22 November 2016

Saint George-in-the-East, a 300-year-old
unique church in the heart of the East End

Saint George-in-the-East, one of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s masterpieces, has survived ritual riots and the Blitz (Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

Nicholas Hawksmoor (ca 1661-1736) was an idiosyncratic architect and one of the leading figures in the English Baroque school of architecture in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. He has been rediscovered in recent years, both as a major architect and also as the subject of myth.

Little is known of his personal life: he was born in 1661, or perhaps earlier. He was self-educated, and from the age of 18 he worked as Christopher Wren’s domestic clerk – Sir John Betjeman describes him as ‘rather a talented clerk.’

As Hawksmoor never travelled abroad, his vast knowledge of classical architecture came from books and drawings, and from his conversations with Wren. He worked with the principal architects of the time, principally Wren and John Vanbrugh, and contributed to the design of some of the most notable buildings of the time, including Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Wren’s churches in the City of London, Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard. He probably had a hand too in the Gothic west front of Westminster Abbey too.

Hawksmoor designed by six London churches: Saint Alfege’s Church, Greenwich, Saint George’s Church, Bloomsbury, Christ Church, Spitalfields, Saint George-in-the East, Wapping, Saint Mary, Woolnoth, and Saint Anne’s Church Limehouse They are his best-known independent works of architecture, and have been compares in their complexity of interpenetrating internal spaces with contemporary work in Italy by Francesco Borromini.

Although some of Hawksmoor’s works have been correctly attributed to him only in recent years, he has influenced several poets and authors in the 20th century. Saint Mary Woolnoth is mentioned in TS Eliot’s poem The Waste Land (1922), in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop (1938), where Algernon Stitch lives in a ‘superb creation by Nicholas Hawksmoor’ in London, and Hawksmoor is mentioned by Alan Bennett in The History Boys, when Akthar is questioned by Mrs Lintott about his interest in architecture. Saint George-in-the-East also appeared in the film The Long Good Friday (1980).

Hawksmoor died in 1736 of ‘gout of the stomach,’ either at Millbank or at East Drayton in Nottinghamshire.

Saint George-in-the-East seen from the gardens on the south side of the church (Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Last week, while I was staying in the East End at the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine, during a residential meeting of the trustees of USPG, I visited Saint George-in-the-East, which many consider the most original of Hawksmoor’s six London churches.

This church in Shadwell stands on the corner of Cannon Street Road, halfway along Cable Street. One of the best-known vicars of this parish was Father St John Groser, an Anglo-Catholic ‘slum priest’ of the East End who was injured in the Battle of Cable Street 80 years ago in 1936 and who later became Master of the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine.

The story of this church dates back over 300 years to 1710-1711, when Acts of Parliament were passed to build 50 new churches in the rapidly expanding edges and suburbs of London and Westminster. Only 12 of these church were completed, including Saint George-in-the-East.

The parish of Saint George-in-the-East was largely rural at the time of its creation, when the main centre of population was the small village of Wapping Stepney. It was part of the ancient parish of Stepney in the Tower division of the Ossulstone Hundred of Middlesex.

To distinguish it from other parishes in and near London also named Saint George’s, it became known as Saint George-in-the-East because it stood to the east of the City of London.

The site for the new church was bought for £400 in 1714, and the foundation stone was laid in 1715. But there were many delays – bad bricks, workers moved to other projects and because local criminals allegedly stole the building materials, ‘especially on Sundays.’ The new church cost between £18,000 and £24,000 to build, and it was not completed until 1729, and was consecrated on 19 July 1729.

When this parish was separated from Stepney by act of parliament, the benefice was made a rectory. The first rector of Saint George-in-the-East was the Revd William Simpson, DD. He was succeeded in 1764 by the Revd Herbert Mayo, DD.

The Grub Street Journal in 1734 described it as a strong and magnificent pile that commands the attention of all judicious observers, especially the chancel end, which is truly magnificent. But another writer at the time spoke of the strange ponderous walls of the church, claiming the windows were like those of a prison.

Saint George-in-the-East was designed to seat 1,230 people. It was built as a stone building, of mixed architecture. The inside was fitted up with Dutch oak, and the pillars were, for the most part, of the Doric order.

Over the altar, in a recess at the east end, was a painting by Clarkson of Christ in the Garden. It was bought by subscription when the church was repaired and beautified in 1783.

The flag of Saint George flying on the tower … Saint George’s has a uniquely complex skyline (Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Saint George’s has a uniquely complex skyline. As well as the western tower there are four ‘pepperpot’ turrets, each large enough to form the tower of an ordinary church. Each marks the position of a spiral staircase that originally led to the great galleries; now they lead to the church flats.

The spires are essentially Gothic outlines executed in innovative and imaginative classical detail. It was an unusual choice to top Saint George’s tower with six circular Roman sacrificial altars, but Hawksmoor was seeking to recover for the Church of England a pure and primitive style of architecture that he believed stemmed from the Jewish Temple.

