10 BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON HISTORIC CHURCHES 27 TH ANNUAL EDITION PODS AND PEWS Extending the Use of Churches Wendy Coombey and Tim Bridges I F YOU ever venture to the far west of England, into the glorious county of Herefordshire to drive, cycle or walk through the ancient landscape, you could not fail to notice the numerous sandstone churches scattered about the countryside. However, sometimes people simply take church buildings for granted. After all, they have been there for many hundreds of years and their permanence, their visibility or their place in our landscape can seem to be beyond doubt. Nevertheless, we need to wake up to the fact that there is a gentle but slowly creeping crisis that is bringing their future into question across the whole country. The Diocese of Hereford is one of the most rural in the Church of England with 406 open churches within a 1,650 square mile area. It employs a community partnership and funding officer and a church buildings support officer (funded by Historic England) who are well aware of both local and wider challenges faced by many church communities in caring for their listed buildings, and so are continually looking for ways to support these communities to move towards a secure future for their churches. Many of the reasons for growing levels of anxiety around the future of church buildings are well known and documented: decreasing church attendance, elderly congregations as well as significant changes to life in rural communities. When these are combined with declining revenue streams, lack of capacity to manage basic maintenance and perhaps most importantly that, for the first time since the 1970s, there is no dedicated or adequate St. Mary Magdalene Church in the Herefordshire parish of Turnastone is one of many churches in England with a declining congregation coupled with mounting maintenance and repair costs. This Grade II* listed church dates from the late 12th/early 13th century. (Photo: Tim Bridges) funding program to support parishes to carry out major repairs on their church buildings, the challenge can seem huge. Nevertheless, our church buildings are still here, still open (Covid-19 restrictions aside) and still being used as much loved places of worship at the heart of our parishes, villages, towns and cities. The question asked in Hereford Diocese is what else, besides regular repairs and maintenance, will give church buildings a more secure future? Maintenance alone won’t guarantee sustainable future use, it won’t always give a church purpose, attract more worshipers or encourage local community activity in the building, and if no one is using it, is there any point in carrying out maintenance? Should we just let these buildings slip into gradual ruinous decline?