THE Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd Dr David Hoyle, has voiced his heartfelt regret that Sunday worship can no longer be maintained at St Margaret’s, Westminster, the Royal Peculiar under the jurisdiction of the Abbey which is regarded as the parish church of the House of Commons.
The church has a professional choir and a strong musical tradition. News of the choir’s sudden disbandment preceded news of the cessation of the Sunday-morning eucharist, and fed into the widely expressed fears for the future of choral music in general.
Dr Hoyle said on Tuesday: “So many of us have to make difficult decisions in the wake of the coronavirus. Our income stream has collapsed, and we face the awful reality of job losses and many painful changes.
“We are now unable to maintain Sunday worship at St Margaret’s, separate to the Abbey. The church will retain a role focusing on service to Parliament and public life, both as a place of worship and as a centre of engagement. We will, of course, invite the congregation to participate fully in the worshipping life of the Abbey. Even so, we know this is a devastating blow to the congregation, staff, and musicians. We are currently actively listening to them and will do all that we can to work with them.”
The regular congregation on a typical Sunday is said by the Abbey to number between 60 and 70. St Margaret’s puts the number between 100 and 120. Elaine Thomas, who has been worshipping at the church for 26 years, has launched a petition for the restoration of the service, which she describes as profoundly different in spirit from the Abbey’s own Sunday-morning eucharist.
“The essence of a service comes from the people participating in it. The Abbey’s services are not intimate, nor do they invite participation, being quite formal. The Abbey lacks a regular congregation and is mostly made up of tourists. At St Margaret’s, we participate in an Act of Communion as a congregation who are known to each other.”
The church’s 45 volunteers also staffed the special, often very large services, Mrs Thomas said. The church hosts many parliamentary and public events and services.
She acknowledged that, as indicated in an explanatory letter sent by Dr Hoyle to the church, the Abbey was having to dig deep into its resources to honour its commitment to its loyal staff, 63 of whom were set to lose their jobs. The Sunday service, she said, cost £100,000 a year for clergy, choir, and electricity, and was largely paid for by donations to the tune of £96,000. The Abbey says that donations do not cover the cost of the service.
Both Samuel Pepys and Winston Churchill were married at St Margaret’s.