Letter from the Rectory May 2019
The recent sight of Notre Dame going up in flames was shocking, particularly given that it had survived wars and revolutions over 850 years; thankfully it was saved by brave and wise fire crews.
In France, the State has been responsible for the upkeep for church buildings since 1905. Churches have often been starved of the necessary funding for repairs and maintenance. It has been pointed out that whilst in 1905 millions came to worship at Notre Dame and a few thousand visited it, today the reverse is the case.
In this country, keeping our church buildings in good repair is the responsibility of each denomination. In a number of places, it is a struggle, but generally church buildings are in a good state of repair.
There can be an over-romanticised view of church-going in the past.
I have just started reading Parson Woodford’s Diaries - the account of a C18 clergyman, James Woodforde who was the Rector of Weston Longville in Norfolk from 1774-1803. At that time, the C of E was at a low ebb: he writes that the only occasions when his Church was full was for thanksgivings for military victories and recoveries from sickness of members of the royal family. The revival of late C18 and C19 injected new life into the churches of Britain.
Driving along the A264 heading west, one might be inclined to assume that the C of E is in terminal decline today: Holtye overgrown, Hammerwood closed; our own Blackham only has limited services.
The true picture is more complex: perhaps 20% of churches are growing. In many urban areas, redundant churches are being revitalised by members from thriving congregations moving to nearby churches (‘church planting’). Many of these are 20 and 30-year olds, full of conviction and enthusiasm.
Parson Woodforde was wary of enthusiasm. In our day of intolerance and violence, enthusiasm should not be confused with fanaticism.