To what extent are our services of worship inviting

Earlier this month Caroline and I attended an amazing service in St Paul’s Cathedral. It was a service of dedication for “the most excellent Order of the British Empire”. We were invited because Caroline was made an ‘Officer’ of the Order for her outstanding service as a coroner – the only woman coroner so honoured.

To our surprise St Paul’s was packed with almost 2000 holders of honours including CBEs (‘Commanders’), OBEs (‘Officers’) and MBEs (‘Members’) from across the UK and the Commonwealth.

As we entered the bells were pealing and almost immediately a RAF band started to play before the organist took over. Then at 10.45 the Knights and the Dames ‘Grand Cross’ followed by the Yeoman of the Guard and the Gentlemen of Arms paraded in along with a host of other dignitaries. Finally at 10.55 King Charles and Queen Camilla arrived to be greeted by the Lord Mayor of London before they walked down the long central aisle to take their seats near the altar.

We sang well-known and stirring hymns. There were prayers and Scripture readings, along with soaring anthems sung by the choir. What impressed me was how everything flowed without a hitch. At no point was a minute wasted. As Sir Ridley Scott, director of the 2000 film Gladiator said, the service had been “perfectly choreographed”.

The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, preached a challenging and thoughtful 12-minute sermon, in which she encouraged the congregation to do their “little bit of good” for the world within the context of expounding the Scriptures for the day.

The service culminated in ‘The Act of Personal Dedication’ in which we “dedicated ourselves and all that we are to God’s service”, and we ended within singing “God save our gracious King.

It was a full service. They hymns, prayers, and readings took up nine pages on the printed order of service. Yet it was all over in 45 minutes.

‘But why have you written all this in a blog?’ you might well ask. “What relevance has this to us?” Because I think we have lessons to learn.

  • At every stage of entering the church we were warmly welcomed by ushers and other helpers. Because we had to show our invitation cards, they were able to greet us by name.
  • The hymns were well known and uplifting. As a result we felt ‘at home’ in the service.
  • The music was varied and stirring. The military band was great. The fanfares by the buglers were also stirring. The organ thundered. The 24-member Cathedral choir really added to the occasion.
  • The service was not dominated by the clergy. The wide-ranging prayers, for instance, were taken by six members of the Order, while the Scriptures were read by a further two members. All the clergy did was to give a formal welcome and then finish off the prayers with the words, “May God in his infinite love and mercy gather all humankind to himself, that all the nations of the world may be subject to his just and gentle rule”.

Clearly not everyone present was a regular churchgoer. I would like, however, to think that God spoke to them through this well-structured service. In spite of its formality, it was a people-friendly service.  Although it was very ‘Anglican’ there was an inclusive ‘feel’.  As a result, I felt I would love to return to another such service.

In this context I asked myself, “To what extent are our normal  Sunday services so inviting? Would the reaction of first-time visitors with little church background be that they desired to return?”


  1. On holiday in Dartmouth a few weeks ago in the parish church we attended the morning service which was a special 80 year remembrance service for the servicemen killed in the pre-D Day exercise on Slapton Sands. I could not fault anything in the programme, the vicar stood and preached without use of notes for less than 5 minutes, and the whole service took only 18 minutes including hymns.
    A contrast to my home village baptist church where the service can go on for 2 hours, which I believe several people find off putting.

  2. What a privilege to be invited to such a lovely service honouring Caroline’s work- clearly very well planned. A lot of preparation had gone into it, and there were a lot of people with different skills taking part, making it a really uplifting experience. Probably it would be hard to produce except on a special occasion!
    One of the most inspiring services I have been to recently was the funeral of a 60 year old man, led by a
    celebrant but with a lot of Christian input and referring constantly to his personal manifesto, which amounted to living a life selflessly, borne out by those who gave tributes to him. Again, a lot of thought (and prayer )had been put into it, and that seems to be the key for an inspiring experience for the congregation!

  3. Congratulations to Caroline, and to take nothing away from the occassion, I must say this all comes across as hugely odd to one who lives in the “collonies”. Allusion to “Empire” seems just so anachronistic, (and to many indigenous people and others, downright offensive.) Fortunately (in my opinion) the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia is not an official church, and therefore not beholden to the state.

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