I’ve four favourite London churches. They’re all very well known but not the most famous. They’re all historic, different and beautiful, though, also, not the most. But they are special to me! Anyone who has visited London must have seen St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square. The present building, designed by James Gibbs and completed in 1726, has recently had a 36 million pound renovation. John and I have been to evensong but St Martin’s is not one of “our” regular churches when in London.
So, why is it very special to me?
In St Martin’s portico there’s a statue by Mike Chapman called CHRIST CHILD. It was chiselled out of a 4.5 tonne block of Portland stone. Mike Chapman writes on his website “For the millennium I was commissioned to produce a sculpture to be placed in Trafalgar Square during Christmas. It seemed to me...a tiny life-size baby...would be the best way to remind us all of just whose birthday we were celebrating”. www.mikechapmansculptor.com/photo_6382992.html
And so the plinth isn’t simply a rectangular block holding the infant Jesus. It’s an integral, vital part of the statue. Around the plinth is inscribed, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word lived with us” (Jn 1:1,14).The plinth
reminds us of John 1:1,3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by him...” This clearly expresses the divinity of Christ. Its size far out shadows that of the infant and yet they are inextricably linked shown by the umbilical cord embedded in the plinth, and the infant not yet fully free from its sea-like surface.
The infant is tiny, fragile and portrayed with all the helplessness of newborn humanity. The CHRIST CHILD is a compellingly powerful representation of both the divinity and humanity of Christ Jesus our Lord.
It’s hardly surprising
for a moment
HOLY TRINITY BROMPTON
“I am the Alpha...” what a wonderful text! And what a happy name it is for the Alpha course which has been the beginning of a new life in Christ for countless people worldwide.
The Alpha Course, headed by Nicky Gumbel, needs no introduction. Everyone, almost everywhere, must have seen banners hanging outside churches proclaiming “ALPHA is coming!” It’s crossed denominational barriers, uniting us with the vision of world evangelism and what we can do in our little corner. The May 2010 edition of htb news reports on the Malaysia Alpha Conference and quotes the Catholic Archbishop saying, ”I have prayed for this day.” Holy Trinity Brompton, where we were heading for the 11.30 am service, is an Anglican church, very influential and evangelical, and is where Alpha originated in the 1970s. It’s easily found if you know where the Victoria and Albert Museum is in Brompton Road Knightsbridge. The RC Brompton Oratory is next to the V&A and immediately after it is a gardened riveway leading to the church which can be easily missed.
It’s a pretty mid-Victorian church, which I always think should be sitting in an English country village because it is so different from most central London churches. Inside it’s arched and vaulted with a balcony running along three sides. There are no pews but tiers, comfortably carpeted and we sat there as usual. The color scheme is dominated by shades of pink and most attractive. The church members are so friendly and welcoming you immediately feel at home. The service itself was slightly informal and contemporary but everyone wholeheartedly enjoyed it, even a little girl dancing at our feet during the singing! Because the columns obscure the preacher there are many screens on which it can be viewed and the sound system is superb. One can always be sure of a practical, spiritual and interesting sermon, as it was that day.
And after church of course, there’s the Book Shop in the crypt. It’s such an interesting shop with over 1000 titles in stock (well chosen), music DVDs , Alpha resources and more. After service on Sunday it’s crowded, but it opens 6 days a week from about 10.30 am to 5.15pm. Do please check, times change! It’s quiet then and you can browse uninterrupted listening to Christian music while gathering an armful of books to buy... “Where’s your poetry
section?” I asked a young assistant. “Poetry?’ he said giving me a quizzical glance, “Poetry. We don’t have any” Oh dear Oh dear! Christian poets don’t despair....
After church the big question is where to for lunch? The area is affluent, there’s a plethora of restaurants and the whole world seems to be out eating. Here are a couple of suggestions. Try Harrods, their foodhalls with counters, especially the American doughnuts and coffee or the French Laderee for a most exotic, extravagant and expensive sandwich. Then there are all the museums nearby. We like the large gardened quadrangle in the V&A which has food stalls and seating outside. Best of all is the Orangery in Kensington Palace Gardens which flow into Hyde Park. Enter from
Kensington Road, walk up The Broad Walk to opposite the Round Pond and turn left to the Sunken Garden, ablaze with flowers in spring and summer, and where Princess Di used to take her boys to look at the fish in the pond, and where
lesser mortals can peer through gaps in the surrounding hedge to view it. Just beyond is the short avenue leading to the Orangery. We always sit outside and I can never resist the cakes and tarts with thick clotted cream... (For lovely
My travel advice is study a map before you go. There are lots of hot and bothered tourists tramping around asking “Where’s Harrods? Where’s the Science Museum? Where’s the underground?” and that spoils what could be, and was
for us, a most refreshing Sunday.
METHODIST CENTRAL HALL
The Methodist Central Hall is the huge domed building opposite Westminster Abbey on Parliament Square. This
multi-purpose church building is well worth a visit (though sometimes it is closed for functions). If you are in London on a Sunday, the 11 am service in the Great Hall is a must. www.methodist-central-hall.org.uk
It was built to celebrate the centenary of John Wesley’s death (he founded Methodism) using a quarter of the One Million Guineas Fund given by one million Methodists to advance the Methodist outreach. John Wesley (statue by Manning) stands in the Foyer to welcome you. He’s a short little man who had an amazing ministry.
