Building on Church History: The Church in London
The Diocese of London Lambeth Palace Library King's College London The Open University

History, mission and ministry

What should we do with our church building?

All church buildings have histories, but of differing lengths. It is widely said that a building is both a blessing and burden on a congregation. They can be beautiful and evocative spaces, but they may seem to place their own conditions and limitations on the worshipping congregation. Building on History has promoted ‘out of the box’ thinking by pointing towards the potential for congregations and the local community to relate to the building in exciting new ways.

Engaging heritage

The history of a building can be an inspirational resource for ‘outreach’, allowing a congregation to contribute to the education, well-being and identity of the wider community.

Building on History has encouraged congregations to consider what a church building might tell them about its people and community. The interior of a church – the memorials, plaques, commemorative tablets, flags and other unique objects - will often tell stories with a strong human interest. Many churches have been the centre of a community in the past, and a place reflecting a shared identity. This means that the building might be used to illuminate the story of the local community – for example, its trades, professions or industrial past; social hierarchy; wartime history; or schools and youth.

Alongside Building on History, a range of other organisations and projects are resourcing and reassessing the links between building, congregation and community. For more information, see ‘what to do next’ below.

Raising awareness

The exteriors, interiors and furnishings making up a church building are often of historical importance, but place financial pressures on a congregation. In London we have found that creative engagement with the history of a church building can help local communities recognise its significance and stimulate not only a sense of wider ‘ownership’, but also financial support.

  • St Mary-at-Finchley, an ancient parish church, has been able to make community learning part of its appeal for the refurbishment of its Willis pipe organ. As a way of raising awareness, the congregation have put together an oral reminiscences project, in which volunteers interviewed local residents about their memories of the church and the organ. This information will be made available through a listening post in the church, a booklet, visits by local schools and a community lecture.
  • St Mary Magdalene, Tottenham, is engaging the community with its efforts to restore its fine Victorian chancel paintings by staging a play scripted by a local historian, exploring the foundation of the church and its subsequent history.

Statements of Significance

Many involved in church leadership tremble on hearing these words when they apply to the DAC and for a Faculty for a repair, alteration or extension to the church building or churchyard. However, Building on History encourages congregations to see developing a Statement as an opportunity to take stock of their church’s historical significance, as the Statement is required to show appreciation of both the material and social history of a church. This document can serve as a basis for informing all kinds of activities, including those mentioned above.

Building on History has provided resources which guide congregations on how to explore this history and development.

What to do next?

There are now a range of organisations and accessible resources which provide innovative ideas for congregations on how to make more of their building and its history. It is important for dioceses to raise awareness of this, either by providing links through their website or keeping church leaders informed through training and development. For more information see:

  • The Building on History website – which includes resources on how to interpret a building, uncover stories about its past and engage with the local community. It also includes historical resources for Statements of Significance.
  • Divine Inspiration, funded by English Heritage and based in the Diocese of Coventry, is an organisation which aims to encourage churches to think creatively about ways in which they can open up the building to the community. Visit for more details, or contact
  • The National Churches Trust advocates the use of church buildings as places of social, cultural and education activity for the wider community. Visit
  • Christianity and Culture produce educational resources which enable a range of audiences to engage with Christian buildings. Their English parish church through the centuries DVD is an excellent, accessible guide to ecclesiastical buildings.

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