To St Martin's in Gospel Oak this morning - one of the very few Victorian parish churches to be Grade I listed - for a packed service to mark its 150th anniversary. I reckon there must have been 200 people there; it was wonderful to see this magnificently eccentric church (I am talking about the design) so full. The distinctly evangelical Bishop of Edmonton presided ... the local MP Sir Keir Starmer was there ... Michael Palin was in the congregation ... but it was very much Chris Brice's show. He's the minister - a busy, attentive and always-on-the-go local vicar. who clearly loves St Martin's and managed to get its fairy tale turrets and pinnacles restored with lottery money
The church is not in the posh part of Gospel Oak, bordering Hampstead Heath - it's on the other side of Mansfield Road, squeezed between the beautiful enclave of Oak Village and the less enchanting post-war housing estate. The figures for local deprivation, which the bishop recited in his sermon, were alarming. This is not gentrified north London.
Most memorable at today's service were the memories of those with an association with St Martin's, and it's now demolished sister church of St Andrew's on Malden Road, stretching back in one instance to the 1940s. Amid the churn and upheaval of a modern capital, St Martin's is about community - a constantly changing and reinventing community, but a community all the same.
Another nice element: an impromptu rendition of 'Happy Birthday, Dear St Martin's'!
And in case you are wondering - I'm the token atheist who occasionally makes up the numbers at St Martin's, not least because I like beautiful old churches and I'm happy to see at least some of them keeping to the original line of work. Hallelujah!
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