02 November 2006

Rosemary Watts, who died on 26 May, aged 58, was the foremost expert on church tourism in England, and its most eloquent exponent. A regular correspondent in the Church Times, in the last eight years of her life she carved out a singular reputation as a champion of open churches.

While living at Hethersett in Norfolk, she seized the opportunity to promote church-visiting with vision and energy, and set up Norfolk Church Tours. In 1998, with Ely diocese, she created a number of trails as Church Trails Officer, and launched them with the help of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Prince Charles.

In 1999, she moved to Lincoln diocese as Church Tourism Officer, developing the Treasures of Lincolnshire open-churches project, and launching the Divine Tranquillity holidays. In 2002, she invented the Cascade Project, creating a comprehensive scheme to bring visitors to churches both small and large in Lincolnshire.

At the same time, she was also Secretary to the National Churches Tourism Group, and helped to navigate its transformation into the Church Tourism Association. As its press officer, she was vigilant for opportunities to support and promote church tourism in the UK and the United States.

Rosemary continued the association with Lord Lloyd Webber, actively supporting the work of the Open Churches Trust in its road-shows across the UK.

Born Rosemary Jane Kynch, she began her religious life as a Methodist, but spent the greater part as an Anglican, eventually becoming a Reader, then returning to Methodism as a lay preacher on the plan in the last year of her life. She studied mathematics at Birmingham University, and later took a part-time theology degree.

Her strong spiritual yearnings led her to both a charismatic and sacramental religious life, active in every church of which she was a member, offering, too, her musical abilities as an accomplished organist. Rosemary married Peter Watts, and they had three children. Yet Rosemary was also acquainted with the dark ways of the spirit, something she wrestled with all her life.

Rosemary understood well the part that our churches can play in our national life, in a spiritual awakening, as a source of understanding our history, and as a means of social and economic regeneration. Yet for her it was not the dry story of old stones: it was the inspirational truth that church buildings are our greatest resource for mission, the sharing of the truths of the gospel with the world.

She would tell, with some humour, of an encounter with a churchwarden, to whom she was trying to communicate the vision, on the matter of key notices, when the churchwarden said in genuine horror: "But we'd have to give the key to people we don't know." She would go on to say, "But that is exactly the commission every Christian has been given: to 'go into all the world'."

Rosemary's great legacy is her theological grasp of why we should open our churches to the visitor. Nothing would galvanise her more to action than hearing the church spoken of as "my church" or to see a sign proclaiming "Welcome to our church." Her deep theological understanding interplayed with her marketing know-how, and she was as affirming of the humble chapel seeking to witness to the gospel as she was of the numinous ancient churches like Boston Stump and Stow Minster.

Those of us who knew her personally have been blessed by the way she both fought and faced up to cancer. Her profound faith in the God whose gift of eternal life necessarily involves suffering and death was the rock on which she lived and died.

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