A church has stood on this site since the 11th century, not long after the foundation of Westminster Abbey, apparently because the monks were keen to have an alternative venue for the public to worship in so that they could continue their daily round of prayer undisturbed. The current building contains some notable updates and alterations but substantially dates from the late 15th century. It's tall, with high Gothic arches, and wide, featuring four rows of pews which it needed to accommodate the Easter crowds. The ceiling is of dark carved wood, with the roof bosses and corbels in the sanctuary standing out with ornate gilding. There are massive brass chandeliers holding white electric candles. The windows on the south side are post-war reparations by John Piper, who was an official war artist in the Second World War. He deliberately used black and other muted colours so as not to detract from the brilliant east window, which depicts Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. There are a few other surviving windows of Victorian vintage as well. The ornate multi-coloured pulpit was adorned by massive arrangements of white Easter lilies.
The building nestles alongside the apse of Westminster Abbey, and is dwarfed by its big sister. It's known as the parish church of Westminster, meaning the Houses of Parliament. It shares the Abbey's status as a Royal Peculiar, outside the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, and directly accountable to the sovereign. Unlike Westminster Abbey, there is no admission fee, but St Margaret's is astonishingly overlooked nonetheless, despite the fact that it is almost as old and contains some notable graves, memorials and works of art.
Located as it is between Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, literally in the shadow of Big Ben, St Margaret's is in the middle of tourist paradise. Pubs, shops and restaurants abound in the surrounding streets, and traffic is considerable, but there are patches of green nearby as well, in Parliament Square and Embankment Gardens, and the River Thames is just behind Parliament.
The Rt Revd Kay Goldsworthy, Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Perth, Western Australia, presided and preached.
What was the name of the service?Easter Liturgy.
How full was the building?
It was very full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed by a man at the door who gave me the order of service and told me where there were still places to sit.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were standard wooden pews with kneelers attached by chains. It was comfortable enough.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The organ was playing, and people were chatting. The ones next to me were very nice and friendly, and told me that Queen Elizabeth I had re-founded the Abbey in 1560 and was responsible for the status of Royal Peculiar.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"This is the day when our Lord Jesus Christ passed from death to life."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used the orders of service we had been given, which contained all the hymns. There were no pew Bibles, but I had my own. The readings were from TheHoly Bible, New Revised Standard Version.
What musical instruments were played?
The organ was played well and the choir sang beautifully.
Did anything distract you?
I was a bit confused when Bishop Kay walked around sprinkling the congregation with water, as this is unknown in my worship tradition.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was formal with participation from the congregation as we sang lots of hymns.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Bishop Kay spoke clearly and delivered an uplifting and encouraging message.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Bishop Kay reminded us about Jesus taking care of us. That is important now at Easter. In today's reading we hear about the disciples coming to see what was happening to Jesus but the tomb was empty. Mary was the one who saw the risen Lord when he spoke her name. She then took the good news to the others: the Lord is risen! Local church communities share the love of God and are transformed. Grace is possible to us. We can tell children, "Christ is risen!" We can see Christ is risen in the world.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Simply the joy of Easter. I felt very happy that Christ is in heaven and will come to us. The joy of the resurrection, that Christ came out of the tomb.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Reflecting on the sad side of the Easter story that Christ had to die for my sins.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were friendly. They told me where to go to get tea and coffee. They also reminded me that it was raining outside!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Lots of people queued for the tea and coffee!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I loved being with many people worshipping God and feeling that God loves us. This church is so beautiful and has been a place of worship for such a long time.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I felt glad to have communion and felt blessed by God.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The Easter message. I remember that this is the time that Jesus came alive and saved me and others.