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UK: Parish churches could host multi-faith worship in battle to stay open

UK: Parish churches could host multi-faith worship in battle to stay open
More than 12,200 Church of England churches that are listed and £2.6 billion has been spent in repairs and building projects on them since 1999

By Harry Farley
Dec. 20, 2017

Parish churches must be available for new and different purposes, including the possibility of multi-faith worship, if they are to stay open, a review is insisting today.

Listed Church of England buildings should transition from being just places of worships to 'social hubs' and a 'community resource' in order to survive, the report published by the Department of Culture Media and Sport is recommending.

With more than 12,000 CofE churches listed and attendance figures continuing to fall, locals groups are facing a battle to keep parish buildings, described as the 'jewel in the crown of our built heritage', open.

The report suggests the buildings be adopted by the whole community rather than just the dwindling congregations who attend them.

Bernard Taylor, who chaired the review panel including figures from the CofE and heritage bodies, told Christian Today parishes could look at the option of allowing multi-faith worship as he warned church buildings were not being used effectively.

'Despite the hard work of many groups and volunteers around the country, they face complex problems of maintenance and repair, and are not always well used and supported,' he said.

'Increased use and helping communities in their broadest form to see the value and potential of the local church is the key to the church building becoming more self-sustaining and ultimately ensuring its long term survival,' he added.

Asked whether churches could look at hosting other religious services to help keep the buildings open, Taylor told Christian Today it was up to the local congregation.

'Each case is different,' he said. 'I think that there are examples where multi-faith worship takes place. I think it is probably more difficult for some congregations.

'It is for the local community [to decide].'

The report cites examples where churches are used to host cafes, playgroups, post offices and NHS services as well as for regular worship.

It urges the Church of England to continue simplifying complex laws around the use of buildings to allow them to act 'both as a place of worship and a community resource'.

The Bishop of Worcester, John Inge, said churches are 'not just places of worship for their communities: they are social hubs for people of all ages, spaces to offer hospitality and vital services to the vulnerable; churches increasingly are the glue in community life.

While praising volunteers and church groups, he said the proposals would 'help to protect their fabric and equip them to serve anew in the future'.

He said: 'The Review makes clear how churches and cathedrals are vital community assets in need of support nationally. We look forward to working with funding partners to put the proposals into place.'

Heritage minister John Glen welcomed the report and promised to look carefully at the recommendations.

'Our church buildings are a major part of our heritage and it is vital that they are cared for and protected. This report has shown how valued these buildings are and how many thousands of volunteers work so hard on their upkeep,' he said.

'This review is an important first step to building a more sustainable future for thousands of church buildings across the country, and we will look at these recommendations carefully.'

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