Lincoln Drill Hall

Lincoln Drill Hall
Lincoln Drill Hall

Friday, 30 March 2018

England's churches

Simon Jenkins rightly argues for our church buildings to be used for the broader benefit of local communities. The buildings could continue to to have part set aside for worship. However, he also suggests that they should come into public ownership, possibly paid for by local taxation.
I ask him to pause for thought.

I spent some twenty years working for the church, or do I mean Church, in one way or another. I got to know its organisation at local, diocesan and national levels. I met very many people who were striving to keep the Church, or do I mean church, going?

I found, over the years, many instances where church buildings were being used by local communities for concerts and plays. I found some in use as meeting places. I know of one certainly in use as the village post office.

Medieval churches are now generally sound buildings, but not always warm or dry. Adaption is often needed and that costs money. I say that the structures are generally sound and that is true for now because of the efforts made by congregations and dioceses aided by English Heritage and Lottery funding amongst others. It is only true for now, since maintenance has to be on going.
There is thus a significant cost attached to open and indeed closed churches, as Jenkins recognises.
A key question is how to pay.

In villages, my experience is that voluntary groups of Friends are very successful in attracting financial support from villagers who never go near the church for worship; it is their church. To interfere with this, by imposing local authority ownership or control, would I am sure be a strong disincentive. People like to give, but are not so keen on being taxed. Just witness the outcry caused by chancel repair liabilities.

The model that I have found works well in many size and type of community, but not everywhere.
Simon Jenkins is right to re-ignite this debate. At the very least we need to consider having an imperative placed on Dioceses to enable community use of church buildings.


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