RURAL CHURCH BUILDINGS
How to look after, develop and utilise them
While we do our best to ensure that all links in this resource are correct, we cannot guarantee that links to external websites are kept up to date.
In this section…
Setting the context: Wendy Coombey (Community Partnership and Funding Officer, Diocese of Hereford)
How to use this resource
To support individual congregations:
- in maintaining their building’s interior and exterior
- in the process of adapting their buildings for today’s needs
- in achieving the balance between conservation and mission
- in helping to make our rural churches more accessible to more people; and
- to provide a sustainable future for their churches as places of worship
Do you consider your place of worship to be one of your greatest assets, an important tool for mission, and a resource for engaging with the wider community? Or do you think of it as a millstone draining your money and time? For 24 hours a day, seven days a week it acts as a beacon for your faith for anyone passing by or coming in. It will hold memories for your community and tell its story of faith. It needs to tell those stories today and also meet your needs as a living place of worship and where possible also help meet some of the needs of your community.
Setting the context
Welcome to this resource for those who have the care and responsibility for rural church buildings. We have thousands of places of worship in this country – spaces that are important to our local communities as places to encounter God and the living Christ. Church buildings are also focal points – where people have gathered for their rites of passage for centuries. Not only are they the visible symbol of our living Christian faith, they are the depositaries of our local stories – where many go at significant times in their lives: births, marriages and death.
They also bear witness to our local skills and craftsmanship. They may be performance spaces for cultural, musical, and dramatic activities, as well as being peaceful, spiritual places. They are civic centers, used at times of national remembrance. They’re important to our sense of place and well-being.
Churches are unique because of their collective community ownership – cared for and maintained by local people. They exist for all, and everyone should have access to them, whatever their beliefs, if any. Frequently, they complement rather than compete with village halls. Sometimes, they’re the only community building – the real hub of the community and their uses are becoming more diverse and creative although in many of them, much more could be done to unlock their real potential to meet community needs.
Recently though, concerns have arisen about the future sustainability of our rural church buildings. There’s even a perception that church buildings are hindering mission. Could this simply be because we are not giving our parishes the right tools and resources to overcome the challenges they face – and that is exactly what this resource is designed to do.
Rural congregations comprise wonderful, resourceful, faithful people, who love and care for the buildings. They see it as their sacred responsibility to keep the building available for worship, and preserve the place of encounter with the living God. Sometimes they need help engaging with the local community, to draw on their love for the building, to help the congregation care for the church.
The resources in this guide signpost good practice, case studies and simple common-sense guidance. It includes advice on project development, funding sources, business planning, community consultation and project delivery, guidance on the faculty system and other legal frameworks.
So, this resource is to help you think of the possibilities – whether they’re small changes that could help enhance your mission, or for those occasions when God calls you to do the big things. Hopefully, you will find the help and guidance you need in this guidance to help respond to that call in the best way possible.
Community Partnership and Funding Officer, Diocese of Hereford
How to use this resource
These pages will offer general guidance and then signpost you to relevant organisations and their websites where you will be able to find more detailed information. This includes linking to material provided by the main denominations as they have their particular way of doing things.
For certain areas, the link will be made to Crossing the Threshold: a step-by-step guide to developing your place of worship for wider community use and managing a successful building project. This toolkit offers step-by-step guidance to parishes and places of worship from all denominations that are beginning to consider making changes to their church buildings with a vision of opening them up for wider community use. It describes how to develop a community project based within a church building and how to manage all stages of a building project (which might or might not be a community project). It offers ideas on how to consult and engage with your local community and describes the process for seeking and obtaining permissions as well as explaining the available legal frameworks by which you can share your building with the community/other organisations. It covers all aspects of fundraising including providing guidance on new funding models that have developed over the last few years. The Toolkit also links to up-to-date resources which provide guidance on how churches can be eco-aware and ensure their new facilities are as environmentally-friendly and energy efficient as possible. It includes recent case studies and incorporates best practice learnt from their experience. There is also advice on managing your building once new activities are taking place there and it has become both a community building and a place of worship. It also looks at new models of governance including co-sharing management of church buildings with local communities.
