St Luke’s West Holloway is our local Anglican church and, indeed, our nearest church, being just around the corner from our house. The vicar, Revd Dave Tomlinson, is an interesting chap who was prominent in the house church movement in the 1980s, left to gather a church that met in a pub in South London, wrote a book arising out of his own journey (The Post-Evangelical) and eventually became a minister in the Church of England.
Dave describes St Luke’s as “a glorious mishmash community of north London urbanites, sharing friendship, and groping after God”. The congregation is certainly different from our local Methodist churches: predominantly white and (I am presuming) middle class, with plenty of 30/40 somethings. This is no criticism, because it is a fair reflection of the community around the church (including our own middle class street). The congregation has a strong interest in the arts, supports a choir (Vox Holloway) and an artist in residence, and has links with the Greenbelt festival. It is also one of the network of churches involved with the Islington Churches Cold Weather Shelter.
St Luke’s is an attractive and spacious gothic church, with a prominent spire. It was just one of several such churches built by the various denominations in the Victorian period in what was then a new middle class community. All have now been demolished or converted to secular use; only St Luke’s remains. (Although the local Baptists worship in their former school hall.) Inside the moveable seating has been turned through 90 degrees to allow the congregation to gather round the table/altar.
Led by Anita Marsden and Dave Tomlinson, I found the worship very congenial to my own preferred style, which I can best describe as informal (though not casual) liturgical. St Luke’s has an excellent pianist/organist/choir director, and the choir made a very positive contribution to worship, beginning the worship by leading us in the Taize chant ‘Ubi caritas’ and later during Communion that perennial favourite ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’. I didn’t recognise the liturgy as one from Common Worship, so I presume it was a locally developed liturgy, with bits I recognised from Iona Community prayers. The Iona Community also provided three of the four congregational hymns, one of the three choir items and (I think) the musical setting for the eucharistic prayer.
The theme of the service ‘God in the spaces’ was inspired by the documentary film ‘Oh my God‘. The sermon was prefaced by a clip from the film which showed the friendship between a Jewish rabbi and Muslim Palestinian in Jerusalem. None of us have a perfect apprehension of God, said the rabbi; God is in the space between us. Dave connected this to the Gospel reading (Matthew 5:38-48) where Jesus’ teaches us to ‘love your enemies’. This idea of God in the spaces is hardly new, of course, and Dave made reference to John V. Taylor’s classic book ‘The Go-Between God’ (one of my favourites, and time for a re-read, methinks). He concluded by commending the Charter for Compassion, which encourages people of all faiths to reflect on the application of the Golden Rule (“treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves”) and commit to the expression of compassion in the way we live and our relationships with others. I had not heard of the Charter for Compassion before, and I am grateful to Dave for this recommendation.
Good worship, a challenging sermon, and a friendly church. I’m not sure whether I could appropriately claim the label ‘Post Evangelical’ (‘Post Liberal’ more like) but it’s not very far from my own position. Sometimes we take different paths to arrive in the same place.