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Saturday, 21 February 2015

St Martin-in-the-Fields and St Stephen Walbrook

Next week I will begin the latest phase of my ordained ministry as Priest for Partnership Development with St Martin-in-the-Fields and St Stephen Walbrook. Here is some brief background on the significant histories of both churches:

For over a thousand years a place of worship has been at St Stephen Walbrook in the City of London and Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, the present church, is the fourth to have stood on this site. At the time of its building the great dome was unique in England and it was from this church that Wren developed his plans for St Paul’s Cathedral

Here Sir John Vanbrugh is buried and many distinguished men of letters and of the arts have graced the life of this place. John Dunstable the composer and past merchants and Lord Mayors have been a part its life. There is a plaque to the Revd Robert Stuart De Courcey Laffan, who with Baron Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympic Games in 1890. 

Bombed in the Second World War and restored to its present magnificent state in 1981, twentieth century artists and craftsmen have adorned its interior. Henry Moore’s travertine marble altar now stands at the centre under Wren’s dome surrounded by dazzling kneelers by Patrick Heron

With an almost perfect acoustic for choral singing and a renowned organ famed for its regular recitals on Fridays at 12.30pm for City workers, St Stephen stands witness next to the Lord Mayor’s residence and at the heart of the City it was built to serve. 

A previous Rector, Dr Chad Varah, founded the Samaritans here. On Thursdays the community gathers for a Sung Eucharist at 12.45pm with mass settings designed to blend with its traditional liturgy and architectural environment. St Stephen is the home of the London Internet Church and its ministry of prayer and praise.

St Martin-in-the-Fields is a landmark. Its fine architecture and prominent location place it at the heart of the nation. Its work has valued historic tradition, but St Martin’s has always been innovative in response to changing needs. From London’s first free lending library to the first religious broadcast, St Martin’s has broken new ground in defining what it means to be a church. 

The example of St Martin was followed by Dick Sheppard, Vicar of St Martin’s during World War I, who gave refuge to soldiers on their way to France. He saw St Martin’s as ‘the church of the ever open door’. The doors have remained open ever since.

St Martin’s fight against homelessness was formalised with the foundation of the Social Service Unit in 1948. The work continues today through The Connection at St Martin’s, which cares for around 7,500 individuals each year.

Changing needs in society were again evident in the 1960s. St Martin’s was concerned for the welfare of new arrivals in the emerging Chinatown and welcomed a Chinese congregation. Today, the Ho Ming Wah Chinese People’s Day Centre provides vital services for the Chinese community in London.

Throughout the 20th century, St Martin’s has also looked beyond its own doors and played an active role in wider social, humanitarian and international issues. Architecturally, spiritually, culturally and socially, St Martin’s has helped to form the world around it:

Vivaldi - 'Winter' from Four Seasons.

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