There were nine doorways into the church, with Hawksmoor providing separate entrances for the different classes according to their ability to pay for better or worse seats.

The major change to Hawksmoor’s design is the entrance steps, which date from ca 1800.

Saint George-in-the-East was one of the churches disturbed by the ritualism riots in the late 1850s and early 1860s. The riots at Saint George’s went on, Sunday after Sunday, for nine months, with the clergy arriving to ‘hisses, cock-crowing, cat-calling, and the rude howling of n*gg*r songs; slamming of pew-doors, stamping of feet, and the sharp, disagreeable crack and scent of matches struck heedlessly across woodwork.’

The complaints were against candles on the altar and choirboys wearing surplices. ‘Unless you desist from your hellish and popish practice,’ said an anonymous letter to the rector, the Revd Bryan King, ‘I shall take foul means to prevent you doing so.’

King had been rector since 1842. He reported: ‘The four streets within which my church is situated contained 733 houses – of which 27 were public houses, 13 beer houses, and no fewer than 154 were brothels.’

His poverty-ridden parish had 45,000 residents, ‘of those very classes who are, alas, almost universally alienated from attendance upon the services of the Church.’ He set up schools and two mission chapels, and in 1846 a choir. Weekly services increased from four to 54. In King’s mind, an alb and chasuble helped teach ‘our flocks, and especially the poorer members, the deep doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.’

The spark for the riots was the appointment by the churchwardens of a weekly preacher, Hugh Allen, a fierce puritan who despised King’s Tractarian sympathies and liturgical practices.

After 14 months of weekly riots, apart from a month when the church had to be closed, King’s health broke down. In July 1860 he took a holiday in Bruges, and never returned as rector. He spent his last years in Avebury, Wiltshire. Bishop Tait continued to persecute ritualists, but was struck during the cholera epidemic of 1866 by the devotion shown by King’s former curates, the Revd Charles Lowder (1820-1880) and the Revd Alexander Mackonochie (1825-1887), as they cared for the poor around Saint George-in-the-East.

The nave and apse in Saint George’s … the church was disturbed by 14 months of weekly riots in 1859-1860 (Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The Venetian glass mosaics installed in the curve of the apse in 1880 depict scenes of the Passion.

The civil parish of Saint George-in-the-East became part of the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney in 1900 and it was abolished as a civil parish in 1927. The vestry hall still stands on Cable Street.

During World War II, the church was hit in May 1941 by an incendiary bomb during the Blitz on London’s docklands. The original interior was destroyed by the fire, leaving only the outer walls, vestry, Lady Chapel, fire-shattered fragments of the capitals of pilasters on the east and west walls, the 147 ft shooting tower and the distinctive ‘pepper-pot’ towers stayed standing.

After the war, worship was conducted in the rectory and the mission hall, and then for 17 years in a prefab within the shell, known wittily as Saint George-in-the-Ruins.

The modern church interior was designed by Arthur Bailey in 1964 (Patrick Comerford, 2016)

In 1964 Arthur Bailey designed the modern church interior that was built inside the shell, and a new flat was built under each corner tower. The restored church was reconsecrated in 1964.

The new space is approached from an open courtyard where the nave once was. From there, you enter a light, airy and prayerful space, focused on elements of the surviving semi-circular apse, with a full-height glazed window.

Local lore says one pair of cherubic heads in the apse plasterwork survived the Blitz. All that remains of the original interior is the apse, redecorated to the original designs; the two stone corbels, on either side of the east wall; and the mosaics that were rescued from the ruins and restored.

The font is said to have been brought from the City church of Saint Benet, Gracechurch, when the Revd Harry Jones was the rector. This Wren church was demolished in 1876 for a road-widening scheme.

This second font stood in the north aisle near the pulpit, the original font remaining in the north-west baptistery. The ‘new’ font was first used in 1877.

By the font stands a paschal candlestick carved by Father St John Groser’s son, Michael, with seven roundels depicting symbols of the passion and the resurrection. Over the font hangs an unusual metal corona in aluminium and copper, designed in 1966 by Frank Berry and made by Arthur Greenwood of the Brotherhood of Prayer and Action who were working in the parish at that time. It holds 12 candles that are lit at Christmas and other festivals.

In the south-east corner, a small plaque commemorates Father Alex Solomon, who was rector in 1958-1979 and who inspired and led the rebuilding.

On one of the pillars on the south side is an abstract watercolour by Peter Bedford, a member of the Pacifist Service Units who was on fire watch at the top of the tower the night the bomb fell. It is inscribed: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings of peace (Isaiah 52: 7), and Remember before God the horror and destruction of war / Pray and work for peace and reconciliation in our world.

On the north side, is an icon of Christ the Merciful written by Dom Anselm Shobrook OSB. It was commissioned in 1997, and the text reads Come to me, you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Until a few years ago the walls were painted in a stone colour, and the lampshades were black metal cylinders with small vertical slits, in post-Festival of Britain style.

