New-Monastic living on an ancient pathway
Situated in the very heart of the Capital, in one of the oldest and narrowest streets in London, is a jewel-like Wren-inspired church that is vibrant and buzzing with life. St Mary Aldermary, is nestling next to modern office buildings located on the ancient roman road, of Watling Street, in the City of London. It has seen generations of Londoners pass its walls having been founded by Benedictine Monks about 900 years ago.
Today, the most recent church building, built in 1682, is found offering sanctuary to busy city workers, weary tourists and those who need to discover and express Christianity in a new way. The space is used as a church offering monastic-style morning and evening prayer, Eucharist, with meditation, Taizé yoga, and a space for those who want to explore and deepen their faith. Alongside the practising church is Host, a café that operates in the exquisite interior, so those who are not practising Christians can still grab a directly traded coffee or a cake, and witness Christian worship in action.
Like many other churches, its Priest Missioner, the Reverend Ian Mobsby, is supported by a team of workers and volunteers, such as Café Co-ordinator and Mission and Evangelism worker, Vanessa Elston, who explains:
“This is a very sacred space, yet people want to know if we are a coffee shop or a church, and are taken aback when they realise that we are both. Host is open to people of all ages and from all walks of life, and that unlike other coffee houses, we do not insist on people buying coffee to stay here, so we are opening up the church as a public ‘third space’ and for everyone – all day and every day.”
Moot has been in existence for 11 years and a new-monastic community for six years, while offering hospitality with Host, for the last two years. The café has been a focal point for those who are not normal faith seekers and offers a sanctuary amidst the noisy, bustling streets of the City. Its ‘Rhythm of Life’ engages with the question, how should we live while on the pilgrim route, while challenging consumerism, individualism, greed and the cult of celebrity? Living the rhythm, through prayer and worship enables community members to discern right ways of living, and right responses to the challenges that we all face in modern culture and in ourselves.
It is this Rhythm of Life that has enabled Moot to connect with busy executives and city workers. Many who have no church background come to the weekly Wednesday evening meditation group as a space where they can experience stillness and silence with others. Workers have opened up about how dehumanising the city work culture can be, stating that the church provides a unique space where they can openly express themselves. Vanessa suggests:
“The world is looking for integrity. At Moot we seek to be open and honest about our own journey, how we haven’t got it all together, how we are novices, very much beginners in practices like meditation and contemplation, and others are attracted to this. We are not trying to push people to God, but help them realise that God is present in their lives and we simply help them discover God working through them.”
While operating the church like an ‘open sitting-room’ and a space where ‘people are known’, Moot is helping unemployed volunteers find work experience and employment in a highly competitive part of the world. The team has helped two unemployed volunteers into full time work and Host is currently setting up work experience placements for women from the Marylebone Project, a Church Army Hostel for homeless women.
Moot has also supported and inspired others in their creativity, offering residencies and exhibition space to artists and facilitating lunchtime performances for musicians. Vocalist Georgina Brett, recently performed her medieval style piece ‘Leanate’, using her voice and effects pedals to create an instant choir. Music is a way for many to experience a deeper connection with God, in a space that’s unapologetically Christian.
Others have expressed their relationships with God in different ways. Since operating at St Mary Aldermary, Moot has become a ‘vocational factory’. With 90 people on the electoral roll, one member is training in the priesthood, five are in discernment for a vocation, and one is a pioneering minister.
One Moot regular is Rob Evans, from Greenwich, who worships weekly in south London but uses Moot to develop a deeper faith. On why he comes, he said:
“I come to enjoy great coffee and the sense of community that they have here. This group is helping me with my faith journey and I’m also discerning my role in a religious life with God.”
Another regular is Andrew from Brentwood, in Essex who commented:
“I’ve always hated coffee shops, so I come here for the atmosphere. I am new to the church and have started coming to services. If I am busy in the office and I can’t make worship, then I can still come here to relax and I can still be in church.”
Looking ahead to the future, Moot is aiming to become more established as a recognised new-monastic group and is working with two advisors appointed by the Advisory Council on Religious Communities. They are helping the group to discern its future and to fulfil the conditions for becoming an ‘acknowledged religious community’ of that body. The hope is to offer hospitality and community and to be of service for those who are seeking deeper spirituality for many years to come, and for anyone on the pilgrim journey of life.
More information on Moot can be found their website with extra information on the Host Cafe.