An atheist's prayer for the churches that keep our soul

It is simply inconceivable that England’s 47,000 parish churches will disappear, even with the decline in religion. But to enjoy a church involves willing its upkeep. I believe that a building designed for a purpose, however eccentric, is ideally best used for that purpose. I would think the same of a theatre, a town hall or a freemason’s lodge.

An English church is designed for a specific liturgy, in the case of 10,000 medieval parish churches ironically a Roman Catholic one. The layout of chancel, choir, transepts and aisles makes full sense only with the murmur of the mass, the smell of incense, the busying of priests about the altar. As attendances plummet, must church-lovers recruit from central casting to fill this void, as one day actors will be needed to “change the guard” for London tourists?

I readily put my pound into the collection box to keep these places open and alive. I will them to flourish. I was sorry when Norwich closed two-thirds of its medieval churches as no longer fit for purpose. York struggled, and largely succeeded, in keeping similar numbers of churches open at least as public spaces.

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