Empty Churches

As we explore England, I am compelled to visit as many church buildings as I can. Besides being in love with the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, I am also in love with church buildings. As beautiful, sacred spaces, nothing else man has made can compare. For all my love for Christ’s church, you can imagine my heartbreak at finding these beautiful buildings empty and closed.

In England, the church buildings (that are still in operation) will normally be open for prayer throughout the day, even if no one else is present. Sometime I wonder if they ever lock their doors at all, as you can be passing a church any reasonable time throughout the week and expect to be able to enter. That is, if the church is still maintained. If the doors are closed, it means that the Church of England can no longer afford to keep it open (because the congregation is too small–or non-existent). When this happens, the building will either be sold or will just sit empty.

Some churches are sold to organizations which preserve the buildings for tourism. Some are sold simply to the highest bidder (one local church has been turned into an antiques center). Some just sit empty.

Last week, I found a church who had closed their doors because they could not afford to pay someone to clean the building. That’s it: to clean the building. As such, they could not keep it open for prayer, and the doors were closed. Our world is starved for beauty and miserable because of it, and the local refuge (the church) has dwindled out. The closed doors are merely the effect of a much larger cause, but even so, it is a melancholy thing.

When you walk through these churchyards, and see the tombs of the faithful departed, and you cannot help but feel something. Something that wants to recognize and process the trajectory of life and the importance of faith. You must think of your death, or else distract yourself. And you must think of how all these people died and were buried in love and fear of God, and now their community cannot be bothered to even clean the building where they once gathered to sing praises and receive the Sacraments. It must make you think. And it will probably make you sad.

I am still processing it, and each time I find a new empty church, I ponder all these things anew. As my small monument, I am going to put pictures of these churches and their churchyards every time I find one.

Pray for us.

Pray for the church here in England, and across the West. But also remember,

“The Church is a perpetually defeated thing that always outlives her conquerers.”

― Hilaire Belloc

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