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Ensuring that church buildings are a blessing and not a burden

16 October 2015

Every day of the year, churches across England are open for their local community, providing a place of worship and prayer and opportunity for encounter with God. Church buildings are also places for numerous services to the community, from play groups to lunch clubs for the elderly, to support and welcome for vulnerable people.

In some rural areas, the church is the only public building left open. The congregations can be small, but they may represent a higher proportion of the local population than in a densely populated urban or suburban area.

The sight of a church spire – whether over rural fields or through the urban maze of buildings – is a welcome reminder of a continuing Christian presence in local communities throughout the country.

This week, an important new report published by the Church Buildings Review Group sets out how the Church of England might better support its church buildings and the clergy and congregations who shoulder the burden of fund raising for repair and maintenance of these churches.

Some of the statistics are striking and show how the Church of England bears an extensive responsibility for a significant part of the nation’s heritage.

More than three quarters – 78% – of the Church of England’s 15,700 churches are listed. More than half of churches, 57%, are in rural areas, where only 17% of the population lives. The Church of England is responsible for around 45% of the grade I listed buildings in England and almost three quarters of these are in rural areas.

The review group is not putting forward a single solution to the challenges that some churches face but it is suggesting an approach that realises the potential of church buildings, rather than characterising them as a burden.

This is about helping congregations and churches – many in rural areas – to thrive in new ways, enabling the Church of England to focus more effectively on securing spiritual and numerical growth and serving the common good.

The report highlights a rising wave of imaginative adaptation of church buildings for community use which has breathed new life into them. An increasing number, such as St Giles’, Langford, near Chelmsford, now house a village shop or post office and many, such as St Stephen’s, Redditch, are home to a food bank.

Some, like St Mary’s in Ashford, Kent, have been reordered to become community arts venues as well as places of worship. The interior of the 12th century Grade 1 listed St Peter’s Church in Peterchurch, Herefordshire, a small rural village, was refurbished in partnership with the local authority and is now open for community use while remaining a place of worship.

The review group is also proposing centrally to bring together those parts of church governance responsible for supporting the care and maintenance of open churches with those parts at present responsible for closed or closing church buildings.

We hope it will be possible to encourage different models of responsibility for church buildings, such as community trusts, and in some instances the creation of ‘festival churches’ so we can retain the benefit of a significant sacred place, open for worship as well as community use, but where there may only be a number of services each year, reflecting important festivals in the life of the church and the community such as Easter and Harvest Festival.

The aim of the report and its recommendations are to help churches realise their potential – ensuring that church buildings are a blessing and not a burden.

- The Rt Hon Canon Sir Tony Baldry, chair, Church Buildings Council

#Church of England #ChurchCare #cofebuildings.

This blog post is also available here.