27 May 2021

Praying in Pentecost 2021:
100, Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, London

Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, on the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Seasons of Lent and Easter this year, I took some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Sunday was the Day of Pentecost (23 May 2021), and I am continuing with photographs for the rest of this week from six churches in the ‘Major Churches Network,’ churches once known as the ‘Greater Churches’ in England.

The Major Churches Network was founded in 1991 as the Greater Churches Network. It is a group of Church of England parish churches with exceptional significance, that are physically very large, listed as Grade I, II* or exceptionally II, open to visitors daily, have a role or roles beyond those of a typical parish church, and make considerable civic, cultural, and economic contributions to their community.

These churches are often former monastic properties that became parish churches after the English Reformation, or civic parish churches built at a time of great wealth.

Inside the Church of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields (Photograph courtesy Saint Martin-in-the-Fields)

This morning (27 May 2021), my photographs are from the Church of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, in the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square, close to the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, London. This is a church I assoicate with Anglican pacifism, campaigning against apartheid and on behalf of the homeless, and with an Irish-born, cricket playing, USPG missionary.

This is a landmark church in London, known for its fine architecture and its prominent location. The church has a long tradition, but is also innovative in response to changing needs, from London’s first free lending library to the first religious broadcast.

There has been a church on the site since Norman times. In 1222, a dispute was recorded between William, Abbot of Westminster, and Eustace, Bishop of London on the bishop’s authority over the church, then surrounded by fields. The Archbishop of Canterbury decided in favour of the abbot and the monks of Westminster Abbey.

Henry VIII built a new church on the site ca 1542 and extended the parish boundaries to keep plague victims away from his palace. The church was enlarged in 1607 at the cost of Prince Henry, son of King James I.

This church was replaced by the present church in 1721. The church was designed by James Gibbs and completed in 1726. Gibbs’s design has been imitated across North America and throughout the world. While John Nash was planning Trafalgar Square in the 19th century, he created Church Path and the range of buildings to the north.

The work of the church today is informed by the practical Christianity exemplified in the life of its patron, Saint Martin of Tours, known for his spontaneous generosity, typified in sharing his cloak with a beggar.

Canon Dick Sheppard, Vicar of Saint Martin’s during World War I, gave refuge to soldiers on their way to France. He saw Saint Martin’s as ‘the church of the ever-open door,’ and the doors of the church have remained open ever since. Dick Shepherd, a life-long pacifist, was also a founder of the Peace Pledge Union and the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship in the 1930s.

When Dick Shepherd became Dean of Canterbury, he was succeeded by Canon (William) Patrick ‘Pat’ Glyn McCormick (1877-1940), an SPG (USPG) missionary in the Transvaal in 1903-1910. His father, Canon Joseph McCormick (1834-1914), played Cricket for Ireland under the alias of Joseph Bingley to disguise his participation from his parishioners in Dunmore East, Co Waterford. Joseph McCormick also rowed in the Cambridge Boat in March 1856, helping to defeat Oxford in 22 minutes 45 seconds.

Pat McCormick played cricket for Devon and had one first class match for MCC in 1907, and also played Rugby for Transvaal. When he succeeded Dick Shepherd at Saint Martin-in-the-Fields in 1927-1940, he continued his work among the ‘down and outs.’ His brother, Joseph Gough McCormick (1874-1924), became Dean of Manchester, and also played cricket with distinction for Norfolk 1899 to 1909, scoring four hundreds.

Saint Martin’s work with homeless people led to the foundation of the Social Service Unit in 1948. The work continues today through ‘The Connection at Saint Martin’s,’ which cares for around 7,500 people each year.

In the 1960s, Saint Martin’s was concerned for the welfare of new arrivals in the emerging Chinatown and welcomed a Chinese congregation.

Throughout the 20th century, Saint Martin’s also played an active role in wider social, humanitarian and international issues. The church and its priests were involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the founding of many charitable organisations, including Amnesty International, Shelter and The Big Issue.

The Vicar’s Christmas Appeal on BBC Radio 4 has been broadcast annually since 1924, and now raises over £2 million a year for disadvantaged people.

The Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields is one of the world’s foremost chamber ensembles.

The Revd Dr Sam Wells has been Vicar of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields since 2012. He is a former Dean of Duke University Chapel in Durham, North Carolina (2005-2012), Visiting Professor of Christian Ethics at King’s College, London, and a regular contributor to ‘Thought for the Day’ on BBC Radio 4. His wife, the Right Revd Jo Wells, is Bishop of Dorking.

The Revd Sally Hitchiner, who I once invited to preach in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, is the Associate Vicar for Ministry. The Revd Richard Carter is Associate Vicar for Mission.

A monument beside the church that constantly attracts my attention is the Edith Cavell Memorial in Saint Martin’s Place.

Edith Cavell (1865-1915) was a nurse from Norfolk and was matron at Berkendael Medical Institute in Brussels when World War I broke out in 1914. She nursed soldiers from both sides without distinction and helped 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. She was arrested in August 1915, court-martialled, found guilty of treason, and shot at dawn by a German firing squad on 12 October 1915.

At first she was buried in Belgium, but she was brought back to Britain in May 1919 for a state funeral in Westminster Abbey and was buried at Norwich Cathedral.

Although Edith Cavell’s sister, Lilian Wainwright, wanted no public monuments, funds for a public memorial were raised by a committee chaired by Harry Levy-Lawson, Viscount Burnham, proprietor of the Daily Telegraph. Other committee members included the Lord Mayor of London, the Bishop of London, and the chairman of London County Council.

The sculptor Sir George James Frampton (1860-1928) declined any fee for the commission. He adopted a distinctively Modernist style for the memorial, with a three-metre statue of Edith Cavell in her nurse’s uniform, sculpted from white Carrara marble, standing on a grey Cornish granite pedestal. The statue stands in front of the south side of a larger grey granite pylon that is 12 metres high. The top of the block is carved into a cross and a statue of a mother and child, sometimes interpreted as the Virgin and Child. The whole memorial is elevated on three steps.

The inscription on the pedestal reads:

Edith Cavell
October 12th 1915
Patriotism is not enough
I must have no hatred or
bitterness for anyone

The last three lines quote her comment to the Revd Stirling Gahan (1870-1958), the Irish-born Anglican chaplain in Brussels, who gave her Holy Communion on the night before her execution. These words were initially left off, and added in 1924 at the request of the National Council of Women.

The face of the granite block behind the statue bears the inscription ‘Humanity,’ and higher up, below the Virgin and Child, ‘For King and Country.’ Other faces of the block bear the inscriptions, ‘Devotion,’ ‘Fortitude’ and ‘Sacrifice.’ On the rear face of the block is a carving of a lion crushing a serpent, and higher up, the inscription, ‘Faithful until death.’

The memorial was unveiled on 17 March 1920. The site was chosen because it is beside the first headquarters of the British Red Cross at 7 Saint Martin’s Place.

The Edith Cavell Memorial in Saint Martin’s Place, beside Saint Martin-in-the Fields (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 10: 46-52 (NRSVA):

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 49 Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ 52 Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

A lamppost outside Saint Martin-in-the Fields recalls the story of Saint Martin of Tours sharing his cloak with a beggar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (27 May 2021, Saint Augustine of Canterbury) invites us to pray:

May we acknowledge racism in all its forms and work together to strive for equality and diversity in all we do.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Saint Martin-in-Fields … the work of the church today is informed by the practical Christianity (Photograph: Robert Cutts / Wikipedia, CCL Licence CCBY20)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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