Historical & current context
The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption & St. Gregory, Warwick Street, Soho, is one of the most historic churches in the Diocese of Westminster, reaching back to 1724. British History Online suggests that due to the ministrations of clergy serving the then Royal Bavarian Embassy chapel in 1780, the area may have been a focus for English Catholics to gather around, with 1000 people, including Catholics, living in St. James’ Parish and many more in St. Anne’s Parish, Soho. Other references suggest that in the latter part of the 18th & 19th centuries, parts of this area offered refuge to poorer people who served the better-off merchants living in nearby Mayfair. The “Portuguese Chapel” and St. Anne’s Parish Church were noted for their ministry to the poor. There are, therefore, historical precedents in reaching out to marginalised groups in the area.
Many of those who use the Church of the Assumption do so due to historical ties, having worked in the area, being received into the Church, or married there. Workers from local hotels, restaurants, shops and offices, also use the church on weekdays. The parish is now served by the Rector, who is also Vicar-General for Westminster Diocese, assisted by other priests. The parish is dependent financially upon income generated by the letting of commercial property in the adjoining building in Golden Square, as well as church collections.
Masses in Westminster Diocese, welcoming LGBT Catholics, parents, families and friends, began in April 1999 on the Sunday following the bombing of the Admiral Duncan public-house in Old Compton Street. These liturgies were first held in the Convent of the Helpers of the Holy Souls in Camden Town, London.
When the Convent property was sold in 2001, the LGBT worshiping community relocated temporarily to St. Anne’s Anglican Church, Dean Street, Soho. As the congregation enlarged in its Soho location, it eventually outgrew the space available.
In March 2007, following a period of consultation with Diocesan representatives, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered Catholics, parents and friends were invited to transfer 1st & 3rd Sunday 5.00 pm Masses from St. Anne’s Anglican Church, Soho to the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption & St. Gregory, Warwick Street, Soho. A statement encouraging “full and active participation” by LGBT Catholics in the life of the Church was issued by the Diocese of Westminster on 2 February 2007. The Soho Masses Pastoral Council was invited to make its own statement regarding the initiative. A further statement from Westminster Diocese confirming this pastoral provision was released on 17 December 2007.
The regular 1st & 3rd Sundays’ evening congregation has a regular attendance of well over 100, but there is estimated overall contact with 250-300 people, some being occasional participants. These Masses are served by a rota of 15 priests from a variety of dioceses and religious communities, some of whom are resident or work in Westminster Diocese. The Soho Masses Pastoral Council, 12 people, elected on an annual basis by regular Mass participants, has been responsible for planning these liturgies, and a number of other pastoral events.