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The case against closure of countryside churches

Started by David Pinnegar, October 05, 2015, 05:59:47 PM

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David Pinnegar

I have recently had to object to the closure of a church.

In doing so I was likely to risk alienation of the local PCC on account of the contunuing burden of meeting pressures from the Diocese to fund the Diocesan Quota. It was appropriate to apologise to the PCC:

If we do not suffer this process at St S******'s one after another after another of our country churches will close as it is is the policy for the church only to provide one incumbent for every 7000 parishioners, and this of course does not happen in the countryside of villages of 500 or 1000 inhabitants. Indeed if the policy is implemented between 7 out of 8 and 13 out of 14 churches will be threatened with closure, and more in habitations of lower than 500 people.

The face of our countryside will be changed for ever.

One has also to ask the reason why . . . and that, of course, is finance. For us to support the Diocesan Quota is a significant burden.

As the demographics of churchgoing change and current congregations age and not replaced by younger people who lost connexion with God at atheist schools, the problems of finance will get worse.

That is as it may be, and we have to encourage younger people that there is relevance to their lives in understanding the work of the Creator.

In fact that can only be achieved by way of the presence of the Church in the community, however badly supported it might be. The Church is a permanent and symbolic presence of God. Not remote, but on the doorstep.

The financial pressures that we face are visible in the Diocesan accounts.

It is apparent that all monies are stretched among the different and necessary requirements of the work of God but for one thing. And that is the support of the financial institutions that provide insurance. Insurance is a tax on fear to save us from the worry of what might happen in the future. Perhaps [the sermon's] words yesterday quoting worry are appropriate,
"Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear"
and paying in advance to cover the fear of churches closing through disaster of one sort or another is causing currently the disaster of the certain closure of churches now in the present. Insurance is an inefficient cycle of finance which is better used to keep our churches open in the present.

So it's important to put this issue to the Church Commissioners, not that St S******'s be saved, although with faith Lazarus may yet arise from the Dead, but so that all the other churches be saved.

The objection currently before the Church Commissioners:
Dear Sirs

Mission and Pastoral Scheme 2011
Benefice of ****** with **********, and parishes of St *******, ***********; ****** *** and *********
Diocese of *********
Proposed Pastoral Church Buildings Scheme

As a parishioner of St *******'s I note the announcement of the above. The title is disingenuous and does no credit to a Christian organisation founded upon the principles of honesty and the Creator. No ordinary lay person reading such a heading of such an announcement would interpret the proposal as relating to the closure of a church.

On the following grounds I object to the proposal:
(1) Historical
(2) Theoligical
(3) Pastoral and
(4) Financial

1. Historical
St *******'s church was built in the late Victorian period by ****** ******* ******, owner then of the Estate of ********** cementing a very ancient connexion of the land with the Church and Christianity.

Tithes were payable to the parishes of Stoke Poges and Wendover and in the Buckinghamshire Records Office is the 1788 copy of a map of 1641 recording the estate. New evidence is coming forward that it was clearly ecclesiastical land, a gated hunting park centred on Buscop's Wood on St Anne's Hill, and entered through gates, St Anne's Gate, St John's Gate and St Mary's Gate. In addition to Buscop's Wood was also Buscop's Mead, Buscop being the Mediaeval word for Bishop.

In (year), ******** ******, architect of [various] and Baltimore Cathedral built as a symbol of religious tolerance, built the house of the estate.

******* was the son of the Minister of the Moravian Church in Fetter Lane London, closely associated with 18th century Masonry. Devoutly Christian throughout his life, the house was *******'s first work and contained elements which the former Chairman of English Heritage referred to as an example of "Rebirth Architecture". This Christian heritage persisted through subsequent owners of the estate resulting in the building of St *******'s.

For the Church now to dissociate itself from connexions of such long tradition is a traversty, and whilst the population is small, the church has a role to serve in the community and to important effect.

