Bad faith: National musicians church expels its musicians

Bad faith: National musicians church expels its musicians


norman lebrecht

August 11, 2017

St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in London is known as the national musicians’ church.

It has a side-chapel with windows dedicated to various British musicians, the church holds Henry Wood’s ashes and it has a memorial book for musicians who die. It also has a terrific acoustic and is hired for concerts by many amateur and professional groups

That’s nice. What follows is not so nice.

The church has recently written to all the choirs and orchestras who hire it to say they are no longer welcome.

‘This has not been an easy decision,’ writes the Reverend David Ingall, not saying why. Apparently, there is an evangelical group which is prepared to pay more for hirings than musicians can afford.

‘Our ministry as the National Musicians Church continues to be a core part of our Church’s identity and vision,’ continues the Reverend. However: ‘I am aware that you do already have bookings in the calendar for 2018 and we would be very grateful if you were able to find an alternative venue.’

Basically, the musicians have been given the bum’s rush by St Sepulchre’s.

It should be known in future as the National Musicians Church-without-musicians.

UPDATE: There’s a petition going round to reverse the decision. Sign here.



  • Robert Holmén says:

    A confirmed booking ought to be an enforceable contract.

    • Charlotte Collier says:

      It is. Speak to the MU.

    • Will Dawes says:

      Whilst I’m very much of the opinion that St Seps have done the wrong thing here, I do wish NL would stop stirring up an even larger storm by actually quoting accurately. The next sentence of the paragraph regarding bookings in 2018 is “However, if you are not able to rearrange the venue, we would look to honour the booking here at St. [sic] Sepulchre’s, as previously agreed.” That said, I don’t agree with them trying to wriggle out of their agreed commitments.

      • Bruce says:

        “…I do wish NL would stop stirring up an even larger storm by actually quoting accurately.”

        Hahahaha. Why would he do that?

  • Maria says:

    That’s strange because “What’s On”, on the website, suggests that very little is going on.

    It also still claims to be the Musicians’ Church.

    Perhaps the website should say “What’s Going On?”.

    • Marianne Barton says:

      I suspect that what might be ‘going on’ includes an attempt to redefine ‘music’ in very narrow terms. My personal worship preferences don’t happen to include guitars, amps, drum-kits etc, but this kind of music speaks to some, so it has its place and that’s fine. What is NOT fine is for the church which is home to the Musicians’ Chapel (and the ashes of Sir Henry Wood) to close its doors to other forms of music. The church’s website currently says: ‘Our vision is for St. Sepulchre’s to be a place where music and musicians are valued and appreciated, a space for musicians to use, and a place where they can encounter God.’ But apparently only certain types of music and musicians now have any value. The church attracts generous donations which enable it to maintain its choral programme which includes an organist, a director of music, an organ scholar and a professional choir and weekly choral evensong: how safe, now, are these? If the deep-pocketed evangelical group mentioned in this correspondence decides that it needs St Sepulchre’s on Tuesday evenings, will that herald the end of choral evensong here?

  • Nicholas Clapton says:

    Most priests of the CofE are unreprentant Philistines, so this is no surprise …

    • Dr Jonathan Swift says:

      The happy clappies certainly are. They have ruined the COE. Our Rector over here in Wicklow is an expert on Irish illuminated manuscripts, (TCD) he once told us that in his 40 years in the Church of Ireland Synod, he had seen much change and voted against all of it!

      • Una says:

        The Church of Ireland is hardly the Church of England – just Anglican like the Church in Wales and Kenya, and not established nor having to house a very Catholic wing to it as well – the history is so different.

        • Jonathan Swift says:

          We have a far better educated and cultured clergy, than the Church of England, I dislike the new Service formats especially Communion 2! I was appalled at some of the Sermons I heard at St Paul’s! The Church of Ireland is low church, generally we do not go in for bells and smells of the Oxford Movement, nor do we have crosses on the Table, although one church in Dublin does, St Bartholmew’s, St Columba’s is a Public school in the tractarian model. I attended St Patrick’s School attached to the Cathedral and was Precentor for 20 years. I agree mission statements sounds very corporate America!

