St Matthew’s Westminster stands at the heart of British government and administration, surrounded by departments of State and a stone’s throw from the nation’s constitutional heart represented by the Houses of Parliament on the one hand and Westminster Abbey on the other. But while these imposing icons of our national identity draw millions from around the world, St Matthew’s stands unobtrusively on a street corner, proclaiming Christian values of welcome, hospitality, prayer and a sense of the presence of God, just when people are constantly passing on their daily round. It is the heart of a community - partly resident, and partly transient, some who pass as tourists and others who come to the city each day for their daily work - and in all the flux and noise of life which surrounds it, the church stands as a rock of tranquility and stability.
The church itself which was almost completely destroyed by fire in the 1970s was built between 1849 and 1851, and its design shows the characteristic flair of three giants of nineteenth century architecture, Sir George Gilbert Scott, G F Bodley and Sir Ninian Comper who designed the Lady Chapel. They were building at a time when the church of England was being re-shaped by a renewal movement which we know today as the Oxford Movement which sought to recover the Church of England’s catholic identity, which the Church’s Protestant history since the sixteenth century Reformation had tended to obscure - but which it had never lost. It is that catholic inheritance, so central to the Church of England’s identity that St Matthew’s continues to proclaim and live out in the twenty first century. It seeks to do this through its worship, its sacramental spirituality, its theology expressed in its teaching and preaching, and through its commitment to issues of social justice. Its doors are open every day, and the regular round of worship and the regular tolling of its bell reminds the busy world that it is being remembered in prayer before God at least three times a day. The open doors are an invitation to anyone - regular worshipper, tourist, local worker, or curious passerby, or someone in need of friendship or comfort - to come in, enjoy the peace and quiet, find sanctuary and say a prayer.
St Matthew’s is named after a biblical character who was called from his rather disreputable work to be a disciple of Jesus. And as a disciple and first hand witness of the events of Jesus’ life he wrote one of the four gospels that both narrate those events and try to explain their significance. At the heart of Jesus’ teaching recorded by Matthew are three chapters of his Gospel (chapters 5, 6 and 7) which we call the Sermon on the Mount. In many ways they are the ethical core of Christian values and include both the Lord’s Prayer and the series of blessings we call the Beatitudes - well worth reading for any one who embarks on a spiritual adventure! Matthew was called from his somewhat despised trade as a collector of taxes for the invading Romans, which is reassuring for the rest of us who are also called in whatever state of life we are, to be disciples. St Matthew’s feast day is September 21 and of course St Matthew’s Church celebrates that day with gratitude and affection for its charismatic patron.