Comments: Opinion - 15 October 2016

I have occasionally found the views of Sir Simon Jenkins tiresome. I feel that he often strikes a contrarian pose simply for its own sake, or perhaps from a mildly adolescent urge to shock the conventional wisdom (of which he is not altogether unaware he is generally conspicuously a part). Sometimes this approach works; at other times - as with his somewhat Marie Antoinettish (and inaccurate) belief that housing has always been extremely expensive and must therefore remain so - it comes across as being simply crass.

In this case he has fallen into the second category. I find it disquieting that he should hold these views when he is a trustee of the CCT (and I had some misgivings about his appointment). There might be two reasons for his cleaving to these views: (i) his Congregationalist background, transplanted at an early age by his father (a most distinguished minister and theologian, from Dowlais) to the impregnably conventional and Anglican surroundings of suburban Oxted; and (ii) the considerable, if acerbic, influence of Alec Clifton-Taylor - a distinguished critic, but without any belief, who valued parish churches solely as 'works of art' and for their place in the landscape. I suspect that Jenkins' views have therefore been informed both by epater les bourgeois urges, and Clifton-Taylor's rather reductionist and one-dimensional attitude to our ecclesiastical heritage.

That said, I do think that the way forward is to vest many buildings in public/private trusts. Look at what has been done recently at Besselsleigh (Berkshire, now Oxfordshire), or - with CCT assistance - at Benington (Lincolnshire/Holland) or - in a slightly different way - at Water Newton (Huntingdonshire). There are also places where churches have been adapted effectively for general or multi-purpose community use, either without being made redundant: see, for instance, Chislet (Kent), Colnbrook (Buckinghamshire), Hexton (Hertfordshire), Kneesall (Nottinghamshire), Mansell Gamage (Herefordshire), old Plumpton (East Sussex), Sibton (Suffolk), Stadhampton (Oxfordshire), etc., or where they have been made redundant and occasional worship does take place (such as at Papworth St Agnes in Cambridgeshire).

The important thing is to encourage community use, so as to bring people within the orbit of the institution (and thus generate a fund of goodwill); but the importance of continuing worship must not be discounted - as that is the living tradition and, after all, it is the reason why the buildings are there in the first place.

Posted by Froghole at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 12:16pm BST

Lots on "Management" and the C of E plc but still nothing yet on the pastoral disaster currently being played out at York Minster!

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 12:32pm BST

How can the Church Times run an article on the demographic of vocations and keep a straight face while ignoring disability, sexual orientation and gender identity? And age-related funding is simply abhorrent but gets surprisingly little criticism.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 6:00pm BST

I appreciate Sarah Thorpe's writing on a dementia friendly church. My mother (RIP) suffered with it for 7 years, that were dysfunctional. For awhile, hymns were just great. Eventually though, she couldn't engage in much of anything and with that came the social isolation that Thorpe describes.

Ministering to those with dementia and their care givers is great.

Posted by Cynthia at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 7:26pm BST

Make no mistake - we can encounter Jesus in the local library or supermarket equally as much as in the local church. Out worship has many facets. I love historic buildings for their beauty, their history and their relevance to the present day. And, I'm sure, there are many people who spend time in the supermarket on Sunday mornings who agree with me. What's more important, though, the people or the building?

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 9:51pm BST

In answer to your question, the priority is building over clergy. One only has to read the OT to appreciate the significance of a building dedicated to the Lord. Indeed, if we have given a building to the Lord for His uses can we take it back?

For me a church is a spiritual battery. Between and after services it continues to praise the Lord, pray to Jesus and glory in the Spirit. That's true in even a festival church. I can feel it happening. For me it is very real.

Surprisingly, Google turns up very little about the spiritual effect of consecration of a building. The Orthodox tradition seems to understand at least the importance of consecration but the Anglican tradition is always weak when it comes to appreciating mysticism.

But even if one doesn't accept mysticism think of it like this...

Simon loved Anna. He bought a ring and gave it to her to signify his undying love. A few years later, he needed money to spend on something else, so he took back the ring from Anna. Anna was very sad: she wondered if Simon still loved her.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 16 October 2016 at 7:49am BST

I think Simon Jenkins' article is quite insightful (apart from his desire to see the local churches 'secularised' and handed over to ownership outside the Church).

