A Visit to St Mary’s, Primrose Hill

A couple of former students recently took me to the outstanding ‘First Emperor’ exhibition at the British Museum. As they lived near Hampstead, and had invited me for afternoon tea, I prevailed upon them to take me to visit St Mary’s, Primrose Hill.

It was a weekday afternoon, and what a pleasure to find the church open and being used. A class of primary school children was visiting, and other people were coming and going. I had visited the church many many years ago when the hymnwright George Timms was vicar. It now seemed quite different, and frankly more alive and less stuffy.

The church is actively reaching out to the local community, there was much reference to local schools, ‘All age worship’ is included in the parish schedule of worship and a Fresh Expressions form of worship has been introduced. Work with children seems to be a priority, and there was a lovely children’s area.

The church once had a reputation of being the Dearmer Parson’s Handbook flagship. As such it was visited by liturgical archaelogists. It was very refreshing to note that today there is very little of that arcane approach favoured by a certain type of single gentleman, who delights in liturgical minutiae at the expense of mission and outreach. (An approach Dearmer would surely have questioned).

Indeed it was good to note that most of the church officers came from the locality, only the head server comes from afar, and, curiously his photograph, of a rather unkempt gentleman, was in black and white whilst others were in colour – almost suggesting he belonged to a bygone era of the church.

The church had a feel of being a place of brightness, life and sincere worship, but also one which felt homely and used – a place where all felt welcome. The pool table in the aisle, and the tapestry covered sofa nearby supported the homely atmosphere.

One couldn’t help feeling the altar and chancel nowadays seems rather distant, a nave altar may be an asset.

The parish magazine, though well produced did not quite have the vigour and freshness which prevailed in the church itself, that was unfortunate, perhaps the editorial team could review content. Input from children and young people would be appropriate. Information about the Fresh Expressions ministry should be included. There was also some slight inconsistency about weekday worship times in different parts of the magazine.

In summary:

Well done to the priests and people of St Mary’s, Primrose Hill for creating a welcoming parish based church which preserves dignity and hospitality.



4 Responses to “A Visit to St Mary’s, Primrose Hill”

  1. Dr Allan Barton Says:

    An interesting post, but I have to say woefully inaccurate. Much of what Percy Dearmer stood for is, I am glad to say, still very much in evidence at St Mary’s Primrose Hill. By characterising Dearmer’s work as archai,c you entirely misrepresent both the man and his influence. Dearmer was not that interested in the arcane liturgical minutae of the past, but more in establishing a liturgy and worshipping space, that touched those with a strong visual sense, who he believed were marginalised by the church of his day. This liturgical tradition, brought generations of people to faith and continues to do so. At Primrose Hill this tradition is interpreted in the light of our contemporary context and Common Worship and there is no sense, as with a lot of so-called ‘all age’ worship, of the compromising of long-held and valuable traditions for the sake of post-modern values. There is equally no sense that the worship is liturgical archaeology. My feeling is that a church with such a distinctive and unique liturgical would be classed as a ‘fresh expression’ under the criteria of the Mission-Shaped church report.

    As for your caricature of the head server, you couldn’t be less accurate. He is personal friend of mine and I can assure you that he is not a grey figure but an extremely vibrant personality, who has, over many years, put a significant amount of time and dedication into the liturgy at Primrose Hill. Without his influence Primrose Hill, which is a unique treasure of the Church of England, would be yet another boring, banal, contemporary worship space, offering the same old liturgical slop as other places do today. The mission of the church, notably to those with a particular aesthetic sense, would be seriously compromised.

  2. Audrey Ely Says:

    I did not characterise Dearmer in this way. My comments were directed at some of those who succeeded him who were interested in liturgical minutiae, and who charaterised him as holding their views.

    My aim was to praise St Mary the Virgin for not being a centre of liturgical archaeology, rather to praise the church for drawing on things old and things new.

    I was sorry you find this post ‘woefully inaccurate.’ The post was one of personal impression and feeling, I can assure you I accurately expressed my thoughts and feelings.


  3. Robt Zacher Says:

    I’m afraid you did go OTT with the head server. Sometimes one’s take on a thing or things is not at all accurate without more substantial background information in the way of factual material.

  4. Jonathan Says:

    I have always wanted to attend a service at St. Mary’s but the prospect of a “pool table in the aisle” is not providing me with much encouragement!

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