THE INCONVENIENT TEMPLE

What should we do with the church buildings of England?

I think that, on the whole, our church buildings fall into four categories.

1. Beautiful buildings and/or places of special spiritual worth which contribute significantly to the mission of the church (evangelistic and social).

2. Beautiful buildings which cost their congregations and, often, the wider church a lot of money to maintain and which do not contribute enough to the mission of the church to warrant the expense of keeping them open.

3. Plain and ugly buildings with no "special" spiritual worth which contribute significantly to the mission of the church.

4. Plain and ugly buildings which cost their congregations and, often, the wider church a lot of money to maintain and which do not contribute enough to the mission of the church to warrant the expense of keeping them open.

I think the churches that fall into category four should be closed down and sold as soon as possible. Their congregations should rent worship and social space (if they can afford to) when needed and in places in their parishes that would be most advantageous to the mission of the church. Alternatively, the congregations could meet in the homes of their members and outdoors when the weather is clement.

I think churches in category two should should be given to the Churches Conservation Trust or English Heritage or the local council or whoever is happy to take them off our hands. Their congregations should follow my instructions above.

We should keep churches in category one. To get rid of them on a point of ideology whilst losing the missionary benefit of them would be bad stewardship.

The congregations of churches in the third category have to decide for themselves what they want to do. If they think keeping the church building is more advantageous to the mission of the church than getting rid of it and moving into a more adaptable style of church community then that's what they should do. But they would need help coming to their decision as people can get attached to even the most ugly of buildings for selfish and nostalgic reasons.

Comments

THE INCONVENIENT TEMPLE — 2 Comments

  1. Here in my TEC diocese, there’s a fourth option: repurposing the building. For instance, there’s one congregation that had dwindled and could not support its building. At one time they had started a soup kitchen, which had grown and thrived and was now its own entity, living in the building. The congregation sold its building to the soup kitchen, in return for being able to worship in the church on Sundays. Now the members of the congregation have found common cause with the people the soup kitchen served and serves and is fully engaged in God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation.

    The building I serve is in the city, and yet located in such a way that on a busy intersection it presents as a place of solitude. It has not succeeded in attracting new Episcopalians, and yet it is, if repurposed, in a position to increase its usefulness to the community as a whole, as a place of refuge, if it would redo the interior of the worship space as open space without pews. It also is located, and has a collaborative relationship with, a private social service agency which is looking for someplace to move one or more of its operations. Repurposing, whilst retaining the ability to continue to serve all the community groups that use the building during the week, and the four separate congregations that worship there.