London churches and their partnerships with professions
- 27 December 2015
- From the section London
The churches of London sit solid and unwavering, providing solace and support to their congregations, but four of them have a very particular relationship with some of their worshippers. How did these churches become the spiritual home of actors, brewers, lawyers and journalists?
St Paul's, Covent Garden: Actors
Complete with its own theatre company, St Paul's Church in Covent Garden is considered the actors' church.
The relationship began after 1660 when King Charles II came to the throne. He revoked an 11-year ban on frivolous pastimes, licensing theatre companies at the Theatre Royal and the Royal Opera House - both in the parish of St Paul's.
The Rev Simon Grigg, who trained as a stage manager, says the church has long been a popular place for baptisms and memorial services of those in acting families.
He explained that as well as performing the usual responsibilities one might expect of a busy rector, he is sometimes called upon to carry out tasks relating to the church's thespian connection.
"After the awful events of the Apollo Theatre roof collapse I was asked to bless the theatre, which is a bit different, but it's part of the healing process.
"And I was asked to bless the production of The Scottsboro Boys at the Garrick Theatre, which was joyous, and about a third of the company came and we gave prayers and lit some candles."
During regular services prayers are offered to theatre departments, including front of house - but Mr Grigg explained that there is one specific downside to the church's acting connection.
"Sunday mornings are not good for actors because they would have had two shows on a Saturday and often they live outside London because they can't afford to live in the city."
The church has some well-known thespian patrons with Dame Judi Dench and Barbara Windsor both having supported it at different times, while comedians Dawn French and Lenny Henry married there in 1984.
Another friend of St Paul's is 88-year-old Audrey Leybourne who describes herself as an "old pro actress" having trodden the boards in productions of Annie and My Fair Lady around the world, as well as working alongside the legendary impresario Cameron Mackintosh in Oliver! when he was "just a stage manager".
"I've got all my friends here, my cat's buried in the beautiful garden and our vicar makes us laugh," she said.
"There are other churches I could go to, but this is the one I like with all of its heritage. I've been away a lot but I always get a welcome here."
St Nicholas, Chiswick: Brewers
Here's a connection you may not have been expecting - St Nicholas in Chiswick is the church for brewers.
The Rev Andrew Downes said: "St Nicholas Church has been on this site for about 1,200 years and Fuller's Brewery has been here for about 400 years."
So good are neighbourly relations that Fuller's named its winter ale St Nick's with a proportion of the sales going to the church, which is trying to raise £1.1m to make it "fit for the 21st Century".
Mr Downes said: "My boss, the Bishop of London, blessed the hops and it's just gone nuts right throughout the country - I've had tweets and comments saying it's fantastic.
"Beer is a great gift of God's, and they're one of the great brewers in London and this is one of the greatest churches in London."
In years gone by, more of the congregation would have had a connection to the brewery, and although the number of worshippers directly linked to Fuller's has diminished, the relationship is still referenced in services.
Parishioner and beer lover Chris Lucy said: "There are several people at the church who like beer so it's meant friendships have blossomed.
"Fuller's is a very generous member of the church and they value their space in the community."
The church also comes with its own beer-related tall story.
Mr Downes said: "The rumour is there is a secret tunnel which leads directly from our church to an old convent and apparently we used to smuggle beer from the church to the convent.
"It's a marvellous parish tale."
Temple Church, City of London: Lawyers
It's the church that comes with the glitz of a Hollywood blockbuster and a history that stretches back to the 12th Century. Temple Church is one for the lawyers.
It was built by the Knights Templar in 1162 and is described by the Valiant Master of the Temple, the Rev Robin Griffith-Jones, as "effectively Jerusalem in London" - it is modelled on the round design of that city's Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
He said it became "King John's London HQ" in 1214 when the finer details of the Magna Carta were thrashed out.
And centuries later, in 2003, the church was thrust into the limelight again when it featured in Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code - which inspired a hit movie starring Tom Hanks.
Mr Griffith-Jones said: "The book had an astonishing effect and, almost overnight, we found queues of young people waiting to get in and they would ask the verger: 'Have you read the book?' - and the verger is still determined to believe they are asking about the Bible."
In its day-to-day dealings, however, the church promotes its legal connections over its literary ones.
Mr Griffith-Jones said: "All of our services are open to everybody but the people we have the closest links to are the lawyers. It's quite normal to baptise a baby whose parents and grandparents are in the law."
Temple carol services attract up to 700 people and "for high days and holidays the lawyers pile in", he said.
The Worshipful Prof Mark Hill QC, a part-time judge and the ecclesiastical chancellor of several dioceses, is one of those who attends the church.
"If you practise law in the Temple you can't avoid it and it beckons you to come in," he said.
"Parents and siblings of the choirboys swell the ranks considerably, so in many ways there is an ordinariness. It's like the Christmas cake: you have the ordinariness of the icing, and marzipan are the lawyers and judges."
The church's legal connection can be traced back to the Knights Templar, whose charters and deeds were stored in the Temple. "Where you have deeds you'll also have lawyers," said Mr Griffith-Jones.
And while he is not himself trained in the law, he is from a legal family.
"My father was a judge," Mr Griffith-Jones said.
"When I got here I discovered that all the lawyers had worked with him and I learned more about him than I had ever done before."
St Bride's, Fleet Street: Journalists
This article would not be complete without mentioning St Bride's in Fleet Street - the church for journalists.
Its rector, the Rev Alison Joyce said: "The story starts 500 years ago when Caxton's apprentice brought his printing press to our churchyard.
"The first daily newspaper launched in 1702 so during that time we evolved from being the printers' church into the journalists' church."
Every year the church holds memorial services for journalists killed in action, among them American reporter Steven Sotloff, who was beheaded in 2014, and those murdered in the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January.
Dr Joyce said: "I think journalists have never been under more pressure - many are working as freelances, and wearing a flak jacket with 'Press' on the back is no longer likely to protect you."
The church also holds annual carol services for publications including The Times, The Telegraph and The Spectator.
"We need journalists as they provide us with our window into the world and so the whole tangle of issues around press freedom and the blurring of the line between producer and consumer is fascinating," Dr Joyce said.
"It's good for the Church to engage with those kinds of complexities."
St Bride's also provides a bursary for a young reporter, which Daily Mail sportswriter Jonathan McEvoy describes as a "nice way of doing something real".
Mr McEvoy, 39, said: "I was aware of it being the church for journalists so that triggered my interest and it's a connection to the Men of Letters - Milton, Samuel Pepys - all who worshipped at St Bride's."
A word from the Bishop of London
The Right Reverend and Right Honourable Richard Chartres said: "We have a number of churches in London which are spiritual anchor-holds where professionals find familiarity and return, particularly at climactic points in their lives.
"What they find is a welcome but then often experience an ongoing connection."