In 2021, the Bishop of Norwich, The Rt Revd Graham Usher, commissioned a team to look into the future use and sustainability of church buildings within the Diocese of Norwich, which covers Norfolk and Waveney. The Commission has now completed its work, with its report entitled ‘Lifelines for Historic Churches and their Communities; Keeping church buildings open.’
There are over 640 church buildings in the Diocese of Norwich, 95 per cent of which are listed buildings. This is one of the highest concentrations of church buildings in England.
Bishop Graham encourages all those interested in church buildings to read the report. He says;
“Our church buildings witness God’s mini miracles; vows of baptism and marriage exchanged and honoured, times of mourning and loss recognised; forgiveness offered and received. Our churches are also historic gems; treasure troves of community memory; story telling places… and architectural delights with their knapped flint, angel roofs and round towers. Yet in a Diocese with so many church buildings, and small populations in many rural places, their future sustainability is a concern. I am grateful for the work of the Commission that has looked into this and made a number of recommendations.”
The Commission met between January 2022 and May 2023 with members drawn from a variety of stakeholders including clergy, churchwardens and independent specialists with a knowledge of and interest in the use and heritage of church buildings.
It was led by Laura McGillvary, former Chief Executive of Norwich City Council, as an independent chair.
“What was refreshing to hear was from those outside the Church who love the historic church buildings of Norfolk and Waveney and who appreciate them in so many varied ways, whether as cycling or walking stops, wandering around churchyards or simply appreciating the enormous variety. I for one will never look at a historic church in the same way again!”
The report includes a series of recommendations for the Diocese of Norwich, the Church of England nationally and the government.
During its work, the Commission team found that;
“It is not widely understood that the responsibility for maintaining a church building actually falls to the parish congregation through their Parochial Church Council (PCC)…. There is an assumption that the Church of England owns the churches and not PCCs and that they will always be there as they have for hundreds of years. In truth, the nation’s heritage is being cared for by a small handful of volunteers.”
The report also found that;
“In isolated rural areas with diminishing congregations and a very small number of active members, it is a struggle. Where the upkeep and use of church buildings is shared with local communities, there is a greater chance of sustainability.”
Bishop Graham has now formally accepted receipt of the report and along with the Bishop’s Council of Trustees, will consider the recommendations from it. The Commission team have suggested that a working group is formed with the purpose of taking forward the recommendations that are accepted.
You can read the full report here: www.DofN.org/ChurchBuildingsCommission2023