England churches must become community hubs to survive, says report

Churches in England must become active social and community hubs and start offering people non-religious services for them to survive and become sustainable, an independent review has recommended.

(REUTERS / Nigel Roddis)The Minster in the northern English city of York, where the Church of England General Synod is taking place. December 13, 2011.

Although churches are considered as "heritage assets," maintenance and repair for these structures are no easy feat, said the Taylor report on the sustainability of churches and cathedrals in England. Therefore, congregations ought to bring in more people and encourage them into caring for houses of worship by turning these places into "vibrant hubs at the centre of their wider communities," The Guardian detailed.

The Taylor review was conducted to think of ways to ensure that heritage church buildings were properly cared for and preserved for the use of future generations. It noted that people's ability to maintain churches have diminished because of several reasons, which include the declining number of parishioners and funds.

"A common assumption, that [churches] are managed and maintained by well-resourced and endowed bodies, needs to be countered," the report said. "In reality, for the majority of churches, the exact opposite is the case: local people bear the full responsibility for repair, maintenance and security."

The report cited several examples of churches that offered services other than worship. Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire, for instance, uses its space for events, concerts, playgroup, a skate park, and a café. St. Leonard's in Yarpole also offers exercise classes and is putting up a café, a shop, and even a Post Office.

In the end, the report acknowledged that there was no general solution to the problem of deteriorating church structures. However, it insisted that new uses for these buildings may be needed to generate income that can be used for their maintenance.

The Church of England and heritage groups welcomed the recommendations of the review. Rt. Revd. John Inge, the Bishop of Worscester, said churches had already started offering their spaces for community services, The Telegraph relayed.

Heritage Minister John Glen also said the review was important for the efforts to sustain church buildings in England. He also promised to take a closer look at the recommendations.