I’m always torn between the morning services at All Soul’s Langham Place and the morning meeting at St Helen’s Bishopsgate, but this time other commitments made the decision for us, and 10.30 found us at St Helen’s, a medieval building in the financial district that was severely damaged by an IRA bomb in the 1990s. The walls remain medieval, the furniture and most of the fixtures inside are modern.

The rector, William Taylor, wearing jacket and tie, called a noisy crowd (very few empty seats) to order at the appointed time, and announced that the theme of the day was God’s sovereignty. He gave us a Scripture verse expressing that, and then announced a hymn making the same point, ‘O Father You are sovereign’, to a rousing tune by Basil Harwood, Thornbury. There was organ accompaniment for most of the hymns, but the congregation’s vocal power put it in its proper place. The church web-site‘s claim that ‘we love to sing together as a church family’ was proved true throughout the service.

The sovereignty of God over all earthly powers was proclaimed throughout the service, each hymn being introduced with a scripture verse justifying the hymn texts, which included ‘God rules in the height, almighty to save’, ‘King of Kings, Majesty’ (the only contemporary hymn), ‘His sovereign power, without our aid’ and so on. The sermon, however, was only incidentally related to this theme; although this wasn’t stated, I couldn’t help thinking that the theme of God’s sovereignty was intended as a reminder of priorities to a nation celebrating a different sovereignty.

Although the Queen’s sovereignty was not celebrated, it was prayed for with sincerity and a deep gratitude for the Queen’s faith, which has become more and more outspoken in recent years. Her faith—‘traditional and low church’ according to one newspaper— has been a regular subject of discussion in the press during the week before the 60th anniversary. The prayers concluded with the singing of two verses of the national anthem, which is of course also a prayer.

St Helen’s is coming to the end of a sermon series on Isaiah which has been going on over six months, and today’s sermon was on Isaiah 60. Isaiah’s words to Israel were applied to the contemporary church by calling us to be a reflection of God’s glory by our obedience to Him. The preacher was Paul Clarke.

There were more liturgical elements in this service than in the service at All Saints last week (described here). A confession, the collect of the day, a Communion prayer and a post-Communion prayer from Common Worship were all used. The rector said the communion prayer from the lectern below the pulpit rather than at the table. The words of administration were said once, to the whole congregation, and the elements distributed to the congregation in complete silence. There was hardly even any coughing or shuffling of chairs as the patens and chalices were passed down the rows of communicants.

The final hymn, during which the alms were collected, was accompanied by piano and violin, played by members of the church’s music apprentice program.

As one might expect in a church in an area where there are few local residents, there were not as many children or elderly as we saw last week, and there did not seem to be the same personal relationship between rector and congregation. Taylor was once an army officer, and there was a bit of a ‘synchronise your watches’ feel to the service. But the pure word of God was preached and the sacrament duly administered, and I’d give up a lot of other things to be part of singing like that every week.