THE PROBLEM OF CHURCH BUILDINGS

aldworth_church[1]

This problem of church buildings occupies my mind every now and again. It may seem like a single, simple issue – ‘pull down all the churches with tiny congregations! Turn them into places for the homeless and dispossessed, or into shopping malls!’ Many churches have indeed gone down this road, and are continuing to do so, and if they are in places where that meets a need, then it’s a good solution.

Although I have sympathy with this, it ‘s more complicated. Anglican congregations have to raise the money they need for their buildings, the ‘share’ (pc name for church tax) they pay to the diocese (for clergy stipends, pensions etc) and everything they want to do locally. Unlike, for instance, the Lutheran church in Germany, we do not get any government help. Very small congregations are carrying crippling costs, and struggling to pay their dues. It’s a constant battle just to keep going, to keep mending the church building, to pay the share and then to find ways of doing everything else.

There are of course grant-making bodies and some, like English Heritage, look favourably on helping to care for historic churches. This is a great help, but fundraising takes vast amounts of time and expertise and many places do not have someone with those qualities, so it tends to come down to the vicar, who has to learn fast.

People who are not sympathetic towards the church will think this is all ridiculous and the quickest answer is to close down the whole lot … but as I said, it is not as simple as that.

For a start, many of these churches are ancient. In the past we’ve looked after 4 centres of worship, 2 of which were medieval. Being village churches, congregations were not large.

So the first question is, what can we do with these buildings, which are part of our historic landscape and part of our national heritage, which congregations can’t afford to look after?

Would local non-church-goers be prepared to pay to keep the building watertight? If so, what for?

To raze them to the ground would be iconoclastic – but is it the pragmatic solution?

Another aspect is that many small congregations are fed up with the burden, and many vicars don’t want to spend their time shoring up old buildings, but feel they should be getting on with the pastoral work which is supposed to be their primary job, getting out and about and working with the community. So much time goes on buildings that it is impossible to stick with pastoral priorities.

I think the Church of England has been dodging this issue for decades. We have whole diocesan departments dedicated to helping us keep the building going, with stringent regulations which drive vicars and church councils bananas.

So some of us continue to ask, is it really worth it? And if not, what’s the solution?

19 thoughts on “THE PROBLEM OF CHURCH BUILDINGS

  1. I wish I had a good answer for this. The only answer is to get people back in churches in their droves. That is the best answer. Then would be easier to get the funds to keep them from disrepair.
    So just get lots of people frantic to come to church…”seeeemples” (that meerkat advert). Except it isn’t “seeeeemples”…. I don’t know what the answer is. :no:

    Like

    1. Wouldn’t that be great? But I’m not sure it’s going to happen in this country. Now in Africa, we would have had to build two massive churches by now!! I have a ‘feeling’ that the church of England is undergoing massive change, although it tends to happen ‘on the back door step’, so to speak, out of the limelight and the headlines. We’re moving from being a monolithic established church with sonorous bishops in Parliament to becoming much more informal, more practical and down to earth, meeting in halls and schools instead of church buildings, trying to do in small ways what the church is supposed to be doing – caring for people!

      Well, maybe that’s happening in a few areas, and it’s my pipe dream. Time for us to stop resting on our laurels, which have all withered away by now anyway. But is our church listening???

      Like

      1. Gosh…. changing times indeed. I suppose in the very early days of Christianity they used to meet in each other’s houses didn’t they? Mind you that was for self-preservation. So it would be going back to how it was to start with. And yes a major point of Christianity was to care for people as well as to give comfort for those haveing a wretched old life.

        I guess the days of quaint village churches packed to the gunnels and all voices lifted in prayer is a thing of the past which I find very sad…..:(

        Like

      2. I used to think that, but recently I’ve begun to wonder whether that was ever a true picture. No doubt about it, in Queen Elizabeth I’s time everyone had to go to church or they got punished by the churchwardens! – that was for political purposes, because she was trying to establish a Protestant church. That went on for a long time, even to my childhood – not the beating up by churchwardens ! – but the feeling that it was ‘respectable’ to go to church and you should be ‘seen’ to go to church. This meant that a lot of people were going not because they were passionate about their faith but for all sorts of other reasons, which did not survive the greater social freedom and autonomy of the 60s.

