An Anglican church in London that is known by many as the "National Musicians' Church" and has been used as a rehearsal venue for musicians scheduled to perform classical music concerts announced that it will no longer allow musicians who perform non-Christian music to practice there.
According to British news outlets, St. Sepulchre Without Newgate Church in the Holborn district of London will no longer take in bookings from classical musicians, who have relied on the church to warm-up in before performing at large concerts like The Proms, an annual series of classical concerts hosted during the summer by BBC and is also referred to as the "Henry Wood Promenade Concerts."
The Telegraph reports that a church spokesman said the decision was made because "an increasingly busy programme of worship and church activities has led to ever higher demands on the church space, and the hire space is also shared with the church administration office."
"We do wish to reiterate that we remain committed to our ministry as the National Musicians' Church," the spokesman said. "In the coming weeks we will reflect and pray, and consult with members of the musicians' community about how best to fulfil that ministry moving forward."
Because of the move, classical music groups are no longer allowed to rehearse or perform inside the church.
The church's history with music goes beyond the fact that current musicians like to practice there. The classical music site Slipped Disc reports that the church has a side-chapel with windows dedicated to British musicians. Additionally, the church holds the ashes of Wood, who died in 1944 and conducted concerts at The Proms for almost 50 years.
According to Slipped Disc, the Rev. David Ingall recently wrote to choirs and orchestras that have hired out the church in the past to practice and told them to find alternative venues.
"This has not been an easy decision," Ingall reportedly wrote. "Our ministry as the National Musicians Church continues to be a core part of our Church's identity and vision. ... I am aware that you do already have bookings in the calendar for 2018 and we would be very grateful if you were able to find an alternative venue."
According to The Telegraph, Ingall stated that the church had become "conscious of the challenges of using a space dedicated to worship for non-religious hiring."
In an interview with The Telegraph, composer John Rutter, who conducts choral music, said that he felt that the church "betrayed" musicians with its decision. Rutter pointed out that the decision comes after the retirement of Richard Chartres, the former Bishop of London, earlier this year.
"I know Richard Chartres was a great friend of music and he would have been the first to say 'come on,'" Rutter said. "But he is gone and so there's nobody else."
"The Church of England needs all the friends it can get. It shouldn't be making enemies — it's un-Christian," Rutter added. "Churches are and should be busy places where all can walk through the door and all are welcome. That's my feeling but it's obviously not his feeling."
However, Dr. Ian White of Victoria Baptist Church in Eastbourne told Premiere that although he "can understand" the musicians' opposition, he said that they should "be able to appreciate that churches don't just exist as places to meet or to play music."
White added that the church's "fundamental purpose is to communicate a Christian gospel that is going to hopefully change society."
The church's decision "throws up the whole area of what our buildings and our churches are to be used for," he noted.
"In our Baptist network we don't have such a sacramental view of the Church so we do let other people use it but only with certain qualifications."
A petition against the church's decision has been launched. As of Tuesday, the petition has received over 2,500 signatures.