In defence of England’s ’empty churches’

Mar 5, 2021 by

by Jonathan Glancey, UnHerd:

What is the point of churches, especially English churches? Few people use them, especially in recent lockdown months when online services have replaced physical celebrants, choirs and communicants. Expensive to heat and maintain, most — at least according to the Reverend David Keighley, a retired Church of England priest — are, at best, “museums gathering dust”, at worst “a waste of space”. The Church can perform its ministry without physical walls.

Who, though, will rid the CoE of these peaceful places? Reverend Keighley hopes Justin Welby will. In plans for their future submitted to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the self-professed “Progressive Christian” poet and therapist, cites that by his own research 75% of places of worship — that’s 12,000 of them — are attended regularly by fewer than thirty people. Their sale, he says, could raise millions “for the poorest in the UK.”

Aside, though, from the fact that redundant churches can find new uses whether as homes, concert halls or museums, there is another reason why Reverend Keighley and likeminded progressive “church-without-walls” clergy are wrong.

England’s parish churches, built over some 1,500 years, are prayers in themselves, testament in brick and stone to religious faith, a collective work of imagination, skill and sensitivity to place. Whether in cramped city streets or wide-open countryside, they offer refuge and solace. Even if apparently empty, they contain multitudes. Here are traces and echoes of hundreds of years of hands and feet and voices, of artists, craftsmen, children, of nesting birds and wildflowers. Here are memories of christenings, weddings and funerals. And memories, too, of those who have died in war.

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