As we at Westminster Abbey make changes forced upon us we have had to think deeply about our resources and our priorities. Our resources are very much reduced. We will have a smaller staff and a significantly reduced budget. Our sense of mission is unchanged. We will be a place of prayer and worship. We will serve Her Majesty the Queen setting faith at the heart of the nation. We will renew our efforts to offer Christian witness and reflection from our home on Parliament Square. We will serve visitors and pilgrims.
There has been a church in the Sanctuary precincts since the eleventh 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. Whilst necessary building work and the consequences of COVID-19 meant the church was closed to the public for a time, some Parliamentary and other services were possible. The Dean and Chapter reopened this unique church in October, offering the public and parliamentarians a place of worship, prayer and Christian engagement.
However, Chapter now works with a much reduced income. We are forced to acknowledge that we do not have the resources to offer worship supported by professional musicians, simultaneously, in two churches next to one another. In recognising the deep faith and commitment of the congregation at St Margaret’s, Chapter believes this is the time to ask them to join the Abbey congregation for Eucharistic worship. Regular Sunday worship continues with a weekly 6:00pm Evening Service being held in St Margaret’s.
The decision to cease the Sunday morning service at St Margaret’s is traumatic for the congregation and inevitably calls into question the future of its professional choir. Chapter is determined to sustain the highest quality of liturgy and music across the Abbey, including at St Margaret’s. We made an early decision to continue our full investment in the Abbey’s music department. This is one of the finest choral foundations in the country, with an international reputation and a key role to play in sustaining the Anglican choral tradition at a time when it is increasingly under threat. Chapter has made this commitment because it regards music as an essential part of what we do. Whilst, at present, it is simply not possible to continue maintaining a second fully-fledged musical foundation, we will involve the current freelance musicians of St Margaret’s in the church’s future musical provision.
In future, and as the Abbey’s resources permit, we plan to concentrate worship and other activities in St Margaret’s on its distinctive and growing ministry within Parliament Square - and the public sector more broadly – and its engagement with our local communities. In the short term we will only be able to sustain our familiar commitments to Parliament, in which the musicians have a role. In the years to come a much more ambitious programme of worship and events will be possible, allowing us to build on the achievements and blessings of the past full of hope for what lies ahead.