On Friday in the Guardian Giles Fraser wrote in his Loose Canon column that the Church of England needed many fewer Churches. He suggested that if the Church of England were in a position to spend less time, energy and money on maintaining its many thousands of ancient beautiful and loved parish churches it would be able to give more time and attention to its most important work – proclaiming the gospel. He said that we need someone to do the same job for the Church of England as Lord Beeching had done for the railways in the 1960s.
By coincidence, in the Church Times on the same day, there was a report of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury preaching at the consecration of a new chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary in the United States, their old chapel having burnt down in 2010. Here the Archbishop posed the question, “Why is it that we are so addicted to buildings?” He said that sometimes the buildings are the servants of the Church and at others they are the Church’s “tyrants.”
By another coincidence tomorrow we shall be celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the consecration of the present building at Lufton. This church, dedicated to St Peter and St Paul replaced a much older one and there may well have been a church on the present site for well over 1,000 years.
All of this has something of value to say in the debate about the place and worth of our Church buildings. The Church of St Peter and St Paul speaks of a Christian presence at the heart of a small rural community in South Somerset for many centuries. It speaks of a God who cares for his people and of a place hallowed by praise and worship. It is a place where past generations can be remembered and respected, where the sick and needy are prayed for, where God is still praised and the gospel proclaimed. Although we go to Church, going to Church is always a reminder to us to take the gospel out into the community when we leave.
The Archbishop reminds us that our Churches are not there to be worshipped, but are places where we are empowered to live out the gospel life we proclaim.
Canon Fraser reminds us that Church buildings can outlive their usefulness and rather than being places where we are energised to proclaim the gospel can become places that suck the energy out of the Christian community.
And we are all right. There are more Churches than we need. Our church buildings do sometimes demand too much of us. We are right to praise God for 150 years of Lufton Parish Church and a thousand years of Christian witness, even if our congregation is small.
The articles referred to can be read by following the links below.