From: The Right Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, Bishop of Ripon.
BARRY Ewbank asks (The Yorkshire Post, November 30) “how do we come to a decision as to which churches stay open and which ones close?” Church buildings are both a blessing and a burden to local communities, yet at a fundamental level, and particularly so in rural contexts, these buildings represent a profound commitment to place.
The Church of England is meant to be “a Christian presence in every community”, and readers may be surprised to learn that it is incredibly difficult to close a church. Rightly so, since all of us are guardians of a rich history that in some cases reaches back centuries. Any decision to close is not taken with ease.
So what can be done? When a parish goes into vacancy, I ask the people of that community the questions: what is your story? What is your mustard seed? Trying to foster confidence is important, especially when populations are ageing and costs are rising. In the Anglican Diocese of Leeds, we work hard with church communities to encourage a culture of hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and in many cases, fresh perspectives on how our buildings can be used. This is not without its challenges, but, in the run-up to Christmas, that is surely something to be celebrated?