|English: St Illtud, Llantwit Major, Glamorgan, Wales - Chancel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
This comes from the Church in Wales review which consists of “notables” within the Church in Wales (Anglican/Episcopal) and without describing the problem of too many buildings, what I found astounding about these paragraphs is omission of the ecumenical dimension and possibilities of how these buildings can be used. Let me give an example, in the lovely town of Llantwit Major near Barry there is the splendid church of St Illtud that dates back to the 6th Century, and legend has it that it was the birthplace of not only the first university in Britain in the 4th Century then was the site of St Illtud's monastic school that educated such notables as St. David, and was the birthplace of St Patrick, all this spiritual history in this small place. It was also the only place where John Wesley preached from its pulpit (as Wesley was not usually allowed to preach inside of churches. This part of the Church in Wales review addresses the problem of too many buildings, and tiny congregations who cannot support their maintenance. I think the answer in Llantwit Major is simple the old parish church could be shared with the Roman Catholics, Methodist and of course the Church in Wales, they could have an ecumenical parish council, this could be a great opportunity for those who are baptized to work together build the Church, and spend less time on fund raising.
We have received a good number of heart felt pleas from tiny congregations struggling to maintain an ancient building. As is widely recognised, this is an issue that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
First, we need to be positive about church buildings. They are sacraments in stone, pointers in their way to realities that abide when all else passes away. Particularly in our time, when so many people love to visit church buildings, their value is not to be underestimated. If someone visits a small, isolated country church and finds that it is well kept, cared for and clearly prayed in, this is itself a witness. So time and money spent caring for a building should not in principle be regarded as a waste. In some areas a “Friends” of the church building can be set up, drawing on the affection people have for the building, even if they do not attend worship there. We think that wherever possible such a body should be formed.
Church in Wales Review
So, closing a church building is a sad business, and it is understandable that a congregation in that position might take it as a failure on their part. However, it is possible to convert some buildings into multi-purpose use, and there are some good examples of this already happening. Obviously, this is a better option than closing it altogether. However, multi-purpose use is not always possible, and it is clear that some churches do have to be closed because there is no pastoral need for them, they are of no particular architectural value and they are far too big and costly to maintain.
It is not fair to a struggling congregation to leave the decision about the future of their building to them alone, or even the diocese. We think a small team of people working from one of the administrative centres should be formed in order to liaise with dioceses and parishes with a view to helping them make the necessary decisions and then carry them out. The steps would be:
First, each proposed Ministry Area would carry out an initial review about how many church buildings are needed from a pastoral point of view and should make recommendations about which should be maintained in the area, which could be considered for multi-purpose use and which might have to consider closure. This review could be carried out in conjunction with the review about the number of stipendiary members of the leadership team are needed, as set out earlier in the report. The review should also take into account the ecumenical dimension; the possibility of co-operation and joint use of buildings with other denominations in the area. The appropriate Archdeacon would be part of the review team. The results of this review would be sent to the central team who would then liaise with each parish affected to help them think through the options and offer expertise. “One Church One Hundred Uses” has already visited the Church in Wales and has produced its recommendations. We believe these and any other options for alternate use of church buildings need to be considered in a serious and systematic way across the whole church. For this to happen there will need to be people able to focus on the work full time.
At the moment there are six people employed to look after parsonages. We believe this number should be reduced to four, and that two members of the team should be re-deployed to concentrate exclusively on helping parishes with their church buildings. These two would be expected to have the necessary expertise to direct parishes towards grant making bodies for buildings. They would also, between them, have responsibility of relating to secular bodies about the care and maintenance of church buildings and graveyards