Thursday, 26 March 2015

Knocking the Roofs Off Village Churches

I have kind of stolen this off somebody on Facebook. So credit to whoever it was.  (Whoever it was - I'll credit you on Facebook).

It was to do with village churches, where the congregation may no longer be able to support a regular church life anymore. And yet the pressure, on congregation and minister (normally, but not always, Anglican) is to keep the roof on. And the church members spend their energy, and their money, on keeping the roof on - against time, weather and lead thieves.

And if you're a passing believer, or even just a passing person who likes churches, you know how it is. You've driven or cycled across the countryside, and you see there's a worshipping community in a village, and you go to the church and find out what sort of worshipping community is. And it's a community that meets at 4.15 on the fourth Sunday of the month, between Candlemass and Harvest, and the Sunday next before Christmas. And spends a lot of the rest of their time raising money to keep the roof on.

Well, why keep the roof on? Who actually needs the roof on? If the community wants the building, but never worships there, then literally let them have the "wayside shrine" that is really what they want. Knock the roof down (and sell off the lead, obviously). Send someone round every five years, to check the walls are still safe. And, if they're not, knock those down as well. Otherwise, let the weather smooth the edges off and tumble the stones down

St Brian's, Chipping Norton, was much more picturesque after they let it fall down

People like to wander round desolate churches. There's a sense of plangent melancholy and times past that you can't get from a living building of worship. Grief, you could even have a tea light dispenser, with the funds going to the nearest viable church.

In many ways, a church with no roof is, to modern sensibilities, the equivalent of the Rollright Stones, Stanton Drew or Stonehenge - a picturesque symbol of former lives, which once held unimaginable rituals. Those who just like having the reminder can enjoy the outline of the church building - and you can still hold Harvest Festival or Christmas services in the ruins. Let's face it, the nearness to Nature might even enhance the experience.

And the local Christians can spend their time and money on a living expression of worship, in the size of community that will support a community of faith. Everyone's a winner.


  1. AMEN! So glad someone else thinks like this too. Why do people think it is the church's responsibility to upkeep crumbling buildings that no longer meet the needs of the body of Christ-if they are that bothered get English Heritage to sort it out! 'nough said!

  2. I think that this is suitable for the many rural benefices, which have churches only used occasionally. The alternative is off course to decommission the building for secular use and hand them over to the local community to do what they will with. Off course, where there is a graveyard, that can be a bit complicated. But given that London churches have turned closed grave yards into public parks, by placing the gravestones around the borders and leveling the ground, I can't see why that can't be applied to rural, redundant burial grounds.

    Once in secular hands, a covenant can be put in place to prevent their use in ways that would be offensive to their original purpose, but given the rural housing shortage for local people (all of the incomers buying up property for long commutes to work or as holiday homes) perhaps converting them to social housing, restricted to people born and raised in that place would be an appropriate use.

    I like the way that some Methodist chapels have been changed to other uses such as village halls, but with a covenant that they can be used once or twice a year for divine service. That really works well in Rural Kent and I don't see why this methodology couldn't be extended to redundant Anglican Churches. What a great space for a local indoor market, local groups, even creches or kinder gartens. The list is endless.

  3. Yup, that's my church, a congregation in single figures, a parish share of £9,000 (why?) and £110,000 to raise to replace the stolen lead- Oh and £3,000 insurance premium to pay- not that they paid out much towards the stolen lead.
    It could be warmer in winter without the roof but it's not an option as we are grade 1 listed. It would be good to find alternate uses but there's those box pews.
    Statistically when churches close the congregation doesn't worship elsewhere.
    So we've a lovely, community minded congregation wanting to serve God but forced into preserving the church fabric.


Drop a thoughtful pebble in the comments bowl