The Welsh Baptist Union Corporation has a new vision for chapel buildings after the church closes – one that can lay the foundations for future Baptist witness in Wales.
For decades now, when a church cause is wound down, the practice has been that the WBUC sells the church building. But the effect of this in the long term is that we have sold assets – sometimes at a relatively low price – and missed opportunities for mission and the future in so doing. ‘It’s a bit like selling the family heirlooms,’ said Helen Wyn, Corporation Officer. ‘It can make sense in the short term, but if you want to think about the generations to come, surely there’s a better way to use the property?’
As a result, members of the Corporation have developed a new strategy, which requires a potential assessment to be carried out on all eligible buildings. Ideally, when a church considers closing they will inform the Union in advance, and the Corporation can assess the missional and commercial potential of the building – with the missional side always taking precedence. ‘Due to factors of all kinds, we may be able to retain no more than one in ten sites in the end,’ explains Helen Wyn, ‘but the key thing is that we will no longer sell anything eligible without first assessing the potential in detail.’
The potential that could be identified is very wide. On the missional side, there is the hope that it will be possible to hold on to some buildings for new Christian work there in the future – whether in the form of a church, or some alternative community-focused missional use. Another option is that a building can be leased to another church that is currently homeless, or even to a local community group who want to use it for choir practice, playgroups or similar. Of course, careful consideration will need to be given to the situation locally to ensure that we do not compete with other local churches but invest instead in those areas where there is the greatest benefit in doing so.
Some buildings also have commercial potential – depending of course on their location and the nature of the building. ‘We are currently exploring the possibility of creating homes for local people in relation to some sites (whether it is a chapel house building or possibly a chapel building) in the future’, said Helen Wyn. ‘And some places – from being placed on the right lease for a period of years – may be able to pay not only for themselves but also start contributing to the urgent need to fund Christian work in our country in the future’.
Members of our churches in the past have generously contributed to the construction of these buildings, and a way of honouring that will also be to try to make good use, as best we can, of some of them into the future. This is therefore a long-term vision, which will hopefully contribute to the continuation of Baptist Christian witness in communities up and down our country.
 Not every chapel building is eligible – that is a legal matter that depends on who the church deeds state as being the ultimate legatee amongst other factors.