By Peter Stanford, The Telegraph
All Saints, Waterden, stands in splendid isolation in the middle of a field in a hidden valley 10 miles from the north Norfolk coast. It is a 1,000-year-old Anglo-Saxon village church without a village – but even if it has lost its original purpose, it remains picture postcard perfect, a Grade I-listed gem in a landscape that carries those who happen upon it back through the centuries.
They are few and far between, though, as the visitors’ book records. Certainly not enough to justify having someone on the door to collect ticket money, as happens in most of our great cathedrals and abbeys. Recently, though, All Saints required £50,000 of repairs to its roof and £10,000 to restore its ancient box pews. So who was going to pay?
The building belongs to the parish of South Creake, where the 40 or so regular worshippers have already had to find £100,000 to repair the roof of their own Saint Mary’s. They use All Saints only once every four weeks for Evensong. It is quite a bill to foot in return for 12 services a year.
Their dilemma neatly encapsulates the crisis facing the custodians of the 12,000 listed Anglican parish churches around the country, two thirds of which are in rural areas with tiny and dwindling congregations struggling to pay maintenance bills. The desperation caused by this funding shortfall has been brought into sharp relief this week by the news that thousands of homeowners living near ancient churches potentially face large bills for the upkeep of their fabric, even if they never set foot inside them.
The Anglican authorities are currently writing to parochial church councils to encourage them to register what are called “chancel repair liabilities”. These date back more than 500 years to the Reformation period and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Those who took over what had been monks’ land took on the responsibility for repairing the chancel (the area around the altar) in the local church. These remain on the statute book, even though they have fallen into abeyance.
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