Discover more from Christopher Titmuss - The Buddha Wallah
It is time to open the doors of the churches to the local community
Our churches in Britain are empty or virtually empty except for the Sunday morning service, the odd wedding and baptism. There is an ageing population of church goers.
The average age of church attendance for the Church of England is 50 years plus with an average of around 60 citizens attending a Sunday service. Around 5% of the population go to one of the 50,600 churches in the UK. Church attendance has slumped by 25% in the past 15 years.
With so little interest in the Church, you would think the many churches occupying prime locations in every city, town and village could be demolished or converted into small flats to give homes to the poor or as recreational centres for the young and elderly. No council would dare sanction the demolition of a beautiful church with its centuries of tradition. It would prefer it remained unused and unvisited rather than question the attachment of local citizens to these buildings.
So tens of thousands of churches stand mostly empty with locked doors most of the time. The bricks, concrete and stained glass windows have become remnants of an era when most people attended church.
It is surely time to open the doors of all the churches for the general public. There is a glorious precedent for this. Those magnificent gothic cathedrals in Europe, first built in the 12th century, were used for various functions, both religious and non-religious. With the large interior space, local citizens came to celebrate various holidays, hosted fairs, markets while pilgrims, with their dogs, slept inside churches.
Church leaders appreciated their wealthy patrons and the generations of peasants, who built all these great monuments to God while the same peasants knew they and their families had free access to the interior for various activities that would benefit the local community. Poor and rich alike had the opportunity to meet in the formal and informal occasions inside the church. These churches offered sanctuary for all.
Numerous meetings were held regularly in the churches that brought local people together to share their ideas and concerns. Priests, monks and nuns living next to the church played an important role in the daily life of the community.
Being the largest building in any location, the church acted as the physical, social and spiritual centre for the local community as well as for visitors. People met together in the church which served as a repository for knowledge, history and social activities.
We have witnessed the massive decline of interest in the church as the centre of social life and seen corporate towers and skyscraper banks become the biggest buildings with the glorification of money – at the expense of community life.
Within its walls, churches can offer, as centuries ago, fairs, festivals, debates, art exhibitions, legal analysis, charitable functions,science, prayer meetings, yoga, meditation, chanting, a welcome to people moving to the area and hospitality for visitors. The church can once again become a living centre for the spiritual and the secular. If you are a believer, you could consider such re-awakening of church /community life to be for the glory of God.
Today the Church is largely irrelevant.
Churches welcoming renewal would quickly re-discover its relevance in the local community. It is time to throw out most of the empty pews, the boring rituals and generate creative religious services and teachings emphasising the core message of Jesus namely the significance of love, the community and liberation.