arts and design

The threat to churches’ vital role in society | Letters

Simon Jenkins is right to regard church buildings as vital to community (If the Church of England worships online, how can its historic buildings survive?, 26 December). One of my churches, St Laurence, Winslow, serves a market town with a population of just under 6,000. In 2019, our average Sunday attendance was 119 and we held 52 “occasional offices” (weddings, baptisms and funerals), which provided substantial income. Our parish rooms were hired out on most days. Occasional offices, hirings, cash received through the plate or donations from visitors and local fundraising equalled one-third of our total income, £30,000, with the other two-thirds coming from regular covenanted giving.

This year, we have lost the vast majority of our external revenue streams. We could have coped if our costs had reduced proportionately, but they haven’t. Our fixed costs, the largest proportion of which is the amount we are asked to pay to the diocese, have increased or remained the same, while our discretionary costs, those of parish mission, have risen. It is a perfect storm. Managing a small food bank, providing online worship and serving the community in a myriad of new ways all carry a significant cost – financially, spiritually and emotionally.

To ensure that our churches are not “left to collapse like medieval castles, to become picturesque ruins”, the Church of England needs to urgently review its cost base and structures at the national, regional and local levels.
Rev Andrew Lightbown
Winslow, Buckinghamshire

For the last seven years, our village church has boasted a monthly pop-up pub. As there is no pub or hall here, there was no one to offend, and it has been a resounding success, providing a meeting place and serving the best draught beer. Candlelit in winter, and spilling into the churchyard in the summer, the popularity of the pub has spawned an annual beer festival.

Inspired by this success, and after three months of building work, the church opened its doors last week in time for Christmas services; there is now greatly increased space for drinkers, concerts, classes, jamborees and, most importantly, worship. And, although not the original intention, the pub provides an excellent income for the church. Reverting to the medieval tradition of church ales may not be the panacea for some churches, but it seems to have worked in this case.
Fifi Charrington
Swainswick, Somerset


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