Sunday 12th June 2016 was the second anniversary of Soul Sanctuary singing gospel music at St James’s Church Piccadilly. Although we had promoted this service more heavily than usual, using flyers, our social media channels and notices in the church, it was exactly the same in form as our other 6pm services at St James’s on the second Sunday of the month. In spite of all the hype with promises of cake after the service, the solemnity of the occasion was underlined by the use of incense during the service, an ancient tradition used to convey the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Why are we celebrating two years of gospel music at St James’s?
St James’s has a fine tradition of music at its church services, as well as being an important central London concert venue. The building itself is light and spacious and quintessentially English, designed by the renowned architect Christopher Wren in the 1670’s and decorated with the carvings of Grinling Gibbons, and home over the centuries to many great English thinkers, preachers, and musicians. It is, therefore, significant that gospel music, a relatively new musical genre and rarely heard outside Pentecostal churches, should have found a home here.
As a choir, we believe that contemporary gospel music is vital and spirit-filled, and deserves a place alongside the other great Christian musical genres. Our primary mission is to help spread it throughout the denominations.
What is the service like?
The format of the service is known as the Eucharist, which is a re-enactment of the Last Supper, the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before his arrest, and eventual crucifixion. At the meal, Jesus ate bread and wine and instructed his disciples to do the same in memory of him. You can join in the service by using the service sheet handed to you as you enter the church, and if you can read music, you can use the song sheet where the choruses to the gospel songs are written out in notated form.
Opening Hymn, Gloria, and Psalm
The service lasts about an hour and opens with a traditional hymn slightly modified to give it a gospel feel but to reassure the congregation who may not have attended a service with gospel music before. In the past we have sung “The day thou gavest”, “He’s got the Whole World”, “Thine Be The Glory”, “Amazing Grace”, “The Day Thou Gavest”, and others.
This is followed by the Gloria, a very old Christian prayer of praise and joy, sung in a rousing gospel-style, and based very roughly on the popular Gloria by George Salazar.
Then follows the psalm, where the verses are sung by soloists with the rest of the choir and congregation joining in the choruses between the verses. The psalms are the hymn book of the Jewish people and have to be sung with verve.
Next in the service is the reading from the Gospel, and on our second anniversary, this was aptly read with gusto and passion, as befits the spirited nature of gospel music, which enables a profound and vital connection with a higher power, the divine or however we may conceive God to be.
Sermon, Prayers, and Peace
The sermon by the rector, Rev Lucy Winkett likened Gospel Music to a mustard seed, a reference to when Jesus said:
"For truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” (Matthew 17:20)
After the sermon when the prayers have been said, everyone in the congregation exchanges "the peace", an occasion for the choir to connect more directly and intimately with the congregation by greeting each other with the words “peace be with you”.
This part of the service begins with the “offertory” where the altar is prepared for the "feast" of the bread and the wine. At this point, another song is sung, and in June 2016 it was the wonderfully uplifting song “How I got over” an early version of which was sung by Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972), the legendary US gospel singer and civil rights activist. This was a favourite of Martin Luther King and was sung at the March on Washington just before he gave the 'I have a Dream' Speech in 1963.
As the bread and wine are consecrated (made holy), the choir sings the Sanctus (also known as Holy, Holy, Holy), a rich, warm and haunting arrangement by Chris Bullock (one of the choir’s directors) and Miko Giedroyc (the choir’s founder and organist) of a version originally written by Bernadette Farrell. As worshippers in the service at this point, we are said to be joining with the angels, who are pictured as praising God.
As the bread and wine were distributed during the service, we sang 'You are the Living Word', a classic, much loved and moving gospel song written by Fred Hammond and recorded in 2000.
As the service drew to an end, we concluded with “When the Saints Go to Worship”, a song recorded by Donald Lawrence in 2013.
After Service Celebration
To celebrate two years of singing Gospel Music at St James’s two cakes were created by Clarence Hunte, one of the choir’s three musical directors. One cake featured the choir’s new logo, the other with “The Gospel Music Spirit” a logo that has been created to help promote the second Sunday of the month service alongside the other Sunday evening services at St James’s. It was a happy occasion celebrated with many of those who have attended the service on a regular basis over the last two years.
by Matthew Sexton, July 2016
The choir sings at “The Gospel Music Spirit” at St James’s Anglican Church on Piccadilly in central London on the second Sunday of the month as part of the "Sundays at Six" rolling programme there. On the last Sunday of the month at 5.30pm we sing at Farm Street Catholic Church in Mayfair.