‘A deeper love’: Soul at St James

Ayla shares her experience of Soul at Saint James, an uplifting and inspiring monthly Gospel Music event at St James’s with Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir.

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Aretha Franklin. Whitney Houston. Jill Scott. At Soul at St James in the courtyard, the powerful and joyful harmonies of Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir bring the best and most soulful Gospel Music and pop legends to life.

Soul at Saint James takes place on the first Sunday of every month. Hundreds of people, most of whom have never been to the church before, are drawn from Piccadilly into the courtyard by the energy and the quality of music that fills people’s hearts (and gets them dancing too).

Some of the folks who come to Soul at Saint James describe it as ‘my church’. For many, the experience is much more than music. It’s sacred.

Every Soul at Saint James Sunday, there are people of many ages, backgrounds, life experiences and ethnicities filling the courtyard. Hundreds come. It’s wheelchair accessible, there are benches for people who prefer to sit, there are a range of spaces which give people the opportunity to reflect and contemplate, to socialise, and – of course – to sing and dance.

For every event, from 10am until 5.30pm people are hard at work to make this event happen. Soul at Saint James relies on a large number of volunteers to set up the stage in the morning, welcome people, invite them to donate if they can, and take down the stage and equipment at the end of the day.

This is led by Elijah Kinne, St James’s Production Officer (Elijah also coordinates the Sanctuary Eucharist on Tuesday evenings, and is a member of the congregation at St James’s). Together with Elijah, Soul at Saint James is one of the church events that I co-lead, representing St James’s on the event steering group together with the Choir’s leadership team, and co-hosting every month too. I love this public ministry and am proud of what our church can be, introducing the crowd to St James’s and the Choir, as well as getting the audience to join in the music, have a great time, and offer donations too.

At 2pm the opening act – a new group every month – fills the air with music and warms up the crowd. We’re often joined by spoken word artists too, many of whom are among the UK’s most compelling young voices, using their poetic talents to offer messages of hope and change, together with St James’s and the Choir. Last Sunday’s Pride-themed event featured the queer writer and artist Lalah-Simone Springer.

Partner charities also come to share their stories. Recent partners include the Museum of Homelessness and BelEVE a London mentoring and leadership charity for girls and young women. Whether the event’s monthly theme is Pride, Youth, Mental Health, Hope, or Courage, the atmosphere is always a unique blend of love for the music and love at work in communities alongside people in need. It’s a great vibe.

This summer we’re taking Soul at St James to the Greenbelt Festival, too! You can see us on the Main Stage on Sunday 25 August.

Soul at Saint James is one of the biggest public events St James’s offers. Over 5000 people come every year. Because we want music to inspire audiences for free every month, it’s vital to ensure that the event is by donation, not ticketed. Anyone and everyone can come, and they do!

Here’s a short video introducing Clarence Hunte, who works for SSGC and often directs the choir.

Here’s a clip from Sunday 7 July, celebrating Pride. After the torrential downpour, the Choir’s energy lifted everyone’s spirits and the sky brightened up.

Four ways to get involved and support Soul at St James:

  • Help out with the stage and equipment before the event, or after the event (email Elijah)
  • Welcome people in the courtyard during the event and invite people to donate
  • Spread the word and tell your friends – tons of people come because they’re invited by friends or family who love it and want to share the music and the joy
  • Offer a donation. Every little helps! The 2024 running costs for Soul at St James are £48000 (seriously, it’s £48k) and we want to keep this inspiring music flowing for everyone, for years to come.

The next Soul at St James in the courtyard is on Sunday 4 August. See you there!