We were in London on Christmas Eve, 2005, so we needed to find a church in which to give homage to the reason for our holiday celebration. What better place to attend Midnight Mass than Westminster Abbey? This Church of England is steeped in history. This is where ALL English monarchs for hundreds of years have been crowned, including Queen Elizabeth II, so I knew the First Eucharist of Christmas conducted to praise and worship the King of all kings would be moving and memorable. Indeed, it was.
How early did we get to the church? We lined up in front of Westminster near the entrance to the church about two hours before the service was scheduled. While the line stretched back beyond where we could see the end in the cold, dark night, I believe we would have been fine if we had come an hour ahead of time. In fact, since architects used to put pews in the shape of a cross in front of the altar, it might have been better if we had been further in the back of the line. Imagine a cross shape. Near the front of the line, we were put in the left of the horizontal bar on the top half of the cross. Thus we could not see a lot of what happened in the vertical bar! We could hear everything, and we had a great view of the minister giving the sermon. We weren't allowed into the church until it was close to the time for the service, so if you can bring a hot cup of coffee to warm your hands, you'll be happier. My son read a book in the light coming from the church while my husband and I wiled away the time by jumping up and down to fight the chill and talking. There is little open around the church, so if you want to get something to eat beforehand, you need to do a little research about where you might go. The city seems to shut down.
Was there a charge to enter the church at this time? No. Of course not. This was a religious service, and all were welcome to worship. A collection was taken up to help in the support of the homeless people of London. But you could pass by the plate if you did not feel moved to give to the less fortunate.
How long was the service? The service ran a little over an hour long.
How do you get back to your home/hotel after the service is over? Well, you can't take the Underground. It closes early on Christmas Eve and does not reopen until Boxing Day. However, if you leave the church and go to your RIGHT, taxis go over the bridge and will stop for you if you hail them. After all, they know people are leaving church services at this time. If you want to avoid the cold---and it WAS cold---reserve a cab to pick you up. You can also drive to the service.
Is Communion distributed? Yes. All who worship Christ are welcome to receive Communion here, and I was impressed with how quickly yet reverantly the church was able to handle the large crowd.
Was this worth doing? I loved the beautiful music and the inspiring message. The choir was lovely, but the man behind me who lifted his tenor voice during "O, Come All Ye Faithful" was equally moving to me. I love traditional Christmas hymns. I would not want to have Christmas without a religious marking of the Savior's birth. If you worship in the Christian faith, this is a wonderful place to celebrate that faith. If you are not a Christian, this might still give you insight into the major religion shared by the majority of the British people. In addition, Westminster Abbey is not only a functioning church, but it is the resting place for many famous figures who have impacted the course of world history. You really will be standing on the shoulders of giants as you walk to take your seat.