There are cases studies throughout the toolkit which provide real-life examples of what is happening in churches across the country.
This toolkit was written and produced by the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance and the Diocese of Hereford in partnership with ChurchCare (Cathedral and Church Buildings Division) and Parish Resources, Church of England, the National Churches Trust and representatives of other denominations.
The latest version of this toolkit was published in November 2017 and can be downloaded for FREE from the Diocese of Hereford’s website. You can download the entire document or only particular chapters. hereford.anglican.org/Crossingthethresholdtoolkit. This online version is being regularly updated.
It is impossible to include all the guidance and advice that is out there (how could we?), so don’t hesitate to look further. Searching the internet can lead to a whole host of ideas and help. And if you come across any other good source of advice or an example of best practice, please let us know.
The case studies will hopefully give you some ideas about what you can do and inspire you. However, always remember every place of worship and its congregation is different, so start from your particular place, people and circumstances.
The most important will be the website of your own denomination. (Direct links to where particular topics are covered on these websites will be provided under those topics below)
The ChurchCare website is maintained by the Church of England‘s Cathedral and Church Buildings Division, and is a comprehensive resource for anyone managing a church building. It explains the Church of England’s Faculty System and what to consider when making changes to the use or physical fabric of your church. churchcare.co.uk/churches
A key part of ChurchCare is the section called Open and Sustainable Churches. This aims to help churches select the right legal and funding model to develop their building for uses beyond the primary role of worship; these could be community activities, cultural events or even commercial activities. churchcare.co.uk/churches/open-sustainable
In particular, they have gathered together all their Guidance Notes ‘on the care, use and development of church buildings’, for ease of reference here: churchcare.co.uk/churches/guidance-advice/all-guidance-notes
Remember, all Church of England dioceses have guidance and information on their own websites usually under a menu heading of church buildings or looking after your church buildings.
The Parish Resources website is provided by the Church of England’s National Stewardship & Resources team and offers over 400 pages of resources (web & pdf) to support all aspects of stewardship, administration and management of the local church. They also offer a range of funding guides to help you target funding for projects – either for capital works or for mission. They are intended to be simple ‘how-to’ guides and cover a range of topics from Preparing a Funding Strategy, A Simple Guide to writing a Business Plan to running Fundraising Events. parishresources.org.uk/funding
Within the Catholic Church in England and Wales, looking after church buildings comes under the Patrimony Committee. The word ‘Patrimony’describes its cultural inheritance in terms of architecture, art and artefacts. This Committee oversees the work of the Diocesan Historic Churches Committees, and acts as the interface between Government authorities and the Church in relation to planning and heritage matters. cbcew.org.uk/CBCEW-Home/Departments/Christian-Life-and-Worship/Patrimony
The Methodist Church in Britain has guidance on looking after and developing their churches here methodist.org.uk/for-ministers-and-office-holders/property and here methodist.org.uk/for-ministers-and-office-holders/online-suite-and-guidance
The Baptist Union of Great Britain has written a series of leaflets to help local churches with practical building issues, legal matters, property opportunities and challenges and charity law. baptist.org.uk/Groups/220864/The_Baptist_Union/Resource_Library/Free_Resources_and/BUC_Guidelines/BUC_Guidelines.aspx
The United Reformed Church is currently preparing revised and updated pages on all issues to do with buildings. In the meantime, ‘if you have a questions, please contact your synod’s Property/Trust Officer’. urc.org.uk/plato-property-handbook1/613-plato-property-handbook.html
The British Quakers website provides a set of property advice sheets which cover a wide range of topics, including building maintenance, facilities for people with disabilities, gardens and burial grounds, health and safety, security, insurance, risk assessments, as well as issues relating to historic meeting houses, conservation areas and listed buildings. quaker.org.uk/resources/directory-of-services/property
The Church in Wales’s Property Department website provides information and guidance notes to parishes on every aspect of managing and maintaining their buildings. There is a specific section on the development and community use of church buildings.
churchinwales.org.uk/structure/representative-body/property and also here churchinwales.org.uk/?s=conservation&submit.x=5&submit.y=12
Other sources of advice
Historic England is part of the regulatory process and offers advice and support. There is a whole section on their website on caring for places of worship which offers advice on undertaking repairs and maintenance. Specifically, they provide information on:
- What makes your building significant
- Whether it is listed as nationally important
- How you get the permissions needed to carry out repairs, maintenance and adaptations
- Issues to think about when making changes to your place of worship
- What to do when considering a new or alternative use for a place of worship
In 2018, Historic England published a revised edition of their guidance on making changes to a historic places of worship. Here you can find information on guiding principles for interiors, space for new facilities and installing new equipment, cabling and pipework.
