Tourism and Places of Worship
As the millennium
approaches, undoubtedly Christians around the world will be making
preparations to celebrate the birth of Christ 2,000 years ago. Likewise,
many custodians of our ancient churches will be taking the opportunity
to consider the future of their religious buildings, some of which will
be approaching a thousand years old. Yet for all the hope of a bright
new future, as the Millennium dawns, it is probable that many problems
will remain. Not least of these is the question of how best to reconcile
the cost of maintaining historic fabric against the advantages of the
building, its architecture and its history to the Church and community.
The parish church
is still seen by many as a cumbersome expense, an unnecessary luxury which
perhaps should be swept away to be replaced by something more contemporary
and less wasteful in heating, lighting and repairs, enabling a greater
financial contribution to more useful Christian purposes. Furthermore,
since the late-1970s, if not before, Churchmen and conservationists have
had to address the growing problem of declining congregations and the
resultant necessity to make churches and chapels which are not adequately
used face redundancy. Such controversies will not go away overnight as
the 21st century appears.
In a first attempt
to draw attention to the plight of the English parish church and its value
as a resource, the Society for the Promotion of the Preservation of English
Parish Churches organised a two-day conference in 1980 at Bradford Cathedral.
Entitled 'The Art of Church Management', the conference attracted
representatives of the leading Church organisations, many of whom also
contributed to the event.
In the following year,
the Council for the Care of Churches (the CCC) prepared a report, 'Churches
and Visitors' which was debated by General Synod of the Church of England.
The General Synod concluded its debate by agreeing to commend to the dioceses
and parishes key suggestions made in the report for the encouragement
of visitors to churches.
The CCC also submitted
a paper to the English Tourist Board entitled 'Churches and Tourism:
The Next Steps', which outlined the need for further research into
many areas then under discussion.
Despite the General
Synod's conclusion in 1981, the acceptance of their recommendations seems
as far away today as they were 20 years ago. The vast majority of parish
churches still remain an under-used resource, despite their potential
to provide a most useful tool of ministry, and to act as ambassadors for
the Church of England itself. Yet the sentiments expressed by Eric Evans
in 1983 when he was Chairman of the CCC and Archdeacon of Cheltenham,
are as relevant today as they were then. So why is it that churches still
remain locked? Why are key-holders and contacts for access so scarce?
And why do such important historic buildings stand neglected?
are exceptions: a small but growing proportion of churches are coming
alive to the opportunities in this area. Many have learnt from the experiences
of cathedral tourism and have managed to encourage both numbers and length
of stay by offering refreshment, merchandising and opportunities to become
involved in other tourist activities, while not losing sight of the opportunity
In January 1997 the
English Tourist Board sent a questionnaire to 200 churches identified
in the past as attracting the most visitors. 77 churches replied with
visitor details. These churches attracted about 3.5 million visitors in
1996 who spent a total of £2.5 million; 51 per cent on guidebooks and
souvenirs, 38 per cent on donations, and 11 per cent on other items or
services such as catering, admission to the tower, and brass rubbing.
St Mary's church,
perched high on the cliff-tops at Whitby, North Yorkshire, is one such
success story which has managed the balance between Mammon and God. The
sale of items not only includes the usual paraphernalia of guidebooks
and postcards, but Christian literature and verse. Also, through the medium
of a splendid local ly-produced audio-visual presentation set up in a
quiet transept (for which tourists pay extra to watch), visitors are brought
into closer proximity to the Christian experience as the presentation
explains the architecture, history and role of St Mary's in the community.
Warwickshire, the church of Holy Trinity has long been visited for its
Shakespearean connections, as has St Michael's at Howarth, West Yorkshire
for its Bronte associations. Both of these churches have, through visitor
revenue, raised substantial sums for the continual upkeep of the building
and other parish projects.
Above the parochial
level, other success stories include the initiative of the Lincoln Diocese
who tackled the problem head-on with the appointment of a Church Tourist
Officer. The appointment was made possible through winning an award from
the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group in 1980, when the Group held a national
competition to encourage the development of church tourism in celebration
of their centenary.
The Diocese further
expanded the work of the Officer by establishing the Church Tourism Network.
The CTN is a mixed group of individuals representing the Diocese, local
authorities and the clergy. They are brought together to co-ordinate projects
involving the development of church tourism, and to instigate and support
their own ideas such as the setting up and maintenance of sturdy exhibition
units in key parish churches throughout the diocese. They also produce
a promotional brochure, Treasures of Lincolnshire, which is distributed
to major outlets throughout the county and is made available to local
churches to sell.
