Feature: Will rural churches be closed?

Some places of worship are now homes. Will our churches be next?
Some places of worship are now homes. Will our churches be next?

Now that I am doing Sunday Locums for (some) moorland parishes I am trying to absorb their strengths and weaknesses. It’s very different from the urban scene!

One group of village churches’ vicar’s report for 2014-15 admits that “the regular congregation has continued to decrease and church officers are under strain because too few people are there to do the work”.

The fight to keep post offices open.

The fight to keep post offices open.

The report admits many fears “concerning our long term future”.

Like all churches “we have very few children attending regularly” although special services still attract them.

A nearby church report says: “the lack of people coming to church is a worry and the average age is over 70”.

They credit “our vicar who takes a beautiful service” as well as much more. The vicar gets high praise, indeed.

These frank statements are true in much of the Church of England and other denominations. The church where I first started, outside Wigan, regularly had congregations in the hundreds in my four years there (as curate).

On my return to preach a few years ago there were approximately three dozen in the congregation. In Loftus, where I served for 16 years, two once dominant non-conformist churches are shuttered and closed. Age took away my evening congregation.

The reasons are many, not least the secularisation of a once staunchly Christian country. And it has been a decline from around the end of the second World war.

The Churches have been said to have lost 50.000 children a year during post war years from its Sunday schools. In many areas of the country there are attempts at linking the Church to non-attenders by inviting children, parents and friends to a monthly shindig where songs and stories and drawing and simple prayers and a tea are the format.

Very little of usual Sunday church is in these occasions which meet under the banner of “Messy Church” or “Tea time Church”.

But where is it all leading? Apparently, the Diocese of Norwich is looking at ‘Festival Churches’ which would open primarily for weddings, funerals and special events. But no kind angel is going to maintain the building.

Deterioration and renovation doesn’t come cheap!

It has been estimated that about 250,000 rural dwellers could be maintaining 10,000 churches!

Of course, there would be ructions if it was suggested a village church be closed – though there is a steady rate of church closures in progress while the rest of us go about our daily lives.

I cannot help thinking that, just as every village, small town and rural community just had to have a Post Office, pub, butchers, etc so they had to have a church.

Often provided with money from the wealthy. The pubs have shrunk in number. So have POs and village shops in many villages.

There is upset and protest at such closures as these are converted to homes. As are redundant churches. But would the protests be turned into commitment? I doubt it. Faith and commitment cannot like a dentist’s needle bring numbness to a gum.

A book I read on the future of the CofE said lots of churches will have to go.

Worshippers will have to do what was the norm, centuries ago, and travel to a smaller number of churches in key centres of population. But, Anglicans have a loving attachment to a church building which dulls the impetus towards joining another church even a few miles away. What makes sense to those who plan closures doesn’t make sense to a congregation who bust many a gut to keep their beloved church open. Village life without the village church would be awful, but it’s heading that way,sadly.