Why do church buildings matter?
The Friends of Kent Churches help to secure the future of the county’s church buildings by encouraging people to value and enjoy them and by raising money for repairs and facilities. We are not a religious organisation but we think that these buildings matter for reasons other than their use for worship. Why should they matter to you?
St Peter & St Paul, Trottiscliffe
Imagine the Kent landscape or the towns of Kent without churches: no towers or spires – often the most prominent accent in any English landscape – pointing to the sky; towns and villages without their most important and attractive historic buildings and the buildings on which their communities most depend; and no longer that most English of sounds, the pealing of bells, drifting across our fields and hedgerows. For many of us this would be unthinkable.
But we should not take the future of these buildings for granted. They receive no regular support from the State and the cost of keeping them open and in use falls on their congregations. Yet they are there for us all to enjoy.
Church buildings matter not just because many of them are beautiful, or because they are important cultural symbols but because they are the physical embodiment of our shared history. The oldest parish church in Kent – St Martin at Canterbury – is the place where St Augustine and his companions, who had arrived from Rome in 596AD to convert Britain to Christianity, came to pray and is an extraordinary survival. Almost all the buildings we have from before 1400AD in England, which are still in use, are churches; and there are churches and chapels from all subsequent periods which are among the best buildings which we have inherited.
It is not just the buildings themselves which can give us such pleasure but also their rich and varied contents. They contain wonderful collections of stained glass, wood and metalwork, sculpture and wall paintings. There are memorials to the dead, many of them of high artistic as well as historic value, in numbers not equalled in any other European country. Even the smallest of these buildings have stories to tell which bring our past alive.
Church buildings matter, too, because they are often the centre of their communities. In rural Kent, with the closure of schools, pubs and shops, churches are the sole remaining public buildings in many villages. They may be used not only for worship, though that is much their most important function, but for concerts, exhibitions and meetings of local societies. Some contain cafés, shops or even the occasional post office; foodbanks are common, as are activities for mother and toddler groups and pensioners; some churches provide debt advice, others support those with poor mental health; and there are some very successful church-based farmers’ markets.
St Giles, Shipbourne: farmers market
The smallest churches may find it difficult to do many of these things but it is rare to find a church which does none of them and their purpose is to aid their communities, not primarily their own congregations.