(2) Theological
The parable of the Lost Sheep tells us that the lone sheep is just as important to Our Lord as each one in the flock. St *******'s might be well compared to the Lost Sheep of the Diocese and its importance pastorally does and is bearing fruit for the Church. With the capacity for all churches, even in the low population density countryside, to bear fruit, none should be closed.

As a result of the presence of St *******'s church within the community as a practicing church, a young member of the congregation has been sufficiently inspired to go to work for the Church at the parish at ********** with every intention of working towards ordination.

This would not have happened without the presence of the footprint of God at St *******'s within the community to which it ministers.

This is at the heart of the very meaning of the parable of the Lost Sheep and the lost sheep of St *******'s should not now be pushed out of the flock of the Diocese.

This parable is particularly at the heart of all current congregation of the church as the priest insisted on giving a children's sermon to the entirely adult congregation, with paper and scissors given out to all to cut out the image of sheep upon which to write all names and pin them upon a board in the Chancel. This has not assisted in boosting attendance at the Church although the activity has written the parable in all affected hearts. Those affected have come to expect the raising of Lazarus against the odds likewise in the resurrection of the Church.

St *******'s represents literally the work of God's Calling in the countryside and should not be closed.

(3) Pastoral
The village of ********** within the Deanery of **** ********* is not the place to be closing a church and removing the footprint of God from within the countryside. **** ********* and ****** *** are the centre of numerous persuasions and pseudo religions. *********** has an active presence in the town and is very welcoming to those who are vulnerable and needing counsel. The Church does it better - as is evidenced by the effectiveness of the current incumbent of St *******'s whose inspiration has caused the young congregation member to train towards ordination.

During recent decades ********* has been headlined as a centre with drugs problems in ****** and a man living within a mile of St *******'s whose family consists of ten children has been imprisoned twice for growing cannabis.

For those emerging from a psychotic breakdown and from addiction, the presence of a local church is a vital lynchpin, and without which subjects can easily be sucked into the local *********** which through targeted programmes draw such unfortunate people.

A local Police Commissioner's report details:

  • Young people told us that the major root causes are boredom, peer pressure and social expectations, and personal and emotional problems. These root causes affect the majority of young people, regardless of differences in wealth and background.
This is a force within society just as much at work within the countryside as within the towns and whilst the measure of pastoral provision is being set by the church to the standard of one incumbent priest per 7000 head of population, in fact the power of the church to those head of population who become Lost Sheep in society relates to how near the Church is to the home and how familiar the church is to people's lives.

The local church therefore is a vital lynchpin around which countryside families depend and especially those where young people have gone astray. A density of pastoral provision per numbers of square miles where people live is therefore as important to achieve as any measure of provision per number of population.

The history of the estate as an ancient gated park is indicative of the topological isolation of the place and the community. The hamlet itself within the ancient ecclesiastical hunting park is of some 30 houses with perhaps another 15 houses in the outlying areas and a total population of around 200 to 300 people.

Within this context, the congregations normally of 20 - 25 people, although they may dip in the Summer to 12 or so, at near 10% of the population are excellently above the national average for church attendance and there is therefore a measurable demand for a building serving the dissemination of the Holy Spirit within the community. The Christmas Carol service has attracted congrations of 80 or so in recent years, but declining to 60 after one year when the hymns or carols chosen were obscure.

The church is perceived to be of less relevance in people's lives than formerly as unlike former incumbents, the current priest has not apparently ventured down the road into the hamlet beyond the church nor become involved in village activity. This has result in questionnaires about the church to be received with apathy. A fete a few years ago involved great effort by all, including many who don't come to Church, but the priest was not there. This has not helped enthusiasm for the church.

The estate is isolated in a valley and served by a road with notorious bends which are particularly dangerous and on which many people have been killed. Whereas people living around ****** ****** adjacent who formerly went to St *****'s church which is now closed and a financial white elephant, have divided themselves between St *******'s ********** and other parishes, ****** has good roads leading elsewhere which ********** does not.

Within 60 years the energy and materials crisis for the planet may mean that communities are as isolated without fast commodious transport that we experience today. For this reason Churches where they exist in less densely populated areas should not be closed.

