If ever a Church was poorly named it is “St. Martin in the field”, the name makes you think of a beautiful rural Church amidst trees, woodland and maybe the odd friendly farmyard animal; instead it is right in the heart of London’s Trafalgar Square.
I wondered: “What it would mean to be a parish Church in a context like this?”
The nations of the world literally on your doorstep, and the people who sleep in your parish are either multi-millionaires or destitute and sleeping in doorways.
St. Martin’s is known for its embracing of the arts, and they hold lots of classical music concerts (great, but if I’m honest not really my bag!) but how does it manage to do life as a Christian community in Trafalgar square?
St. Martin’s Vicar Sam Wells has written a number of books (although I’ve only read one!) and that was called “the Nazareth Manifesto” in it he says that the most important word in theology is the word “with” too often we do Church, ministry and mission to, for or at worst at them.
Yet the model of Mission Wells is alluding to comes from the incarnation, Jesus who lives and shared his life with us! It is an interesting word, I have started saying “can I talk with you” rather than too you, or can I pray with you?
The word “with” transforms the power dynamic in that relationship, too often as Churches we exist in the privileged position of having the power and those, we are blessing end up being “done too”.
My friend Chris Harwood suggests however that perhaps we can do better, and go further, than “with” and instead uses the word “of” where we are part of the community, we are in. Dorothy Day the founder of the Catholic worker movement talked of “as” we serve not just “with” the poor, but “as” the poor, Jesus did not just come with us, but instead he came “as” one of us.
As I approached the Church, I saw it was surrounded by noticeboards, one caught my eye with the words “when there is nowhere to turn, we are here!” a generous and invitational offer right at the heart of London. I wondered (as this is so different from most Church noticeboards) whether this had been designed by someone from a marketing or publicity background? I began to think about the variety of people who have gifts and skills within our Churches, marketing, publicity, sales, graphic design, public relations (and many more) and the pool of wisdom they bring that can inform and educate us in being more fruitful and effective in what we can do. I wonder whether too often we have rota filling jobs we try and crowbar people into rather than learning celebrating and benefiting from the awesome gifts that are already there on our pews?
Wandering into the crypt around an awesome cafe, charging £3 for a donut, but every worker there was paid the London living wage. They also have thought seriously about the trade justice around their coffee and all their produce! “it’s probably the most ethical cafe in London!” laughed Sally their associate minister who was showing us around, great to hear of Churches taking their ethics and stewardship seriously as followers of Jesus engaged in front line mission at the heart of the capital city.
Two words they use a lot is “heart and edge” -indeed the Church is the only organisation whose heart and centre ought to be on its edge. They are a Church with amazing work with the marginalised offering food, showers and washing machines (and many other provision), including lockers. This provision means that the homeless do not feel self-conscious as are given the dignity of being able to wash getting themselves and their clothes clean and to be able to store their things safely, which also means that people who don’t know they are homeless probably couldn’t tell, unless the person wanted to tell them. Many people from the streets end up here working in the cafe and through learning a trade have further employment possibilities.
There is so much happening in and through this Church it could warrant a book all by itself, but the thing I was most interested in as at its heart there is a new monastic community, which prays regularly and has a rule of life which includes giving of their time in voluntary service to the community. As I thought of this small community of faithful workers who pray and serve, I thought these guys (although under the radar) are the boiler-room or powerhouse for this whole Church and its ministries, birthed in prayer and with the people of God intentionally leaving their comfort zones and rolling up their sleeves.