Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Rise in independent churches

There was competition between two independent congregations to buy the redundant St Peter’s Catholic Church building on the Willows estate in this parish. The congregation which is buying the building used to worship on a Sunday by renting space in a school a couple of miles away. The congregation which isn’t has worshipped in our redundant Bishop Edward King Church and will continue to worship in a building the Salvation Army does not now use on a Sunday morning, both of which are on the estate. As it happens I know that a third independent congregation, which also continues to meet in a school on Sunday, was a bidder for the redundant Weelsby Road Methodist Church elsewhere in town which was eventually bought by a Moslem group.

I mentioned some of this last night at the Pastoral Committee for the northern slice of the diocese when I learnt there that the redundant church on the Westcliff estate in Scunthorpe at which I used to work is being sold to the Elim Pentecostal Church. The fellow Rural Dean for that area suggested that this may all be part of a pattern of reshaping Christian presence in our area: well established denominations divesting themselves of surplus buildings and independent evangelical groups and others taking some of them up (although this isn’t happening where population is sparse or where buildings have major maintenance liabilities, so many mediaeval churches in tiny villages and some substantial Victorian and twentieth century churches and chapels will continue to stand empty, be demolished, or be converted into secular use).

If so, it is a further variation on an endlessly shifting denominational pattern. I happened to be looking at a guide to the near by town of Barton last week which told a typical story from an earlier period: ‘the rise of the Free Churches meant that, by the mid-nineteenth century, Anglican churchgoers here were vastly outnumbered by Methodists and other Nonconformists’ although that time round a little while later both large Parish Churches ‘were restored and refurnished’.

The magnificent monument is in the redundant church at Buslingthorpe, near Market Rasen, which we visited on Saturday and which is one of several not too far away from each other in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

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