On the north wall is the organ, built in 1964 by NP Mander.

The silver altar candlesticks and processional cross and wooden alms plate were designed for the church. The communion silver is a mixture of 20th century pieces and items from former churches in the parish. The sacrament is reserved in a hanging pyx in the apse, behind the altar, installed in 1969 in memory of Charles Turner, Bishop of Islington.

On Saint George’s Day 1991, a week after the 50th anniversary of the destruction of the church interior, the church was presented by with a lavabo bowl designed by Tom Tudor-Pole. It bears the inscription I will wash my hands in innocency, Oh Lord, and so will I go to thine altar (Psalm 26: 6).

The rectory accommodation on two floors and three separate apartments were created in the former gallery space, and are accessed by spiral staircases under each tower.

The church continues to have an active congregation. In May 2015, the parish entered into a partnership with the Centre for Theology and Community (CTC), an ecumenical charity that is based in its East Crypt. Anglican clergy working for CTC now serve the parish, and the Rectory is the home to the Community of Saint George, a group of laypeople who assist in the worship and mission of the church.

Behind the church lies Saint George’s Gardens, the original churchyard, which was passed to Stepney Council to maintain as a public park in mid-Victorian times.

The church is a Grade I listed building, and several of the monuments, gates and walls around the church have separate Grade II listing. The design won a Civic Trust award in 1967, and the church is now more visible than when it was surrounded by buildings that were levelled in the Blitz. Its gleaming Portland limestone now dominates this part of the East End as never before.

The former Saint George’s Town Hall on Cable Street, once the Vestry Hall of the parish (Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Liturgy 2016-2017 (Part Time) 9.2:
telephone seminar: Spirituality of
ministry; readings on the minister
as person, private, public and holy

The Revd Eugene Griffin after his ordination as priest in Christ Church Cathedral … at their ordination, priests are told they “are to lead God’s people in prayer and worship” (Photograph: Olive Casey Conroy, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Part Time, Years III-IV,

23 November 2016

Seminar: Spirituality of ministry; readings on the minister as person, private, public and holy.

Selected readings:

Christopher Cocksworth and Rosalind Brown, Being a priest today (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2nd ed, 2006), Chapter 7 (pp 129-153). Published in the US as: Rosalind Brown, and Christopher Cocksworth, On being a priest today (Cambridge MA: Cowley 2002).

The Right Revd Dr Christopher Cocksworth has been Bishop of Coventry since 2008 and is a former Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge (2001-2008).

Canon Roslaind Brown is a renowned hymn writer and Canon Librarian of Durham Cathedral, with responsibility for the public face of the cathedral’s life including visitors, education, the Library, pastoral care and relationships with the wider community.

Malcolm Grundy, What they don’t teach you at theological college (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2003), Chapter 16 (pp 162-172), ‘Spirituality and a Rule of Life.’

Canon Malcolm Grundy has been Archdeacon of Craven in the Diocese of Bradford (1994-2005) and Director of the Foundation for Church Leadership (2005-2009).

Sister Barbara June (Kirby) SLG, ‘Simple Gifts: Priesthood in a Praying Community,’ (Chapter 5), pp 62-71 in George Guiver et al, Priests in a People’s Church (London: SPCK, 2001).

The Revd Sister Barbara June (Kirby) is a member of the Community of the Sisters of the Love of God in Fairacres, Oxford, and has been an NSM curate in Saint John’s, Cowley.

Michael Ramsey, The Christian Priest Today (London: SPCK, new ed., 1992), Chapter 9, ‘The Ordination Gospel’ (pp 61-67).

Archbishop Michael Ramsey (1904-1988) was the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury (1961-1974). After a curacy in Liverpool, he became a lecturer to ordination candidates at the Bishop’s Hostel, Lincoln, when he published The Gospel and the Catholic Church (1936).

His parish postings included Saint Bene’t’s Church, Cambridge, before he became a canon of Durham Cathedral and Van Mildert Professor of Divinity at Durham. He then became the Regius Professor of Divinity in Cambridge (1950), Bishop of Durham (1952), Archbishop of York (1956) and Archbishop of Canterbury (1961).

This book started life in 1972 as a series of sermons to ordinands by Archbishop Ramsey. These 15 succinct essays, updated in 1985, provide timeless theology and practical advice that are just as relevant today


Prayer is both an individual and a collective action, and even when we pray individually, we are praying for ourselves and we are praying on behalf of others. The Caroline Divine, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), wrote in his Latin Devotions that “he who prays for others, labours for himself.”

In prayer, we need to be mindful of the needs of others, and in ordained ministry we have a responsibility to help and to teach others to pray. To do this, we need to develop our own prayer lives, so that praying does not become a neglected activity and a forgotten part of our lives.

Fixing a pattern for regular prayer could include using the office (Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer), valuing silence, being regular at the Eucharist, and praying as you read Scripture, and not just studying it.

