Tens of Millions Needed to Prevent Church Closures in England, Warns Bishop

LONDON – The Bishop of London has warned of a spate of church closures across the country if an emergency cash injection of around £60 million (USD $105.7 million) is not procured.

The Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres urged the British government earlier in the week to increase grants to repair and maintain “some of our most medieval jewels,” as some of England’s oldest churches continue to fall into such disrepair that they face the threat of closure, reported The Telegraph on Wednesday.

“There is a real question whether the achievements of the tens of thousands of volunteers who help to maintain our churches are sustainable,” he said.

"If no extra money is forthcoming we will see a spate of church closures and losses to whole communities of buildings that cannot be sustained."

Bishop Chartres will present a paper to the General Synod in February on the crisis facing the Church of England following a cutback in repair grants from English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Grants have dropped every year in real terms since 1996, while the Church’s repairs bill has continued to soar from £86 million (USD $151.4 million) in 2001 to £120 million (USD $211.3 million) today. The Church also has a backlog of repairs totaling £373 million (USD $656.8 million).

Bishop Chartres highlighted the sharp contrast between the £26 million (USD $45.8 million) grant awarded to the Church of England this year to cover its 13,000 listed churches and the £23.1 million (USD $40.7 million) grant given to the Royal Opera House alone by the Arts Council.

"The Church of England is responsible for 45 percent of the Grade I listed buildings in the country and it is time that the government recognized the vital role played by local churches in communities across the country,” he said.

The Bishop of London also urged the government to recognize that the role of the churches today goes far beyond worshipping in the community, as he listed the value of the church as a venue for mother and child groups, judo classes, amateur dramatics and food fairs.

“In rural areas, the church building can often be the only one available for community use when schools, shops, pubs have gone," he said. "The potential of church buildings to help deliver essential services in rural areas is only starting to be realized."

The Church has for a long time criticized the U.K. Government’s role in maintaining churches, which falls considerably short of the contribution of other European governments.

With government funding remaining hugely inadequate, historic churches will be forced to seek money from donations, campaigns and bodies such as English Heritage.

English Heritage said it was committed to securing the future of historic churches and was conducting research to identify ways to raise congregation numbers, reported The Telegraph.

A spokesman said: "We agree that the £26 million per year available for repairs to listed places of worship under the joint English Heritage and Heritage Lottery Fund places of worship scheme is not enough but this is currently the limit of our funds for this repair scheme.

"The results of this research will enable us to identify how best to keep our parish churches alive and thriving and help us to make a cast iron case to the Government for greater financial support."