I've long felt that, as sublime ancient monuments and heritage, the state should finance the maintenance of the fabric of church buildings. We do that for castles, so why not churches too?

Where I agree with Simon Jenkins, is in his case for church-community alliances, opening up largely vacant churches to socially-beneficial community use: offering location for day nurseries, health provision, local societies, and social entrepreneurship. (Admittedly, for all these, heating would be a huge problem.)

The last thing I would want is to see our churches sold for redevelopment to the rich, to the 1 or 5 or 10%.

Fundamentally, churches matter as places of faith and not merely secular space. I agree with Kate about the importance of place. There is often presence, and the popular modern term 'thinness', or the numinous, about places of worship that have existed for centuries. You can feel it in certain places.

As a supporter of 'establishment' and the concept of a national church, I would also argue that the astonishing heritage of thousands of churches across the land, is a witness to something more than ephemeral, or the latest sermon. It witness to the otherness and eternal nature of God... to the continuity through tides, seasons and years... to a sense of presence beyond the simply human.

The huge network of church buildings witness to religion and spirituality, even in an age where secular humanism (which I grant has powerful values) seems ascendant. You might argue that empty churches create a bad witness. I'm not so sure. I believe the churches themselves are witness of a faith that endures beyond passing fashion or the ravages of time, and conflict, and change.

'Come let us worship' they seem to resonate. And yes, I'd love to see them usefully used by community, but only on the basis that they are fundamentally places of devotion, of worship, and a continuity of witness over the centuries, even at times when "in those days the word of the Lord was rare".

Posted by Susannah Clark at Sunday, 16 October 2016 at 2:17pm BST

Church Times "But the report was not an all-out criticism of current relationships between the clergy and laity, which were largely healthy, one member of the Task Group, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, said on Tuesday: rather, it was an opportunity to foster a “culture of change” in the way that the laity were perceived"

Interesting that it is a clergy person in the form of Philip North who gets to say that relationships between clergy and laity [are] largely healthy. Not in my experience. How about a lay person offering their perspective? As a lay woman I am totally committed to collaborative working; most clergy I know are maverick individualists who won't even work with each other, let alone that class of people known as the laity. We have to work together to promote the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Together we can do it, on our own we can't. We must name and break down the caste system which exists in the church.

To go back to Philip North. Yes, we do need to foster a "culture of change" in the way that lay people are perceived. Perceived by whom? Clergy? Hurray, I say. Some recognition that clergy are myopic in their perception of lay people would be good. We must work TOGETHER. Clergy please take note. I do of course appreciate that there are some lay people who buy into the culture of dependancy. So we all need educating and releasing to live to our full potential.

Posted by Anne at Sunday, 16 October 2016 at 4:43pm BST

Thanks, Kate, for your reply. I am guessing that the words of Acts 17:24-29 are not as relevant to you as the temples of the OT. I can well understand the attachment to a place of worship. However, the God we are worshipping hangs out in the unlikeliest of places. And it's worth going there.

Posted by Pam at Sunday, 16 October 2016 at 9:50pm BST

'What's more important, though, the people or the building?'

In New Testament terms, the people every time. And everything essential to being the church is doable in a living room.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Sunday, 16 October 2016 at 10:18pm BST

The Church of England is talking out of both sides of its mouth.

On the one hand we have a report that's going to say that clergy need to treat laity better.

On the other hand we have the shining example of The Very Rev. Vivienne Faull, Dean of York Minster, who in an excess of management zeal has just axed the Minster's 30 bell ringers.

Watch what i say, not what I do?

Posted by Jeremy at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 2:17am BST

"Thanks, Kate, for your reply. I am guessing that the words of Acts 17:24-29 are not as relevant to you as the temples of the OT. I can well understand the attachment to a place of worship. However, the God we are worshipping hangs out in the unlikeliest of places. And it's worth going there."

He does. And even in the OT a portable altar sufficed - and I agree even that isn't necessary.

That for me though is separate to the situation where a building has been set aside by dedication or consecration. Once that has happened, I don't believe it should be undone, or at least not unless it is entirely unavoidable.

