I have just read an online article on the Guardian’s website by Giles Fraser We must do to our churches what Beeching did to the railways I have to say I am not sure I agree!
Fraser is following up the report by the Church of England published on the 13th October which launched a consultation on proposals to improve the support for its 16,000 church buildings.
Fraser in his article points out that the Church of England is the custodian of 15,700 churches of which 78% of them are listed and he suggests that ‘the problem is most acute in rural areas’ where a quarter of rural churches have fewer than 10 people in the pews on a Sunday. Half of them have fewer than 20. Of the 9,000 churches in rural areas, 3,200 are Grade I-listed and 3,100 are Grade II*.
He suggests that the buildings are about heritage and at worst about idolatry suggesting that we should close them like Beeching did with the railways. But he misses the point and lacks an understanding about the rural community. These are communities are places where not just the railway has left (if it was ever there) but the shop has left, the pub has left and the post office has left – the church is now the only place for meeting and community engagement left – it is a sign of God’s enduring love. I am sure he would not suggest the Church leaves the inner city estate where everyone else has left.
Now don’t get me wrong that does not mean we don’t need some solution for dealing with the challenges of looking after grade ii* listed buildings but the solution maybe in the community rather than the council and that doesn’t mean the church should leave expecting people to commute.
The Church of England’s consultation highlights that it:
‘can be argued that churches as places are the seat of relations or the place of meeting and activity in the interaction between God and the world and, further, that place is therefore a fundamental category of human and spiritual experience’.
It goes onto suggest:
‘that the primary purpose of churches is and should remain the worship of Almighty God, to be houses of prayer. But that can and needs to be sensitively combined with service to the community. The imaginative adaptation of church buildings for community use in many areas is breathing new life into them’
and into the community.
I think I agree!