1. Our village church runs a wide variety of local events supported by residents who are not churchgoers. . .
MY RECENT column that encouraged a local-ownership approach to sustaining our many at-risk village churches (1 April) has resulted in more communication than any other column I have written. The two responses above are representative of many more.
What is clear is that all those tiny villages of fewer than 500 people that now share an incumbent, are feeling the pressure. Sometimes, people in the village in which the incumbent lives feel that they “own” him or her, and therefore feel less threatened, but that is not always the case.
On the whole, over more than a couple of decades, a handful of lay people — the incumbent is now in the background — with little or no experience, and certainly little expectation, find themselves struggling with building issues and increasing quotas. (Not that many clerics were trained for the care of buildings, but at least they had some expectation that the buck stopped with them.)
Many villages have lost their shop, post office, garage, hairdresser, and school. Often, only the church, until recently supported by the incumbent, who was paid by the Church Commissioners, remains.
Village life cannot go back to the way it was. For all essentials of daily life, residents have to leave the village: work, education, shopping, leisure. It is not just that newcomers do not get stuck into village life: there is less to get stuck into. Churches may not be able to regenerate whole villages as supportive communities, but it is time to do what we can.
Often, for village churches, the difference between bankruptcy and financial survival is tiny. These are churches with annual budgets of as little as £10-11,000. An increase of a few hundred pounds could make a great deal of difference. A few events, held in the summer so that there is no heating cost could provide this, and those events do not have to be run only by churchgoers.
All village churches can benefit from grant schemes for repairs. Trusts and trustees will see immediately from descriptive material that their help is crucial to the church. Similarly, when a church that is small, physically or financially, wants to add modest facilities such as a lavatory and/or a servery, there is a great deal of support for what it is trying to achieve.
Incidentally, ambitious or expensive schemes for facilities are gaining much less interest as trusts come to realise that the really big former contributors to such schemes have left the arena.
Many of our dioceses have multitudes of village churches, even in city areas such as London, and a different approach is needed to that of their urban cousins. It is not a matter of an adviser’s exhorting or encouraging: often the village church is too small to have the skills in the first place.
If there is too much perceived pressure, then village churches will close in greater numbers, and the dioceses will not benefit. There will be even less money for the central pastoral care and administration. It is time for new approaches.