But what about being priests at prayer?

Being priests at prayer

In his Letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul tells the Church in Philippi: “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you …” (Philippians 1: 3-4).

In preparing for ordination, most ordinands realise that prayer – their own prayer life, praying for others and being a person of prayer – is a major expectation in our vocation and ministry.

My experience is that whatever else people want of us, as priests or clergy, they want us to pray for them and to pray with them. However, Rosalind Brown and Christopher Cocksworth say that “almost without exception” prayer is the one area that clergy admit to feeling they are failing to meet their own expectations and hopes, quite apart from the expectations of those we minister among.

Too often, as clergy, we end up with feelings of failure and guilt, feelings of being unable to pray as we wish to. Many clergy know what it is to wonder whether their parishioners or members of the congregations would lose all trust for and respect in them if they only knew the paucity of their prayer life.

The other side of these feelings of guilt and failure, is the feeling that comes when we are spending time in prayer and keep getting the nagging feeling that the time would be better spent “doing” something more productive.

The call to a life of prayer

Prayer is at the heart of our ordained ministry.

At your ordination, you will be reminded in the words of the ordinal that as deacons you are called to “strengthen the faithful” and to “lead the people in intercession” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 555), and that as priests you “are to lead God’s people in prayer and worship, to intercede for them … ” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 565).

Bishops too are to “pray for all those committed to their charge … and to lead the offering of prayer and praise” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 576, 577).

All of us in ordained ministry – deacons, priests and bishops – are asked at our ordination by the bishop: “Will you be diligent in prayer …?” The response is: “With the help of God, I will” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 556, 566, 578).

Archbishop Rowan Williams writes of “three-ness” of prayer for those who have been ordained: “If you have the charge of priesthood laid upon you, then the Sunday liturgy, the Daily Office and private prayer are simply there, and there is no way around them, even if you should want one. They are part of the bargain, and they grow on us as we increasingly sense in them something of the sovereignty of God. In this way, they become both a commitment and a joy, even if there are times when we would rather be doing something else. The ‘three-ness’ is not a matter of law or rules, but a part of the essence of being Christian.” (Rowan Williams, A Ray of Darkness: Sermons and Reflections).

Finding the strength to pray

At the opening of the prayers at the ordination service, the candidates for ordination are reminded that “none of us can bear the weight of this ministry in our own strength …” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 557, 567, 578).

So, where do we go to seek and draw the strength to pray? Despite those prayers at ordination, we do not suddenly become paragons of prayer when we are ordained. Indeed, whether or not you have disciplined prayer life, you know by now that you do not pray and cannot pray on your own strength.

In that weakness, I find it reassuring when the Apostle Paul reminds me: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8: 26-27).

The ordination charges to be diligent in prayer, to intercede for the people, to lead the people in prayer and worship, and to teach them by word and example are possible to fulfil only because of the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

The priority of prayer

Archbishop Michael Ramsey once said that “the prayer of the priest is … supremely important as the source of his ability to train the people in the way of prayer.”

A daily rhythm of prayer creates a growth that may remain imperceptible to us individually. But others know whether we are people of prayer. We do not have to tell them.

Prayer should be and must be at the heart of our ordained ministry. Being a priest is not simply an occupation, but is a vocation, a calling. And our prayer is not one more function or part of the job description. We are called to be people of prayer, people for whom prayer is not just something we do. Rather, prayer must be the environment in which we live because we live in God.

The poet John Donne (1572-1631), who was once Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, wrote: “[Prayer] may be mental, for we may think prayers. It may be real, for we may speak prayers. It may be actual, for we may do prayers … So then to do the office of your vocation sincerely is to pray.”

But how do we work at making and maintaining prayer as the priority it should be in our ministry?

Everyday prayer

The Irish hymn writer James Montgomery (1771-1854), in a well-known hymn (Church Hymnal 625), wrote:

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
unuttered or expressed,
the motion of a hidden fire
that trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
the falling of a tear,
the upward glancing of an eye,
when none but God is near.

Prayer is the simplest form of speech
that infant lips can try;
prayer the sublimest strains that reach
the Majesty on high.

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
the Christian’s native air,
our watchword at the gates of death,
we enter heaven with prayer

In this hymn, Montgomery suggests that prayer is our natural environment, not something that we do under duress at certain times, because it is a task or burden, or because it is one the obligations imposed on us as a condition for ordination.

Prayer is the intimacy of our life in God. Prayer is being “lost in wonder, love and praise.” Prayer is the short glance in God’s direction. Prayer is the awe and wonder felt at a beautiful sunset. Prayer is the pain or the pleasure as we listen to news. Prayer is the cry of help when there are no words to express those feelings and no words to describe that need. Prayer is the silence of being in God’s company in sorrow and in joy. Prayer knows nothing too high to be too majestic or too low to be too mean for bringing before God. Prayer, like breathing, is the underlying rhythm and pulse of life.

