Open churches toolkit: Why open up?

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Church buildings bear witness to the Christian faith. They offer a sign and celebration of the presence of God in a community. A locked door is a universal symbol of exclusion, while an open church expresses God’s welcome, His presence, His creativity, His justice, His healing and His forgiveness. Allowing friends and strangers to enter your building freely is a simple but always effective act of hospitality. It can become an integral part of your mission action plan.

By being open, church buildings provide a sacred space where, even if there isn’t a service on, people can come and encounter God. In a busy, noisy urban area they are places for private prayer and quiet reflection. In one of the world’s most expensive cities, in a place where loneliness and alienation are keenly felt, they are there for everyone and there for free. They embody the truth that the Church is the only human institution that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members. Maybe your parish has tended to view its mission as not being about the building. That’s understandable, but it’s worth thinking again as one famous Evangelical parish did very successfully. No matter what your theology, no matter what your tradition of churchmanship, you have something to gain from opening your doors to the world.

London’s churches are treasure houses, an amazing wealth of architecture, history and craftsmanship, built and maintained by the people of this city for the people in this city. They deserve to be seen. No other built legacy is capable of providing enjoyment for everyone like they can. Just a few minutes grabbed during a busy day in a beautiful, calm interior can provide inspiration and succour that last far longer.

The capital’s parish churches are keepers of tradition, which tell the stories of the communities which produced them and which they serve. For worshippers and non-worshippers alike they are a touchstone for a sense of identity, place and continuity with the past.

London is a city of many faith groups yet, while often curious about what goes on inside its buildings, people from outside the Church of England may be reticent about stepping inside. By extending a welcome to those of all faiths and none, churches have a unique opportunity to foster social cohesion.

It’s also worth remembering that public access is increasingly important to the bodies that provide funding for repair and development work. Many of them, including the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), make it a condition of a grant that the church is open for a certain number of days a year. While it may not guarantee that a grant application will be successful, already having a well established open church programme will certainly put you in a stronger position.

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Open churches toolkit