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St Bride's was packed for this year's celebrations of Guild Sunday on February 4, when the Rev Wallace Boulton - the longest-serving Guild Chaplain - preached a fascinating, thought-provoking and sometimes moving sermon. Here is an abridged version:
It is a privilege for me to have had a small part in the ministry here now for nearly 36 of the 50 years since St Bride's was rededicated. I was invited by Dewi Morgan, for whom I had a high regard. In his time as Rector the newspaper world still pulsated all around St Bride's. The lorries rumbled along Fleet Street with the huge reels of newsprint, each four miles long. When I came out of St Bride's after an evening service I would see the vans scurrying towards the rail terminals with the early editions for the distant parts of the country. I recall a Guildsman here who would finish his stint on the foreign news desk of the Daily Express opposite and come straight across the road before the evening service for his duty here and to read a lesson. That typified the closeness of St Bride's and the newspaper world.
Dewi was so much a part of all that and he thrived on it. But it was all going to change, totally. Dewi saw the first signs of it coming and he grew pessimistic about the future of St Bride's when that 'world' would longer be in Fleet Street. What would happen to St Bride's then?
As we look to our Lord, his purposes - sometimes unforeseen, unexpected - are revealed and fulfilled. John Oates came as Rector and was just the person for those drastically changing times. St Bride's may no longer have been physically at the centre of the media world but it became its spiritual home even more so. Not only that, but it drew in more people from other businesses. John Oates bowed out, having given distinctive and vital leadership at a crucial time.
Now we have a different personality again as Rector - David Meara. One can only say again: the right person in the right place at the right time, with a vision to make St Bride's secure for the future and to encourage new possibilities for involvement with the changing community.
Christ's church here on earth - the body of Christ, in St Paul's words - has to be constantly renewed as we allow God the Holy Spirit to bring new life: cleansing sometimes, healing where there may be discord or division, forgiveness and new beginnings. We can't live in the past. "Behold," says the Lord, "I am doing a new thing,", as he said to his people way back in the days of the prophet Isaiah. "I am doing a new thing, now it springs up, do you not perceive it?"
The programme for the recent service to commemorate the firebombing of St Bride's in December 1940 was entitled 'The night St Bride's didn't die.' We praise God this year on the 50th anniversary of the rededication of St Bride's. But let's not forget the 16 years between that night of destruction and the rededication. We should also remember the largely unknown Arthur Taylor, who was the Rector in 1940. He and his congregation saw St Bride's in ruins, the nave completely destroyed. But Arthur Taylor could declare that "the living church still stands, steadfast and unshaken." Those 16 years, which could easily be overlooked historically, were crucial. This church could have died but it lived on.
So what did Arthur Taylor mean by the living church, still standing, steadfast and unshaken? Well of course, the people. It is a reminder that, first and foremost, the church is the people. St Bride's is us - we are the church here.
In the 1st Epistle of Peter the living church is described as being made up of living stones - people like you and me - being built into a spiritual house, to the glory of God. It has a very solid foundation, for the chief cornerstone is Christ himself, on whom it all depends.
The significance of this beautifully restored building is in what it expresses - and what it helps us to express. We come into St Bride's and we can become aware that we are in a special place, a place where we can draw aside from the world, with all its busyness, its stresses, its false values, its preoccupations.
We can find here peace, an awareness of the living God; we can feel the touch of the Holy Spirit upon our lives, making Jesus our Lord real and personal to us. We can, as it were, touch eternity, we can be deeply and spiritually refreshed and renewed. Not always of course, we don't always come with that sort of expectancy, do we? We may just be coming out of a sense of duty or routine. We may not be in the right frame of mind, there can be obstacles in our lives which are in the way, and they need to be dealt with, and can be, between ourselves and our Lord.
This church has established a reputation far and wide for its music, its choir. Again the significance is in what it expresses. It can lift our hearts in the worship of God and it can speak to our hearts and minds. This is the only church I know that regularly has a sermon in music.
The Lord is glorified, and we are blessed, in this building. The Lord is glorified, and we are blessed, through the music. Now I want to speak about the significance of the ministry. For ministry should be at the at the heart of every church.
When we hear the word 'ministry' what's the first thing that comes to mind? Do we think of the clergy? Well if each member is a vital part of the living church then each member is part of its ministry. That's how it's seen in the New Testament.
Ministry is service, and every member of the church is called to the Lord's service. Jesus called an assortment of ordinary people to be his disciples. The first were fishermen, as we heard in the Gospel reading. They all had a great deal to learn about him; sometimes they were slow to learn, sometimes they misunderstood.
In the end they failed him: well actually of course, not the end, because the Cross and the grave were not the end. The risen Christ was still committed to those first disciples. He was going to leave them to carry out his mission on earth - what a trust! But they were to carry it out in the power of the Holy Spirit. So the story went on - and goes on in the 21st century afterwards, when you and I who profess him are called to serve him, and his church is called to serve him.
He befriended all kinds of people, he was compassionate and caring, he accepted all who came to him and he saw the potential in each one. The church is to be seen not as pointing an accusing finger but of offering open arms. Jesus is open to receive and to welcome all.
When the technological revolution came to Fleet Street, the radical but inevitable change and the way it was carried out caused uproar from the print unions. They marched to Wapping, along Fleet Street, shouting their indignation and then they did a right wheel and turned into St Bride's and fell silent. Some of them carried their historic banners into the church, where John Oates received them and prayed for them - and for the proprietors. St Bride's is open to all, whether press lords, when they come here, as they do, or militant trade unionists. Our Lord welcomed all who came to him, and so should we.
In words from a prayer for St Bride's: "Here may the tempted feel succour and the sorrowing receive comfort. Here may the careless be awakened in repentance and the penitent be assured of your mercy. And here may all your children renew their strength in you and go on their way rejoicing. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."