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.
Worship at St Margaret's Church
'In August 2020, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster confirmed the decision that it could no longer offer a sung Sunday mid-morning Eucharist in St Margaret’s. Reflecting on the challenges and opportunities of a ministry based in the Parliamentary Church, the Dean and Chapter also concluded 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. It was agreed that these decisions would be reviewed. The Dean and Chapter has recently undertaken such a review.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Abbey has been plunged into a significant financial crisis. In the financial year now coming to an end, we expect to have welcomed just over 50,000 visitors, compared to the 1.3 million we received before Covid. Despite a rigorous reduction of expenditure during the last 18 months (including a very significant number of redundancies), the Abbey lost £7m in 2019-20 and another £7m in the 2020-21 financial year just ended. Our life and our resources are very seriously constrained, our staff colleagues have been exposed to great anxiety, and many of them have suffered great distress; meanwhile, the delivery of our ambition must be limited.
We acknowledge the deep distress felt by many of those who worshipped at St Margaret’s, and 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. As we undertook the promised review of last year’s decision, we reflected with care on what we had learned.
The Dean and Chapter’s aim has always been to sustain, and indeed build, our worship in St Margaret’s. Our ambition is that the church – which is both a chapel of the Abbey and the Parliamentary Church – 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 focus many aspects of its mission. Choral worship will remain a feature of St Margaret’s life and we intend that, in due course, there will be at least one additional mid-week service as well as a service on Sunday. It remains our intention that we will, in due course, fulfil our longstanding ambition to support that worship with a first-class choir in which girls are given an opportunity to sing.
Our difficulty, of course, is that we cannot yet begin to resource that ambition. Reflecting on all that we have been told, we understand the desire that there should be a Sunday Eucharist in St Margaret’s (and ideally as a sung service). We also know that Members of the two Houses of Parliament could be better served by an evening service. We therefore intend that the Abbey’s 6.00pm Sunday evening service will be a Eucharist celebrated in St Margaret’s. We cannot currently provide a choir, but there will be an organist so that hymns can be sung.
We note that there has also been a request for an Annual General Meeting and the election of Wardens. While we remain committed to St Margaret’s future as the Parliamentary Church and a place for focusing much of the Abbey’s engagement with our neighbours, we do not see the return of quasi-parochial structures as the way to support the development of mission and ministry in a church that, legally, ceased to be a parish nearly fifty years ago. For the next year or two, our focus will need to be on restoring our financial resilience and managing the progressive recovery of the key elements of our mission. Thereafter we expect to be able to contemplate further steps, including the development of our ministry in St Margaret’s.'
David Hoyle, Dean of Westminster. October 2021
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.