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The Ecclesiological Society

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Future of rural churches: Ecclsoc letter to ‘The Times’

The Times published the following letter on 3 February 2016 from Trevor Cooper, Chairman of the Society’s Council:


The Church of England has been consulting on the future of its church buildings. Although many churches are thriving, some 2,000 rural church buildings – most of them listed and many containing important art treasures – are the responsibility of congregations of fewer than ten people. Worryingly, but unsurprisingly, this is up from about 800 such congregations in 2001. Many of these congregations are ageing, and the underlying challenges are only likely to grow.

As a response to these difficulties, the Church is proposing to reconstitute significant numbers of little-used rural churches as ‘Festival’ churches, with no requirement for regular services. One diocese alone has identified ninety candidate churches. Yet someone will still have to pay the bills, and there appears to be no additional long-term funding for maintenance and repair of these buildings.

Is it not time for an independent inquiry to explore all options for the future care of our historic religious buildings, to remove some of the burden from the shoulders of these committed, but small and sometimes diminishing groups of volunteers?

Trevor Cooper, Chairman of the Council of the Ecclesiological Society

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