Those who argue that
such initiatives cost money which can be ill afforded should consider
the cost of doing nothing: first, an empty building is vulnerable to burglary;
second, a locked door does little to promote a positive image of Christianity
to a potential visitor. Furthermore, there are a number of simple and
cost-free solutions to promoting a church as a visitor attraction. For
example, bright, up-to-date notices, clear gateways, fresh flowers, and
visitor information not only give a welcoming message, but also tell would-be
thieves and vandals that the church is visited and looked over by a watchful
community, and that the building is used outside the times of services
- so beware!
One simple way to
introduce and encourage visitors is to make contact with the local Tourist
Information Centre. Co-operation at this level may include the displaying
of a poster inviting people to veer off the usual highways and byways
and make a visit to the church. Asking the centre to mention the church
in promotional literature and adding it to their database of places to
visit also costs nothing, but raises the profile of the parish church.
Once the will has
been established and the way paved, other ideas and solutions become self-evident.
Most churches have some secular activities which can be developed; flower
festivals on patronal days, brass rubbing, occasional concerts - other
initiatives can then be introduced, the promotion of guided tours, perhaps
on Sundays and obvious Holy Days and holidays, with basic refreshments
available for sale. Again, little cost, except in parochial commitment,
but if the incumbent and PCC are willing, obstacles are soon overcome
and ways and means found.
The list of opportunities
is endless, and a variety of organisations can provide free advice and,
in some cases, financial assistance. These include the regional Arts Councils,
the Tourist Board, and local town and county tourist associations. Think
laterally. Architectural significance alone does not guarantee visitors.
Romance, legend, physical situation and downright quirkiness all count
towards the potential for attracting visitor interest. Where the academic
might marvel at the perpendicular Gothic he may also find pleasure in
Some parishes are
already seeing the generosity of the tourist and benefiting from it. While
the casual holiday visitor may not be directly interested at that moment
in the worship of the church, only a few fail to be moved by the glories
of architecture and craftsmanship expressed in so many of our churches.
If encouraged to appreciate and understand these treasure houses, the
visitor may well be inspired to Christianity.
proposals designed to benefit visitors need to be assessed against
the following criteria
to be considered for the effect of noise, appearance and general character
on the primary function of the building as a place of worship. Ideally
proposals should be designed to enhance the role of the building and
to invite secular interest in worship.
ON THE BUILDING
should be reversible and should not directly or indirectly harm the
architectural or historic character of the building. Particular concerns
to be addressed include the risk of fire, theft and accident, the
protection of vulnerable or fragile features, such as brasses used
for rubbings, and the provision of measures to minimise the introduction
of dirt on feet.
features which make the building interesting need to be publicised.
Visitors do not materialise spontaneously.
cost of all proposals and any additional insurance required needs
to be calculated. If there is a risk that the costs might exceed the
expected revenue, other avenues for increasing revenue may need to
be explored, such as the sale of additional publications, post cards
and perhaps souvenirs.
- M Binney and P Burman, Chapels and Churches: Who Cares?, British Tourist Authority,
- M Binney and P Burman, Change and Decay: The Future of Our Churches, Cassell and
Colliery Macmillan, 1977
- M Binney M and M Hanna, Preservation Pays, SAVE Britain's Heritage, 1978
- Cathedrals Advisory
Committee, Cathedral Treasuries and Museums, Epic Publishing
- M Hanna, English
Cathedrals and Tourism, English Tourist Board, 1979
- M Hanna, English
Churches and Visitors A Survey of Anglican Incumbents, English Tourist
- M Hanna, English
Heritage Monitor. English Heritage and English Tourist Board, 1997
- L Samoulle
(Ed), Church Tourism: A Study of Lincoln Diocese, Report
on behalf of the Church Tourism Network, 1996
- R Suddard
(Ed), Churches and their Visitors, Diocese of Bradford, 1982
- MD Turnibul, Working
as One Body, Church House Publishing, 1995
article is reproduced from The Conservation and Repair of Ecclesiastical Buildings, 1998
ALAN WHITWORTH, a freelance writer, was formerly the founder and secretary of the
Society for the Promotion of the Preservation of English Parish Churches,
a registered charity. He contributed the gazetteer to the popular book
Exploring Churches (by Paul and Tessa Clowney, Lion Publishing, 1993) and lectures on architectural
subjects including the art of the church.
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