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Young worshipping community brings new life to St Clement’s

A Sunday service for young people and students has restored life to St Clement Eastcheap in the City of London for the first time in 35 years. Its leader, Luca Martini, shares the excitement of what they are witnessing God do, and the plans this new plant has in store. 

The Sunday service of the new worshipping community of St Clement Eastcheap, in the City of London, is notable the moment you walk into it. 

One of four services offered by Imprint Church London, the St Clement’s 5 pm Sunday gathering started in September last year with an aim of providing a home for students and young people. 

Six months on, its regular attendance draws between 70 – 100 people each week – and it’s still growing, more quickly than the leaders thought possible. And this in a church building where, until last autumn, no services had been held for at least 35 years.

The service leader, Luca Martini doesn’t underestimate how surprising, even unlikely, the story of this new service and growing community is.

Luca Martini, left

‘It is a very special thing to be located right in the heart of London with a place for young people to worship Jesus,’ says Luca. ‘When we started out on this journey, we just didn’t know what to expect, but God had a plan.’

Luca’s involvement in St Clement’s and Imprint begins in his childhood: 

‘I was brought up in a missionary family and came to London to study 15 years ago. Then I returned to do mission work in Brazil and from there went to Italy and helped to plant a house church there. Over the next few years, my wife and I became part of a planting movement, planting churches in Africa, Asia, and South America. I started posting on YouTube about our missions and through this made connections with church planters and pastors all over the world.

‘Two years ago, my wife and I felt led to come back to the UK – a friend introduced me to Pastor Pedro (from Imprint) and as a result we came to London and joined Imprint Church.

‘Meeting with Wole Agbaje, Imprint’s leader and a curate in the Church of England, we heard how God had put the next generation on Wole’s heart – a prayer for a younger church and younger leaders, for more young people to find faith in Jesus. With my experience of working in mission work and with young people, I offered to start helping out.

‘As a team we prayed for a way towards starting a service for students and youth, how this would look and where we would meet. Then Wole suggested we hold it at St Clement’s (which Imprint was using only for groups and office space at the time).’

A two-minute walk from Bank station, St Clement’s, a grade one listed building, considers itself to be the church referred to in the nursery rhyme that begins ‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement’s’. Over its storied years, St Clement’s Church building witnessed a range of uses. 

It’s likely that there has been a church on the site at Eastcheap from at least the eleventh century, probably earlier. The first reference to the church is found in a deed written in the reign of Henry III (1207–72), which mentions ‘St Clement Candlewickstrate’. The mediaeval building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and its rebuilding has been attributed to Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral.

After centuries as a parish church, records show that the church was suspended in 1988. Archdeacon of London, Fr Luke Miller says: ‘It is not clear what the pattern of services was at that time. As it was until that point a parish church it would have had a duty to provide for Sunday worship, but it may well not have done so……. ‘

Jointly led by Luca and Jacqueline Olaifa, Imprint’s student ministry lead, the first service to be held in 35 years came with a few surprises. 

‘In September, we spread the word about a new service there,’ says Luca. ‘A worshipping community for students and young adults. Before the first service we didn’t know what to expect – we had a surprise!

‘Students were bringing their friends along and that week without even asking young people were coming forward after the talk to follow Jesus. The service went on for three hours!’

Since then, the Sunday service has gone from strength to strength, with newcomers attending each week. It offers worship, prayer and Bible teaching – with each element of the service incorporating dynamic media, using technology to aid their creative expression.   

Recognising that attending a church is a new step for many of those joining, effort and resources have gone into making the environment comfortable. Leticia, Luca’s wife, is an interior designer, and led work to transform the space with use of ‘lighting, sofas and good coffee’. 

‘We want it to feel like home,’ explains Luca, ‘with space to relax and chat and maybe play on PS5 after the service – all these things are important and are helping people to form a community.’

Alongside Sundays, Imprint Club meets on Thursday afternoons at St Clement’s, with young people coming together to join in prayer and Bible study. Luca and his team are keen to keep developing friendships and community, with plans in place for future social trips and activities like bowling alongside Sunday services and the Thursday club.

The team is intentionally investing in those who want to develop their faith, offering a Discipleship Year to students, which sees them become part of the Imprint team for a year, joining core meetings and gaining discipleship training with the wider team while continuing their studies.

The community recently celebrated its first baptism – someone who had previously no Christian background and had never been to church before attending a St Clement’s service. ‘His friend brought him along,’ explains Luca, ‘He kept coming even after the friend had left London – and then he followed Jesus.

‘Each Sunday, we welcome new faces; alongside students and their friends we’ve had whole families coming along. And because of St Clement’s central location, people pop in – visitors to London from all nations, and those who are just passing. St Clement’s is a place where we relate, where we welcome, where we want people to feel they can come and be at home.’

So how does Luca account for what they are seeing at St Clement’s, the growth of this new community of students and young people from almost nowhere, whose numbers are increasing each week?

‘What is happening is little to do with us,‘ he says. ‘It’s all to do with God’s favour. He has given us the gift and the responsibility of reaching a new generation and we feel so blessed to be part of God’s plan. We were ready with everything; we had a team but we needed a building and God opened the doors.

‘Reaching out in his grace, his hand had prepared a place, and he cleared a path in the heart of London to a historic church where there had been no services for 35 years – so that a bunch of young people could go in to celebrate and to worship him.’

Fr Luke agrees: ‘This is a new chapter for St Clement’s in a long history. It’s good news for today and so wonderful to see the life and joy that the new community of Imprint has brought to St Clement’s!’

Imprint Church 5 pm Student & Youth Service meets at St Clement Eastcheap every Sunday

Imprint Club meets from 4.30 pm – 6.30 pm on Thursdays