Bishop Pete Broadbent, Acting Bishop of London has issued the following statement regarding the recent decision of St Sepulchre, “the Musicians’ Church” to suspend its external hire programme.
Statement re St Sepulchre from Bishop Pete Broadbent, Acting Bishop of London
There has been much discussion in recent weeks about St Sepulchre, in the City of London, and its recent decision to suspend its external hire programme.
I am grateful to the Rector and PCC of St Sepulchre for being willing to engage with me and other diocesan colleagues about their decision. In that engagement I have repeated and re-inforced the role the Church of England plays in the communities it serves. The Church of England is called to be a welcoming, inclusive, and engaging church. I have re-emphasised the importance of this to all those at St Sepulchre.
In the Diocese and particularly in the City of London, serving our communities is central to the life of the Church. We are proud that our own work and partnerships, whether it be with youth based charities, heritage bodies, 12-step groups, international communities, homeless agencies, mental health, counselling, and legal advice, really do impact on, and change lives. Innovative use of our buildings, aided by a great network of volunteers enable these activities to happen. It is these ‘Partnerships in the Gospel’ that help define the Church in London today. We are proud of proclaiming afresh the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and proud of serving our communities, and demonstrating through that service our love of God and neighbour.
I recognise that the hiring of space in churches, and in particular providing space for musicians to rehearse and perform, need to be balanced with all the activity that a parish and community wants and needs to take place. It is sometimes not an easy balance to strike.
Major flagship concerts and rehearsals in preparation for these concerts will still take place at St Sepulchre, and the PCC is developing a wider programme of music which they will be announcing soon. I am pleased a new album from their choir will also be released shortly.
Across the City Churches, we have many places of worship with a wide variety of ministry to musicians, providing space for concerts and rehearsals. This has always been the case and although St Sepulchre has for many years been the spiritual home of the National Musicians’ Chapel, and will continue to be so, many of our churches can rightfully claim to exercise a role as a musicians’ church.
For example, we have an active and successful hiring programme and children’s music outreach programme at St Anne and St Agnes, in partnership with the Voces Cantabiles Music Foundation, that reaches over 25,000 children every year, and exciting plans in partnership with Sir Roger Gifford, former Lord Mayor, and Dr Clare Taylor, director of the City Music Foundation to establish a new teaching and performance space at St Bartholomew the Less. This is in addition to the concerts and rehearsals that take place in almost all of our 33 churches of the Square Mile.
The Diocese has a role to play in facilitating and encouraging stronger relationships between the Church in London and the musical community, including making it easier for musicians to access rehearsal and concert space. The wide coverage of these matters has convinced me that we need to improve access to churches which are willing and able to provide such space. So, as from 1 November, we shall be launching a website – www.musicianschurch.org – that will provide easy access to hire space and booking options for musicians in London, as well as be used as a tool to promote concerts and events. I do hope this will also allow us to help support and encourage new musicians, as they form ensembles, and bring together family, friends and the wider public to enjoy the creativity and celebration of God-given musical talent.
I am confident that these steps, along with a clearer programme of activities at St Sepulchre, will start to rebuild confidence in our partnerships and focus our minds on growth. Growth in the work of the church, growth in the use of our buildings, and growth in the music performed in our churches.
Given the starting point of the recent decision of St Sepulchre to suspend its external hire programme and the widespread hostile reception from eminent musicians and others, it is inevitable that Bishop Pete’s statement would be conciliatory to the parties most directly involved, whilst providing an overlay of diocesan requirements. At first sight this appears to elide “a musicians’ church” with “the musicians’ church” (the reverse logic to a recent Marks and Spencer advertisement), and broaden the issue of rehearsal facilities within the diocese.
Those involved in contentious public affairs situations will appreciate that such a statement is required to provide an acceptable gloss to the issues: those of real importance are likely to have been discussed prior to the release of the statement, and will only be evident when the proposed schemes are in place and operational. However, the statement of Dr Andrew Earis, Director of Music at St Martin-in-the-Fields, and former Director of Music at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, he states inter alia:
“It is regrettable that the Revd David Ingall and the PCC of St Sepulchre’s have not changed their position despite huge pressure from the musicians’ community, the Diocese of London and the wider Church of England. Whilst they have offered positive proposals towards a more significant in-house music programme, they have confirmed that the church will be closed to outside hirers. Church rules mean that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to overrule this decision.
I have seen at close hand how tirelessly Bishop Pete, Archdeacon Luke and others have worked to encourage a change of direction. I am distressed by the damage that this is doing to the Church of England and its wider growth strategy. Church partnership done well is a good thing. This decision was not made by the Church of England, the Diocese of London or Holy Trinity Brompton. It was made solely by St Sepulchre’s, and is a decision which, in my view, is doing irreparable harm to the Church as a whole.
As Bishop Pete says, the Church of England must be a welcoming, inclusive and engaging church. Over the past few weeks it has been heartening to learn the extent to which the Diocese of London supports the musical life of our churches. It is critically important to distinguish between the decision of one church to shrink its music offering, and the huge and still growing programme of music mission and outreach throughout the Diocese.
If St Sepulchre’s is unwilling to honour its role as an open and inclusive National Musicians’ Church, then now is the time to re-define what the Musicians’ Church means beyond St Sepulchre’s”.
The rector of St Sepulchre’s has issued the following statement about music on behalf of the PCC:
We totally endorse all Bishop Pete has said, and St Sepulchre’s will always strive to be welcoming, inclusive and engaging.
It’s disappointing that much of the debate in recent days has focussed on the negative of a cancelled hiring programme in one church, rather than the wider role the church continues to play. Indeed at St Sepulchre’s the Choral tradition remains strong and central to our worshipping life. In the last few years the number of Choral Services has more than doubled and the Choir has increased in size. We have also re-started Sunday services after a gap of more than 30 years.
We have tried to get the balance right in our activities, and we have tried to communicate our passion for music. We have not always succeeded. I regret that and where we have caused upset, I and the PCC, are sorry.
Over the coming weeks and months, we hope that we will enthuse and excite as we launch new programmes, concerts and events. We look forward to strengthening our partnerships with all the City Churches, to ensure that music remains vital to our life, as we continue to build Partnership in the Gospel.
The Revd David Ingall
Rector, St Sepulchre’s, on behalf of the PCC
The Acting Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev’d Pete Broadbent has published a statement (referred to above) at bit.ly/stsepulchre.”