We’re open all hours – what’s your excuse?
Bob Calver PCC Secretary
Is your church open? If not why not? I ask these questions based on the experience of my village church, St. Peter’s Pipe cum Lyde just north of the city of Hereford.
For many years it was kept locked except for the hour each Sunday when it was in use for worship or when it was needed for events and meetings (we don’t have any other public building) or for the usual round of Christmas fairs, plant sales and coffee mornings.
Opening the church was discussed from time to time but the wise counsel was to keep it closed, especially given our position close to a main road and with no ‘neighbours’ to keep an eye on the place. Then, a little over a year ago, the PCC agreed to the suggestion from our Churchwarden, Robert Barnes, that he would open the church each day……and what a great decision that has proven to be.
Good as his word, Robert has taken the majority of responsibility for unlocking the church each morning and closing it at night. That involves a 1 mile round trip each time, two miles a day or an annual journey of more than 700 miles.
But a quick look in the visitors’ book show how every mile has been worth it. “How wonderful to find the church open,” wrote Rebecca and Sharon Coates from Vancouver, Canada in May this year. “Thank you for keeping it open,” is a frequent entry. Another recent visitor wrote: “This is an obviously loved church, a haven with a welcome,” and guests from Wiltshire added: “How lovely to feel an atmosphere of love and care in a church this age.”
The visitors’ book is important and we have a notice asking people to sign it. In fact we’ve had to buy a new book to keep up with the growing number of people taking up the invitation to call in for a look round, a bit of peace or some prayerful time.
Anni Holden. Director of Communications for the Diocese of Hereford, is clear in Diocesan support for keeping churches open. “A closed church is a contradiction,” she says. “Think what we are saying to people when we keep our wonderful buildings locked.”
I know some readers will be thinking about the security risks of keeping their own local church unlocked. True, someone did discover a man making use of St. Peter’s hospitality – and electricity –to charge his mobile phone but there have been no other problems.
We did have a theft – but ironically that happened when someone smashed a window to break in shortly after the building was locked at the end of the day. The intruder made off with a tin of biscuits and about £2.50 in loose coins from the jar at the back of the church where visitors are urged to ‘Help us change…’ (Get it?).
We’ve shrugged that off as a small price to pay for the knowledge that we are playing our part in the ‘ministry of welcome’. Just ask the man from Stourbridge whose message was the first in the new visitors’ book. He wrote: “You have got it very much right keeping the church open,” and we all agree with him.