Happy Feast Day, St. Matthew's Westminster!
September 21 is the Feast of St. Matthew, and so is the official feast day for all churches named for this disciple of Jesus. The Church of the Transfiguration wishes a very blessed feast day to our linked parish, St. Matthew's Westminster in London, England!
Linked parishes are churches that share a similar history, congregation, or worship style and who connect through prayer, shared ministries, and fellowship. Transfiguration in New York and St. Matthew's in London recently become linked parishes.
St. Matthew's is similar to Transfiguration in many ways. It is a city church, located near Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace. It is an Anglo-Catholic church with a rich, formal liturgy and a reverence for the traditions of the Anglican Church. It's a small, diverse, and very welcoming congregation that provides a quiet haven in the midst of a busy neighborhood.
The church was built in 1849 (the same year that Transfiguration was completed) and designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. Sadly, the original church was gutted by a fire in 1977. It was rebuilt to its present neo-Gothic style and rededicated in 1984. The facility also includes a small conference center, a guest house (the former rectory), and two hostels for the homeless. The church is very involved in ministries to those in need in the area.
Fr. Phillip Chester is the Vicar of St. Matthew's, and he also serves as Area Dean for Westminster (St. Margaret) Deanery and as a parish priest for St. Mary le Strand. He was ordained a priest in 1980 and served in the parishes of St. Chad, Shrewsbury, and St. Martin-in-the-Fields before becoming Chaplain of King's College, University of London.
At the heart of St. Matthew's is the cycle of daily prayer, with services in the morning, lunchtime, and evening. In addition, the church is open for quiet respite throughout the day, and its walled garden provides a joyful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Another thing that St. Matthew's has in common with Transfiguration is a devotion to worshiping God through music. In additional to Sunday's Solemn Mass with organ and choir, Wednesday's noontime mass is usually followed by a musical recital by artists from across the city. as well as guest musicians from other churches in the Anglican Communion The church also holds regular Evensong, seasonal musical services, concerts, and more.
Yet another thing our two churches have in common is a commitment to the arts. Transfiguration is home to the Episcopal Actors Guild, and St. Matthew's hosts an Artist in Residence and Author in Residence.
St. Matthew's also has a primary school, with more than 200 children ages 3-11 in attendance. The school calls itself "international in outlook," with students representing more than 40 different countries. Many students commute into the city with their parents, who work nearby at the Home Office (security and immigration ministry) or other employers in the bustling central city neighborhood. The relationship between the church and the school is a strong one, with pastoral associates from the church running the Guild of St. Nicholas to help the children "gain a deeper understanding of the Church and its engagement with our local community."
The history of St. Matthew's is fascinating. It sits practically in the shadow of Westminster Abbey, one of the mot famous cathedrals in the world. But in the early 19th century, the Great Peter Street neighborhood was in such disarray and despair that Charles Dickens dubbed it "the Devil's Acre." Pick-pocketing was so prevalent there was a school for it (perhaps an inspiration for Dickens' "Oliver Twist"?). To address these problems, the Church of England decided to build four new churches to serve the area, including St. Matthew's.
The church, its school, nearby apartment buildings, a library, public baths, and other upgrades led to social improvements in the community. Today, St. Matthew's Westminster is part of a thriving urban neighborhood, within easy walking distance or a short ride from many famous sites, including Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the titular head of the Anglican Communion.
If you will be in London, please plan to visit St. Matthew's Westminster for services or a musical concert. Parishioners of the Church of the Transfiguration are also welcomed to stay in the guest house (apply on the website at www.stmw.org).
Keep checking our blog for more opportunities to learn about our linked parish and its congregants.