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Keeping Oxfordshire’s churches fit for the future

The number of people who attend Church of England Sunday church services fell to 722,000 in 2017, the latest year for which figures are available, writes Hilary Cakebread Hall, who organises Ride+Stride for Churches in Oxfordshire.

St Mary the Virgin, Bampton, Oxfordshire

This fall of 18,000 from the previous year was not a shocker or a blip, rather it was simply the continuation of a trend seen over recent decades.

These statistics reflect the changes in modern society.  We are becoming more secular – fewer people identify themselves as being Christian.

This decline in the number of people actively participating in worship may not bother many of you.  It is logical that the fate of a particular religion becomes less and less important to a society when the number of people belonging to that religion keeps dwindling.

But there are consequences of this decline in engagement with religion in modern Britain.

Threat to buildings

One of the main ones is the threat to church buildings.

 

St Mary, Adderbury, Oxfordshire

Fewer people attending church means fewer people making donations towards the upkeep of that church and churches generally.

As a result, the money is not there to maintain the building and the church slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) falls into disrepair.

And this matters because churches have an important role in our society.

They are not just places of worship.

They are the setting for some of the most important events in our lives, no matter whether you are a person of faith or not.

People we love are baptised in them, are married in them and have their funerals in them.  We greet, celebrate with and bid farewell to people in our churches.

The most beautiful buildings

Churches are almost always the most beautiful buildings in our communities.  They contribute massively to the aesthetics of our cities, towns and villages.

They are a reassuring sign of our continuity and place – they were there for our grandparents, their grandparents, and their grandparents and, well, you get the picture.

Increasingly, too, they are not just buildings that are used once a week for a religious purpose.  They are community spaces where playgroups meet, where concerts and talks are put on and where drop-in sessions for the elderly and vulnerable are held.

Blessing the spade in St Blaise, Great Milton, Oxfordshire

I am part of Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust (OHCT), which every year takes part in Ride+Stride for Churches and I am also Chair of the National Churches Trust’s national organising committee for the event.

Get Riding+Striding

Ride+Stride for Churches raises money for the upkeep of historic churches and sees members of the public sponsored to walk, cycle or do pretty much anything that gets them from one place of worship to another.

The event is really well supported, which was why we had the national launch for Ride+Stride here in Oxford in May.  The main fundraiser for the work of OHCT, Ride+Stride takes place this year on Saturday 14 September and people can register to take part at ohct.org.uk/ride-stride

Launch of 2019 Ride + Stride in Oxford

Ride+Stride for Churches takes place in many other parts of England, there is more information on this website.

So do find out how you can take part, enjoy discovering some wonderful buildings and heritage and help keep it there for future generations to use and enjoy.

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