Or as Michael Quoist says in one of his books: “Everyday life is the raw material of prayer” (Prayers of Life, 1966).

But how do we work to overcome those difficulties that sometimes stop prayer from being the soul’s desire, that stop prayer from coming from our heart as easily as the simplest form of speech, that stop prayer from being as natural as breath?

Difficulties in prayer

When we are full of joy, prayer may come easily in terms of words and actions. But when we are broken-hearted, bruised, tired or confused, we may find that all we can do is present ourselves, physically, in our place of prayer without finding words.

Some of the weaknesses in prayer that each of us is familiar with include not having enough time, and being distracted constantly by other thoughts in our minds or other events taking place around us. When we find difficulties in prayer are crowding around us, and the words cease, the thoughts wander, and we want to escape from the place of prayer, it is worth remembering that at times our presence alone is sufficient prayer.

Saint Theophan the Recluse: an inspiring and great Russian teachers on prayer

Among the inspiring and great teachers on prayer is Saint Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894). A persistent theme in his writing was the task of developing an interior life of continuous prayer, learning to “pray without ceasing,” as the Apostle Paul teaches (I Thessalonians 5: 17).

He wrote: “Prayer is the test of everything; prayer is also the source of everything; prayer is the driving force of everything; prayer is also the director of everything. If prayer is right, everything is right. For prayer will not allow anything to go wrong.”

Priestly ministry calls on us to live on the boundary between earth and heaven, to be at home in both worlds, to be able to speak of each in and to the other.

But how do we ensure that we have an interior life of continuous prayer that is the driving force for everything in ministerial life?

Prayer at the heart of ministry

Some advice that may help people in ordained ministry who find that their commitment to prayer is becoming difficult would include the following: do not worry, slow down, be disciplined, keep priorities in focus, do not get too upset or worried about techniques of prayer, do not try to be perfect.

Do not worry?

You know the saying, “It could happen to a bishop.” Bishop Alan Abernathy has conceded: “I must say that I still find prayer very difficult. There are days when I cannot pray. There are days when I do not want to pray. There are days when I wonder if am living a lie” (Fulfilment & Frustration, p. 120).

When you face difficulties, remember that you are not alone. Everyone in ministry has these feelings at different times. Indeed, everyone has these difficulties.

Slow down?

Kenneth Leech has written: “There is no need to rush around feverishly looking for a prayer life: we need to slow down and look deeply within. What is the point of complaining that God is absent if it is we who are absent from God, and from ourselves, by our lack of awareness … At heart, prayer is a process of self-giving and of being set free from isolation. To pray is to enter into a relationship with God and to be transformed by him” (Kenneth Leech, True Prayer).

Be disciplined?

In the canon law of the Church of England, Canon C26 reminds all clergy – bishops, priests and deacons – of our call to and duty of daily prayer: “Every bishop, priest, and deacon is under obligation, not being let by sickness or some other urgent cause, to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer, either privately or openly; and to celebrate the Holy Communion, or be present thereat, on all Sundays and other principal Feast Days. He is also to be diligent in daily prayer and intercession, in examination of his conscience, and in the study of the Holy Scriptures and such other studies as pertain to his ministerial duties.”

This is not a canonical requirement for us in the Church of Ireland. But it is a good and useful, tested discipline.

Keep priorities in focus?

You will be under pressure to do, rather than be. Being a priest is much more important than doing the things that people think we should do as priests. We are ordained to be ministers of word and sacrament and to be people of service and prayer. But you will constantly under pressure to do things – under pressure from parishioners, from other clergy, even from your bishop do so many things that you were not ordained for. At times, that pressure may be so great that you are finding there are unacceptable pressures on your prayer life and the time you give to prayer.

That pressure was recognised over 60 years ago by Evelyn Underhill when she wrote: “We are drifting towards a religion which … keeps its eye on humanity rather than Deity, which lays all the stress on service, and hardly any of the stress on awe: and that is a type of religion which in practice does not wear well. It does little for the soul in those awful moments when the pain and mystery of life are most deeply felt. It does not provide a place for that profound experience which Tauller called ‘suffering in God’. It does not lead to sanctity, and sanctity after all is the religious goal.” (Evelyn Underhill, Concerning the Inner Life with The House of the Soul, p. 4).

Do not get upset about techniques of prayer?

Almost 100 years ago, the great pioneering spiritual director, Somerset Ward (1881-1962), warned: “It is a common reason for failure in prayer, that we are more aware of the subject of our prayer rather than its object; we are apt to think more of what we shall pray for than of how we shall pray” (Somerset Ward, To Jerusalem, p. 111).

There may be times when the words of the Daily Office, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, pass you by and you cannot find words for prayer. But your presence is prayer itself. There may be times when the words and actions of the Eucharist or Holy Communion pass you by. But you can be assured that you are caught up in the timeless prayer of the Church, present with all the saints, and the angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven.

Do not try to be perfect?

