Caroline Wyatt (“Should buildings be a priority for the Church?“, BBC 21 December 2015) has written a provocative piece on the Church of England and its buildings. She asks:
Can the Church of England sustain its almost 16,000 church buildings in the face of declining and ageing congregations, especially in rural areas?
The report includes a mention of Suffolk, a county with a wealth of historic churches.
There are also other issues facing rural parishes, such as the shortage of clergy and lay officials willing to serve in rural communities.
But the rector of St Nicholas church in Rattlesden in Suffolk, Reverend Christopher “Tiffer” Robinson, says that is no reason to abandon smaller countryside churches, which he believes are often the lifeblood of their local village.
“While so much of the rest of society counts things in terms of population or numbers, and says ‘there aren’t many people there so we’ll withdraw from there’, in the Church we don’t think in those ways,” he says.
“People who are in small villages are just as important to God as those who live in more populated areas. That means that we are here for the whole community, and not just the people who come on Sunday.”
His congregation agrees, seeing their parish and their church as a community that has been there for them throughout their lives, especially at difficult or happy times.
In Suffolk, the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich has been promoting its churches through a clearly articulated church tourism strategy linked to walks (“Angels and Pinnacles“).
The Bishop of Worcester is right to observe: England’s rural parish churches are “the jewel in the crown of our national heritage”.