As the Church of England continues to decline in membership and influence — to the point where an average of one church a week is closing in the United Kingdom — the church’s leadership has announced what it calls a new “stewardship plan” in which thousands of historic church buildings may become “festival churches,” opening only for Christmas and Easter services.
In an era in which one in four rural parishes has ten or fewer regular congregants, the Anglican church leadership has become concerned about the cost of maintaining church buildings, some of which are hundreds of years old. In some areas, church buildings have begun sharing space with businesses like credit unions and non-profits like food banks.
In the church’s announcement, Dr. John Inge, the bishop of Worcester, said:
Our 16,000 church buildings are a visible sign of ongoing Christian faith in communities throughout England as well as being an unparalleled part of our country’s heritage. This report looks at how we can best support the thousands of local volunteers who care deeply for and about churches and offer wonderful service to their communities using their churches.
We believe that – apart from growing the church – there is no single solution to the challenges posed by our extensive responsibility for part of the nation’s heritage. We hope therefore that this work will be a catalyst for discussion about how churches can be better cared for and used for the common good.
Though a majority of Britons consider themselves Christian, believers are leaving the Church of England in droves as the denomination becomes increasingly liberal, both in terms of social policy and doctrine. Fewer than 800,000 people worship at an Anglican church on a regular basis in Great Britain.
According to the announcement, the new designation for churches would free up clergy and staff to better care for their parishioners without saddling the church with the costs of maintaining facilities on a weekly basis. Church leaders warn against what they call an “idolatrous attitude toward buildings,” while acknowledging the need to preserve these historic facilities.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Michael Warwick