And, let's not forget that some of the parishes which are struggling to maintain their buildings have been put in that position by the Church Commissioners nationalising historic endowments eg speaking of All Saints' Broughton

"With its financial foundations destroyed in the early 20th century, it now shares many of the same difficulties as the farming industry of which it is part: we know that it will survive into the next century, but just exactly how is not clear."

So far as I can tell it is now quite difficult to endow a church without risking the central church bodies acquiring the funds. Parishes have lost parsonages/rectories, lands and endowments. Small wonder people are now reluctant to step in with fresh endowments when there's little trust that the intention to endow worship in a particular parish would survive.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 10:24am BST

"the state should finance the maintenance of the fabric of church buildings. We do that for castles"

Actually, we don't. Most English castles that are still standing are in the care of English Heritage, who are now self-financing from membership and commercial activities. It remains to be seen how this plays out long-term (they inherited a large maintenance deficit which the government have paid) but the days of the national collection being maintained on the books of the Ministry of Works are unlikely to return. The balance are in the hands of the National Trust and of some private owners and small trusts, not the state.

Posted by Interested Observer at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 10:42am BST

Interested Observer is right and even then most castles maintained by English Heritage are ruinous or part ruinous and have few practical uses other than tourism. In contrast castles like Hever, Lancaster, Arundel, Windsor, Warwick etc which are largely intact remain in private hands or are self-financing. Indeed the reason Buckingham Palace started opening to the public was to pay for the restoration of Windsor Castle after the fire.

The better comparison is with country houses. There's a Wikipedia on the wholesale destruction of English country houses during the 20th century - it's a tragic loss of our cultural heritage. In fact communities of ordinary lay volunteers have done much better at preserving their churches than landed families have their houses and we ought to celebrate quite how much has been achieved to save historic churches.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 12:30pm BST

"He that cares not though the material church fall, I am afraid is falling from the spiritual. . . .He that undervalues outward things in the service of God, though he begin at ceremonial and ritual things, will come quickly to call Sacraments but outward things, and hold Sermons and Public Prayer but outward things in contempt. Beloved, outward things apparel God, and since God was content to take a body, let us not leave him naked and ragged." (John Donne, Sermon CXVII, Christmas Day, 1621)

Posted by Steve Lusk at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 3:45pm BST

"There's a Wikipedia on the wholesale destruction of English country houses during the 20th century"

There's also probably a PhD in the reasons behind it. Various interests would point variously to universal suffrage, death duties, the the 1937 National Trust Act, the rises in real wages after 1918, the rises in real wages after 1945, the 1944 Education Act, the 1945 Labour government, the ending of overt sex discrimination in access to higher education, the motor car, the end of National Service, reports by Beveridge, Robbins Plowden and uncle Tom Cobley and all, and any number of other societal and economic issues of the period 1905--1970. You could probably get DH Lawrence, Philip Larkin and the Beatles in there, if you tried, along with Indian independence. Roughly the same causative agents might be blamed for the problems of the church of England: basically, people no longer "knowing their place", the end of deference and the wider availability of education.

It wasn't that anyone said "I know, let's pull down that country house, that'll be fun" it was that (higher) taxes had to be paid, staff willing to work fewer hours had to be paid higher wages to compete with other employers, younger sons could no longer be packed off to make their fortunes in the colonies, 13 year olds needed to be in school and the houses of parliament no longer assumed that what was good for the rich was good for everyone. None of these are bad things, right?

Posted by Interested Observer at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 5:54pm BST

I like the John Donne quote and have a book of his sermons and writings, which I haven't read for some time. I persist (if that is the correct word) in attending public worship, even though I do not regard myself as a 'churchy' person. The core of my relationship with God does not depend on ceremony but on honest, and continual, prayer. Wherever that occurs.

Posted by Pam at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 9:26pm BST

The remarks of Interested Observer and Kate (both, as always, acute) about English Heritage/Historic England remind me of the fulminations of the late Sheppard Frere (the archaeologist S. S. Frere) in an essay 'Roman Britain since Haverfield and Richmond' (History and Archaeology Review, 1988, v. 3, pp. 31-36):

"it was one of the great and unforgivable political misjudgements of Michael Heseltine [formerly secretary of state for the environment] to abdicate the State's responsibility for Ancient Monuments [from the old Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, a quango within the DOE, in 1983]...the passage of responsibility has been a catastrophic disaster...even the responsibility to preserve national monuments is being shirked, with scheduled sites being destroyed year by year without action or excavation. The organization - if that is an apt description - is disintegrating in a welter of incompetent administration... This is no way to run a State archaeological Service." (cited by R. J. A. Wilson, Proceedings of the British Academy: Biographical Memoirs of Fellows, 2016, p. 267)

I have encountered several erstwhile administrators from the RCHM/EH/HE who have recounted, with sorrow and anger, the rakes' progress of that body over the last generation.