    • The Reverend Andrew Wickens says:

      I fear have point re Philistinism a propos Classical or choral music, “difficult” music, generally, amongst those of a lower church persuasion. It’s very vexing for those of us jobbing former pros – singing in my case. De nos jours in this anti-intellectual church culture.

  • RobertA says:

    To be fair, David says they will honour the 2018 booking if we can’t find an alternative.

    But we won’t enjoy the help of Tom, the hiring liaison person. He’s being sacked.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    This comment can be perceived as disturbing, but I suspect that churchs were primarily built for church services, not to serve as concert halls.

    • Keith Long says:

      Indeed they were. But churches have historically long been more than just places of worship. Many churches manage to combine secular and religious functions quite satisfactorily – and indeed the income from concert and practice hirings (and other uses) is incredibly useful in funding a church’s work.

      • Phil Gardner says:

        Absolutely. In the Middle Ages churches were not only places of worship but centres of local community life – something that is increasingly happening today as well, with many churches hosting things like pay-as-you-feel cafés, advice centres and all sorts of voluntary activities. And of course music has always been an important part of worship in most churches, and central to cathedral services. Concerts and rehearsals fit in very naturally.

  • V. Lind says:

    The really sinister element here is the evangelicals, who can afford to outpay anyone else and apparently are doing so. These people are beyond happy clappy — in the US they are the religious right, as nasty a bunch as you could ever run across, and the most rapacious. And on the whole they are the religious wrong. It is upsetting that a church such as this has fallen prey to these very nasty types.

    • Sponger says:

      Incredible bigotry. There is no more information other than ‘evangelicals’ and to be fair to them, that could mean anything. Your persecution is disgraceful. Are you sure YOU’RE not a Trump voter?!

      • John says:

        Bigotry? Persecution??? Tsk tsk tsk. Really!

        The religious right here in the US is well practiced at playing the victim card.

        • Maria says:

          This is in England, and London at that, not America, so no point even trying to compare the two – or even mentioning Trump into this.

      • Dave Allen says:

        You are talking bollocks mate. Just look up the Caleb Foundation they believe in Creationism and a flat earth bonkers.

        Good night and may yer God go with you!

      • Bruce says:

        I’m not sure an individual can single-handedly “persecute” an entire segment of the population. Perhaps the word you were looking for is “criticize” (or “criticise,” depending on where you are when you write it).

    • Phil Gardner says:

      British evangelicals are nothing like as nasty as the US ‘religious right’, and they are quite varied – not all are bigoted and sinister by any means. There is, of course, a vocal fundamentalist wing which is highly objectionable, but they are not typical of evangelicals as a whole. Fortunately.

    • Una says:

      Mercifully American Evangelicals don’t run the Church of England!

  • Barnaby Ballstrangler says:

    “The Lord will provide, but to date he was behind with his payments”.

    (–Spike Milligan)

    • Sue says:

      Spike Milligan was born in Woy, Woy – a little town on the water just north of Sydney. He once described it as “an above ground cemetery”. He was a funny man!!!

  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    ‘Our ministry as the National Musicians Church continues to be a core part of our Church’s identity and vision,’

    I’m not remotely close to any Judaeo-Christian faith but find it disheartening that a church has, or needs, an identity and vision statement. What’s next, data-driven, customer-focused salvation?

    • Una says:

      I am a Christian but anything to do with ‘vision’, mission statements and corporate language just does my head in, Ravi! But your idea of Customed-focus salvation was wonderfully.funny and made me laugh out loud for the first time this week after teaching! Thanks!

  • Edward Thornton. says:

    “The world turns on its dark side”‘. Very disturbing story.

  • Ben says:

    I did try to book a concert there a few years ago, but found them expensive and unaccommodating. It’s like they were trying to make it awkward and undesirable even then.

  • Colin Baldy says:

    Holy Trinity, Brompton has gradually been taking over every City church because they have vast amounts of money and, somehow, the retiring Bishop of London has been in thrall to them. Their style of worship does not allow for the inclusion of God music so this is no surprise.

  • Colin Baldy says:

    Sorry: “good music”, though perhaps the typo wasn’t far from the truth.

