“Champing” or “church camping” is being billed as “a new use for beautiful ancient churches” by the Churches Conservation Trust – but the idea of a room with a pew has caused a holy row.
One church offering visitors the chance to stay overnight is Old St Stephen’s Church in Fylingdales, near Robin Hood’s Bay, making a number of villagers rather cross.
Jim Granger, who lives nearby, said that he finds the scheme “offensive in the extreme”, while Vicar of the parish of Fylingdales, Simon Smales, posted on a Facebook discussion: “I agree at the lack of respect for a holy place that still is a consecrated church. However, Churches Conservation Trust have ownership of the building now so sadly I don’t have any influence.”
Sharon Cass added: “This is ridiculous. Let the retired church be retired but loved.”
Rebecca Mansoor, who lives in Raw, spent around six months going through official channels, including the Archbishop of York and Canterbury, to obtain permission to be married in the church.
She said that despite the building no longer being used by parishioners “the church does matter to a lot of people. Their ancestors are buried there and we got married
She added that while many local people recognise the need to raise funds for the upkeep of the building, its suitability for this use is at the heart of many concerns.
A post on social media also showed one “champer” cycling in the church, which prompted a backlash.
One read: “No respect” while another said: “What a brilliant idea much like champing, ridiculous!”
On the booking website www.champing.co.uk, Old St Stephen’s is described as a “salty sea dog of a church”. It adds: “And being so close to Whitby, fish & chips are almost compulsory in this part of the world, along with mooching goths.”
A spokesman for the service said that there is a need to find new uses for old churches and that “champing” has proved “hugely popular”, with more than 1,000 people using the service around the country to date.
They added: “It’s a way of celebrating these buildings and getting new people into them.”
A meeting was held on Monday between locals and representatives from the Churches Conservation Trust, with another planned for late May or early June.
They said they are listening to what locals have to say and added: “We feel feel quite excited about it and we hope to get the community on board.”
Old St Stephen’s Church would have formerly served a large congregation before St Stephen’s Church was built in 1870.
The interior has not been altered since it was built in 1822 and it features a three-decker pulpit, box pews and four mid-19th century Maidens’ Garlands.
Outside, inscriptions on the gravestones tell of the lives and deaths of master mariners, farmers and local families over the last 200 years.