Because of the images and expectations that people will project onto you, it becomes easy to forget that we are called not be priests who are perfect, in perfect places and parishes. No. We are called to be priests and people of prayer as we are, in the lives we live today. Learning to deal with and to dismiss unnecessary guilt is an important discipline in the priestly life.

Do you remember how Eli upbraided Hannah for her apparently unseemly behaviour as she prayed in the Temple? He accused her of being drunk and making a spectacle of herself. But she replied bluntly: “I have been pouring out my soul to the Lord,” or, as the Jerusalem Bible translates that verse: “I have been speaking to God from the depth of my grief and resentment” (I Samuel 1: 16).

We do not need to feel holy as we pray, or to worry whether others will regard us holy as we pray. God meets us where we are, not where we think we should be, where we are pretending to be, or where others think we should be.


You may find devising a rule of prayer is helpful. You may, perhaps, want to consult a spiritual director about this. But I repeat, in the words of Saint Theophan the Recluse: “Remember, all of this is a guide. The heart of the matter is: Stand with reverence before God, with the mind in the heart, and strive toward Him with longing.”

Whatever you do, do not worry, slow down, be disciplined, keep priorities in focus, do not get too upset or worried about techniques of prayer, do not try to be perfect.

Additional reading

Abernathy, Alan, Fulfilment & Frustration: Ministry in today’s Church (Dublin: Columba, 2002).
Bloom, Anthony, Practical Prayer (Ben Lomond CA: Conciliar Press, 1989).
Bloom, Anthony, and LeFebvre, Georges, Courage to Pray (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1973).
Christou, Sotirios, The Priest & the People of God (Cambridge, Burlington Press, 2003).
Leech, Kenneth, True Prayer (London: Sheldon Press, 1980).
Quoist, Michael, Prayers of Life (Dublin: Gill and Sons, 1963).
Redfern, Alistair, Ministry and Priesthood (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1999).
Underhill, Evelyn, Concerning the Inner Life with The House of the Soul (London: Methuen, 1947).
Ward, R. Somerset, To Jerusalem (ed. Susan Howatch, London: Mowbray, 1994).
Williams, Rowan, A Ray of Darkness: Sermons and Reflections (Cambridge MA: Cowley, 1995).

Reminder: Essays.

End of-module.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These briefing notes were prepared for a telephone seminar on 23 November 2016 on the Module TH8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality on the MTh course with part-time students (Years III-IV).

Liturgy 2016-2017 (Part Time) 9.1:
telephone seminar: homiletics in
liturgy and homiletics in history

The sermon (Cartoon by Dave Walker)

Patrick Comerford

TH8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Part Time Years III-IV:

23 November 2016

9.1: Seminar: homiletics in liturgy and homiletics in history: readings may include Saint Augustine, Thomas Cranmer, Lancelot Andrewes, John Wesley and Martin Luther King.

Sermon Illustrations (Cartoon by Dave Walker)

1, Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine of Hippo

For Saint Augustine of Hippo and his sermon, ‘John is the Voice, Jesus is the Word,’ see here.

2, Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury

For Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) and his Sermon on the Knowledge of Scripture Part 2 (The Second Part of the Sermon of the Exhortation to Holy Scripture Against Fear and Excuses), see here.

3, Lancelot Andrewes

Lancelot Andrewes ... TS Eliot describes him as ‘the first great preacher of the English Catholic Church’

For Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) and his ‘Christmas Day Sermon, 1622’ see here.

4, John Wesley

John Wesley, by William Hamilton

For John Wesley (1703-1791), and his ‘Sermon 101: The Duty Of Constant Communion, from The Sermons of John Wesley,’ see here.

5, Martin Luther King

The Revd Dr Martin Luther King … ‘How Long? Not Long!’

For the Revd Dr Martin Luther King (1929-1968) and his sermon, ‘Our God Is Marching On!’ (25 March 1965. Montgomery, Alabama), see here.


9.2, Spirituality of ministry; readings on the minister as person, private, public and holy; gender and ministry.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These briefing notes were prepared for a telephone seminar on 23 November 2016 on the Module TH8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality on the MTh course with part-time students (Years III-IV).

Saint Botolph’s in Bishopsgate is a living
church in the heart of the City of London

Saint Botolph-without-Bishopsgate is close to Liverpool Street Station and to the site of the original Bedlam (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

During each working visit to London, I trying to visit churches that have a place in the history and church life of the city and that are if architectural interest. Last week, while I was walking back from the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine in the East End to Liverpool Street station, I stopped to visit Saint Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, on the west side of Bishopsgate in the City of London.

Saint Botolph’s is open every day during the week and is committed to a welcoming and inclusive ministry in London’s financial centre.

I was first in Saint Botolph’s almost 10 years ago, for the introduction of the Revd Dr Alan McCormack as parish priest by the Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, in 2007.

Alan invited me back to preach there in 2009 on the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, at a lunchtime Service of Light. However, snow had fallen the previous night, blanketing most of England, preventing me from getting from Cambridge to London that morning, and cancelling my flight back to Dublin from Stansted that evening.