  • Liz says:

    Good luck to St Sepulchres… the Evangelical church that hired my local parish hall were evicted, owing over 12 month’s rent, despite their pastor having a brand new Mercedes every year and turning up wearing a new Armani suit to beg for another 6 months to pay. St Sepulchres may regret their choices sooner than they hoped.

  • Sue Benjamins says:

    The “christian” faith and church in Britain (do I mean England or all the other established buts as well? Who knows? Not me. Anglican I suppose I should say)….would not have lasted THIS long among many of the less devout were it not for the spiritually-strengthening effects of 17/18/19/ even 20th century music of the depth and inspiration of the types of musicians represented traditionally among those who have now been rejected by this mean spirited and totally short-sighted change of focus. Evangelical habits of musical form represent a wholly different and divisive type of religious/spiritual loyalty, and vitally FUNDING, and frankly have more than enough of the latter to find or build their own centres for worship without trespass on ancient churches like St Sepulchre. What does the Diocese and ArchBishop say about this entrepreneurship by the priest in charge? Do these actions have diocesan blessing? Arent there sufficient evangelical churches of their own? There are huge converted ex warehouses making a fortune of it over here in east London.

  • Lesley King says:

    Sadly, this particular vicar seems to have lost any concept of contact with the community in which the church is located. Within weeks of his arrival, he forbade the placing of a banner on the church railings promoting an annual amateur art exhibition being held discreetly within the church on weekdays for about 10 days in Sept, one which had been held there for a number of years, and indicated that the exhibition would not be welcome in the church in future years. Unfortunately , this church has been badly served by its incumbent at least once before- one of his predecessors got rid of an amateur, but competent, choir which used to do a sung service once a week at lunchtime and attracted about 20 regular attenders in favour of a spoken service only- for which the turnout ultimately was one lady and her dog, so he was able to to say there was “no demand”.

  • Sam says:

    It’s not about being unchristian but about the costs – heating, lighting, the whole business of insurance, which has become astronomical. I think.people underestimate the costs involved in a listed building. And often no profit for a church, needed when people going to church – particularly in that area where many don’t live and a whole pile of City churches, mostly Anglican, are struggling to survive. You need bums on seats and money in tge plate, which I not happening. I have sung in that church when I lived I London, and there were times when there were more of us singing – not many- with even fewer in the congregation. You can’t run a church on £34 in the Sunday collection – bread and wine for Communion nearly cost that!

    • Will Dawes says:

      You’re aware that all these people who hire the church give them money to do so? And also that those who run this particular church have been in post for a few years now?

  • wretched animal says:

    another crass decision made by a clergyman

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    What a ghastly sounding pompous philistine of a prelate- he should be debagged or whatever happens to these ineffectual COE officials. Happy Clappy replaces Bach- how depressing- but we must pray to God- but not the COE one- because that might not help.

  • RobertA says:

    My take on all this…

    (It has nothing to do with churches in the US or Ireland.)

    St Sepulchre’s is a church in The City which is a square mile district in the centre of London. Centuries ago the City was densely populated and hundreds of churches were built. Now it is largely a financial district and only about 8,000 people live there.

    Most of the 50 or so remaining churches have been put to substantial community use (hosting musical events being common) and whilst some have a small Sunday congregation, many are more active during the working week when 300,000 people work in the City.

    St Sepulchre’s has been the jewel in the musical crown of the City churches. It is the spiritual home of musicians and it holds the ashes of Henry Wood, revered in Britain for developing the Promenade Concerts. It is unusual in having enough room for a choir and orchestra and an audience of 400, and has a great acoustic. Some of the finest musicians in the land have performed concerts or rehearsed there and many thousands of people have enjoyed the performances.

    In the last few years the church has been taken over by an evangelical group called HTB from another part of London. With the democratic way churches are constituted, this is easily done when there is a small local congregation. They have had little regard for the important community musical activity of the church, and have insidiously restricted the space available to outside users of the building. The Henry Wood Room has been converted to the Prayer Room, is locked and rarely used. The complete exclusion of outsiders is the culmination of these moves.

