Thursday, 30 June 2011

Prayer and mission in an inner-city church

Saint Matthew’s Church, Westminster … the venue for today’s conference organised by Affirming Catholicism

Patrick Comerford

I am in London this week to speak at a conference organised by Affirming Catholicism on the theme: ‘Thy Kingdom Come! Prayer and Mission in the building of The Kingdom.’ The other speakers include Bishop Musonda Trevor Mwamba of Botswana,who was also a speaker at last week’s USPG conference in High Leigh; the author Janet Morley; and Bishop William Mchombo of Eastern Zambia.

The opening speaker this morning, Bishop Musonda Trevor Mwamba of Botswana, is to speak on “Dancing in a rainbow of prayer: the magical journey to wholeness.” Bishop Trevor is the best-selling author of Dancing Sermons. He also appears as himself in a number of Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling books, The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, as well as in the movie. He served in Notting Hill in London and in his native Zambia before moving to Botswana.

Later this morning, Janet Morley speaks on an interesting title: “‘It is dangerous to read newspapers’ (Margaret Atwood): risk, hope and the practice of praying the kingdom.” Janet Morley is the author of several books of prayers, including All Desires Known and Bread of Tomorrow – praying with the world’s poor. She is currently preparing for SPCK an anthology of poems, with reflective commentaries, for use in Lent and Eastertide.

There is a mid-day Eucharist, and after lunch I have been invited to speak on: “Prayer, mission and building the kingdom: the work of USPG.”

Later this afternoon, Bishop William Mchombo of Eastern Zambia is to speak on: “Proclaiming the Kingdom in the current situation of the Anglican Communion.” Bishop William Mchombo is Bishop of Eastern Zambia and Acting Provincial Secretary of the Church of the Province of Central Africa. He also serves on the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order. He has been closely involved in developing resources to help churches and communities respond to the challenges facing them, especially HIV-AIDS.

Today’s conference concludes with a discussion, an option for silent meditation, and Evening Prayer.

The conference is taking place in Saint Matthew’s Church, Westminster, which is in the heart of London, close to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Church House.

Saint Matthew’s is a lively church with a varied programme of ministry. A new building opposite the church houses the Home Office and the number of people working in that one building far outnumbers the local residents in the whole parish. This gives Saint Matthew’s a unique mission in the heart of the city.

In the rush of daily life in Westminster, Saint Matthew’s offers a place of peace and quiet and is open all day for quiet and reflection by local workers, residents and visitors. The daily life of prayer in the church includes services every morning, at lunch time and in the evening.

The church was built between 1849 and 1851 to a design by Sir George Gilbert Scott, and the interior was greatly enriched by the addition of fittings and glass by Scott’s brother-in-law, CF Bodley, Charles Kempe, WE Tower, and Martin Travers.

The Lady Chapel by Sir Ninian Comper is the earliest example of his work in England and is regarded as one of his finest. Comper maintained that the ‘English altar,’ with its riddle posts, is the first of its type in England since the Reformation.

The church – apart from the Lady Chapel – was badly damaged by fire started by an arsonist in 1977 and was rebuilt according to a reduced plan and rededicated in November 1984. This is a much smaller version of the original church but retains much of its atmosphere as well as some of the original stone-work and many of the contents rescued from the fire.

The High Altar is said to contain a relic of Saint Matthew. Tower’s magnificent reredos depicts a variety of saints and angels surrounding the scene of the Nativity. The church also has a 15th century Spanish lectern, statues by Tower depicting Saint Edward the Confessor, Saint George (with dragon), Saint Michael and Saint Matthew.

The Lady Chapel has been completely renovated, and is used every day for Morning and Evening Prayer as well as for weekday masses. The chapel has a fine statue of Our Lady of Walsingham. Next to the Lady Chapel, the Reconciliation Room is used for hearing confessions and for private discussions.

Saint Michael’s Chapel houses a stone altar by Bodley, and is open every day for private prayer and reflection. Tonight I am staying in the Clergy House next to the church.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope you're getting frequent flyer points on your trips back and forth across the Irish Sea !