Saint Botolph’s is a living church in Bishopsgate in the heart of the City of London, between Liverpool Street Station and London Wall. Many Irish visitors pass it by, often not noticing the church as they emerge from Liverpool Street station and the express train from Stansted Airport.

Saint Botolph, who died around 680 AD, was an early East Anglian saint and the patron saint of travellers and wayfarers. So his name was an appropriate dedication for a church near a city gate. There were three other churches of Saint Botolph in mediaeval London, at Billingsgate, Aldgate and Aldersgate, and there is a Saint Botolph’s Church in Cambridge.

Christian worship on this site may date back to Roman times, although the earliest evidence is for an Anglo-Saxon church on this site.

The foundations of the original Saxon church were discovered when the present church was being built. The church is first mentioned as ‘Sancti Botolfi Extra Bishopesgate’ in 1212. It is mentioned again in 1247 in a deed of gift in which Simon FitzMary, Alderman and Sheriff, gave his land and houses to the Bishop of Bethlehem, the Italian Goffredo de Prefetti, to found the Priory of Saint Mary of Bethlehem north of the church.

In the Middle Ages, the site was just outside the city walls near the ‘Bishop’s Gate’ after which the street is named.

By 1403, ‘lunatic’ patients formed the majority of the patients at the Bethlehem, Bethlem or Bedlam, and so England’s first and most infamous mental hospital was born. After the suppression of monastic houses at the Reformation, the Priory of Saint Mary of Bethlehem became the Bethlehem Hospital for Lunatics.

The parish registers are complete from 1558, and they record the burials of many notable people, including an infant son of the playwright Ben Jonson.

The actor Edward Alleyn, Shakespeare’s contemporary and the founder of Dulwich College, was baptised here in 1566. Emilia Lanier, one of the women said to be Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady,’ was baptised Emilia Bassano in the church on 27 January 1569. She married Alfonso Lanier here on 18 October 1592.

Sir William Allen, Lord Mayor of London (1571-1572), who was born and buried in the parish, marked his time as Lord Mayor by repairing the church at his own expense.

Another celebrated parishioner was Sir Paul Pindar, James I’s Ambassador to Turkey. He died in 1650 and his epitaph reads that he was ‘faithful in negotiation, foreign and domestick, eminent for piety, charity, loyalty and prudence.’

The church survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, but only because the sexton’s house having been partly demolished to stop the spread of the flames.

Meanwhile, Bedlam continued to operate as a psychiatric hospital, although many of the patients in fact suffered from epilepsy, learning disabilities and dementia. Inside the squalid single-storey building that housed 12 cells, a kitchen, staff accommodation and an exercise yard, inmates were manacled and chained – and treated as a tourist attraction by Londoners who paid a penny to stare at them. Patients, usually poor, were given treatments including restraint, dousing with water, beatings and isolation.

Those buried at Bedlam include Robert Lockyer, a young soldier in Cromwell’s army executed for his part in the Bishopsgate mutiny; John Lilburne, a leading ‘Leveller’ during the English Civil Wars; Lodowicke Muggleton, a controversial religious writer and founder of the Muggletonians; and Dr John Lambe, a notorious adviser to the Duke of Buckingham, stoned to death by an angry mob after allegations of black magic and rape.

In 1676, the Bethlehem Hospital or Bedlam, which had stood near the church for over 400 years, moved to Moorfields in 1676.

In 1708, Saint Botolph’s was described it as ‘an old church built of brick and stone, and rendered over.’ By then, the Gothic church had been altered with the addition of Tuscan columns supporting the roof, and Ionic ones the galleries.

Inside Saint Botolph-without-Bishopsgate … the present church is the fourth on the site and was built in 1725-1729 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

In 1710, the parishioners petitioned parliament for permission to rebuild the church on another site, but nothing was done.

By 1723, the church was irreparable, and the parishioners petitioned once again. An Act of Parliament was passed this time, and the parishioners set up a temporary building in the churchyard, and began rebuilding the church. The first stone was laid in 1725, and the new building was consecrated in 1728, although the church was not completed until the next year.

The architect was James Gold or Gould. During his building work, the foundations of the original Anglo-Saxon church were discovered.

To provide a striking frontage towards Bishopsgate, Gould placed the tower at the east end. This makes the church unique among the City churches in having its tower at the East End, with the chancel below. The ground floor of the tower, with a pediment on the exterior, forms the chancel.

The east end and the tower are faced with stone, while the rest of the church is brick, with stone dressings. Inside, the church is divided into nave and aisles by composite columns, and the nave is barrel vaulted. The parishioners soon complained that the church was too dark. To remedy this, a large west window was created, but the complaints must have been forgotten when this window this was largely obscured by the installation of the organ in front of it in 1764.

