Time and time again I have wandered up a gravel path to a church porch. I turn the iron ring on the old oak door, and nothing. Another locked church.
I can understand why, inner city churches stuffed with gold and silver and carvings would be wary of unwanted guests, but remote little country churches? Hide the family silver if you worry it’ll be stolen, but don’t seal your church. I recently visited some churches in north Northamptonshire. Lowick, a really beautiful church, was one I was particularly looking forward to seeing. Pevsner had told me of its glories, so imagine my disappointment at discovering a notice telling me where I may be able to get a key. Maybe I should have tried to track it down. I didn’t, I left disappointed.
So often, people are actually surprised to find a church IS open. And free. They are invariably empty. Church exteriors, especially prominent towers and spires, are often so familiar to us. A building we may have passed a thousand times. But the interior is usually unknown. Churches aren’t just about under attended church services. They are a massive part of the heritage of every community. They weren’t built to be used once a week or less, they were built to be used every day for a whole variety of things. Even our most majestic and noble churches, famous amongst architectural circles, are sealed for weeks on end.
In these lean times, it is inevitable that tightened belts and government cuts will impact on our built heritage. Old buildings too must sing for their supper, if we are to avoid leaking roofs, dry rot, or redundancy. If a church is to prove its worth, it must surely be used by more than just half a dozen octogenarians and a passing priest with eight other parishes on his hands.
Every church should be open every day, and used by community groups or individuals. Why must a village support a separate church, a village hall, a pub, a café, a shop? Why not put it all under one roof and make the church the most valuable asset in every community once more?
Unlock these buildings and let people see inside and appreciate them.