Churches matter

11Jun10

It doesn’t matter how atheistical you are, the English parish church is a priceless thing. (That’s a picture of one over there, proudly supporting our lads in South Africa.)

In most towns and villages, no other building will bring you into more intimate contact with the community’s past than the Anglican church and its graveyard.

Museums and libraries are all very well, but they’ve been mediated; someone decided what to show or tell you, and how to do it. The church gets you closer; the gravestones, effigies and memorials tell stories of local people, the stained glass, the carvings on pews and mouldings on ceilings and screens, paintings and pictures tell you about the religious stories and even local legends that gave them comfort or scared them onto the straight and narrow.

And if you’re inclined towards the sentimental and/or romantic, well, the church is the one constant in the ideal of the English village. Let’s not get too carried away here, though; the English village is rapidly becoming the sole preserve of the rich.

Many old churches are now under threat because of constantly falling attendances. You can argue about the exact numbers, but something well under 10% of the UK population now attend any kind of religious service on a regular basis, and that includes Catholics, Muslims, Jews and (presumably) Jedi.

While many churches are in danger of falling to pieces, others are already closed. All fall prey to criminals who steal artefacts, roof lead and even grave monuments. They are thieving history and seeing to it that places which should be open to all are now locked up most of the time. There is no passage in either the Old Testament or the comments section of the Daily Mail website that describes an adequate punishment.

Some churches are now closed altogether, but nearly 350 of the more architecturally or historically important are looked after by the very wonderful Churches Conservation Trust (CCT).

The CCT tries to ensure their survival by working with communities to bring them back into everyday use. Some have become community centres and nurseries, others are circus schools or theatres.

They’re organising a rather novel fundraising and publicity drive over the weekend of June 18-20. Over 100 of their churches will be open for tea and cake and someone will be on hand at each to talk about its history – and its future. Details of churches open near you at www.visitchurches.org.uk

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2 Responses to “Churches matter”

  1. 1 David Pringle

    Eugene: I’m surprised you didn’t end up quoting from Larkin’s “Church Going.”

  2. Thanks David; you’re absolutely right of course. Your comment had me rushing off to read it again for first time in years. Hadn’t realised how brilliant it was. All here if anyone’s interested: http://www.artofeurope.com/larkin/lar5.htm
    “Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique.” – spot-on!


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