Worshipping God in a draughty church
Robert Ashton is concerned about the environmental impact of trying to heat the large number of historic, but often draughty, churches in Britain.
COP26 has pushed the climate emergency higher up everyone’s agenda, but improving the energy efficiency of places of worship is no simple matter. We can improve the insulation in our homes, explore swapping our gas boiler for an air source heat pump, and make sure that our next car is electric. But how do you reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from that creaking oil fired boiler that struggles to warm your Grade 1 listed mediaeval church?
Most of our churches were built at a time when the population was far smaller, Sunday attendance was far higher, and people were accustomed to wrapping up well in winter. It is only over the last 50 years that we have grown used to central heating. I can well remember ice forming on the inside of the window of my childhood home and the annual discomfort of chilblains on my toes. Today we expect something better, and of course that is why we are now facing a global crisis.
If sea levels rise as predicted, much of Norfolk could disappear, just as the Suffolk city of Dunwich did hundreds of years ago. In 1750 All Saints, the last of Dunwich’s eight churches fell into the sea. Will future historians write wistfully about the Norfolk churches that have been lost to the sea? What can we do now to make sure our places of worship are playing their part in restoring our damaged atmosphere?
One thing is certain: grant making trusts and conventional fundraising is unlikely to generate the millions needed to transform our national stock of ancient draughty churches, chapels and meeting houses. Nor, with dwindling congregations, can we expect those who appear on Sunday mornings to foot the bill although many are writing policies, and improvements can certainly be made.
Is the time approaching when we will need to find new ways to gather for worship?
The image above is courtesy of Tama66 on pixabay.com
Robert Ashton is an author, social entrepreneur and Quaker.
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