If only stones could talk …

St- Mary Woolnoth 8857
It’s about 3:30 on a gray, cold, overcast London afternoon. I’m sitting in a very uncomfortable, rickety wooden pew at the back of the church of St. Mary Woolnoth.

I’m the only one in the building. Only a few lights are on in a magnificent bronze chandelier that occupies the center of the room. It’s musty, dank and has that old building smell. It’s actually a little spooky

However, St. Mary Wolnoth occupies one of the most prominent sites of any church in London. It stands at the junction of Lombard and King William streets, under the shadow of the Bank of England and a stone’s throw away from the historic site of the London Exchange.

A church building has been on this site since 1191 and the structure in which I am sitting is the fourth iteration. The second was built in 1438, the third by the famous Christopher Wren (architect of St. Paul’s cathedral) in 1674, and the last by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1727. It’s a majestic example of English baroque architecture.

But what is most gripping is to imagine what happened here in centuries past. From 1779-1807, the rector was John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace. From the pulpit that rises above me, he preached vehemently against the evils of the slave trade and encouraged others such as William Wilberforce who led the battle for the abolition of slavery in the British empire. Also, Claudius Buchanan, who launched significant missionary efforts to India was inspired by Newton in this place as was Hannah Moore, the writer, social reformer and philanthropist, and others.

Newton was buried here in 1807. On my left is a marble plaque that carries the following epitaph which Newton himself wrote:

JOHN NEWTON
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy
of our Lord and Savour
JESUS CHRIST
restored, pardoned, and
appointed to preach
the Gospel which he had
long laboured to destroy.

And now this building is a musty relic. Pretty much forgotten. Thousands of people pass by its doors every day here in the heart of London’s financial district, oblivious to what momentous, world transforming convictions had their genesis within these walls.

If only stones could talk.

Slavery Business Gallery 05 Plaq
John Newton and his memorial plaque at St. Mary’s

2 Responses to “If only stones could talk …”

  1. Dennis Says:

    Wow. That was a great post. Incredible.

  2. Joel Perez Says:

    Sam – Always good to see your passion come through about post Christian countries. It has been way too long.

    Joel

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