Thursday, October 15, 2015

Festival Churches?

If you are part of the United Church of Canada you are likely painfully aware that our membership is declining and aging. When I look in the mirror I'm well aware of the aging aspect! I began ministry at age 25 in outport Newfoundland in 1980. My five congregations had over 200 children in Sunday School. The largest of those Sunday Schools now has virtually no kids and the five preaching points are now a struggling three.

I was struck by a Guardian piece about the Church of England and the use of the term "festival churches" to describe buildings which may be opened only at Christmas and Easter and other special occasions because of shrinking congregations.

An increasing number of churches are likely to operate only at Christmas, Easter and on other holy days as the Church of England struggles with the financial burden of maintaining its properties in the face of declining congregations, a report says. More than three-quarters of the CofE’s 15,700 churches are listed, and in 2013 their upkeep cost £157m – or an average of £10,000 per parish. Yet one in four of all churches has a weekly attendance of fewer than 16 people – and for rural churches the figure sinks below 10.

Ironic that a CofE church might only be open at C&E, and that this would be described as a festival! While there might not be a lot to celebrate here, choosing a realistic path for the future makes sense. Ultimately many of these buildings will need to be decommissioned or deconsecrated. The euphemism "repurposed" comes to mind for what will eventually happen. Still this might be a necessary step in transition for those who can't imagine worshipping anywhere other than their traditional buildings.

The Bridge St UC trustees have been given the task of conducting a structural audit of our magnificent but leaky and creaky physical plant. I love standing in our silent sanctuary early on a Sunday morning, but recently, during a rainstorm I heard running water and realized that this wasn't a good thing. We are still an active congregation with a strong sense of ministry and mission in Christ's name, but we want to be realists about our future.

What do you think about the notion of Festival Churches? Is this inevitable in changing times? Is there any good news in this?


Judy said...

Isn't there still a cost to maintaining festival church buildings, albeit less than if they remain open every day...I think, realistically, we need to look at almalgamating congregations, to be more effective in ministering to the communities around us.

Laurie said...

I have just spent the last month and a half in the U.K. Going back to Canada this weekend , just in time to vote!. Anyway, I have seen lots of churches over here. Most of them not used for churches at all anymore. I have eaten some great meals in a couple of them, one a fantastic Indian meal. I have seen others used as funeral homes, yoga/health centres, one a lumber place, a couple of used car places, and many more. One thing that is really neat that in most places, if whoever buys the church, they have to keep the outside close to same as it was, stained glass windows, graveyards intact and open. I was happy to see that happen, they are not pulling these beautiful buildings down. Most of them that we stopped at had boards up about the history of the place.
Saw lots that just have "festival services"
Just my observations from here.