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Churches can thrive once again as living parts of the community

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Churches are fascinating places to visit, sites of living history.

There are some fantastic local churches, like St Mary’s and Christchurch in Wanstead.

The church yard of St Mary’s is also a nature reserve, with log piles, bee hives and budding flowers.

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The often-ancient graves outside stretch right back to when the church was built in 1790.

Inside, there are many epitaphs to Georgian and more recent times. The links to the slave trade were recently chronicled by historian Chris O’Donnell in his excellent talks.

Chris highlighted how some had made money out of slavery, whilst others were actively involved in the campaign for abolition.

I have found churches fascinating places to visit, with often hidden and not so hidden history.

Take St Thomas Church in Winchelsea, which goes back to Norman times.

The tombs of old knights adorn inside, however, outside is the grave of comic Spike Milligan, with those famous words (in gaelic) – “I told them I was ill.”

The sad thing though, is how many churches have effectively drifted into museum status.

But it does not have to be this way. If more churches really live gospel values and open up to the local community, they can thrive once again as living parts of the community.

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Many churches today are doing great outreach work. They are at the forefront of the foodbanks network.

Many are tackling the climate crisis head on, moving to sustainable energy sources and extending biodiversity in their own buildings and grounds.

The work of St Mary’s and Christchurch, in terms of extending biodiversity in their grounds is an example of this.

But more can always be done. It is in the work of social justice that the church’s future lies.

If young people find their church is actively involved in environmental and human rights issues they will stay and get involved. All will be invigorated.

Churches need to revitalise themselves as genuinely integrated community hubs.

The history and traditions of faith have a vital role to play in today and tomorrow’s world.

Paul Donovan is a Redbridge Labour councillor for Wanstead village and blogger. See paulfdonovan.blogspot.com.

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