Last Sunday we continued our tour of churches around London; this week found us in Westminster Central Hall. This was not an accidental choice, as we planned to head afterwards to the Chinese New Year Celebrations in nearby Trafalgar Square.
We were running a few minutes late and were very surprised on arriving to find that the stairs up to the Great Hall were roped off. On enquiry we discovered that worship was taking place in the ground floor hall known as the Library. Apparently the ceiling of the Great Hall is being decorated and work done on the organ, which is quite a coincidence, because when we were at Wesley’s Chapel last week we found that they too were redecorating the ceiling.
In the event I quite enjoyed worship in the Library. It was a bit of a tight fit – pretty much every chair was filled – but created an intimate atmosphere for worship. As the Superintendent Minister Martin Turner is on sabbatical at the moment, the service was led by Tony Miles and Malcolm White, with guest preacher Tony Morling from Loughton Methodist Church.
It was interesting to compare the worship at WCH with Wesley’s Chapel the previous week. In fact, the basic pattern of worship and the style in which the worship was led was very similar – a ‘hymn sandwich’ with largely extempore prayers. The congregations seem to be fairly similar in profile – culturally diverse, with ethnic minorities in the majority. The main difference was the music – whereas at Wesley’s chapel we sang the traditional 5 hymns, at WCH there were 6 congregational hymns, 3 choir items and a solo. WCH is well known for its music ministry and is blessed with an excellent choir. During the closure of the Great Hall, the church has compensated for the loss of the organ by bringing in extra musicians, forming a very versatile worship group, with violins, flutes, trumpets, piano and drums. As well as providing variety to the traditional hymn tunes, we enjoyed a toe-tapping jazz version of ‘This little light of mine’.
Tony Morling preached on the Gospel reading – Matthew 5:13-20 – on the importance of being light and salt to the world. He illustrated the sermon with the story of Silas Told, one of the saints of early Methodism, and I am very grateful to Tony for bringing this remarkable but largely forgotten man to our attention. Silas Told’s autobiography was published shortly after his death and is available online.
With all these hymns, a reasonably long sermon ( I didn’t time it, but I would guess about 25 minutes) and ‘a word to the children and young people’ which featured Tony Miles’ hand puppet Darren, it was not a short service. But there was plenty of variety, excellent hymns and a sermon that was encouraging and challenging and clearly engaged the congregation. It was good to be there and to share in worship and fellowship with our sisters and brothers in Westminster.