However, to get back on topic, anyone who thinks that an increasingly straitened state will be willing to continue supporting the upkeep of expensive Christian buildings in years to come (or even that a French solution is remotely plausible in the current political and cultural climate), is perhaps deluded. This means that the future of many ancient churches is bleak indeed. My experience indicates that we are much closer to the end in many places than even the most hardened pessimists imagine (in a few of the services I attended in Suffolk last Sunday I constituted a significant addition to the congregation). I hope I am wrong, however.

Posted by Froghole at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 10:25pm BST

@ Interested Observer. Many thanks for your latest comments. This site is fairly comprehensive:

The main works on this topic are currently:

David Littlejohn, ‘The Fate of the English Country House’ (1997)

Peter Mandler, ‘The Fall and Rise of the Stately Home’ (1995); Mandler is currently president of the Royal Historical Society

Michael Sawyer, ‘The Disintegration of a Heritage: Country Houses and their Collections, 1979-1992’ (1993)

Sir Roy Strong, Marcus Binney and John Harris, ‘The Destruction of the Country House’ (1974)

The last book was based on a famous V&A exhibition held in 1974 which alerted the public to the dramatic and immense loss of heritage, especially in the period 1945-60.

Essentially the losses occurred ‘in a fit of absence of mind’. Of course heavy taxation played its part, but the high losses in the post-war era could not be excused by the persistence of agricultural depression. Many owners saw their houses as onerous liabilities and often of scant aesthetic value. Their chief concern would be the retention of their land (especially as agricultural production was generously underwritten by the state). Demolition, and the sale of the materials for salvage, would be one way of realising capital. There was also an overhang of the view that owners had a right to dispose of their property as they wished: would the destruction of Robert Adam’s Bowood by the marquess of Lansdowne, or of Alfred Waterhouse’s Eaton Hall by the duke of Westminster, etc. (owners who could probably have afforded the upkeep of their piles), have been tolerated after the mid-1970s? I doubt it.

Some of these attitudes – shockingly Philistine in retrospect – seem to have informed the demolition of many ancient churches before 1969 and some of the bow wave of redundancies that followed the Pastoral Measure 1968. However, many people were aghast at what was happening even at the time. Remember that it was shock at the destruction of St Peter the Less in Chichester in 1960 – an ecclesiastical counterpart to the demolition of the Euston Arch – that prompted Ivor Bulmer Thomas to establish what is now the Churches Conservation Trust (which was also a product of the 1968 Measure).

Posted by Froghole at Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at 11:15am BST

Interested Observer states optimistically, 'the houses of parliament no longer assumed that what was good for the rich was good for everyone.' !!! As if!!!

Posted by David Emmott at Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at 11:49am BST

It appears I was incorrect to use castles as an analogy for the state support I believe should be given for the maintenance of churches as buildings of historical importance.

And now it's triggered a conversation on country houses that I did not anticipate!

One way or another, our heritage really matters, but specifically referencing churches, I don't think it's desirable that they are secularised, even if (as Froghole suggests!) my call for state funding is 'delusional'!

The churches of our land are a deeply embedded witness, in themselves, of the continuity of faith. They are places that bear testimony to the Christian tradition in this country, and they resonate with something deeper than the ephemeral, the fashionable, and the banal.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at 2:57pm BST

Susannah - we agree! If we let churches go now, they are gone for ever; if we reduce the number of stipends, that affects this generation only. Seems an easy decision to me.

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at 4:22pm BST

Susannah: I am sorry to have strayed onto other topics. We already have a system where aid is provided on an ad-hoc basis, but often in an oblique manner (through the Lottery, for instance). Even this funding seems to provoke the ire of many secularists.

