As in so many other areas, England has a fascinating religious history and equally fascinating churches. In addition to visiting galleries, palaces, markets and walking neighborhoods I had put English Churches on my list. I’ve never much liked touristing through churches, although if you’re only in a city or a village for a day or so, sometime that’s all you can do…nooo, my preferred process is to worship at churches.
So given my months here in England, I had the unique ability to worship in amazing well known and architecturally beautiful churches. The experience of the some of the services was so profound that I found myself going back to some for a second time.
Before arriving I reached out to my friend Eleanor De Wolf, a long practicing worshiper of the Anglican church. In fact we have worshiped together in several cities over the years of our friendship. To my utter delight she did some considerable research and created a list of suggestions. I will definitely need to return as I have so many more on the list to visit ( partially because I simply had to return to some a second time) . She informed me that the Diocese of London’s website is a good place to start. And I quote from her email.
http://www.london.anglican.org/Home Go to Organization, then under that Explore the Diocese, and then select the episcopal area. I imagine you will want London and Kensington rather than the more outlying areas of Stepney & Willesden! A click on the area will bring you to the listings of deaneries within them (4 in London and 6 in Kensington – a deanery, rather obviously, being a geographical territory for which a regional dean is responsible to the bishop) – and clicking on those will give you the listing of all the churches in that deanery with information about location etc. As you go down the list you’ll see that some do not have much additional info at all – not a good sign! – others have good write-ups, and links to parish websites which will give you a fair sense of the “feel” of the congregation.
Just doing the browsing on the site was fun.
Naturally Westminster Abbey was on the list. I participated in a Sung Eucharist in early November in the Quire. The Quire which is an obsolete word for choir is also the area in a church or cathedral between the nave and the sanctuary. In the abbey and cathedrals it is the space where the choir sits. As you may know many Anglican and Catholic churches foot print is shaped like a cross. When you attend a service in the Quire you are actually sitting at the intersection of the cross —or if you watched any of the royal weddings you are sitting where the Queen and Royal family sit….so some pretty decent real estate in the abbey or St Paul’s . I also found out that if when the full choir is not in attendance they let us common folk sit in the choir stalls…by the time I figured it out of course all the seats were gone..but next year…
I did find out however that it is worth being at church about a half hour before … you get the best seats in the Quire by doing so..and trust me the Anglican service is worth being up close for…and if you are not early you don’t see a lot at the far ends of the cross.
The High Anglican church has a lot of pageantry. There is of course the amazing choir of boys and men. The service is conducted by a lot of men and a few women all beautifully garbed in golds, greens, reds and blacks. I am sure the various vestments provide insights into roles and position. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough to enlighten you..i just simply enjoyed the pomp and ceremony, the singing and the service.
St Paul’s Cathedral was also on my list. I had attended Palm Sunday there in the spring with friends, Mary Lou and Sandra so it was definitely on my list again. I attended it twice. From an earlier blog you will have read I chose it for November 11th Remembrance Day ceremonies. Needless to say pomp and ceremony was it at its height for this service. I decided to return with my sister and brother in law Annette and Pat and daughter Rachael. I felt no visit to London was really complete without taking in a service at one of the gorgeous churches here. Again we arrived a half hour early and found seating in the Crossing ….right under the dome. Christopher Wren is the architect of the cathedral ..the crossing is a the climax of his vision, a great open space under a beautifully frescoed dome. The day we attended the sun shone in from the east lighting up the crossing. As described in my guide book, Wren created an interior of grand majesty and Baroque splendor…no wonder the royal family holds their important events, here and in the Abbey. Wherever you looked beauty!!
Men and boys Choir was great, the churchmen again in beautiful vestments. Even the men who help to seat you were dressed in beautiful cut away morning coats. A beautiful organ, although Annette found the organ music too somber (depressing) for her liking. The sermon was edgy.. the Anglican synod that week had voted down by a narrow margin the right of women to become bishops. Dr David Ison the Dean of St Paul’s was clearly very disappointed in the results and spoke openly about it. It’s not a good result after 14 years of consultation and likely not another opportunity for a vote for four years. Especially when there are many women already in the ministry.
The last church I will write about is All Saints, Margaret Street. It was the first one I attended and today on my last Sunday I thought I would go back for another service. St Pauls and Westminster Abbey is attended by visitors from all over the world. While the service is beautiful, I did not get a sense of community. At All Saints, they serve coffee and wine after the service in the outside courtyard and people come up to chat with you. The wine today was in honour of a man who celebrated his 80th birthday..and of course we all sang happy birthday in the courtyard. My first visit I witnessed a baptism.
This church is one of the foremost examples of High Victorian Gothic architecture. Described as a hidden gem in central London ( just off Oxford Street). It is very different from the abbey or St Paul’s. Both in architecture and worship. They use a lot of incense in this church!!!! have women in the choir and use a lot of traditional chanting.
All in all some wonderful worship experiences. I highly recommend seeing the churches in England and London through the experience of worship. I think it truly is the best way to get a real sense of the history and purpose of these places.