Sunday, September 03, 2006

Saving England's Crumbling Churches

I have been a subscriber to British Heritage magazine for years and enjoy it immensely. The latest issue (Nov 2006) contains an article that both saddened me, and yet gave me encouragement.

In the UK, English Heritage has begun a new drive to get government aid "for the infrastructure of England's decaying church buildings. The preservation and conservation body has identified 1,100 buildings as vulnerable and estimates the cost of restoration to be nearly a billion pounds. Local, often rural, parishes with small congregations find it increasingly difficult to maintain their often-medieval churches.

"Supported by faith groups and celebrities alike, the new campaign, called Inspired, hopes to gain government help to provide a variety of support services to aid local parishes to preserve the fabric of their ancient and historic buildings. As Simon Thurley, EH chief executive commented, 'With pubs and post offices disappearing and social problems growing, these buildings often provide the only remaining physical, cultural and spiritual focus for a community.'

I am glad that this initiative is underway, although with a note of irony. If this was happening here in "the land of the free and the brave," the wildly misnamed American Civil Liberties Union would be filing a lawsuit to stop it.

The sight of a crumbling, dilapidated church always saddens me. I look back with my mind's eye to days gone by when the structure was filled with worshippers, bells ringing on special occasions, and the local church often a rallying point for a small community. Of course, the real "church" is organic and made up of individual Christians. One can worship the Lord together on a riverbank or in a private home (provided you don't get sued) just as well as in a massive cathedral. Some critics rightly disparage some of the Taj Mahal-like structures (usually modern monstrosities) that take millions of dollars and work crews to maintain. So much focus gets placed on the building that the people who actually make up the Body of Christ seem unable to advance the Gospel without one.

This situation is different. This is not only preserving a church building for worshippers - it is also preserving the history of a proud nation. I wish my UK brothers and sisters well in this noble initiative, and am also praying for a true spiritual revival that will fill those churches to maximum capacity. (I wouldn't mind that happening here, either!)

Go England!


crownring said...

I'm with you, Sola. Too many of England's landmarks are already in ruins and it's a shame to have lost so much history. Unfortunately the problem lies partly in the lack of skilled tradesmen with the the ability to do intricate repairs on buildings that are 400-800 years old. Some skills have been lost in centuries since these churches were built. It's one thing to clean wood and slap on a fresh coat of paint, but another to repair or replace crumbling stoneworks and repair delicate paintings. A billion pounds to complete the work is a very conservative estimate in my estimation.

BTW, I also agree with you about many modern American church edifices being expensive to keep up as well as being just about as ugly as sin itself. Funny, I recall a speech Prince Charles gave decrying the incredible ugliness of new contruction in London, comparing it to the Nazi destruction during the Blitz. I may not agree with the bonnie prince on much, but I think he's spot on in this instance.

Anonymous said...

Largely I blame the decaying infrastructure in rural areas of the UK on problems with our housing market.

Local people are completely priced out. If you look at the South West, such as the county of Cornwall, it is one of the lowest paid in the country; yet property is so desirable there (for second and holiday homes) that its prices are booming. The chances of someone earning enough in the area to get & keep up a mortgage there are becoming more and more unrealistic.

Increasingly, the people who own property in Cornwall do not actually live there most of the year round. Thus facilities like transport, post offices, shops and churches suffer through lack of use.

There is this stereotype of the weekending Londoners coming down with their 4x4 loaded with their own supplies from the city, who basically spend no money in the area and contribute nothing to the community while they visit. It's based on an unhappy reality. Slowly country communities are being eroded.

I think attempting to preserve things like museum pieces while these issues go unresolved is likely to prove a waste of time & money.

Rob said...

I wonder if American Churches like Saddleback et al will eventually be in ruin like that. We'll all go an visit and say I remember my parents used to take me there.

American churches should use this information as a warning. Canada is already down the road of the irrelevant Christian and it's probably too late, but you American's still have choices and options.


SolaMeanie said...

Good comments.

Thanks everyone for responding.


petunia said...

I guess rightly so, concern for decaying church buildings - here in a small town in VA there is a church building that is a hair salon - another one off a main hwy. is a private residence. somehow, decaying doesn't seem as bad. but as you said, the church is the believers - i just wonder where the church prior to the hair salon went!