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St Mary Moorfields: All are welcome

by Fr Chris Vipers

The best thing about it – aside from the warmth and the lovely light from the chandeliers and the polished wood and the banks of burning candles – is that everyone here is equal. (Nicola Barker, quoted in The Guardian, Saturday 30 December 2017)

It’s not every day that a Cardinal emails you to say that your church has got a mention in the paper. But that is exactly what happened just after Christmas. The journalist Nicola Barker, winner of The Goldsmiths Prize 2017, wrote a beautiful reflection on visiting St Mary Moorfields for The Guardian Review. Not being a Guardian reader myself I would have missed it but I’m so glad to have checked my inbox that day.

The article is eloquent and gets our beautiful church to a tee, putting perfectly into words what so many others feel about this very special little space in the heart of the City: ‘I see each visit there,’ the writer says, ‘as a kind of metaphorical Thameside-amble for the soul.’

Telling the reader how she first passed through the doors, she relates ‘I actually walked past this church for many years and didn’t dare to enter. There is nothing to it from the outside just some glass doors inbetween a jewellers and a card shop a minute’s walk from the crazy bustle of Liverpool Street station. It’s unobtrusive – hardly there – almost Narnia-esque. You have to walk down a few steps to enter, then pass through another couple of sets of doors, each one taking you down further and further into the ecclesiastical womb.’

Her journey continues, ‘Once inside it’s a small but pretty space – not remotely claustrophobic – that feels as if it’s semi-submerged in the London sod and loam. It is a City church that effortlessly unites the well-heeled gent and the tragically destitute, the traveller and the local, the religious and the sceptic, with no palpable sense of conflict or unease. It is magnificently cosmopolitan. All are welcome. Nobody seems or feels out of place. It is a profoundly dignified, proper, reverential, and, well, yes, loved space…. the air itself thickens, it seems to shimmer and glow. There is a sense of hush and excitement and reverence.’

I am so proud to be a priest here in this place, and so deeply humbled that so very many, Nicola included, get a little glimpse here of what heaven is like. Her final words made me smile and made me glad: ‘Just before lunchtime mass the rosary is recited – a strange cacophony of mumbling voices conjoin to repeat the prayer; a delicious maelstrom of different accents working with and against each other. It’s haunting and unearthly and there is no pressure to participate. It doesn’t matter why you are here, there is no compulsion to say or to do, just simply to be, to sit, to exhale, to reflect.’

Fr Chris Vipers is Parish Priest of St Mary Moorfields and St Joseph’s, Bunhill Row and is the Director of the Agency for Evangelisation

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