All Saints’ Church, Langport and the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Huish Episcopi are within a few hundred yards of each other, one can walk from one to the other in a few minutes. The parish of Huish Episcopi almost surrounds the small area that comprises the parish of Langport; the bulk of the population of the town lies outside of the Langport parish. Thus it was that in 1994, when falling church attendances meant that keeping the two churches became unsustainable, it was Langport church that was closed.
All Saints’ Church was transferred to the care of a body called the Churches’ Conservation Trust, an organization that might reasonably be assumed to conserve churches.
The Trust’s interpretation of “conservation” seems to be about the fabric rather than the spirit of the place. There seems a lack of sensitivity towards the traditions of a place, or its significance for generations of local people, for why else would they allow a building that witnessed the most profound moments in people’s lives to be used as a campground? The Trust even has a neologism for the activity it is promoting, “champing,” a hybrid word combining “church” and “camping.”
All Saints’ Church, a place that was once an opportunity to sit in silent reflection, a place where there was a connection with centuries of forebears, a place that spoke of the history of the town and its people, has been reduced to a dormitory. The Churches’ Conservation Trust are not even aware that Langport is not a village, but a town of long standing. It trivializes and profanes a sacred place.
However, the reduction of a holy place to little more than an indoor campsite is not the responsibility of the Trust, it is the responsibility of the Church of England who have created the situation of terminal decline.
Worship has been slowly desacralised by the purveyors of second-rate rock music and banal prayers dressed in open-necked shirts and chinos. The steady contraction of the church has been accompanied by the steady expansion of diocesan supernumeraries, officers for this and that, advisers in diverse fields. Parochial clergy have been withdrawn from rural communities, where the church had retained significance, and given dispiriting multi-parish benefices where people lack a sense of identity with their priest.
“Champing” is a mark of a church that has lost its way, a church without a sense of the goodly heritage with which it was entrusted.