        Also, it seems that a lot of churches were built by wealthy landowners who were more interested in either their own glory or God’s glory ??!! – so they built huge churches in the middle of nowhere that could not possibly have been filled by the few local villagers.

        Which I found rather illuminating.

        I personally would rather be with a few people who are deeply committed than with a massive throng who are mainly there for social reasons … having said that, going to something like ‘Celebrate’ at Easter (Catholic knees-up) or Spring Harvest can be very inspiring and wonderful!

        Like

      3. I agree with that. Christianity is not everybody’s cup of tea and should only be for sincere believers. Then there wouldn’t be all the scandal perhaps. On the other hand that would mean just a few people would be in the know and that would mean power/knowledge in the hands of a few and we all know the problem of having power/knowledge.That said I think maybe more people would be sincere believers if they actually had a lot more knowledge and greater depth of understanding of it etc. Sort of circular situation.

        If people weren’t taught about it they wouldn’t know about it. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit calls people and I know when I got my calling (eventually! 🙄 ) I looked for a church. If there were no churches or recognisably Christian designated places I suppose I’d have looked up on the internet or in yellow pages for a priest.

        Once I’d had my conversion etc I found it really wonderful seeing churches everywhere and thinking of them as ports in storms just everywhere for like minded people which was a wonderful feeling.

        I know of several people at my church who passed the building for many years without ever taking any notice of it whatsoever. Then one day they felt compelled to come in. Something called them to come in. I suppose if there weren’t specially designated buildings you’d be called to go and check out something that would lead to other Christians…. hmmm…. And churches are lovely places to just drop into when you feel the need for some peace and quiet etc even if you are not a believer – I know of plenty of people who like to do that though not believers – the shame is now most churches have to be locked…. I dunno! Maybe a little chapelly room at a library complex or something, so everybody would know it was there.

        Like

      4. Lots to think about there, dt. I do think you’re right about having some ‘sacred space’. Lots of churches are of course full on Sunday mornings so I don’t think it’s a case of them all closing down, but I do think we’re going to have to think differently and more flexibly about everything and I personally am of the opinion that we should be disestablished, and just be a church alongside all the other denominations, instead of having ‘special status.’

        Like

      5. Ah so you are talking specifically about C of E? Sorry I’m ignorant about all this sort of thing…

        I do think churches should be left as sacred spaces even if services are not held there. Even if they have one end used for something else – a cafe or a library or a gallery or something that brings people together, and the end with the altar place should remain as a Holy place where people can sit and be peaceful and maybe is separated from the other action at the other end.

        I think symbolically it is important to treat consecrated ground as Holy. That is important I think.

        I had a lovely vision in a church which no longer has regular services – will mail it to you.

        Like

      6. yup, I am talking about the good ole C of E.

        Looking forward to that vision! Thanks, dt.

        Like

  2. Perennial Problem…..The wrong questions are almost always asked by the Institutionalised Church – in matters temperol as well as spiritual….Church Buildings sre no exception ;)x

    Like

    1. ah! what would you consider the ‘right’ questions??

      Like

      1. Not for me to be drawn into that field…NOW! Often enough raised questions which were either conveniently ‘listened’ to….or crudely dismissed; let alone abstrusely answered or plain ‘stupidly answered’….even by bishops….Enough of that… Perhaps one might be allowed to look on ‘smilingly’ these days…;)

        Like

      2. pity … I was expecting to learn something 😉 Sounds as if the encounters were not exactly satisfactory.

        Some attitudes should not be tolerated … ???

        Like

      3. That’s the problem with an archaic monolith…;)

        Like

      4. depends if you are the woodlouse under the monolith :))

        Like

      5. Have been the ‘woodlouse’ for as long as I can remember….Haven’t succumbed to ALL the extermination methods employed…..There have been MANY! 😉

        Like

      6. I was thinking more of myself … but your experience sounds bad. I would like to ask more but respect your request for a rest :zz:

        Like

      7. 😉 Enjoying my peace now….People can get very nasty….remember the old adage…”See how these ‘folk’ love another…”? Nothing worse than mitred deceit…;)x

        Like

      8. very unpleasant, appalling and deeply disappointing. Have met one or two of that ilk. 😦 Not universal, however – our bishops here are down to earth, sensible, supportive and inspirational – as they should be!

        Like

      9. To be fair…MOST are fine people….However…:roll:;)x

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close