Blog archive April 2022
It's 25 years since I first went to Grace. Last night was the 25th-anniversary service, so to speak, the actual date of my first attendance was 13th April 1997 and Grace was on a Sunday night then. Nobody imagined that Grace would last for another ten years, let alone 25.
In 1996 I was going to St James the Less and Abundant the nightclub, so I had seen certain Grace people around and had heard it mentioned. And then I saw the Grace episode of 'God in the House' on TV at Christmas 1996, and saw friends there, so I picked up a flyer at the next Abundant. It took me a few months to get around to going, so my first Grace was the last on the flyer. It was, you might say, what I had been looking for.
The general vibe was like this - the darkness, the projections on muslin sheets, the rows of candles leading to the front, the ambient music. I hadn't started to take photos yet. The music as I entered was the 'Holy Space' track from the first Grace album, not yet released. It was magical.
I wrote a slightly breathless article for my Methodist church magazine back home in Surrey:
I walk down the long nave of the dusk-dark building between images of Celtic crosses projected onto hanging screens. In front of me, a single huge screen fills the chancel arch to the floor. On it are projected icons, illuminated manuscripts, pictures of the natural world overlaid with the words of songs I don’t yet know. In the pulpit a television screen is filled with psychedelic computer graphics in pulsating motion. In the air, a soothing throb of electronic music. Welcome to church.
The congregation of many ages come forward to sit on the cushions scattered across the sanctuary floor, in the soft pool of light in front of the big screen. The service begins as one of the leaders lights with prayer the three candles which represent the Trinity. Later we will all light our candles from these three, and leave them there on the table as a fiery offering around the small stone cross.
The liturgy tonight is from the Order of St. Hilda and St. Aidan. Someone speaks about the history of the Celtic Church, about its simplicity, its love for the Bible, concern for the poor and its deep sense of God present in all nature. As he speaks the images change to illustrate his words, and when we pray the TV monitors will show children, the street, the Earth, the desert, refugees, broken bread and wine. There is both silence and Grace’s own specially-composed music, relaxed, funky, warm and reflective.
One forgets how radical all this was, compared to daylit technology-free sermon-centred worship with sedate choir-led hymns and a song on guitar 'for the young people'! There was minor interest but nobody was willing to come along to see, even though they were talking about finding new forms of worship. It kind of confirmed my growing decision to leave.
Below, the front and back of the Spring 97 flyer. The internet was young and the Grace website didn't arrive until the summer of 97 so a print flyer was the only way to find out about things. And search engines were in their infancy, so a print flyer was the only way to find a website!