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Village churches and their future custodianship

by
20 November 2015

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From Canon Bob Baker

Sir, — The Revd Jean Mayland (Letters, 6 November) appears to have retired to cloud-cuckoo-land. Her vision of all our village churches open all year round is certainly appealing, but completely unrealistic.

In Norfolk, where we have the highest concentration of medieval buildings in the country, we have hundreds of these churches. Many are in isolated places with no potential alternative or additional use. Transferring their ownership to another body, one of the ideas included in the new church-buildings report, may help pay the insurance, but will not get the grass cut or the bat droppings swept up. And the “other bodies” are unlikely to have the resources to take on more than a handful.

The message that these churches give is that God left some time in the last century. He may turn up on the third Sunday of the month, when he will expect anyone who calls in to sit in the cold on a hard seat and sing Victorian classics with three other people.

In spite of the valiant efforts of committed churchwardens and other faithful people to keep these churches going, our electoral rolls have declined by some 50 per cent over the past 20 years or so. It’s not hard to work out how long we’ve got. And, if Norwich is the diocese most seriously affected, others will not be far behind: Exeter, Hereford, Lincoln, Truro. . .

Meanwhile, across the country there are churches that have been forced to abandon their buildings for safety reasons and have moved into the village hall or school or even (heaven forbid!) joined a neighbouring parish, and have found the experience liberating.

I hope that the new Synod will reject this report, although that seems unlikely, since it is hard to take issue with any of its recommendations: they simply don’t go far enough. What is needed is a far more radical and confident strategy of pruning for growth.

For years, the room has been getting smaller and the elephant larger; now that its existence has been acknowledged, let’s not pretend it isn’t growing and life-threatening.

BOB BAKER
6 Redcastle Road
Thetford
Norfolk IP24 3NF

 

From Mr Anthony Jennings

Sir, — Andrew Brown (Press, 30 October) says Simon Jenkins is wrong to imply that the cities of Norwich and York own their churches, but is equally wrong in stating they are owned by the dioceses. Churches have been held in trust by incumbents and their churchwardens from time immemorial. And it is the hard-working and unpaid local people in the parishes who have done such a wonderful job over the years in repairing and maintaining them, and funding those repairs, not the dioceses.

ANTHONY JENNINGS
Director, Save Our Parsonages
Flat Z, 12-18 Bloomsbury Street
London WC1B 3QA

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