Monday, May 02, 2011

To lock or not to lock

click photo to enlarge
As anyone who looks at this blog on a regular or even an intermittent basis can't help but notice, I visit  and photograph quite a few churches. Usually I've determined which ones we'll stop at the day before, but often we simply drop in as we pass by. I say "drop in", but sometimes that's not what we do. Why? Because many churches are now locked. There was a period, that extended into my lifetime, when virtually every village and small town church was open during daylight hours. Those in large towns and cities were more likely to be locked, but quite a few opened, sometimes with an individual from a rota of parishioners in attendance. Today when we arrive at a church I expect one of the following to prevail:

1 - the church is locked and there is no information about where to borrow the key
2 - the church is locked but the phone number of one or more key holders is displayed
3 - the church is locked but the addresses of a one or more keyholders is clearly displayed
4 - the church is open.

From my perspective 4 is good, 3 is acceptable, 2 is less than satisfactory, and 1 is very disappointing. Of course a parish often sees things differently. Fear of theft and damage are the main reasons churches are kept locked, and many incumbents and church council members convince themselves they cannot leave the building open for these reasons. What I find interesting, however, is that it's very difficult for me to predict which church I'll find open and which will be locked. Many parishes and groups of parishes have no problem leaving their churches open, but others, in apparently similar circumstances, come to a different conclusion. The individual experience of theft or vandalism sometimes prompts closure, but in other cases is brushed aside and the building remains open to serve the community, to provide a religious facility for visitors, to offer the main repository of local history to those who are interested, and to raise a small amount of funds from passers-by. I sometimes think it is the fear of what might happen, rather than the actuality that leads to a church being locked.

On a recent journey through Lincolnshire I had two very contrasting experiences. In one area I found a group of churches open, and a sign in each advertising the fact that all welcomed visitors. A few miles south we found most churches in a small area (including Dorrington church shown above) locked, though one was open because it was being cleaned. A church that we always find locked had a service in progress - fair enough - but also had banners strapped to it appealing for funds to repair the chancel roof. We departed reflecting that they'd have had some of the money that was required donated by us over the years had the building ever been unlocked.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 17mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/600
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On