We came out of church very much uplifted by the service on Sunday, sensing we had found a congregation in central London that is seeking to live with integrity, one whose life together is inspired by a God of love and compassion.

Thanks be to God for a church like St James’, Piccadilly and the excellent ministry of The Revd Lucy Winkett.

14. St James', Piccadilly, London: 19th June 2022

 It’s a weird sensation to be in central London having an al fresco coffee on a Sunday morning because there is hardly anyone about!  Well...