It's a beautiful big church, built in 1813-1817 to the design of the late 18th-early 19 century English architect Thomas Hardwick. The grand facade, with a Corinthian portico six columns wide, reminds one of the Pantheon in Rome. The steeple features a miniature temple surrounded by eight caryatids. Extensively renovated in the 1880s, the neoclassic interior has tiers of galleries supported on iron columns, and a gilded cross in the ceiling above where the original altar stood. Badly damaged during World War II, the church was reopened in 1949. On the day of my visit there were lots of lovely flowers all about.
Charles Dickens' son was baptised here, and Dickens based his description of the baptism of Paul Dombey in Dombey and Son on that event. Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were married here in 1846. In more modern times, in 1969 the marriage of actress Judy Garland and Michael DeVinko (better known as Mickey Deans) was blessed in this church (they had actually married at the registry office); only three months later Deans would find Garland dead from an overdose of barbiturates). Today the church sponsors the Marylebone Health Centre as well as a variety of conferences, concerts and courses.
Marylebone is a well-to-do area of central London. Regent's Park is very close by. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes occupy premises at 221B Baker Street (there really is a Baker Street in Marylebone, but house numbers at the time only went up to 100). John Wesley, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Edward Gibbon, among others, all lived here at one time, as did Adam Ant, Madonna, several of the Beatles, and Cat Stevens, just to name a few.
The Revd Chris MacKenna, director of healing and counselling, and the Revd James Wilkinson, vicar of St Laurence, South Hinksey.
What was the name of the service?Choral Healing Service
How full was the building?
There were about 50 people, with lots of space and pews still available.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
One of the clergy was standing outside; he smiled and welcomed me. Inside, I was given The New English Hymnal, again with a smile.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was lovely comfortable pew, brown and wooden, with wood below and green soft cushions below to kneel on.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A few people were chatting to each other. The choir were rehearsing the music before the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Grace, mercy and peace be with you. We meet in the name of God, Jesus his Son, and Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New English Hymnal and a handout entitled Choral Evening Service. There were also some materials about the church and the health centre.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, an opus of Rieger Orgelbau GmbH of Vorarlberg, Austria, installed in 1987. There was also a choir. They were all excellent!
Did anything distract you?
I really enjoyed looking at the church decor, including the organ case.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
We sang three hymns, very nice ones, and a psalm, and we just stood still for the prayers. There was an opportunity to receive an anointing and laying on of hands for people who wished to do so. Many did.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – As one would expect at a service of this nature, the preacher spoke about the healing power of God.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Psalm 121 ("I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from?"). It is only natural to want to be rescued from trouble. We want Jesus to make it all better. But we must also look into ourselves, think and meditate. To be able to know God, we need to use our hearts and to listen to God. What do we want for ourselves, and what does God want for us? Nothing short of "Love Divine."
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music, the prayers and the healing all made me feel very close to heaven.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I remembered the time when my parents died and were not prayed for in a church. I felt very sad about that and wondered why they did not ask to be prayed for.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One of the people who had been prayed for told me that we could just go and have tea and coffee.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We had really nice tea and coffee and sweet bits of food. We also chatted there and that was nice.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – This is a very nice beautiful church with many Christ-centred activities. One cannot help but feel close to God here.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I was really happy to be a Christian and again to be reminded about being prayed for if people are ill.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I will remember about God looking after us and forgiving us, as Jesus did that for us.