frgavin on October 30th, 2008

By Ruth Gledhill, TimesonLine

2695914763_d93673df78_o As the figures show, London is bucking the national trend and churchgoing is up. This is a small blip however in the overall decline that has seen Church of England attendance slump to 880,000, a figure that should be rememered by all who read the Anglican Communion Office’s oft-touted boast of up to 27 million Anglicans in Britain’s established church. The Anglican Communion starts to look a lot smaller when proper attendance figures are accounted. But perhaps the London Diocese’s success explains why, or is even explained by, its recent tendency to close churches and force reluctant congregations to move elsewhere. Earlier this year the Welsh church of St Benet’s was shut. And now the unfortunate souls who liked to worship at St Mark’s Mayfair have been evicted. Lady Sainsbury was at the church for its last day before lock-out. Her speech is reproduced below. The London diocese wants to sell the church to George Hammer, who already lives in its vicarage, next door. He developed The Sanctuary at Covent Garden and wants to turn St Mark’s into a centre for well being, with a spa included.

Susie Sainsbury said:

‘I became President of Save St Marks Action Group Because I feel passionately that what is happening here – to this community and to this building – is totally wrong and wrong-headed of those promoting it.

‘We are here to protest at the Diocese’s failure to try to keep this wonderful building, and even worse wanting to evict a thriving congregation and then to be willing to sell it for a wellness centre – pampering for the few.

‘The congregation here has been serving the local community for the last 14 years. In that time they have been doing the things that Social Services can’t do; they teach children to avoid getting involved in knife crime; they visit people who are alone; they open their doors to the distraught and needy.

‘This building was dedicated to the glory of God to be used as a place of worship, built on land given by Grosvenor for the local community – now a scarce community resource. We deplore the way the Diocese is treating it – as no more than real estate – to be sold for 30 pieces of silver, and we deplore the way the Diocese have continued to extend the contract with Mr Hammer. English Heritage regard this church as one of the most important buildings in Mayfair.

‘It has seen anti-slavery debates. Eisenhower worshipping here, D-Day landings planned and prayed over here; society weddings, work with the poor and marginalised. The work in the community is not over, the needs are still here.

‘We now appeal to our local Councillors to ask the serious unanswered questions that still surround the planning application. When the scheme from Hammer Holdings comes before the Planning Committee on 13 November will you ask: –

Why has no viability appraisal or business case been submitted. Why have applicants refused to give assurances that they will fund the repair and restoration of this grade 1 building?

‘Has the Diocese put pressure on HTB not to put forward more detailed proposals?

‘At the heart of this issue is a Grade 1 listed church of exceptional quality – it can and should be maintained as a place of worship – that surely is the objective that should be shared by Grosvenor Estates, the Diocese, the congregation , the community and the City Council.’

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