Simon Jenkins rightly ridicules the idea of the Church of England as “a national body of grandees” because if the church exists at all, in a meaningful sense, then it is at the local, ecclesiastical level (churches could or even serve as banks). Beer, we can’t leave them empty, December 31st). But here, in my opinion, Jenkins mistakenly omits two similar terms: community and community. The local “congregation” of the churches consists only of those who actively celebrate services in the church building – and in rural contexts there are often very few.
The “parish”, however, is the much broader population of the parish – the parishioners, all those who live within the parish boundary. Our task in the country church is – if we want to survive locally – to contribute to revitalizing the community feeling of the people both in the church building and in the beliefs and values that it represents.
This means that one does not seek to “convert” the people in the church, but rather to help them own their church, both as a sacred space and as a common ground – a place of human meaning. Philip Larkin went into this in his elegiac Church Going: “It is a serious house on serious earth / in whose clear air all our constraints meet / are recognized and dressed as fates.”
Rev. Dr. John Caperon
Crowborough, East Sussex
Simon Jenkins rightly advocates ways in which redundant churches can be restored and converted for use by charities and social enterprises, but fails to mention the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) which does just that.
With 356 such churches in her care, she initiates and leads a number of projects that not only bring these buildings to life, but also promote and protect jobs in the monument construction sector and support the work of specialists and craftsmen, many of them during the lost their jobs after the pandemic; a prime example is in Sunderland, where the work has met with local interest and participation from young people who would otherwise be unemployed.
With its experienced employees and its expertise in this highly complex area, the CCT is ideally equipped to maintain and promote these buildings for local use. All it needs now is adequate government funding and better publicity for its work so that it can apply its innovative approach on a much larger scale.
Simon Jenkins is absolutely right about the strong historical bond between a parish and its local church buildings, even when they are no longer used as places of worship. These are not just the places where so many were baptized, married, or buried – many (like ours) are also beautiful buildings that deserve to continue to be used and loved by the communities in which they are rooted.
Here in Stannington we are fighting to save the former Knowle Top Methodist band for our community – to save our after school club and brass band rehearsal room, and to create a fabulous new arts and performance space that has historic potential makes optimal use of tiered seating in its calm and beautiful interior.
Jenny van Tinteren
I was interested in Simon Jenkins’ article on the use of church buildings. In our rural community of Mursley, we actually opened The Church Arms. Inspired by the nailing up of our village pub in October, the church opened the door to meet the community’s need for a place where one can meet other villagers and have a carefree or more serious conversation. This project was fully supported by the Diocese of Oxford. Judging by the response to our project, I would encourage other churches to experiment. It’s not just about schnapps either, we have soup and cake lunches at other times.
Mursley, Milton Keynes