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July 3, 2012

Well, today is when it all started. I have had a tour of the western side of the Cotswolds. You might like to know where I have been and what I have found. It is probably worth saying at the outset that the opinions are mine based on what I found today.

St. Mary’s Witney – very clear signage and it is made clear that the church is open every day. Inside, it is a peaceful and prayerful place. There is a guide for visitors and a prayer corner in the North Transept. There is even a toilet for visitors to use! There are a few leaflets on the faith around, but not much. 244 people had signed teh visitors book in the last year. Overall I would rate this as good.

St. Kenelm, Minster Lovell. A wonderful church and one of my favourites. It is in a delightful setting and exudes a sense of holiness as soon as I walked in the door. I said my morning office there and I found that very uplifting. The signage is excellent and it makes you want to go inside. There is a history guide or two and a few books for sale but nothing really for the seeker after what our faith is about. 487 people had signed the visitors book in the last year – that will only be a small fraction of those who visit so this church gets a serious number of visitors, justifiably I reckon. Overall all I would rate this as good but they could do better – I was surprised that there was no where to light a candle given the church tradition at St Kenelm’s. Definitely worth a visit.

St. John the Baptist, Burford. Another wonderful church. As you approach the gate there is a large sign which simply says ‘church open’ – wonderful. There seemed to be a lot of visitors about today. 400 + people had signed the visitors book (I got a bit bored counting!). There are some nice touches here for the visitor – a prayer chapel set apart up some steps with some thoughtful crosses stood in it. There is a display of bibles laid out on a table tomb which is an excellent way to display and use these. Also some ‘Why Jesus?’ booklets in lots of languages. There is also a small and good bookstall. This church is actually quite a rarity in being evangelical yet interested in casual visitors. The St. Peter’s chapel is excellent also – using a tiny chantry chapel as a prayer place. Brilliant! Overall I would rate this as very good.

St Mary, Swinbook. A lovely little church in a delightful setting. The only sign you see as you approach the gate is one which warns about dogs fouling the churchyard – probably necessary but not very welcoming. 300 + visitors in the book so well visited, probably because of it’s association with the Mitford sisters who are buried in the churchyard. There are a few postcards for sale but nothing about the faith or the purpose of the church at all. This church gets lots of visitors but not much effort has gone into ministering to them. Overall I would rate this as poor.

St Oswald, Widford. A walk across the fields from above. What a wonderful little church! It is very simple, inside and out, with box pews and a great sense of antiquity. There is a sheet on the history but that is it. That is a shame as this could really be a gem for visitors. An ideal candidate for the ‘Small Pilgrim Places Network, I would think. St Botolph’s at Iken (Suffolk) is in a similar situation but there a lot of effort has gone into making it a place of pilgrimage. That could happen here. Overall poor but a wonderful place non the less!

St Andrew’s Eastleach. As you walk to the gate there is a small welcome notice, which also asks for money – that could be quite off putting. There is a nice welcome in the porch though. There are some nice touches here – a small display on John Keble who was a curate here. His famous work, ‘The Christian Year’ is on display. There is a laminated prayer card – some to take away would be nice. The big Bible is left open for visitors which I like. There is a photo album showing the lovely kneelers. 39 people had signed the visitor book in the last 2 months. Overall I would rate this as OK – but there is room for improvement.

St John the Baptist, Coln St Aldwyns. A hard church to find! There are no signs and when you do find it it is not at all obvious that it is still in use! It is and is worth a look. There are some good displays on local history inside. This includes some lovely stories of previous clergy – the place has obviously attracted some characters over the years! The leaflets were disappointing from my point of view. There was one copy of ‘Look around you’ but that is all. I woudl have to rate this as poor, mainly because of the lack of signs outside.

St Mary the Virgin, Bibury. Masses of visitors here! This is a lovely church with the best kept churchyard I have ever seen. Good signage making it very clear that the church was open. The visitors book showed visitors from all around the world – 117 had signed it in the last month. There are church guides and burial records are available – these were being perused avidly by a couple when I got there. There is a notice in the porch about a booklet about the 22 local churches, but that wasn’t available inside. It must be hard to keep up with demand though. Prayer cards and book marks for sale. Overall Ok to good.

St Mary the Virgin, Barnsley. Another place with a lack of signs – nothing. Inside it is very dark and only 24 visitors had signed the book this year so far. A history and some burial records – you would probably have to take these outside to read them, but nothing else. A shame really as it is an interesting little church which often gets mentioned in guide books. I would have to rate this as poor but it could so easily be good with just a little thought.

St Mary the Virgin, Fairford. A complete contrast. Excellent signs saying when the church was open. There are friendly stewards around and a good range of booklets for sale – nothing much on faith though. There are even some torches hung up so visitors can have a good look at the misericords could be seen properly – excellent idea. There is also a votive stand and a place for prayer requests. The set of windows are breathtaking and very rare survivors. I would rate this as good.

Lastly today, St Lawrence, Lechlade. There is not much in the way of signs but the door is left open to invite people in. There are some welcome leaflets, and for children. 58 people had signed the visitors book in the last month. Overall I would rate this as OK.

I do not mean my comments to be negative – I am approaching this project as someone who is looking with a professional eye at what a church building ‘says’ to a non churchgoing visitor.I know that trying to accommodate visitors is often way down the list of priorities. My point is simply that there are a lot of people out there who are visiting our churches (I saw a lot today). It just takes a bit of thought and effort. By all means email me or leave comments!

More Cotswolds to come!

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