The National Churches Trust provides grants, practical support and information as well as sign-posting to other sources of useful advice. There is a detailed Building Advice section on their website which covers care and maintenance, making the most of your building as well as advice on managing building projects. There is also a Resource Centre with over 2500 documents and web links to other sources of advice, sorted into topics and easily searchable. nationalchurchestrust.org/building-advice
The Trust will also provide support and advice to help you care for your church building. Call their National Support Officer on 020 7776 1042.
The Churches Conservation Trust which looks after 340 churches is increasingly encouraging and supporting community-based extended uses to help sustain their church buildings. The Regenerating Communities section on their website provides guidance as well as featuring case studies and inspirational ideas. visitchurches.org.uk/what-we-do/regeneration-and-communities.html
Resourcing Christian Community Action A Church of England initiative, this piece of research was commissioned after a Big Society debate at the November 2010 General Synod. It looked at 34 projects from across the country, drawing out several key features which could be helpful for those establishing initiatives in the future. The idea was to bring together current best practice in Christian care in local communities with the resources and knowledge base needed to multiply those good works across the country. It includes a wide spectrum of examples covering different policy areas, locations and types of activity. ‘Although many of the projects included are in deprived areas, Christian community action is called for in any context to demonstrate care for neighbours and new ways of being and to work for personal, social and structural transformation’.
Go to how2help.net to read the research and case studies in full and also find information on how to start a project, how to manage it and where to get advice on finding local partners and funding.
The Church Urban Fund works through the Church of England’s local parish networks, alongside other faith-based and secular organisations, to bring about positive change in neighbourhoods. Despite the name, rural areas also fall within their remit. They largely work through four programmes: Together Network, Near Neighbours, Places of Welcome and Just Finance Network. cuf.org.uk/about-us
The Church Growth Research and Development website aims to communicate and disseminate the Church of England’s work on church growth research and development to help the Church allocate its resources effectively to facilitate its mission and growth. There are also case studies and resources for churches wishing to grow through wider use of their buildings and community engagement. churchgrowthrd.org.uk
You may also find the following useful:
The ACRE Network is made up of the 38 county based rural community councils (RCCs) across England who help communities to help themselves. Members of the ACRE Network are charitable local development agencies, which lead, support and enable community initiatives, reaching 50,000 grassroots organisations. Each of the 38 country based organisations has a village hall/community buildings adviser who provides an information and advice service for those who manage village halls and other rural community buildings. acre.org.uk/our-work/village-halls
This covers advice on running community events, food and hygiene, hire agreements and employing a caretaker and much more. You will have to register in order to access this support.
The Historic Religious Buildings Alliance is a group within the Heritage Alliance and provides an information network to ‘bring together those working for a secure future for historic religious buildings’. They produce a free monthly e-newsletter with information on the latest government consultations and initiatives, details on events and conferences, new funding and training opportunities, new resources and general news on historic places of worship. Sign up at hrballiance.org.uk.
The Heritage Trust Network provides an invaluable platform for members by way of peer-to-peer support, knowledge sharing and skills development. Their guidance and advice helps groups throughout the lifetime of their heritage regeneration project from start-up to post-completion. Just as importantly, Heritage Trust Network gives this extraordinary grassroots movement a united voice, representing their views to government and funding bodies. heritagetrustnetwork.org.uk
Buildings for Mission: A complete guide to the care, conservation and development of churches by Nigel Walter and Andrew Mottram (Paperback – 30 September 2015) canterburypress.hymnsam.co.uk/books/9781848257603/buildings-for-mission