Home > Music Home >

Article by Ruth Gledhill in The Guardian

The lot of a religion correspondent is to attend large numbers of services in different churches throughout Advent and Christmas, but I learnt this time how far these occasions can fall short on the calm quotient when there is a high-energy baby in tow. So it was with some seasonal desperation that we sought out St Mary's Putney and the sanctuary of its Cromwell Room, a glass-fronted soundproof haven which stands where the chancel and altar did before the church was burnt down in the 1970s.

This was where the "Putney Debates" on the future government of Britain took place during the Civil War, when Cromwell's army was stationed briefly at Putney. This is also where the baby tyrants of today can begin to be democratised. The first note of the magnificent new Marcussen organ sounded out, battle commenced over toy boxes, crayons and organic bread sticks, and our Common Worship service began.

St Mary's is one of those oft-described but rarely witnessed Anglican phenomena: a church that is growing. More extraordinary, it is not even evangelical, but stands firmly within the Church's liberal Catholic tradition.

Hundreds of adults and even more children turn up here and at the sister church of All Saints each Sunday. Some services are standing-room only, and the vicar, to his distress, was forced to turn away mums and toddlers from the crib service the week before when more than 600 people tried to squeeze in.

A gallery is to be built soon in the nave to take the overflow as part of the new Brewer Building development which is soon to replace the church hall. The church's large congregations are, fortunately, generous in their giving as it costs £500 a day to run the parish, which receives not a penny from the Government or central church funds. In fact, worshippers give so much there is a surplus which is passed on through the parish share to poorer parishes in the Southwark Diocese.

The Vicar, Dr Giles Fraser, welcomed us. His own baby, Felix, aged 12 days, slept like a lamb in our glass box. Our first reading was from Isaiah: "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest."

Dr Fraser preached on the image of God. Most philosophies and religions had their own theories about this, but most of our children, if asked, would draw a picture of a man with a beard floating in the sky.

Christianity took a revolutionary approach, he added, enlisting Felix as a visual aid. Holding the baby before us he said: "What the Christian story, the story of Christmas, says is that this is as good a picture of God as you are able to get."

St Mary's is itself as good a picture of a church in the community as it is possible to find. Besides the thriving weekly farmers' market, billed as a practical way to support farmers after foot-and-mouth, the hall and church host concerts, lectures, youth groups and meetings for dozens of groups and organisations.

The Sunday school is described by the vicar as a "small industry" and 23 children help with the liturgy as servers. Even on "Flat Sunday", as one worshipper there described this Sunday after Chnstmas, this church was one of the most inspiring I've ever visited.

Given the bonus of a superb church school attached to the parish, it was almost enough to make me move to Putney.

Click here to link to the Putney Parish website


Dr Giles Fraser


Tower and parts of nave from mid-15th century. Church rebuilt in 1836 and then again in 1982 after an arson attack in 1973. Opportunity taken to install modern Alan Younger stained glass and chairs in westward-facing semi-circular pattern. Warm, welcoming and wonderful


Vicar has PhD in philosophy, -wrote a book on Nietzsche, lectures one day a week at Wadham College and writes for the Church Times and Guardian comment pages, and somehow still manages to preach in a style both illuminating and accessible


Traditional hymns at our service, but St Mary's choir sings choral, Taizé, lona, Celtic, and much other music


Common Worship with Eucharistic Prayer A


Overwhelming sense of relief at proof of new life in the old Church yet


Coffee, tea and biscuits in church hall with showcase featuring medieval artefacts discovered during excavations in the 1970s before rebuilding began