Mention has been made of France. The French system was a creature of the loi de separation, under which each commune took title to its parish church, and would then be responsible for its maintenance, the central government taking charge of a number of cathedrals and other prominent churches. Since the communes were (for the most part) the pre-revolutionary parishes under a different name, many have lacked the resources to maintain their churches to an adequate standard, or indeed at all (certain communes in some of the profoundly rural parts of France have fewer than ten residents). Some parts of the country - many of the northern departments, the Limousin, etc., and certain cities (Brest, Paris itself, etc.) - have strongly anti-clerical and humanist traditions, so the maintenance of church buildings is a very low priority. There are many parts of France where ancient church buildings are therefore in a wretched state. The main exception to this is Alsace-Lorraine where the Wilhemine church tax applies (a function of the retrocession of that region to France), despite the fact that parts of it were quite anti-clerical.

The likelihood that many councils in the UK would accept any liability for the maintenance of church buildings (especially where there are significant minorities/majorities from non-Christian backgrounds) seems relatively remote not least because, as is well known, local authorities are under dire financial pressure. What will come first: care home funding for the elderly infirm or a church roof? Similarly, central government will be especially alive to public opinion (which is unlikely to tolerate the support of any one denomination), declining real incomes and ballooning public liabilities. I note the recent pledges to make good EU funding in many fields, and to support the car industry – all from taxpayers’ money. Other industries are certain to get on that bandwagon. Even if the state were willing to provide support, it would be on the basis that the Church would be near the end of a lengthening queue.

Posted by Froghole at Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at 5:07pm BST

Continued: Since de facto disestablishment after 1830 the Church has been tolerated by much public opinion in part because it has not, commuted tithe aside, been a charge on the taxpayer. If the Church were to plead against that quid pro quo (especially in view of the substantial assets retained by the Commissioners) there is a risk that the current Church/state settlement might be disrupted.

That is why I feel state aid is implausible. However, I too am passionately opposed to closures and the privatization of the stock. Even where church buildings are converted to community centres, it is essential that the relevant schemes allow for some residuum of Christian witness (compare the recent schemes at, say, Ufton Nervet in Berkshire – where there is now no worship – with Yarpole in Herefordshire, where there is, or Great Birch in Essex where many in that community have lobbied for a 'church without walls' - i.e., that it is better for the roof to be removed so that the space is still public, rather than it be converted to residential use).

We will need to see what the group being led by Bernard Taylor has to recommend. The options seem pretty limited.

Posted by Froghole at Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at 5:10pm BST

Froghole: Thank you for the insight. You are incredibly knowledgeable. This is where Thinking Anglicans gets really helpful. Insights like yours (I have no idea what your field is) or Anthony Archer's on Church appointments.

My worry is that we live in a society, much of which seems dazzled by the media, and the latest sound-bites, but which also seems historically myopic, with historical perspective 'dumbed down' to the level of Horrible Histories and a few costume dramas on telly.

It just seems so obvious that our heritage (regardless of faith or denomination - the same should apply to stone circles, and aforementioned castles) ought to be protected and maintained by the State... not because the buildings are religious, but because they are historical and part of an irreplaceable heritage.

As Kate says, once they're gone, they're gone. In my view all these churches belong, not just to our own generation, but all generations past and generations to come.

As you've rightly identified, I am doubtless sounding idealistic rather than practical.

That's in part down to strength of feeling. I believe in supernatural presence and the numinous nature of God. And some of these places just... resonate. It's like a vibration of place and worship down the ages. Almost a deep mantra... holy, holy, holy. Or a still quietness, drawing one out of the busy daily cascade, into a deeper presence, and sense of place and eternity.

'Come let us worship' these buildings seem to say, and paradoxically we maybe need these buildings more in days when fewer people attend church, because they witness to continuity and something more than TV, adverts, X-factor, twitter, and holidays in homogenous resorts.

Like standing stones and circles, over countless seasons and the wheeling centuries, they stand and are a witness in themselves. Long after the communities that build them, they resonate. Same with Rome and Egypt in some ways. Same with the stone shielings in lonely glens long after the Clearances.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at 7:46pm BST

I stayed a few nights a couple of years ago next door to one of the redundant churches on Romney Marsh. Not quite redundant - there is an annual service. In this case it is perfectly understandable that it is not used more regularly: the associated village was destroyed in the Black Death. Until recently there were just two remaining houses and a nearly farm - but a third house was built.

