Slide Shows on Cathedral and Church Architecture - by Michael G Hardy
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Opening of Churches for Visitors
Some Personal Opinions by Michael G Hardy
The most frequent question that I am asked is "How can we visit churches if they are always locked ?" The days when virtually all churches were open everywhere are certainly only a memory now, and the situation does vary greatly in different areas, however I firmly believe that well over half the Parish Churches in England are open for visitors most days.
There are, of course, various reasons why churches are kept locked. The main reasons are churches in areas which are particularly prone to vandalism or theft, and churches with particular art treasures which cannot be put at risk without supervision. However here are some other reasons given for individual churches being locked at all times:
Nobody wants to visit our church because there is nothing worth seeing inside.
There is nobody to open and close the church each day.
Our insurance company says we have to keep it locked.
We cannot open the church as it has been broken into.
There is no-one to look after the church if it is left open.
There is an increasing awareness that the encouragement of visitors to churches is itself a way of safeguarding them, so they are not isolated all the time, with no-one ever going near them. There are also increasing amounts of technology available to help watch over churches (such as video recording), and the cost of this type of equipment become more affordable as time goes on.
There are also many initiatives, within and without the church authorities themselves, to encourage more visitors to churches. These are taking various forms, some are listed below:
Church Trails: These can vary from very local schemes to those spreading across an entire diocese. They encourage visitors by publishing information on historic churches, and usually include details of when they are open, or how you can access them. These types of scheme are very useful, but do use some very different formats. They can vary from a simple photocopied sheet of paper, right up to packs of very glossy cards printed in full colour, which can be rather too expensive to enjoy a wide circulation.
Area Guides: Certain particular areas and organisations publish guides to churches which include details of opening times, or numbers to contact to find further information on opening arrangements.
Local Church Initiatives: Some dioceses and archdeaconries actively encourage as many of their parish churches as possible to be open.
Local Tourism Initiatives: Organisations related to tourism (particularly local councils in some areas) sometimes produce guides with information on local churches and their opening arrangements. The local Tourist Information Centres might also have such information.
The Open Churches Trust was founded in 1994 by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber to assist churches in designated areas to open. They provided publicity for them, and in some cases provided financial assistance. As well as working in rural areas, they were particularly successful in some towns and inner city areas. To my great regret, the Open Churches Trust ceased operation at the end of 2006, after 12 years of good work, and great achievement.
Insurance Companies who specialise in church insurance often provide advice and assistance to help churches open to visitors as they would often prefer them to be open rather than locked up and deserted all day.
National Churchwatch is an organisation closely allied to relevant Insurance companies. They believe that all churches should be open in the daytime, and they work with dioceses, churches and police forces regarding all aspects of crime involving church property and people.
Personal Campaigns: There are individuals who try to encourage churches to open to visitors as a matter of principle.
There are, of course, ways in which you can find the details of the churchwardens or the clergy and ask if special arrangements can be made for you to look inside a particular church. However I quite realise that there are many people who enjoy looking at churches, but think they have no specialist knowledge, and would find it rather daunting to make special arrangements
Access to many churches is made available on the Heritage Open Days in September (11th to 14th September in 2008), organised by the Civic Trust. This can be a particularly good way of seeing some town churches, many of which will also organise guided tours. Details of the Heritage Open Days together with county lists of buildings open are available near the time on the web site: www.heritageopendays.org.
Another way of getting inside a particular church to have a look around, is to look out for any special events there, such as flower festivals, which are becoming increasingly popular in many churches, whether as regular events or for special anniversaries, etc.
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This page last modified on 3rd December 2007