    I see nothing untoward in the existence of a mission statement, most well-managed organisations have one so that their members all move in a consistent direction. Interestingly the latest Mission Action Plan of St Sepulchre’s to 2019 contains “On-going Commitments – Music – maintain our status as an excellent music venue for concerts and rehearsals”.

    Nor do I imagine that members of HTB are “nasty”, although clearly in this matter they are completely self-interested. They have revitalised dozens of churches, have thousands of adherents, and an income of tens of millions, some of which they spend on helping the needy.

    It is all very well reopening a closed or moribund church with a local population to be evangelised, but St Sepulchre’s is different. It has a very important and active role in the musical life of the nation as a rehearsal and performance space, touching vastly more people than the 50-odd adherents of HTB who now also use it.

    It is extremely sad that the wonderful space that was so often filled with uplifting beautiful music will now only hear amplified guitars and karaoke-style singing, and the occasional choral service if they can continue to find singers prepared to take their pieces of silver.

    I won’t be setting foot in the “Musicians’ Chapel” again as I don’t want to hear Sir Henry turning in his grave.

  • Jackyt says:

    Thank you, Roberta, very illuminating and sad. Is there anything we can do? Appeal to the Archdeacon, or is he also an Evangelical?

    • Alex Davies says:

      No, the Archdeacon of London, the Venerable Luke Miller, is far from being an evangelical. He trained for ordination at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, probably the most conservative Anglo-Catholic theological college in the Church of England. He went on to serve the parishes of St Matthew’s, Oxhey and St Mary’s, Tottenham, both about as High Church as it gets, especially St Mary’s, e.g. priests addressed as “Father”, Holy Communion called “Mass”, six candles on the altar, and statues of Our Lady and other saints. He is a member of both the Society of the Holy Cross and the Society of Mary. Finally, he is working on a book about George Congreve, one of the early Cowley Fathers.

      • Jackyt says:

        That is excellent news about the Archdeacon. Could he be appealed to for help? From what you write, Alex Davies, it would appear that he would not only be in favour of the musicians, but glad of an opportunity to help them.

        • Alex Davies says:

          I don’t know how much power an archdeacon has over things like which groups are allowed to hire church premises and for what purposes. The Church of England is organised in a fairly decentralised way, and I imagine that individual parishes have got away with far worse. However, it would do no harm to seek some intervention from the archdeacon.

          The other thing to be cautioned against, however, is any suggestion that senior clergy in the Church of England are interested in pursuing any kind of culture war between evangelical and Anglo-Catholic factions. The Church tends to seek a more or less happy accommodation which allows different forms of Anglicanism to coexist. The Diocese of London is particularly fine example of this, as it has a large number of extremely conservative Anglo-Catholic parishes, as well as a large number of evangelical parishes, including a number of HTB plants (which contribute disproportionately to the diocesan budget). People like archdeacons are appointed in part because they are able to rise above such distinctions.

          • Nicholas says:

            That seems to me absolutely spot on regarding the lack of desire for an Anglo-Catholic/Evangelical culture war. There is no way that anybody wants that, and Richard Chartres was especially adept at keeping the peace between the two sides during his lengthy time as Bishop.

            Archdeacons really can do very little about this kind of thing, apart from make personal appeals to people’s better natures. In any case, to the extent that they can affect what is done – for example, whether the church can host a film shoot – they would rather have to appeal to the Chancellor of the Diocese to prevent it. There isn’t a power for them to insist that something of this kind is done, or that the church does provide the community access to its facilities. That’s up to the parish itself. Incidentally, one characteristic of the big evangelical congregations is that they frequently don’t pay into the Common Fund, because they pay their own clergy directly as well as all their costs, in order to ensure that they get the clergy they really want with the “right” doctrinal purity. They may well also make a gift to the diocese – one such congregation recently contributed £250k on such a basis. Of course, this gives them immense clout. Even if Archdeacons had powers over a matter of this kind, this would be a very significant factor that would inevitably prevent action from being taken.