The Church is open - or rather everyone knows where to find the key.

The feeling is one of waiting. Anticipation that one day, perhaps many years from now, worshippers will return.

I tell the story because that church convinced me that it should remain a church. Logically it must be one of the most thoroughly redundant churches in the country but it still feels like a church. It is still somewhere to pray and most weeks it gets a couple of visitors popping in. But what isn't lost is the sense of continuity with the long-gone Mediaeval community and the expectation that one day a community will return.

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at 10:54pm BST

"I believe in supernatural presence and the numinous nature of God."

Which is fine, but expecting the state to subsidise that is going to be a fruitless struggle.

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 19 October 2016 at 8:14am BST

In the Essonne pastoral secteur-- a rural region -- there are three good sized parishes and perhaps another dozen. (We live in the presbytere of the parish in Courances). Three priests have Sunday main service in the three main centers and take an earlier 930 service on a rota so that the others continue at least once a month. The distances from one to the other small village can be only a few kilometers. So it is quite a feat to keep them open. Our commune loves its parish church and would be loathe to let it collapse even if on the given Sunday only 30 show up. (Courances is very small. Under 200.)
Paris folk with homes here also go to the big Church in Fontainebleau.

Posted by Cseitz at Wednesday, 19 October 2016 at 9:44am BST

Susannah: Thank you for your characteristically kind comments. I (and I am sure many other users of TA) very much appreciate the high calibre and thoughtfulness of your contributions.

Kate: I am probably getting carried away with myself on this thread (apologies!). I have attended services at almost every church in Kent as part of a pilgrimage I have been undertaking throughout much of England. The church to which you refer is, of course, Snave, and I did attend an annual service there. As you may know, it was vested in the Romney Marsh Historic Churches Trust – an organisation in large measure inspired by Billa Harrod’s Norfolk Churches Trust; it owes much to the patronage of Robert Runcie (archbishop at the time of its establishment in 1981), John Piper (of Fawley Bottom, Buckinghamshire, but who painted Marsh churches on many occasions), the satirist Richard Ingrams, the artist William Doyle, and others. It has been a considerable success, and has provided much essential funding to Marsh churches.

However, I have to tell you that attendance across the Marsh is mostly very weak, despite the fact that I encountered a couple of very affable incumbents. There are a couple of exceptions (Dymchurch especially), but I was told that no one in Burmarsh actually attends (people come from outside), and much the same is true of Brenzett. Some parishes struck me as nearing the end of their tether. The same problem afflicts many of the churches along the fringes of the Marsh, the boundaries of which extended some way into the Marsh itself (a number of which have now been consolidated into the Saxon Shore benefice: Kenardington, Ruckinge, Warehorne, etc.). At least one church, albeit in the part of the Marsh extending into Sussex, operates as a de facto festival church, with a monthly service only in the summer months (East Guldeford).

As the ruins of Midley, Hope All Saints, Eastbridge, Hurst and West Hythe, the lost churches of Blackmanstone, Broomhill and Orgarswick, and the cavernous and largely empty structures of Ivychurch and Newchurch attest, the Marsh was seriously over-churched relative to the population. Not only were numbers denuded by plague and sheep (not unusual by national standards), they never rose to meet the expectations of speculative projectors – notably the archbishops, All Souls, and the monastic foundations of Battle, Christ Church and St Augustine’s. What remains is a miracle of survival.

Posted by Froghole at Wednesday, 19 October 2016 at 10:39am BST

Froghole, it is of course Snave and I am not surprised that attendance is thin across the Marsh.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 19 October 2016 at 5:47pm BST

So, viewed in heritage terms rather than worship terms, how many churches or stately homes do we need to preserve? Is the argument that anything that anyone built more than a few hundred years ago must always be preserved for evermore? Or, in heritage terms, is it sufficient to retain a sufficient sample so that future generations are able to savour and understand their heritage, but only a sample?

Posted by John Swanson at Thursday, 20 October 2016 at 6:41am BST

John Swanson's comment caused me to think of the quality and quantity of cultural riches contained within English parish churches. This is religious art which, if lost, would diminish the authenticity of place in English cities and towns. Surely, more than enough reason for government to become involved in preservation. This is not just about the temple but the heritage of the whole nation. (This comment from a dinky-di Aussie).

