Just what is it about churches that make people wary of taking a look inside? Then, even if they do venture in, they often whizz round taking all of 10 minutes before dashing out again.
You’ve promoted your local church as a place to enjoy some of the best of our medieval heritage and as a welcoming stop on a country walk. You’ve pointed out that it’s a quiet place to reflect on the meaning of life which, let’s face it, we all need right now.
Nothing to see here!
Yet when visitors enter they fail to engage. They sail past the rare Norman font with hardly a passing glance at the ancient wall paintings in the nave. They march purposefully up to the chancel in the hope of being stopped in their tracks by something extraordinary. There inevitably is some amazing feature but so often the conclusion is: nothing to see here! Visitors often don’t understand what they are seeing. And why should they? Many won’t have been in church since they were baptised, unless it was for a wedding or funeral.
On leaving, your visitor may occasionally shuffle through items on the visitor table. There’s a church guide, hard to spot due to its low-key cover and full of curious words such as ‘aumbry’, or ‘dropped-sill sedilia’. Obscure and dry-as-dust architectural terms are interspersed with dates and more dates. Did someone enjoy writing this? More to the point, does anyone enjoy reading it?
There are some gripping stories to be told about the contents of churches and the people who built and furnished them – the stone masons, carvers and painters – to say nothing of those who populated them when they were built centuries ago. You have only to think of the success of the Terrible Tudors from Horrible Histories to see how a little imagination in story-telling goes a long, long way.
Your church guide could also be full of such stories in a bright and colourful format with fascinating facts and figures dropped in here and there. It would need an eye-catching cover of course, and perhaps a showy poster to draw attention to it.
Churches are perfect venues for learning outside the classroom and there’s no reason why children shouldn’t have their own guide or trail, perhaps to reflect the national curriculum.
A trail to follow
Given the inspiration of a trail led by a character of your own invention, families can spend a happy half hour discovering the contents of an ancient church. Take a look at Angels & Pinnacles character Albert the roof angel to see what fun it can be.
Dedicated church crawlers can keep their dates and details but it could be time for a bright new approach to grab the attention of newcomers to churches.
Working from my Suffolk studio, I have plenty of ideas to freshen up your welcome. Contact me for a no-obligations visit and quotes for new ways of interpreting your church heritage.