Blanche Parry

Let's Make the Most of Our Wealth of Churches

Love your Church – Make it known – Encourage People to Visit

Our Diocese has a wealth of Churches, solidly built, beautiful and many with fascinating histories. Their locations are interesting. Is a Church on a hill to be seen, or in a valley to serve those crossing a river? Are old Churches on even older sites that once had wooden Churches? Are any within even older sacred places such as prehistoric enclosures? Are any on the remains of monastic buildings, or did a medieval local lord–of–the–manor build a stone family mausoleum for prestige? Was such a lord pious, helping his tenants, or simply trying to gather as much credit as he could as a religious insurance policy against death? Is a Church, or a Chapel, now isolated, or does it stand within the settlement it was intended to serve? Has the building been altered? Does it have any interesting features, like stained glass, sculptures, carvings, unusual pews, a churchyard cross (with or without a niche for the medieval Easter host), lychgates, inscriptions, interesting tombstones.....

No two Churches are exactly the same. Most have particular points of interest. They speak of people – those who laboured to build them and those who, in each generation, thought of them as theirs. They are not a liability but a marvellous resource for our Diocese. People love to visit them. For local people, and visitors on holiday, they provide free places to visit in sunshine and rain. This is not new. Medieval Churches, often the only stone structures in the area, were well used for Services, business and entertainment. The popular Corpus Christi plays started as dramatised stories of Easter, and later Christmas, using Rood Screen platforms as stages. Returning Churches to being multi–use is only returning them to their original purposes.

There are grants available for Church conversions to install toilets, a kitchen, perhaps a café, and to change the nave area into a heated hall for community groups. Some Churches would also need museum space as well. The chancel needs to look cared–for and pleasant. However, all Churches can be rendered visitor–friendly with very little expense. Let me pose some ideas for you to think about...

Take a long look at the interior of your Church. Do you need all those pews? Are they perhaps too close together for modern comfort? Are they of any particular note? Could some pews be removed? To make your Church welcoming, space is needed. Visitors need to enter a Church and see an attractive table spread with interesting, and well arranged, literature. This could include a short, and colourful, history explaining notable features, as well as routes advertising neighbouring, or related, Churches. Popular Prayer Cards and other relevant, inexpensive, merchandise could be displayed. Stands could be used. Payments can be directed to secure wall boxes. Some Churches already provide teas, coffee and cake on stated summer days. To make room for such initiatives why not sell some pews to local parishioners? Keep enough pews for the regular congregation and invest in cushioned chairs for those special occasions. What about placing flowers, magazines, or books in this communal area too?

If your Church can be welcoming, people will visit. Many will donate or buy something. The money raised can help augment the Church funds. Also, and crucially, people will have entered the Church. It becomes a place they know, that they are familiar with, and feel at ease in, and so, many will return perhaps to find peace and when they need spiritual solace. Isn't this what a Church is for?

©Ruth E. Richardson 2015

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