A church in central London that has become part of a network led by the evangelical Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) is facing criticism from a leading composer and others after closing its doors to choirs and orchestras whose music is non-religious.
St. Sepulchre Without Newgate Church in Holborn, which is known as 'the musicians' church' and is where the Proms founder Sir Henry Wood is buried, has become embroiled in a row after stopping taking bookings from classical musicians who have relied on it as a rehearsal and concert venue for many years, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The church became part of the evangelical HTB group, which is known for its rock-band style of worship and described by some higher church conservatives as 'happy clappy', in 2013.
Now, classical groups are no longer welcome to rehearse and perform there – with resident choristers saying that they are 'concerned that it will become a worship choir with drums and keyboards'.
The church has a book of remembrance for musicians, as well as windows commemorating the singer Dame Nellie Melba and the composer John Ireland.
John Rutter, who is known for composing, arranging and conducting choral music, said the decision meant the church had 'betrayed' musicians.
He pointed to the 'significant' timing of the decision, coming after the retirement of the former Bishop of London Richard Chartres earlier this year. A successor to Chartres has not yet been appointed.
'I know Richard Chartres was a great friend of music and he would have been the first to say 'come on'. But he is gone and so there's nobody else,' he told the Telegraph.
'What this current vicar seems to be saying is that music is OK so long as it's part of a worship service. The concerts that take place in just about every church in the land, they're not OK, and rehearsals are not OK either. That flies in the face of the Anglican tradition.'
The priest in charge of the church, David Ingall, said in a letter to groups who use the church regularly that he had become 'conscious of the challenges of using a space dedicated to worship for non-religious hiring'.
Rutter said that Ingall was 'betraying the community that he purports to serve. He didn't have to take the job at the musicians church if he doesn't like musicians'.
He added: 'The Church of England needs all the friends it can get. It shouldn't be making enemies - it's un-Christian. 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.'
A petition against the change, which was started by a choir member, Richard Robbins, has attracted almost 2,000 signatures.
Peter Foggitt, the director of the Orlando Chamber Choir, which had a booking to use the church next year, said: 'Is having a church that is silent a better demonstration of what the church believes and what it's there for than have a church full of people making music?'
A spokesperson for the church said in a statement: '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.'
The statement added that the church had been 'greatly moved' by the reaction to the decision.
'We do wish to reiterate that we remain committed to our ministry as the National Musicians' Church,' it added. '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.'