November 2014

An open and shut case

There was a degree of panic early in October in the week before the electricians came to start the work on installing a new lighting scheme at Clodock Church when they announced that the church would need to be locked overnight to protect their equipment. The problem was that the church had not been locked for so long that nobody knew exactly where the key was. (It was eventually found.) The electricians were surprised that the church is never locked.

It is, of course, extraordinarily annoying if you go to visit a church and find that it is locked or that, in order to get a key, you have to traipse to some distant house and hope the occupant is in. But churches are not kept open just to please visitors – although, in an area which needs visitors and holiday-makers, we should not underestimate those factors. They are kept open because of their main purpose in life. Yes, they are places of worship, but it would surely be extraordinary to keep these large, costly buildings going just because they are needed for an hour every week (or two or three weeks). Far more importantly, they are places of prayer, and the need for that cannot be time-limited. I know a number of people here who regularly spend time in our churches form quiet reflection: I know of several people well outside this benefice who also come to some of our churches regularly for exactly the same reason. And it is that sort of use which ultimately makes our churches so special. Yes, churches are built of stone and wood and all sorts of other materials, but what sets them apart is that they are also built on the prayers of all those countless people who have entered them over the centuries and spent time with God there. And they cannot do that if the churches are kept locked.Moreover, the churches are symbols of God’s presence in the community. Is that presence open and welcoming or is it closed and forbidding? It is unwise to underplay the importance of this sort of symbolism.

There are practical considerations: if anyone wanted to steal anything from a church, the fact that it is locked would, in this neck of the woods, be only a minor inconvenience. In any case, if there is something in the church so valuable that the church needs to be kept locked, it should be taken out. Otherwise we would be saying that the preservation of historical artefacts is more important than the preservation of the church as a house of prayer.

Do use our churches. They perform a unique function in the community of providing a refuge from daily stresses and anxieties and allowing a place where everyone can know that they are welcome and where they can be at peace and in privacy with God or just with our own thoughts. They are kept open for a good reason. Do use them.