The font in Saint Botolph’s in which the poet John Keats was baptised (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The organ, pulpit and font all date from the 18th century, and the poet John Keats (1795-1821) was baptised in the present font in 1795 – he is probably best known for his ‘Ode to a Nightingale.’

In 1820 a lantern was added to the centre of the roof of the church.

Saint Botolph’s lost only one window during World War II, and the church was designated a Grade II* listed building on 4 January 1950.

The World War I memorial in Saint Botolph’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

However, the Saint Mary Axe bomb in 1992 damaged the exterior joinery and windows. Then, on 24 April 1993, Saint Botolph’s was one of the many buildings damaged by an IRA bomb. The Bishopsgate bomb opened up the roof and left the church without any doors or windows. The building was classed as a dangerous structure and cordoned-off. The Rector’s office and the Vestry were shattered, causing papers and files to be scattered all over Bishopsgate.

An extensive restoration project took 3½ years to return the church to its former glory. The Worshipful Company of Bowyers traditionally holds its service of installation of a new master at Saint Botolph’s. Following the Saint Mary Axe and Bishopsgate bombings, the company commissioned a Memorial Window by Nicola Kantorowicz as part of the restoration.

The Worshipful Company of Bowyers commissioned a window to mark the restorations of Saint Botolph’s after the Saint Mary Axe and Bishopsgate bombings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The window combines yew leaves and the curve of a longbow. The design grows and moves upwards suggesting resurrection or rebirth. Its colours lend themselves to fire and light and the suggestion of a cross adds a further spiritual element.

A Thanksgiving Service was held in January 1997 to mark completion of this work, and the Bishop of London dedicated a new stained glass window that was commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Bowyers.

The Lady Chapel is set aside for private prayer and meditation. The church includes the regimental memorial chapel of the Honourable Artillery Company, the Book of Remembrance of the London Rifle Brigade, and a memorial for people with haemophilia who have died because of treatment with contaminated blood products.

The names of the Rectors from 1323 to the present day can be seen on the ledge of the gallery around the church. The satirist and essayist Stephen Gosson (1554-1624) was once rector of Saint Botolph’s, and several rectors went on to become Bishops of London, including Charles James Blomfield, Bishop of London (1828-1857).

William Rogers (Rector, 1863-1896), was a committed social reformer who devoted time and money to the education and welfare of his poor parishioners. He founded the Bishopsgate Institute, which carries on his ideals to this day, and also took a leading role in the reconstruction of Dulwich College.

Saint Botolph’s was one of the first City burial grounds to be converted into a public garden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The churchyard runs along the back of Wormwood Street, the former course of London Wall. Saint Botolph’s was the first of the City burial grounds to be converted into a public garden. At the time, the transformation caused much opposition, but today this space is much appreciated space by many people who find it a tranquil place.

One of the few surviving tombs in the churchyard is the large funeral memorial above the vault of Sir William Rawlins (1753-1838), Sherriff of London in 1801-1802 and a benefactor of the church. He was instrumental in forming the Eagle Insurance Company (later the Eagle Star) and continued to chair it until his death.

The funeral monument of Sir William Rawlins in Saint Botolph’s churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Close to the garden’s Bishopsgate entrance, the memorial cross is believed to be the first World War I memorial in England. It was erected in 1916 after the Battle of Jutland and the death of Lord Kitchener.

The church hall in the churchyard is a Grade II listed building. This is the former Hall of the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers. It was once used as an infants’ school, but is now a multi-purpose church hall and is available for hire.

It is a single-storey classical building of red brick and Portland stone. At its front entrance is a pair of niches filled with painted Coade stone figures of a charity schoolboy and schoolgirl in early 19th century costumes.

Within the bounds of the former churchyard but standing alone on the pavement is a former Turkish bath designed by the architect Harold Elphick for the Victorian entrepreneurs Henry and James Forder Nevill who owned other Turkish baths in Victorian London. It opened in 1895 and is now a private venue available to hire for private events.

The parish is currently in an interregnum. The honorary assistant priest is the Revd Dr John Turner, and the priest missioner is the Revd Andrew Williams.

The church is open every weekday from 7.30am to 5.30pm and the regular services include the Eucharist celebrated at lunchtime every Wednesday (1.10pm) and Thursday (12.10 pm). The Wednesday Eucharist involves music and includes a sermon; the Thursday Eucharist is marked by words and silence. Both services are timed to last no longer than 50 minutes so those who attend can be back in their offices immediately after lunch.

The Orthodox Parish of Saint Botolph in London, which worships here on Sundays, is part of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of the British Isles and Ireland. The parish priest is my friend Father Alexander Tefft , and the Divine Liturgy is celebrated here in English every Sunday at 11 am, preceded by abbreviated Othros at 10.30 am.

Meanwhile, the name of Old Bedlam was changed to Liverpool Street and the original location of Bedlam within the parish of Saint Botolph in Bishopsgate ward, just beyond London’s wall, is now the south-east corner of Liverpool Street Station.

The 18th century pulpit in Saint Botolph’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)