LETTER : Destroying the fabric of the Church

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From Mrs Elizabeth Young

Sir: The Bishop of London, Dr David Hope, has just before his move to York decided that 24 of the churches in the City of London should be turned over to "alternative use" ("Historic churches win a reprieve", 8 August). He seeks, in short, to continue the work of many of his predecessors who have rid London of some of its greatest glories.

This, more or less, is what Lord Templeman recommended in his highly tendentious report - tendentious, because he failed to make clear that there is ample money to look after the fabric of these churches: the funds left by benefactors for precisely that purpose yield some pounds 800,000 a year.

That the Church authorities should wish to persuade the Charity Commissioners to allow these pleasantly large funds, left for quite specific purposes, to be diverted to other uses is not surprising, given the Church of England's financial problems, but it is certainly wrong.

Moreover, Lord Templeman, whose information about what goes on in the churches seemed strangely insufficient, did not even examine the Guild Church system; he just suggested it had run out of steam. It has, in its first wave, but no one can say it could not be resuscitated.

The point is this: the more the finest Church of England churches are deconsecrated and are passed to secular use, the more the Church's national role will appear - and be - diminished. Few things would faster propel the Church towards disestablishment than the wholesale secularisation of the churches that stand around the national shrine of St Paul's, many of them built along with St Paul's, and that demonstrate, at street level and skyline, the Church of England's inextricable role in London's history.

This sorry proposal should go to public inquiry as soon as possible.

Yours faithfully,

Elizabeth Young

London, W2

8 August

The writer is joint author of 'Old London Churches' (Faber and Faber) and of 'London's Churches' (Grafton).