Reflecting on life at St. Giles
Sometimes it is good to see the world through others’ eyes. For this reason I invited Michael Lynch, our curate until the end of January, to reflect on his time among us. This is what he wrote:
If there’s one word I would use to describe St. Giles, it’s ‘CONFIDENT’. Regular members of the congregation may not automatically recognise this, but perhaps it can be easier to see such things ‘from the outside.’ I see the church as being confident in several ways:
The Book of Common Prayer, 1662 (BCP)
Cranmer’s Prayer Book of 1552, which formed the basis of the one used today, provided a liturgy for the church to be both catholic and evangelical. The Book carries the weight of history and is in itself a record of this powerful, traumatic and important period in English history. Although the BCP is not so common these days it remains the official liturgy of the Church of England and brings a dignity and distinction to St. Giles.
The King James Bible, 1611 (KJV)
The translation is noted for its majesty, style and rhythm. It has been described as one of the most important books in English culture and a driving force in the shaping of the English-speaking world. During my time at St Giles I have become so enamored with both the BCP and the KJV that now I cannot imagine how I’m going to be able to conduct a service using anything else! I will need to stop dropping Elizabethan English expressions into my emails!
St Giles as a building and place
The first recorded church on the site dates from the early twelfth century, though there may have been a place of worship even before that. The present building was built almost 300 years ago and is in remarkable condition. It was designed by the famous church architect Henry Flitcroft in the elegant Palladian style (the first English church in that style) and the original model he made for the parishioners still sits, of course, in the north aisle. I remember walking past St. Giles many times in the distant past and thinking what an impressive building it was and feeling the urge to go in . . . but I always resisted. This was in the days when I could never have imagined becoming a Christian, let alone being a priest and curate in the church!
It goes without saying that it has seen untold changes over the years (it literally was ‘in- the-fields’ once), not least in this century, yet it remains a confident and calm beacon of continuity amidst the frenzy of social and economic activity that is the West End of London.
The concentration of buildings around St. Giles in the past few years appears at first glance to have swamped and obscured it but something interesting has happened. From the almost completed St Giles Square, the pedestrian piazza behind Centrepoint, there is a gap where the spire rises assertively in striking contrast to the glass and concrete building on the one side and a Victorian pile on the other. I imagine this will have been a condition of the planning permission. The view of St. Paul’s from certain vistas, for example, is protected and cannot be obscured by new buildings, which is why we have the unloved ‘Walkie Talkie’ building in the City, curved in such a way as to maintain the view of St. Paul’s from certain vantage points. (The architects didn’t anticipate that the parabola would have a magnifying effect and melt car dashboards parked in the street below!)
St. Giles stands there during the day, architecturally and spiritually defined and distinct from the modernist restaurants and offices of the square, and during the nighttime economy it projects itself, prominent, confident and illuminated. The timing of the new lighting of the tower could not have been better.
The piazza is a shortcut from New Oxford St to St. Giles High Street and has been designed to encourage pedestrians and customers to the new restaurants and bars, which are already doing business. Not only that, but the number of people set to use the area is about to increase enormously once the Crossrail Station opens at Tottenham Court Road. Paradoxically, in spite of all the new building around it, St. Giles is about to become more visible and prominent now than it has been for very many years.
This confidence also has its roots in the quiet prayerfulness that pervades the congregation. There is a peace amongst its people, which is sadly missing, in my view, from many churches and has been missing from the beginning, judging by St. Paul’s letters to the communities under his care.
My time as a Curate
I have personally grown in confidence in my time at St. Giles. I have been allowed to participate fully in the liturgy and parish life, growing and being well prepared for parish ministry as a priest no longer in training. I’m sure you won’t mind me saying that St Giles also has a sophisticated and well informed congregation who expect high standards of liturgy and homily, and that meeting those expectations has been an excellent discipline for me.
With regard to my own future, I have been given what is called ‘Permission to Officiate’ by the Bishop of London, which means I can conduct services anywhere in the diocese at the invitation of its incumbent. I will probably be licensed to a specific parish at some point, but meanwhile I am available on an ad hoc basis where the need arises - so you may not have seen the last of me yet . . . Finally, this from Hebrews, 13, 6: ‘So that we may say boldly, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.’