            The thing that the Anglo-Catholic and other non-Evangelical parishes should be doing (in my humble opinion) is not to stand quaking on the sidelines while HTB and St Helen’s Bishopsgate (who have taken over another major musical church, St Michael’s, Cornhill) eat up the Diocese of London, but to take inspiration from the Evangelicals and start doing what it takes to build up their congregations commensurately, so that when great Anglo-Catholic musical churches like St Sepulchre’s and St Michael’s get into difficulties, it is credible for them to be put into the hands of a sympathetic congregation instead.

          • Alex Davies says:

            @Nicholas, the Diocese of London is actually an even more interesting example of this, because the only instance I can remember where the bishop has intervened in matters of Churchmanship was when he rebuked some of his Anglo-Catholic parishes for using the Roman Missal.

  • Edward says:

    As a church musician of a very traditional CofE church, the best way to stop evangelicals ‘taking over’ churches (as indeed happened at HTB in the first place), is to increase attendance at traditional churches. If S.Sepulchre’s had had a thriving congregation, this would not have happened. It seems events like this rightly cause anger and indignation, I am the last person to wish to see quality musicians ousted from any church, especially one with such musical associations, but how many of the people up in arms about this have actually attended a traditional CofE church regularly in the last year. Traditional congregations are declining and evangelical ones are thriving. It seems that traditional church music is something people want to defend (good), but not go so far as to attend a church to hear it.

  • MarcelMouse says:

    Not sure about the ‘terrific acoustic’ – overly resonant with a pronounced echo.

  • Nicholas Riddle says:

    If organizations that are being ejected from their bookings at St Sepulchre’s need a considerably more welcoming church that is genuinely committed to music and offers an excellent environment, they would be very welcome to get in touch with St Bartholomew the Great, more or less just up the road from St Sepulchre’s.

    • Dusty says:

      Try St Giles’ Crpplegate next to the Barbican Centre. Fine musical tradition, good local congregation and not happy-clappy.

  • LW says:

    St Seps was great because of its size and the flexibility of space. We regularly had 400 or so people at our charity Christmas concert plus 100+ in the choir. Very few other options for that in the City.

    We were stopped from booking there this time last year (and again this year) as Alpha courses wanted to use the whole church, and if they were in the smaller rooms, were “disturbed” by the music.

    Very sad indeed.

  • LW says:

    The thing that was so great about St Seps was the size (as the largest parish church in the City) and the flexibility of the space. There is hardly anywhere else that we can fit our choir of 100+ in for a rehearsal, and the choir plus 400+ audience for a concert.

    We were first told we couldn’t book any future rehearsals this time last year, as the Alpha courses wanted the use of the whole church. Why their small groups couldn’t make do with the 3 or 4 other meeting rooms is beyond me.

  • Clive Billenness says:

    I am reading this all with interest and deep sympathy. I have a question though. Are the people who are clearly deeply upset actually on the electoral roll of this church ? Do they reside within the Parish ?
    Without being on the electoral roll, if they reside within the parish they can nominate two new churchwardens for St Sepulchre next March/April. These officers may be able to help in changing attitudes.
    If they are on the electoral roll (i.e. are regular worshippers there) then they can also seek election to the Church Council.
    Clergy find it very hard to ignore concerns expressed by their Wardens and Church Council.
    I hope this sad situation can be resolved quickly and amicably.

  • Jackyt says:

    This may not be any help, but we recently attended a wonderful concert in a beautiful church, St John the Evangelist in Upper Norwood, given by the London Mozart Players. This was a beautiful neo-Gothic church with very welcoming staff. It would make an ideal concert venue, I would have thought.

  • George Reynolds says:

    If anyone has been affected by this and are now looking for an alternative venue to book rehearsals in, you are most welcome to make enquiries at St Benet Fink, Tottenham. Not far from Turnpike Lane station and well served by bus routes; St Benet’s has a growing reputation for excellence in music and welcomes all. It has beautiful accoustics and an exceptionally fine 19th century Father Willis organ. Further details can be found at

  • David K says:

    Having read plenty of comments and commentary about this, I can’t find a mention of anyone who has actually tried to speak to the vicar. I assume someone has actually tried to speak to the priest of the parish before the petition and the national media were involved?