Dr George Campbell Morgan famously closed his last sermon at Westminster Chapel with a declaration that while he was leaving, God’s presence was surely not! Indeed, God has been faithful all through Westminster Chapel’s 170-year history.
It was a time of hope in May of 1841, as twenty-two Christians sat in the beautiful, newly-built chapel on Buckingham Gate – full of faith in God for how he would move in that downtrodden and degraded area. With Westminster Chapel’s first minister, Rev Samuel Martin, at the helm, the church began to make waves in the neighbourhood. Alms houses and schools were built, orphans were cared for and work schemes were organised for unemployed men. Rev Martin’s gospel-preaching and Biblical authority made Westminster Chapel stand out as a light of hope in what was then one of London’s poorest slums – rife with prostitution, squalor and drug addiction. Even influential leaders of that time like Lord Shaftesbury and Dean Stanley of Westminster Abbey began to hear of the Chapel’s impact in the area.
By 1860, the original building was unable to accommodate a rapidly-burgeoning membership so a new, 2,000-seater building was designed, built and opened in 1865 – the building we still meet in today.
However, the early years of the 20th century proved to be a trying time for the church. Following Rev Martin’s death in 1878, the congregation remained leaderless and without clear direction for some time. There were rumours of selling the site to build smaller buildings in London, as many left the church.
As God would have it, 1904 saw the arrival of a greatly gifted Gloucestershire preacher and former schoolmaster, Dr George Campbell Morgan. Dr Morgan had travelled extensively in the USA as a Bible teacher alongside the great American evangelist, D. L. Moody. Shaken by his recent visit to Wales to experience something of the revival breaking out there in 1904-05, he returned to the Chapel full of a passion for London to experience its own visitation by God. He was not disappointed. The church made massive inroads into the lives of the local populace – poor and rich alike. Crowds gathered and filled the building once again. Overseas missions, social action, the training of young men and women, and a well-attended Bible School, all flourished as the church grew in its impact and reputation nationwide.
Dr Morgan’s equally famous assistant and eventual successor, the Welshman Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, came to the Chapel in 1938, just before the beginning of the dark days of the Second World War. He carried Dr Morgan’s legacy, speaking with irresistible logic and profound insight, fired by the Holy Spirit and deep Christian conviction, calling for revival and proclaiming the Gospel as man’s only hope in those turbulent times. His powerful expositions of the Sermon on the Mount, Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Romans along with many other outstanding series, reached hundreds of thousands internationally through the printed page, and countless people discovered or re-discovered strong faith after the bewildering and sceptical low times that marked the aftermath of the War.
While Dr Lloyd-Jones’s ministry here was one of the greatest Christian phenomena of the 20th century, he retired in 1968. After the brief but insightful ministry of Dr J. Glyn Owen, three years lapsed before a suitable leader was found. By 1974, Westminster Chapel was declining and felt itself to be in a wilderness.
Again, God came through with a gifted man to lead His people. This time it was the unusual choice of an American Baptist pastor, Dr R. T. Kendall, who had recently studied for a D.Phil. at Oxford. A Spirit-filled man of the Word who continued Dr Lloyd-Jones’s powerful teaching and strong exposition of Scripture, he believed that the Gospel needed to be applied and spoken with a penetrating directness in an increasingly atheistic, secularised and materialistic society. From his joining in 1977, he continued expanding the church’s outreach and influence through his widely respected preaching and more than forty books and thousands of tape recordings that flowed from his faithful ministry of twenty-five years.
Upon Dr Kendall’s retirement in 2002, Rev Greg Haslam moved from the lively and growing church he had pastored in Winchester, Hampshire, for twenty-one years, in order to follow Dr Kendall as Senior Minister of the Chapel: a position he held for fourteen years. His ministry continued the Word and Spirit emphasis of his predecessors, combined with a burden to see the church become a truly prophetic voice to both the world and the Church in sceptical and dark days when hope seems to be in short supply.
Today, the Chapel’s evangelism efforts encompass the streets of Westminster, children, young professionals, college-age students, and those living on nearby housing estates or working in local Government offices. Westminster Chapel also currently supports its own missionaries, among them Dr Michael Eaton, the pastor of Chrisco Church in Nairobi, Kenya, and himself a widely respected Christian author and speaker.