The presence of the Church in the village is vital to what is a small and isolated village in which the church brings together community focus and which can sort out social problems. It was as a result of a Carol service at St *******'s that a man who had openly harboured hate for a neighbour for thirty years was able to shake his neighbour's hand and the two have become on speaking terms. Churches are vital to small villages.

The Church provides also a community forum for fundraising even for those who don't attend services but will come to a quiz night at the village hall, bringing people together. These have been so well supported that there has not been space for everybody and this provides evidence for the substantial and underlying requirement for the function of a church in the village.

Given that there is no village shop, no village societies, no village school the Church is the only vehicle for oiling the wheels of neighbourly cooperation, which is what Christianity is all about.

(4) Financial
With a low congregation number, it has been impossible for St *******'s to pay the Parish Quota demanded by the Diocese. In addition the building is a Grade II listed building and quite expensive to maintain.

I believe that in more prosperous decades the church was supported significantly by wealthy donors living nearby who ran a major international company but they have died. Wealth exists locally, one house nearby having been sold to [wealthy family].

With priests who are disconnected from their communities as has been the incumbent of St *******'s the Church is not winning the hearts and minds of those who are in a position to fund it most. Churches in the countryside are often surrounded by people of significant wealth who if involved in the right way can be valuable in supporting a Diocese and thereby the work of God in the more densely populated regions.

For this reason places of worship such as St *******'s are valuable assets to the work of the Church and should not be closed.

The problem remains that the Diocesan financial deficit requires costs to be cut and for to enable resources to bring the word of God to inadequately served new populations in expanding towns.

As a member of the Deanery Synod I have seen the Diocesan accounts. From these it is apparent that the total bill for insurance extends to double the Diocesan deficit.When the tower of **** ********* Church, St ******'s, was struck down by lightning in 1786 its rebuilding was achieved not by insurance but by the Christian spirit of contribution. In like manner the building of Guildford Cathedral was achieved and in this is the work of God and the bringing of Christians together in His name.

Insurance premiums fund the greedy and are part of the evils perceived of the financial institutions who live by the selling of fear for the future at the expense of living in the day. This is contrary to Matthew 6: 26-34

On account of paying the financial institutions to bail out the Church in the absence of the Christian spirit in the community to do so if the need arises in the future, we are trading  the total certainty of risk of closure in the present to pay for insurance against the uncertain risk of closure due to possible disaster in the future.

This approach to Church finance is unchristian and against the work of God.

The Rural Dean has asked me on at least two occasions not to speak on the matter of insurance and its effect upon the finances and the matter has been muzzled.

Were the Diocese to suspend payment to the financial institutions and to put a quarter of what they would be paying them into a reserve account for prudence sake, it would be in profit, be able to support all churches, close none, and pay incumbents a better living wage to attract people of higher calibre into the priesthood and to enable them to become more involved full time rather than part time in the lives of their communities.

For all of the above reasons St *******'s Church ********** should not be closed and a viable alternative exists to provide financial means for this church, and likewise many other churches in the countryside to be supported without threat of closure, and for the work of God to flourish thereby.

Best wishes

David P



Churches closing is a big issue - especially as, all too often, it means an end to a visible Christian presence in the particular locality.

Although I'm not an Anglican, I'm well aware of the Quota - and it's not only rural churchess that have problems raising it - our local Anglican churches in Bradford were in the same boat (and Bradford city has lost a frightening number of churches of all denominations in the past half-century).  In  theory, the wealthier churches pay over the odds in their quota to help support the others.  I know of one Anglican church where - certainly at the time when my son was a member of the PCC - were paying a significant majority of their income to the Diocese.

Personally, I think that the Anglican (and some other) churches need to look at more lay leadership, and put an end to the falacy that the Vicar (Priest/Minister) is there to do it all.  I also think that it's way past time for a fresh emphasis on Mission/Evangelism, and a fresh look at how we "do church".  That includes not only style of worship (and there is a need to remember that the church has to serve its current members as well as incomers, but the day & time of services and so on.

Every Blessing