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I want you to try to imagine that you are a worshipper here in St Bride's in the 15th century, over 500 years ago. Outside the smells and the noises and the bustle indeed the dangerous streets of late medieval London, which was then a busy port and trading centre. But inside the church, a sense of quiet, a peace disturbed only by the murmuring of priests saying mass. The church would have been recently rebuilt with a grand nave, side aisle, chancel and a commanding tower. There were at least six altars, in addition to the High Altar dedicated to St Bride, all decked with fine hangings, frontals, altar cloths and twinkling candles. St Bride's, in common with other churches of the time had a number of guilds and fraternities, formed to ensure both that prayers would be said when a member of the guild died and for mutual support and fellowship. It was very important to the medieval mind that on death your soul should be aided on its journey through Purgatory to Heaven by the prayers of the faithful, and so that this should happen chaplains were paid to say mass at death and on the anniversary of death, with candles and torches and all due solemnity. If very privileged your tomb slab would be in front of the altar so that the priest could read your name on the inscription. Orate pro anime.... - pray for the soul of..... Richer people would leave legacies to the guilds of the church for this purpose and in order to build and beautify the chantry chapels erected to perpetuate the donor's memory. In 1437 for instance John Hill gave by his will all his lands and tenements in Bride Lane for a perpetual obit for his soul and that of his late wife Joan. There were many others like him.
It is in this context - that our Guild of St Bride began its life as the Brotherhood of St Brigit, confirmed by a writ of King Edward III at the Tower of London in 1375. Its objects were both religious and social. Masses were said, prayers for the dead were offered, and there was a Guild House on the north side of Fleet Street, which was a kind of social centre for the members. That was our Guild 500 years ago, and even after it was swept away in the Reformation, along with other so called 'Popish' practices, it never entirely lost its identity, because the funds remained, divided in the 19th Century between the Church and to assist in the establishment of the St Bride Foundation next door.
When the church was restored after the Second World War the Guild came into its own again. The Rector, Cyril Armitage saw that in a parish largely depopulated by war, a company of people associated with St Bride's could be very useful for maintaining the life of the Church. And so he invited representatives of a cross-section of Fleet Street interests and activities to come together as Liverymen of the Guild of St Bride, under a Master, and wearing a russet gown, an echo of the medieval guild colours - a tangible link across the centuries. 55 years later here we are celebrating the continuing existence of this Guild, renewing our vows and admitting new members. Our purpose as set out in our constitution is to assist in the conduct of public worship, reflecting perhaps in a rather watered down form our medieval origins, and that purpose is as important as ever. We remain a distinctive and vital part of the worshipping life of this church. But we have a wider ambassadorial role, I believe, in relation to the historic constituencies which this church seeks to serve.
We have to recognise that society today is different to what it was like in the 1950s, and certainly very very different to the medieval world. The religious world view is no longer automatically taken for granted, nor the belief widespread after the war that to be British is by definition to be Christian. Today we have to make our voice heard in a crowded marketplace and in a more overtly secular environment.
So the Guild gown and the Guild badge remind us, not only of our membership of the Guild, but of our Christian Discipleship and our part in the mission of the Christian Church in our own day.
50 years ago the Guild of St Bride paid chaplains to light a candle before the image of St Brigit at the High Altar. Today we are called to be living lights in the world reflecting the faith, the compassion and the generosity of our patron St Bride as we seek to follow Christ and shine as His lights in the world.