St. Saviour’s, Walton Place, London

(monthly worship gathering on Sunday 4th September 2011)

Having survived a harrowing experience in Harrods, I stumbled out a laneway and came across an intriguing church building nestled in the back streets within a stone’s throw of the fa

mous department store.  The door was open so I snuck in for a peak.  There was a foyer, with the original stone floor and many of the original trimmings, but where I expected it to open up to something vast, there was a comfortable, hospitality room with couches and carpet.  A young man greeted me and I explained I was just in for a peak at the church.  “Well we are a theatre and a church” he said!  Really?  Wow!

St. Saviours Walton Place is home to the Intermission theatre company who work with ‘at risk’ youth.  The building is skillfully refurbished to house a foyer/music performance venue with amazing acoustics at ground level, a dance rehearsal/ exhibition space in the basement and a small theatre upstairs in which the black out curtains can be removed to reveal the original stain glass windows and features and return the space into a very religious setting for worship.  Then of course there was the large multi-purpose room back at ground level with professional photos of the theatre company adorning the walls.  On this fortuitous trip  I received such a warm welcome when I explained who I was that I had  who invited me back for worship the following evening.

Entering a few moments late, I was greeted with wonderful jazz piano and sax playing meditation music to settle the congregation into worship.  One of my new friends from the previous evening jumped up to greet me and settle me without a fuss into a seat with the 20 or so others gathered in the foyer.  The vicar (identifiable from his dog-collar but distinguished by his black velvet jacket) led us through a simple liturgy with joy, sensitivity, lots of music and lots of contribution from others present.  We moved through praise, confession, bible reading, reflection and response to John Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress, intercessions and a final sending out.  It did what the liturgy is designed to do – take us on a faith journey through worship.
Apart from the fact that the style of this worship was a good fit for me, there are two observations I would make as to why it was successful as an act of worship.  First, the quality of the creative artists was very high.  The music was confident, fluid, responsive to spontaneity at various points in the liturgy and yet humble and far from an ordinary concert performance.  There were 5 musicians who took turns to play/sing plus the vicar who himself has been a professional performer and I got the distinct impression they were grateful to be able to offer their talents in this way – to be a blessing for others and to serve their God.  This mix of humility and talent could only have been made possible by the skilled pastoral leadership of the vicar setting the tone, selecting his contributors and, over a long extended period of time, forming a community in which these values have become organic to the whole.
The second reflection was the inherent relationality of the worship, though I myself was a ‘passer by’.  I was welcomed when I was a stranger, before anything was known about me personally.  Then I was welcomed as a ‘fellow pilgrim’  with incredible warmth.  I joined in the liturgy as one of the community, because of the gifted ministry of the one who welcomed me, and because of that it became a safe place for me to open my heart up to God, unafraid of the people around me.

You can check out more about the community, the theatre and the church through their website: intermission

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