St Paul’s Cathedral: Exploring Religion in London

A very warm welcome to St Paul’s Cathedral,
which has been here at the heart of the City of London for more than 300 years; and its
iconic dome, built by Sir Christopher Wren, has been a symbol both of the city and of
the Christian faith ever since then. We’re delighted that you can come and join us and
find out more about what St Paul’s is all about. St Paul’s is in the City of London, which
is a relatively small area, and was the heart of the city until it grew and grew and grew,
particularly from 1800 onwards. So people in the city regard it as their church,
even though nowadays there are over 50 parish churches and guild churches in the City of
London, just 1 square mile. But we are a church of significance for the
City. We are also of significance for the wider city and the nation, because we are
at the heart of the capital, and we are the largest church in London. So that’s why
it’s used for big occasions. We’ve had, for example, the Queen’s Birthday.
We’ve had significant funerals, such as Lady Thatcher and Sir Winston Churchill, and
that affects how we work. Its main purpose is as a place of Christian
worship, but we also are a visitor attraction because of our history, and the visitors help
to fund the running of the cathedral so we can do our main purpose. There is a tension between, are we a place
to visit or are we a place to worship and pray in? Experience will tell you that many of the
people that come to visit will also use us as a place to pray, because they themselves
will have some kind of religious faith, which they want to express and make use of in the
building. In fact, we have very few regular worshippers.
Most of the people who come to worship and join us here are those who are here as visitors
of one sort or another. In the cathedral we have four services every
weekday and five on Sundays. Two or three times a day we will have a service of the
Eucharist, which people participate in, and the High Altar is the main place in the cathedral
which focusses that – although we will use different altars in different places around
the cathedral. But again, you can sit and watch that or ask
for a prayer if you wish to do so. And there are many services that we have where
the clergy or the choir will be doing the speaking and the singing. The eastern end of the cathedral is the Quire,
its Quire spelt with a Q, and it’s where the choir, with a CH, sings – the singers. So it is Christian worship, but it is publically
open and we have a range of people – some of whom will fully participate, and some of
whom will sit back and simply watch. And either of those is fine. In October 2011, there were the ‘Occupy’
protests going on around the world, and there was a march towards the stock exchange, which
is right next to the cathedral, which was not allowed to go into where the stock exchange
was so they stopped outside St Paul’s. The cathedral was caught up in that movement
and in that period, and trying to be there for everyone – whether it’s people in
the city, whether it’s the protestors, whether it’s just the ordinary people going about
their business in London – it was quite hard to hold all those things together. I came into the cathedral after the campers
had left, and my role has been to help the cathedral find its own voice, to be clear
about its purpose and its mission. So it’s made the cathedral more focussed, and intentional
about the things that we are trying to achieve. In 2013 we did some work here at St Paul’s
on what are we for, and the top line of our vision statement was that we want to enable
people in all their diversity to encounter the transforming presence of God in Jesus
Christ. So our aim is to give everyone an experience
of God, whether they’re here for half an hour as a tourist, or whether they’re a
regular worshipper who comes to church every week or every day. And that’s what we see as our primary purpose,
so what we do in our worship, and what we do in our welcome, is to try and give people
not just some information, but a sense of what this is here, and what the building is
saying about why we exist and what the world is about.


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