Keeping Church Buildings Standing and Open in the Diocese of Lincoln

By Dr Matthew Godfrey Historic Churches Support Officer and Frances Bell Church Development Officer, Diocese of Lincoln

In an increasingly challenging grant funding environment, being able to provide assistance and advice to local churches is more important than ever. The recent Taylor Review recommended the use of a Fabric Support Officer and a Community Support Officer in each Diocese. It used the example of the Diocese of Lincoln, where the Historic Church Support Officer (HCSO) is part funded by Historic England and the Church Development Officer (CDO) is funded by the Diocese. Their two roles were summed up in the review by the comment ‘one keeps the buildings standing and the other keeps them open’. This Lincoln model and a similar arrangement in the Diocese of Hereford are the only two dioceses that work in this way.

Image of the exterior and graveyard of a large rural Lincolnshire church.
Aswarby St Denys a small church in south Lincolnshire which has just completed a scheme of major repairs funded by a Grant for Places of Worship from the Heritage Lottery Fund © Matt Godfrey

The Diocese of Lincoln covers an area of 2,686 square miles and has 630 open churches, many of which are deeply rural and serving very small communities. It has 256 Grade I listed churches (possibly the highest number of any diocese) and 161 Grade II* listed churches. In many communities the church is the only community building and so still has a central role in the locality.  

The HCSO advises and helps parishes with fundraising applications, project management and procurement. Additionally, he maintains a database of quinquennial inspections reports. This is used to suggest possible candidates for the Heritage at Risk Register and for monitoring the progress of those churches which are already on it.

The CDO role is one of encouraging congregations to open the church buildings more than just on a Sunday morning and to take a fresh look at what they already have in terms of church building assets. Through this work, it is possible to make the church buildings welcoming to all people including those who are visiting or interested in the building rather than the worship.

Top half portrait of a bearded man wearing a blue jumper on the left and a woman  in a green top on the right.
Dr Matthew Godfrey, Historic Churches Support Officer and Frances Bell, Church Development Officer, Diocese of Lincoln © Diocese of Lincoln

Although both officers sit within the Church Buildings Team which includes Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) and pastoral roles, they're not part of the DAC function as they find parishes are more open with this separate approach.

With 630 churches it is not possible to visit all of them regularly so the HCSO, CDO and Assistant DAC Secretary hold regular surgery hours where parishes can come in and talk about anything relating to their church building.

Surgery hours have proved very popular and are often booked up weeks in advance. It allows both support officers to gauge the capacity of the parish and be able to tell them what they can realistically achieve. It is also an opportunity to discuss maintenance and whether or not their Quinquennial Inspection is up to date and the implications this has if they are looking for grant funding for a project.

The two support officers at Lincoln offer help and advice about the building as a heritage asset, a community space and a place of worship. This gives parishes a wide range of help, resources and potential funding that can be explored. The end result is more church buildings in better condition and a greater number which are fit for the purposes for all who use them whether they be the worshipping congregation, the wider community or the curious tourist.

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