Keeping churches and memories alive at Christmas

Canon Roger Royle

Canon Roger Royle

By Revd Canon Roger Royle

If you are anything like me, memories are a very important part of Christmas. Some may be painful or sad but hopefully the vast majority will be warm, funny and strengthening.

As a child Christmas couldn’t come quick enough. But my mother made me wait. She took me to a church where carols weren’t sung in Advent. At home decorations didn’t go up until Christmas Eve and the Baby wasn’t put into the crib until we came back from Midnight Mass. This all added to the memories, the mystery and the magic of my childhood Christmas in Wales.

Memories also came flooding back to many of the people who, as part of our Diamond Jubilee celebrations chose their favourite church as part of ‘The UK’s Favourite Churches‘ initiative.

St Martin-in-the-Fields

St Martin-in-the-Fields

I wasn’t surprised that Campbell Robb, the Chief Executive of Shelter chose St Martin in the Fields. Here is a church that very definitely practices what it preaches. It was out of the work that St Martin’s did and still does for the homeless that Shelter was born. This Christmas I expect the demands on both Shelter and St Martin’s will be as great as ever.

A delightful memory

Camila Batmanghelidjh (provided by PA, no stated copyright)If ever there is someone who is a kid at heart it’s Camila Batmanghalidjh, the colourful founder and director of Kids Company. Her favourite church is one I also love and have often worshipped in, Sherborne Abbey. In choosing that church Camila had a delightful memory. When she was at boarding school she used to hide in a cupboard so she didn’t have to go to church.

The late Rosalind Runcie, whose husband was Archbishop of Canterbury said once that too much religion made her go pop. Well that certainly isn’t true of a good friend of mine, Gloria Hunniford. In selecting her favourite church she chose one to which as a child, she went five times a Sunday, St Mark’s Portadown. It was also the church where her daughter Caron, who died of cancer, was christened. So, for her, St Mark’s will bring back sadness as well as joy.

Keeping churches alive

May I wish you many happy memories this Christmas and again thank the many Friends and supporters of the National Churches Trust for all that they do. It is through their support that many of the churches people remember with affection from the past are kept alive today.

Roger Royle presents the Christmas Day early morning programme on BBC Radio 2 

If you would like to support the work of the National Churches Trust, please visit our website.

A church is for life, not just for Christmas.

Canon Rev Roger Royle, who  presents the early morning show on BBC Radio 2 on Christmas Day  from 3.00 am to 6.00 am, writes about the importance of looking after churches  at Christmas and throughout the rest of the year.

Christmas is when the churches and chapels of this country are at their best. Carols, cribs and congregations all contribute to making this time of the year really festive. And that is as it should be.

Snow Bedfordshire, BLUNHAM, St Edmund #001Churches, chapels and meeting houses are at the heart of our nation’s heritage and landscape. An unparalleled mix of history, architecture, art and spirituality, they form the centrepiece of thousands of cities, towns and villages across the United Kingdom.

But that doesn’t come about without a lot of hard work; work that is often unseen and sadly sometimes not appreciated. There are so many people in this country who through sheer hard work, dedication and generosity make sure that our places of worship are open not just at Christmas but for the other 364 days of the year as well. To them we should be very grateful.

Looking after the well-being of our own homes is demanding enough. Looking after God’s House can be a nightmare. With priests and ministers at full stretch looking after the spiritual health of their congregations , the work of looking after the well-being of parish churches often falls to dedicated volunteers. Up and down the country, it’s usually lay-people who dedicate their spare time to make sure drains are cleared and heating serviced and even oversee major projects to fix leaking roofs, replace rotting timbers or re-build crumbling spires.

A wonderful example of a community coming together is Holy Trinity Church at Ratcliffe on Soar, Nottinghamshire. Eight years ago, the congregation realised that the church was in dire need of extensive repairs to restore its damp and deteriorating fabric. To carry out this work would usually have required spending tens of thousands of pounds.

However, thanks to the determination of villagers, together with the expertise of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and the dedication of volunteers, this Grade I listed parish church has now been restored purely on a voluntary basis, without government funding or paying contractors for work.

The residents of Ratcliffe on Soar are aware that work on an ancient building of such importance is never complete. However, they continue to work, ensuring that it is passed on to the next generation in a better state than they found it.

Unlike the major Cathedrals, our parish churches and chapels are often run on a shoe-string. So in this age of austerity let’s be thankful that in 2012 the Government found £1.1 million to pay for capital works at parish churches and that charities such as the National Churches Trust continue to fund essential repairs.

I hope that you will have a very happy Christmas and pray that the message of God’s generosity and love will be of strength to you. And if you are visiting a church or chapel to celebrate the birth of Jesus with your family or friends, do spare a prayer for those unsung heroes who have made sure that our places of worship are open, welcoming and safe.

Church carol services – entertainment for ‘Christmas tourists’ or a time for belief?

In the Daily Telegraph  Rupert Myers says that  anyone is welcome to come into a church at Christmas and for carol services. But he asks is too much effort being made by places of worship to attract the ‘flocks of Christmas tourists’.

St Mark's, Bilton Warwickshire

St Mark’s, Bilton Warwickshire


He says:
“Anyone is welcome to come into a church at Christmas, but maybe it’s also time for some of the Christmas tourists to stop kidding themselves. Perhaps what we need is to find a beautiful old building somewhere, deck it out with meaningless yet attractive symbols, paintings and carvings, fill it with diffusers which release a suitably spiced, exotic aroma, and charge people to come and sing carols. You could improve upon the carols by throwing out all the old-fashioned words and bits which don’t rhyme and replace them with something more accessible, adding a decent bass line, or some percussion. You could have ample parking, a crèche and gift shop. Afterwards the organisers can flog mulled wine and go to town on the premium organic mince pies. You could have readings from Dickens instead of all that Biblical stuff. It could be a great money spinner, and if it was owned by a church it would be a win-win situation.”

You can read his article online

Is there a correct balance between churches being open to visitors and being sacred spaces for worship? Or have churches always been places which have welcomed in both their congregations and visitors? Please tell us what do you think?

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