Throwing open the doors at St Agnes
Despite being in a very popular community and tourist destination, St Agnes church had been struggling to offer a warm welcome outside of Sundays, as it was often shut during the day. With a dwindling rota of volunteers, concerns around security and validity of insurance in an unattended church, those doors were more often closed than open.
Today, the church has been transformed. It’s open, welcoming and is fast becoming a destination for locals, tourists and even dog walkers. And with a big sign at the roadside saying ‘Welcome the Church is OPEN. Please come in to look around, rest awhile, find some quiet and say a prayer’, the message is being heard.
All welcome – even dogs on leads!
‘Welcome the Church is OPEN. Please come in to look around, rest awhile, find some quiet and say a prayer ( and bring your dogs as well, so long as they are on a lead).’
On the day Liz Wallace, Parish Support Advisor, visited the porch was adorned with colourful, celebratory bunting and through the door, a welcome table repeated the message that all are welcome in the church.
“The first thing I noticed was that there were no ‘supervisors’!” says Liz and asked Charlotte Irwin, the PCC Lay Chair, to explain what had changed.
Keeping the church open, even without volunteers
“Following on from your talk to our PCC about the ‘A Way to Welcome’ resource, the PCC decided that we really did want to have our church open whether it was manned or not. We considered how to reduce the risks of theft as much as possible.”
The PCC spent time securing the valuable items to the wall and even securing the brass candlesticks to the back of the altar, plus added some very subtle CCTV cameras. They also consulted their insurers, Ecclesiastical, who prefer churches to be open, even if unmanned, as long as certain guidelines are followed. The theory being locked churches must surely be hiding treasure – well, we know they are but not the sort you can sell on!
At any reasonable daylight hour, people can wander in and seek sanctuary from their day, pray, or even borrow a book. In one of the most peaceful areas, the Lady Chapel, there is now a designated prayer area, offering creative ways to pray including a prayer tree with sticky leaves to write prayers on with the assurance that your prayer will be read aloud during the next Morning Prayer service. A jar of sand and a bowl of water are also available; as you pray and release a handful of sand into the water there is a sense of letting go of your burden to God and your prayers mingling with the prayers of others. There is also a traditional prayer request book.
The book swapping area is to encourage locals to see their church as a community resource, as Charlotte explains, “We wanted people to wander into their parish church more, and, as most of us like a good read, a place to swap books seemed perfect.”
It’s certainly become a church that is appreciated. The visitors book clearly shows how are delighted people are that the church is open with more messages such as ‘Thank you! A beautiful peaceful place to say a prayer’ and ‘Thank you for keeping your church open for prayer and doggies’!
Thank you! A beautiful peaceful place to say a prayer’ and ‘Thank you for keeping your church open for prayer and doggies’!