So what’s all this got to do with me? I don’t go to church and I’m not religious.
Well it’s partly to do with our architectural heritage, which is for everyone – not just the religious. Did you know our parish church has been at the centre of our community since the 7th Century when the first building was constructed for worship? And the present building dates all the way back to the 11th Century. That was when Harold II was killed at the Battle of Hastings – 1066 and all that, William the Conqueror became king and work began on the Domesday Book in 1086.
It’s a pretty special building, so special in fact that its architectural and historical importance has been recognised by English Heritage who has deemed the church a Grade 1 listed building for many years. Less than 3% of all listed buildings are given Grade 1 status (“buildings of exceptional interest”). Other Grade I listed buildings include Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, the Palace of Westminster and York Minster. Pretty impressive, eh?
That’s all very well but hardly anyone uses the church nowadays do they? It’s just a redundant building.
It is true that church attendance has declined rapidly over several decades. Between 1979 and 2005 for example half of all Christians stopped going to church (1.) Our church too has seen a similar decline in the number of regular worshipers.
But it is not just the regular worshipers who use our church. The church hosts many weddings and funerals throughout the year; in fact anyone who lives within the parish boundaries has a right to get married in the church or to have their funeral service there. Many of the people who attend such events may never go to church otherwise but still enjoy its benefits on these special occasions. And lots of other people use the church who are not necessarily churchgoers: the Mothers and Toddlers Club and Messy Church for young mums and pre-school children and The Mersea Island Choir for instance and more recently the hundreds of people who have enjoyed some of the fabulous events staged in the church by The Friends.
Without the church it would be difficult or impossible to reproduce the community togetherness that these activities bring.
The point is that it is a very old building that is expensive to maintain and unless the money can be found to pay for repairs and renovations there is a danger we might lose it.
But why should I help? Surely it’s the responsibility of the congregation.
The congregation do pay. It’s money from collections and other acts of generosity from its members which pay for all its running costs, which are substantial. They include the costs of heating, lighting, water rates, day-to-day maintenance, staffing and administration costs, insurance and a hefty contribution to the diocese, part of which is used to pay the rector’s salary.
The church members have also launched their own appeal and sought out a variety of grants for special projects.
‘The Friends’ do not contribute anything towards these costs, sometimes referred to as the ‘Mission’. The funds raised by ‘The Friends’ are solely for the repair and maintenance of the ‘Monument’.
Actually, the concept of the community being responsible for the upkeep of the church is not a new one. To prevent many parish churches from falling into disrepair in the 13th Century bishops issued orders, known as statutes, to rectify the problem. These episcopal statutes introduced the concept that parishioners had to pay for the maintenance of the nave, whilst the rector bore the cost for the upkeep of the chancel. (2.)
These statutes are no longer in force. Today the legal responsibility for the maintenance of the church building and its contents now rests with the Parochial Church Council (PCC).
What about the Church Commissioners? They’ve got lots of money haven’t they?
The Church Commissioners do indeed have a substantial investment portfolio, but much of their income is spent funding a large proportion of the pensions of retired clergy, providing training for new priests, assisting with the running costs of our large cathedrals and supporting many charitable enterprises. There are about 16,000 churches in England (3.) and the Commissioners’ income simply would not stretch to funding all their repair and maintenance costs.
So what if the local community doesn’t help. Will the church be closed?
This is very unlikely. However if no funds were available for its repair and it fell into a state of dilapidation we have to consider that possibility. Around twenty Church of England church buildings are closed for worship each year (4.) and many are sold off to private buyers. Our church might become a private house or offices. The worst case scenario is that it could become a ruin or even demolished and replaced with a block of flats.
But it’s a listed building isn’t it? It can’t be demolished.
Well according to a recent article in The Independent ninety listed buildings were demolished in 2014. (5.) So there are obviously ways around the rules.
You’ve already raised a lot of money and haven’t spent it all. Why do you need to keep on raising funds?
Well the Church is a very old building and there is likely to be a continuing need for maintenance and renovation to keep it in a good state of repair. We know that in the next year or two the interior of the church will require complete redecoration including possible repairs to the internal rendering. Early estimates suggest this could cost in the region of £30-40,000. In 2017 it is also due to have its compulsory ‘Quinquennial Survey’ which could well throw up as yet unknown items that will require attention.
So how can I help?
Can you spare the price of a cup of coffee?
Can you spare the price of a cup of coffee? Once a month? That’s all it costs to become a Friend. Pledge just £2 a month and join the Friends and enjoy advance booking for all our events and discounts on some. If just 500 people did this (about 7% of the population) it would raise £12,000 a year which would go a long way towards ensuring the future of this ancient monument.
Well I suppose if you put it like that it doesn’t seem a lot. I’m not going to change my views on religion but it seems a small price to pay to keep such a special place in good order. Who’d have thought our little church was in the same league as Buckingham Palace?
1. Religion in the United Kingdom – Diversity, Trends and Decline Published by Vexen Crabtree (2012). http://www.vexen.co.uk/
2. The Early Church: The People’s View By Carol Davidson Cragoe 18th September 2014 BBC History website.
3. The Church of England, Facts and Stats. www.churchofengland.org/about-us/facts-stats.aspx
4. Church of England website www.churchofengland.org “Closed Churches Available for Disposal.”
5. “Ninety listed buildings demolished” – David Lister, article in The Independent, 24 September 2015