Energy crisis – closing the chapel or the church?

One of the most difficult decisions any small group of members has to make is when the time has come to close the chapel. During these past two years Covid has hit many of our churches hard and disrupted patterns of worship. Some have learnt to meet on Zoom, temporarily close the chapel, meet outside, sit 2 metres apart (although Baptists have been doing this for years!), not sing, sing with masks, not take a collection etc.  That’s a lot of change for people who don’t like change! 

Then there are the finances. All the above has brought added financial pressures and it seems this is likely to get even harder this winter. The energy costs of heating large empty chapel buildings with old and inefficient heating systems is going to significantly rise and perhaps those same questions will return; how do we continue to meet? 

Some might decide to say that instead of masks at the door we will be giving out blankets! But there are some practical measures that may help: 

  • Meeting in the vestry or another, smaller space on your site 
  • Meeting in a member’s house, a café or another community space 
  • Taking meter reading before October 1st 
  • Ask your energy company for an estimate of your bill over the winter months 
  • Consider meeting each week with another local church in order to reduce each church’s bills 

Whilst it would be easy to feel defeated, this energy crisis is perhaps another opportunity to re-imagine and remember the way Baptists as non-conformists have the freedom to do church. New Testament churches met in homes and households. They gathered around tables for fellowship and food, breaking bread and sharing life. They found ways to worship around Scripture, prayers, songs – as the Spirit led. Many voices, not just one. 

As Baptists we share these beliefs: 

  • A church that is the people of God, not the building.  
  • The gathered church – even with ‘two or three’ Jesus has promised his presence. 
  • A worshipping church – that can be more varied than a hymn / prayer sandwich.   
  • A church that ministers to each other where are all called to serve. 

It’s worth noting that the largest church in the world today is in China. In a country where religious freedom is restricted to a greater extent than anything we’ve experienced, this church has not only survived but grown (recent estimates are around 100 million believers – 22 million more in the last decade).  Most of these churches meet in homes and small gatherings – and don’t therefore have to deal with the heating costs of large, old buildings but can focus on the main thing instead – which includes, of course, serving those outside the church struggling with the same real issues.

During the ‘Explore’ course this past year I was struck by a sentence in the book we were following by David Fitch called ‘Faithful Presence’ – ‘As Christendom wanes and the old ways of attraction fail to bring in new church members, and our resources for doing good in the world dissipate, we have no choice but to lead our communities into being present to Christ in all the circles of our lives. We have no choice but to practice his kingdom as an entire way of life.’ (p.183). If these last two years have taught us anything, it has encouraged us to think about why meeting as the church still matters and how we can we be the church today. If the way we have been doing church has not helped new members discover Jesus – maybe it’s time to think again about the way we do church? It is always sad when a chapel has to consider closing but long may the church continue. 

Simeon Baker, Director of Mission 

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