After that sensationalist documentary you might expect the congregation of St Anne’s to sacrifice a goat every Sunday and baptise their small children in the remaining blood before performing a nude fertility dance to encircle the church grounds. Such Gothic pagan fantasies never materialized, instead the congregation was predominantly white, middle class, and extremely mannered. The service felt so Middle England I felt I had stepped through a vortex when entering the church doors and had been relocated to a village nave in Surrey. Not that I disliked the congregation, the slower more reflective service did provide a spiritual rest from all the dancing and shouting of the evangelicals of recent weeks. The congregation just seemed to be dwarfed by the sheer grandeur of St Anne’s history.
The church's complexity cannot be encapsulated in a single photo, even the film is limited by the intense atmosphere the building creates, an atmosphere that is only fully realized when seen in the flesh/stone.
The congregation is surrounded by such grandeur and heritage that they could not help but feel a bit self-satisfied. No Rapture predictions, no despairing diatribes on the decline of modern society, no urgent wrongs to be righted. The congregation of St Anne’s were comfortable and content in their beliefs which were well illustrated by Reverend Richard Bray sermon on the 8th Commandment Thou Shall Not Steal. St Anne’s proudly claimed in their pamphlets and online that they offer “straight forward bible teaching,” and it is true there was a clear and practical understanding of the scriptures in everyday life that did not look to spiritualism or the mystery of god. Reverend Bay indicated that we are all thief’s in some regard be it the criminal burglar who recently robbed the parish crypt or the dishonest customer who paid less because their item was wrongly priced. The only person who is not a thief is Jesus (him again) who also is the only person who can show us salvation through giving. So we might all steal but as long as we give like Jesus we can make amends for our natural disposition to sin. Call me puritanical but this all seemed very easy and I felt Reverend Bay seemed a little too “straight forward,” in his bible teaching. Especially when the main act of giving would be a financial donation paid to the church, perpetuating the most clichéd but valid criticism aimed at organized religion.
I have no problem with the concept that we are all thieves of some kind (it's a sentiment I agree with) but I do have an issue when people claim that stealing cannot always be justified. Reverend Bray knew his audience and chose to focus on the small acts of stealing that his privileged congregation might identify with. Bray’s rationale was that all stealing is wrong and there is no harmless crime yet he never acknowledged that some people might steal out of necessity and for survival. My anger was not only generated by the assumed wealth of the congregation within the sermon but the concept that giving is forever the solution and a natural reaction to guilt. Giving is not always an altruistic act, it can be used to assume and project power and identity onto someone, thing or people. A great example is the information I have given you in regards to St Anne’s Church.
In “London's Scariest Churches” we are given analysis and historical research by Ian Sinclair and friends of the pagan history surrounding Hawksmoor, but from the present congregation of St Anne’s I was given an entirely more conventional impression of the church. Naturally the differing experiences and perspectives can co-exist and they help form a more overall impression of St Anne’s church but in both cases the act of giving information colours your primal impression of the church.
Arguably Hawksmoor and his churches have been so entwined with historical mysteries, as well as being the subject of such huge amounts of cultural analysis and survived such vast social changes within the Church of England that Hawksmoor's personality has been stolen and then given back to us. In this regard the act of stealing and giving is merely a constant exercise in recycling, a process which I am continuing. I guess I am not suited to “straight forward bible teaching.” I am too interested in the multiple meanings of buildings. Lost in the imagination of St Anne’s Church of Limehouse or my imaginations of St Anne’s Church of Limehouse, now which one is it?