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Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Faith and Place in 20th and 21st Century England

I have pleased to participate in a workshop at English Heritage yesterday on use of historic assets and creating new faith spaces in England. We had a eclectic mix of old denominations; Quakers, Free Churches and Unitarians, as well as the new churches, who often have to decide whether or not to buy buildings from other users that may be listed.

We did a timeline which will feature on English Heritage's website which helped me reflect upon the Unitarian and Free Christian contribution to the built heritage of England; not least adding the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth in Liverpool from the early 1600's to the listing and other significant chapels and churches. We hold these buildings in trust for the nation as well as our congregations and local communities which brings rights and responsibilities.

We explored many of the issues relevant to managing a listed building; including whether it is more expensive to maintain. Evidence is that it is but that day to day maintenance is not significantly greater once buildings are a reasonable condition. Listed status of course results in access to recovery of VAT, National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Churches Fund financial support.

All churches were urged to produce a statement of significance to underpin planning and funding requests.

I raised the issue of how changes in worship may no longer be reflected in the interior layout. Unitarians now no longer regularly preach from the pulpit but from the floor and different forms of worship need open space as does the hosting of musical or community events which is not facilitated by fixed pews.

It was interesting to explore how new churches are seeking premises and the opportunities and legal requirements surrounding disposal.    

There are lots of images of Unitarian Churches on the website of the Unitarian Historical Society.

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