Closing church doors

The church door was locked. Church doors seem locked most of the time now. Perhaps it is some restriction related to the virus, or perhaps the person who once opened and closed the church each day has had, through age or ill health, to give up their faithful duty.

In Ireland, I had a churchwarden who was said to pass down the lane which ended at his house at 9.20 am, an hour and forty minutes before the 11 o’clock service. After turning out of the lane, the journey to the church would have taken him around ten minutes, allowing him to arrive by 9.30. The early arrival was considered a piece of gentle eccentricity among other worshippers; what preparation for the morning service could there be that could take an hour and a half, a period of time twice that of the morning service, which generally lasted forty-five minutes? No-one would question him, though, the church building was an important part of his life; its internal and external well-being were treated with an importance that was equivalent to that with which he would treat his own personal health.

Here in England, the diligent care of a country church would be regarded as anachronistic by the evangelical leaders who now hold sway in the church. Voices from the urban centres would talk of the need to close such buildings, of how many more resources there would be for “mission” (generally employing people like themselves), if money was not spent on the upkeep of such places, of how much better everything would be if everyone gathered in a single church (under their style of leadership). Perhaps they are right, though empirical evidence shows that when such paths are pursued, many of those whose families have attended the church for generations simply disappear. They want nothing of the electric guitars, drums and media projectors.

However, there is a much deeper value in such rural places that is missed by those who perceive them as buildings to be measured in terms of fabric and funds. To men like that churchwarden, heading to church 9.20 am, the church to which he devoted so many hours was a place of holiness.

The places seen as a burden by the church strategists and administrators are places of holiness to people in the communities in which they stand. Even if people never attend, it matters to many of them that the building is there. If the Church of England is going to insist on being the established church, it must take seriously that duty to be present.


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4 Responses to Closing church doors

  1. Sackerson says:

    Yes, some years ago we visited this church which is now redundant because the M50 cut it off from the parish. They should remain, as memorials.

    • Ian says:

      It is extraordinary that major restoration work of the organ took place in 1978 only for the building to be closed a few years later.

      I thought the CCT was supposed to keep the doors open so people could visit?

  2. Chris says:

    Don’t know where to go with this.

    I run a Guitar Club; nothing dramatic with an average age of 55+ and a set list that Radio 2 might find a bit sedate. For the past few years we have been amongst a circle of local musicians providing background murmur at a local church that provides cream teas on a Sunday. The other groups include piano recitals, choirs and a chamber quartet.

    The church is on a walking route, much used on Sundays. The attraction of music encourages more than a few to call in and purchase refreshments, and over the course of two hours playing provides a good subsidy for the roof, steeple or assorted walls that seemingly require permanent restoration. It is with total immodesty that I report our blend of easy going guitar based stuff causes more than a few to call in, stay a while, and make generous donations to the church via the buying of teas, coffees, cakes and the ubiquitous homemade marmalade. Our performance is provided free – we give up our time, travel to the venue set up, take down and some change appointments and others still have to go to work the following day.

    My gripe? We are obviously tolerated at best. Guitars and easy going songs are not ‘proper’ music fit for a church. We are charged full price if we want a tea (‘You lot can pay’ has been said,) we are never thanked at the end and are dealt with rudely by some. ‘Move out of the way; we are the choir you know !!’ By making people stay we must have been the medium needed to swell the church coffers by several hundreds and maybe thousands of pounds.

    Why do we still go when we are dealt with such contempt? Being a democracy, the majority of members still want to go whereas I would tell all and sundry what to do with their teas. If you don’t want to be polite to me, please refuse our help.

    Maybe the Church as a whole has lost its way, I don’t know. I have no doubt that the folks with whom I have to deal are volunteers who maybe feel that the solemnity of the church is broken with our presence, and it is their responsibility to put it right. Whatever the reason, it leaves a bad taste.

    • Ian says:

      A former colleague once commented to me that the people who kept the church doors open were those who kept it empty. I thought he was being cynical but have come to realize that there are people who regard churches as their own property where everything should be done as they want.

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