Posted by Pam at Thursday, 20 October 2016 at 9:10am BST

@John Swanson: Leaving aside the principle articulated in the prayer of 'St Chrysostom', I think that the question you pose is best stated as "how many churches do we need relative to the current and projected numbers of professing Anglicans?"

I have now attended services at more than three thousand parish, collegiate, cathedral churches and chapels across more than thirty dioceses. Not all of the services I have attended are representative of the 'health' of any given Christian community. However, I have attended quite enough main Sunday services in inner cities, suburbs and the countryside to come to the conclusion that fewer than 5% of congregations will be viable in ‘pastoral’ (i.e., financial) terms within the next generation/half-generation.

On that basis, approximately 150 of the c. 3,000 are ‘viable’. Given that there are about 16,000 church buildings in England, that would mean a little under 800 need be retained.

I am sure that a plan to effect such a reduction could be sold quite easily to some of those in positions of influence within the Church who would not be threatened by it directly.

It could be argued that this plan would be a reversion to the minster system; that it would prune the dead wood that is preventing the Church from growing/cut out the cancer that is making it moribund (because, obviously, it is the buildings that divert resources that could be allocated to ‘growth’); that it would allow for a better focus on mission; that the “church is about the people and not the buildings”, etc.

It would be a convenient pretext for making redundant the greater part of the current cadre of clergy, plus the disposal (or leasing) of parsonage houses, and the near-complete elimination of diocesan and central bureaucracies, most theological colleges, etc.

We would probably only need about four bishops (to keep up the apostolic succession), and a few archdeacons.

It would also allow the Church to slough off its twin burdens as a church for the state and for ‘every community’ (anyway ‘community’ is a conveniently elastic expression).

The remaining clergy would also benefit considerably from the transformation of built assets into liquid capital, not least with respect to their pensions (though, as in the 1530s and 1540s, the returns would be heavily discounted as a function of there being a glut of disposals).

We already retain a representative sample via the CCT.

Posted by Froghole at Thursday, 20 October 2016 at 11:02am BST

"So, viewed in heritage terms rather than worship terms, how many churches or stately homes do we need to preserve? Is the argument that anything that anyone built more than a few hundred years ago must always be preserved for evermore?"

You must have heard an archaeologist's tirade against metal detectorists and how removing items from their context, without fully recording it, destroys much of the historical value of the objects. So the same applies, I suggest, to historic buildings. If they are fully recovered with a laser scan then maybe they don't all need to be retained but otherwise they are all valuable because each others a distinct context. The problem is that laser scanning remains more expensive than preservation for most of the buildings we are talking about.

One other example. A cathedral might have important stained glass and want to understand how much it is at risk. A parish church which has glass of the same age, but which is historically less important, might offer evidence as to how the glass has survived leas deferential treatment.

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 20 October 2016 at 3:08pm BST

"So the same applies, I suggest, to historic buildings. If they are fully recovered with a laser scan then maybe they don't all need to be retained but otherwise they are all valuable"

In order for a building to get to being 200 years old, it has to pass through being 50 years old.

Your logic appears to be that no building should be demolished, because it might be interesting later. So (for example) cities which are centres of former car manufacturing should leave all the factories, empty, unused, no jobs, maintained from public funds, just in case industrial archaeologists want them in 100 years' time. Seriously? This city has a huge expanse of former car manufacturing facilities, which have been demolished and replaced by housing and office blocks in which people work. It also has a major, national centre, hospital, ideally located next door to a university medical school, which required the demolition of a 1930s hospital of some architectural merit (but absolutely unsuited to medicine 21st century style) and as collateral the closure and demolition of a late 19th century workhouse which had been turned into a (horrible) hospital. Should people be treated in bad hospital buildings in case we want to investigate workhouse practice 1880 style?

Posted by Interested Observer at Thursday, 20 October 2016 at 3:44pm BST

Listed building criteria for England and Wales address this point...

"All buildings erected before 1700 that "contain a significant proportion of their original fabric" will be listed. Most buildings built between 1700 and 1840 are listed. After 1840 more selection is exercised and "particularly careful selection" is applied after 1945."

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 20 October 2016 at 8:00pm BST
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