Sharing cost of church upkeep, survey finds

CHURCH buildings are still loved and sought after by their communities, and the majority of people in these communities believe they should receive state funding to keep them in good condition, according to a new survey.

The report, The future of UK religious buildingspublished Monday by the National Churches Trust, found support for government funding of religious buildings, even from those who were not religious.

More than half (54%) of the 1,250 participants in the consultation, which took place between November 2021 and February 2022, said that central and decentralized administrations should be responsible for the maintenance of religious buildings, as well as bodies heritage and congregations. Thirty-six percent think local authorities should be accountable; and nearly 80% of thought bodies such as the National Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as congregations, should share the financial burden of reparations.

Some have suggested that church commissioners should take over Category I listed churches and fund them directly, to spare congregations the burden of maintaining them.

One respondent said, “As an atheist, I have no personal interest in churches for religious purposes, but I still think they fulfill that function for many. However, I also believe that these should be centrally funded as open community assets – a multipurpose resource accessible to the majority and not just a slowly dwindling religious handful.

There are more than 900 churches on Historic England’s ‘Heritage At Risk’ register, and Claire Walker, chief executive of the National Churches Trust, said this week: “The Church of England alone feels it will have to find £1billion to pay for the upkeep of its churches over the next five years.

Most people in the UK, according to the study, do not know how churches are funded or who pays for their repairs, which is frustrating for worshippers.

One respondent said, “Non-practitioners expect the church to be there and have no concerns or knowledge of the cost of (for example) installing toilets, providing adequate access for people with disabilities. . . the inevitable structural repairs. . . Often I find that people think that we [the Church in general] are quite wealthy and that the local church is subsidized by the central church and/or by the government.

Several respondents suggested that a central body in charge of applying for grants would be more efficient and would be more easily understood by the general public. Several have suggested a single charitable foundation, a “National Church Trust,” as a way to bring together different streams of funding for church repairs.

“There are many organizations working to preserve church buildings,” one respondent said. “They all do a great job but would perhaps be more effective, and almost certainly more supported, if there was one national body for England, say a ‘National Trust for Churches’.”

Despite concerns about funding and repairs, religious buildings were still seen as an asset by 88% of respondents; only 12% considered them a burden. (A few, including some clergy, saw them as both.)

The study also asked whether the shift to online worship during the pandemic has reduced the need for church buildings. Almost 80 percent said no.

One said: “Our congregation has grown with the use of online services as they provide easier access for those who find it difficult to attend services in church buildings, but I cannot not stress how joyful those of us who can once again attend services at our local churches are. must meet. »

When churches were threatened with closure, there was support for the building to become a community asset, although most, 79%, wanted them to continue as a place of worship. Support for keeping churches open remained, even among those who did not classify themselves as religious: “Churches are part of the fabric of our history and important symbols of Western civilization,” a correspondent said. “Ecclesiastical architecture must be maintained to preserve it – it would be a tragedy not to do so. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

“People can seek solace, moments of peace, and interaction with others in a church that welcomes them regardless of their opinions. I’m not religious, but I go to church and have been made very welcome.

Ms Walker said: “Our consultation shows that people really appreciate the church buildings. This is because they are the multi-purpose building par excellence, accessible to everyone. Churches are places of worship and reflection, indispensable community centers and are full of history and heritage.

The trust would use the findings to continue to discuss with members of government and the heritage sector how best to keep churches open and for the benefit of local communities.

Jerry B. Hatch