A leading theologian has argued that non-Christians ought to be involved in keeping local churches afloat as the coronavirus crisis continues to threaten the finances of several leading denominations.
The Church of Scotland recently announced that it expects congregational giving to be slashed by £30 million this year as a direct result of covid-19. As a result, senior church officials have urged the need for a “pruning” of the church’s estate in order to balance the books.
The Rev Dr Doug Gay insists that Church of Scotland buildings are endowed with a unique significance amongst local communities and, as such, people of all belief systems should stump up the cash required to keep them open.
He said: “[Sociologists] talk about ‘vicarious Christians’. People who want the church to be there but don’t go and don’t pay for it anymore. This is particularly important when it comes to buildings.
“Lots of people want the church to be there, maybe for their granny’s funeral, or for a wedding, but they take very little responsibility. I’d like to see more opportunities for communities to rally round and work with a congregation, and for the church to make sure chances are given to save buildings where they are valued by a community.
“The church shouldn’t act like a bank or a supermarket closing down unprofitable local branches. On the other hand the church can’t go on living way beyond its means.”
Leading atheist and author of The Death of Christian Britain, Professor Callum Brown, agrees.
He added: “The closure of a church is more than just the closure of a congregation, it is the closure of an important structure, which can often define a community." If a church is in financial trouble, he said, it should be possible to “reorientate the management or ownership of the church so it includes community"
The outworking of this idea, however, may be far from simple, with Brown adding that "all churches in Scotland belong to the General Trustees" and that "the criterion for acceptance of a bid is that it has to be the highest, not that it has community benefit."
"That needs to change," he concluded.
Professor Brown campaigned for a community buyout of a church in Doune, Scotland, which would have resulted in the congregation sharing the building with other community groups. The fundraiser was unsuccessful, however, and Kilmadock Parish Church has remained vacant since being sold to the highest bidder. The congregation now meets at the premises of a former shop.