The impact of the pandemic changes forced change upon us managed with suddenly reduced resources. After a period when we were focusing only on survival, we are now slowly rebuilding our activity.
In all this our sense of mission never changed. The Abbey and the church within its precincts are places of prayer and worship. We will renew our efforts to offer Christian witness and reflection from our home on Parliament Square. We will serve visitors and pilgrims.
Worship at St Margaret's Church
'St Margaret’s Church was originally built to offer an alternative to the monastic liturgy of a Benedictine Abbey. It has a long and fascinating history and has witnessed significant change. It has an acknowledged identity as both the parish church of the House of Commons and latterly the parliamentary church. It ceased to be a parish church in 1972, but despite this change, it continued to be a place of worship and encounter for a small but dedicated congregation.
Reflecting on the challenges and opportunities of its commitment to strengthen the ministry based in the parliamentary church, the Dean and Chapter concluded in 2020 that the 'parish church' model of pastoral care and administration, treasured by many of the congregation, was not something that the Abbey could continue to offer. Accordingly, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster determined that it could no longer offer a Sung Eucharist in St Margaret’s on Sunday mornings in parallel with the similar service taking place in the Abbey.
Conversation about worship in the church was significantly influenced by the impact of the pandemic. The Abbey lost forty million pounds of predicted income and had to make difficult choices in refocusing its mission. For a time, Chapter had to concentrate on the simple task of survival. We are now managing a process of cautious recovery whilst still operating with a significantly reduced income. As we emerge from the crisis brought about by Covid, Chapter has adopted a revised set of priorities and a renewed sense of mission that embraces St Margaret’s both as the parliamentary church and as a chapel of the Abbey.
Recent years have been painful for many of those who worshipped at St Margaret’s, but we are delighted that some have found a happy home in the Abbey’s worshipping community. We have welcomed the appointment of an Assessor, who has significantly helped us to a better understanding of the sense of grievance of some members of the former congregation. We have been pleased to engage in a process of mediation.
We have agreed in consultation with the Assessor that in most weeks there should be a regular choral service on Sunday morning in St Margaret’s, but critically one which is an integral part of the Abbey’s liturgy. As a consequence, the Abbey’s customary service of Choral Matins now frequently takes place in St Margaret’s. This is in addition to services on Saturday mornings and a service of Holy Communion on Sunday evenings. The pattern of services can be seen on our services times page. In the longer term we have plans for the creation of a choir with girl choristers based in St Margaret’s and for an additional mid-week service focused on the needs of parliamentarians and public servants.
The Dean and Chapter’s aim has always been to sustain, and indeed build, our worship in St Margaret’s. Our ambition is that St Margaret’s should be a house of prayer, a lively place of engagement with Parliament and the public square, and a church in which the Abbey can increasingly focus aspects of its wider mission.'
David Hoyle, Dean of Westminster. October 2022
History of St Margaret's Church
There has been a church in the Sanctuary precincts since the twelfth century. It was built first to relieve pressure on the monastic community and the Abbey, and to serve a small community that had grown up alongside a thriving monastery. It was then rebuilt in the thirteenth century and again in the fifteenth. Adopted by Parliament in 1614, it was passed at one stage to the Diocese of London and then returned to the jurisdiction of the Abbey when it ceased to be a parish church in 1972.