St Matthew’s Westminster belongs to the Church of England, this country’s established (or state) church. The Church of England is organised into two provinces, Canterbury in the South (headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury) and York in the North (headed by the Archbishop of York).
The Church of England is part of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide family of Anglican churches in more than 160 different countries.
While Anglicans can trace their theological roots back to the early church, the Church of England dates from the time of the Reformation; before the 1530s, the church in England was the Roman Catholic Church. Henry VIII started the process of creating the Church of England after the Pope failed to grant his request for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (she had produced just one daughter for Henry and he desperately needed a male heir to secure his family’s regal lineage). Henry passed Acts of Parliament that made him “supreme head” of the church in England and allowed him to separate from Catherine without fear of ex-communication.
Much of the rest of Europe had been rebelling against papal rule for some years. In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Roman Catholic Church in Wittenburg railing against the practice of “buying indulgences” (for 8 Ducats, the Church would absolve a man of murder) which ultimately led to his excommunication in 1521. Protestants were increasingly active in England too and it was, in part, with their political support that Henry was able to split with Rome.
The worldwide spread of Anglicanism can be correlated with the expansion of the British Empire and particularly the colonisation of North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in the 17th Century and with the work of the Anglican missionaries in South America, Africa and parts of Asia in the 18th Century.
St Matthew’s liturgical tradition is Anglo-Catholic or what is commonly described as “High Church”; smells and bells, worshipers genuflecting, crossing themselves and a Hail Mary or two are regular features of services.
It shares the vision of the Church, recovered in the 1830s by the Tractarians (or Oxford Movement) that sees the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as the visible divine society founded by Christ to carry forward his mission on earth until the end of time.
The Established Church
The Church of England, as the established church, has a special relationship with the state: • The monarch remains as titular head of the church and “Defender of the Faith” • The two Archbishops and 24 senior bishops, collectively known as the Lords Spiritual, sit in the House of Lords. • The Church of England performs state weddings and funerals, acts of remembrance, memorial services as well as civic ceremonies such as the coronation. Additionally, Parliament has uniquely granted to the Church of England’s governing body, the General Synod, power to pass legislation that becomes English law.
St Matthew’s is a parish church led by the vicar, Fr Philip Chester, in collaboration with the Parochial Church Council (PCC), a group made up from the various congregations.
For administrative convenience and spiritual oversight, every parish belongs to a deanery (a small group of neighbouring parishes). St Matthew’s is one of 20 parishes that make up the Westminster (St Margaret) Deanery.
The deaneries combine to form an archdeaconry; St Matthew’s is within the Archdeaconry of Charing Cross under the care of the Venerable Dr William Jacob.
In most of the country the archdeaconries combine to form the diocese but due to its size, the Diocese of London is divided into five Episcopal Areas; Willesden, Edmonton, Kensington, Stepney and the Two Cities (London & Westminster) (each with its own suffragan bishop). St Matthew’s naturally comes under The Two Cities.
Each diocese has a Cathedral which is the "seat" of the bishop (but run independently of him by the Dean assisted by Canons. The Bishops of London’s seat is St Paul’s Cathedral.
The two provinces of York and Canterbury are made up of the country’s 43 dioceses.
Episcopally Led, Synodically Governed
The church is led by its bishops and governed by the General Synod which is made up of three houses; the House of Bishops (which includes all 44 diocesan bishops and 9 suffragan bishops elected by other suffragans); the House of Clergy and the House of Laity (which have about 260 members each).
“Local government” is found in the form of diocesan synods and deanery synods which work closely with the General Synod.