On a mild April morning this year, John and I worshipped there. Standing outside on the pavement we met two elderly ladies dressed, as we were, for church. “Welcome!” they said. “Come up in the lift with us!” (It’s outside in the side street). I was grateful because I wasn’t looking forward to struggling up the very beautiful and ornate Grand Staircase
with my stick in order to reach the lovely Great Hall (which seats about 2400 people) where the morning service is held. This was a traditional communion service. (There are also contemporary services).
The congregation entered, silently greeting their friends, unlike the tower of Babel that frequently confronts one! I was glad to sit quietly, staring up at the beautifully decorated dome, thinking and praying for the family back home. Fine music has always been a feature of this church, what with John Wesley’s great hymns, a wonderful organ and highly professional musicians. Dr William Lloyd Webber, father of the celebrated Andrew and Julian, was organist here from 1938 for several years.
Dr WE Sangster, the notable Methodist minister and writer, preached his first sermon as minister of Central Hall in
1939 and announced, during the service, that war had been declared. The Hall was hardly damaged during World War 2, and its basement served as the largest air raid shelter in England.
This Sunday the choir was superb, we heard a good and challenging sermon and shared in communion. The service closed with the congregation singing Blessed Assurance with the most blessed assurance I’ve ever heard it sung! I wandered out of church feeling I had had a small foretaste of heaven. Even the crowds milling around could not dispel this feeling. We walked down the side of the Houses of Parliament into Victoria Tower Gardens beside the Thames, saw a reproduction of Rodin’s bronze statue, The Burghers of Calais, and that of Emmeline Pankhurst who was instrumental in obtaining women’s voting rights. On a lighter side, we saw three brightly painted baby elephants
sitting on the grass on their plump posteriors. About 150 of these elephants had been popping up all over London and were simply enchanting.
It’s a pleasant walk along the Thames and Millbank to Tate Britain (not to be confused with Tate Modern) where we headed for lunch in the basement. A nice feature of the major galleries and museums in London is that they are free and you can usually get very reasonable and tasty meals in them. The self service in Tate Britain has never disappointed us. Get there early – it’s not large and deservedly popular – good British home cooking! John is still talking about the fishcakes he enjoyed that day and I have never tasted such a delicate tomato quiche. www.tate.org.uk/britain/
So once again we were blessed with a lovely London spring Sunday. Thank you, Lord, for the memory of it.
ALL SOULS AND REGENT’S PARK
We’ve had lovely Sundays in London, the highlight being morning worship. One June day we set off from our hotel
near Trafalgar Square on our way to All Souls Langham Place. It’s a good walk and partly uphill. In a way, that day was a John Nash day. He was the famous 19th century architect who left his mark on London, being responsible for
Regent Street, All Souls and Regent’s Park all of which we were visiting . We started at the bottom of Regent Street and walked past the elegant curving Quadrant built to follow the street’s curve. Nash would have recognized these buildings because their facades have been preserved. But go inside! Sophisticated, designer, up-to-the-minute, very 2010! Look out for Liberty’s (fabrics, household furnishing and women’s wear) and Hamley’s – the delight of children and grandparents! Where Regent Street crosses Oxford Street with its milling crowds, one gets a view of All Souls. Its Gothic style steeple and classical columned rotunda caused an outcry at first. But what would Regent Street be without All Souls crowning it? The church is part of the Church of England, is evangelical and known for its great preachers and teaching ministry. We first went there in the 1960s and heard John Stott, now Rector Emeritus, and known worldwide through his campaigns and many books which have sold millions of copies. This year I bought his Daily Reflections, Through the Bible through the Year, and found it so interesting and challenging I finished it in a couple of months.
The church itself is very beautiful - white and gold predominate and upstairs a gallery runs along three sides. We sat at the west end, facing the preacher and in front of the magnificent organ. Young people, professionals and students from all over the world, were there too. Over 60 nationalities are represented in the church and there are always many visitors from abroad. The far, east end, is dominated by a huge painting by Richard Westal which was miraculously missed when a landmine severely damaged the church during World War 2. It was given to the church by King George IV and is called Behold the Man. Jesus, dressed in white with bound hands stands in front of his accusers, dark and merging into the background. It is essentially a portrait of our Lord, calm, composed and completely in control of the situation having set his face to what lies before. It’s very, very moving. ( www.allsouls.org and also see: images for all souls langham place photos)
After church there’s tea, friendship and a bookshop – irresistible to us – in the hall below. But that Sunday we didn’t linger. We were going to Regent’s Park. Crossing the street, now called Portland Place, we took a bus to Regent’s Park, seeing the very grand white terrace mansions Nash designed to almost encircle the Park. Now be warned! Regent’s Park is vast (472 acres). In parts you could be out in the English countryside - even the London Zoo is in it! But we were heading for lunch via Queen Mary’s Rose Garden, a most spectacular display of roses in June. I wrote a poem about it in A CHRISTIAN IN LONDON AND PARIS. Thousands and thousands of roses in full bloom seemed to be praising God, as we did, looking at them. http://www.golondon.about.com/od/londonpictures/ig/Regent-s-Park/
We went to the nearby Garden Cafe where we enjoyed Italian bread and chicken and wonderful crispy chocolate muffins. Spring (mid April), with all the pink and white blossom –lined streets and exquisite flower beds on Flower Walk is another special time in the Park. So we had a lovely day – body and, more importantly, soul nourished and satisfied. We caught a bus all the way back.