The days when it was presumed that every church would be open for what it was originally built for are gone. A recent survey in this diocese shows that 80 per cent are now locked during daylight hours. There has been such an increase in theft, burglary and vandalism, from 19 cases in 1980 to 140 in 1991 in Staffordshire alone, that many church councils are simply turning the key in the lock and thereby feel they have solved the problem of security. However, they have increased the problem of access.
In collaboration with Staffordshire Police, we are now actively encouraging every church to review its security arrangements as a matter of urgency so that we can get our churches open again. A locked church is a sign of failure but inevitably when many of them resemble a help-yourself free-of- charge antique supermarket, serious and well-thought-out arrangements have to be made.
Recent losses have included silver candlesticks, alabaster nativity figures, antique tables, chairs, hangings, antique tiles, lecterns, offertory boxes, stained-glass windows, as well as lead, lawnmowers, piping and building blocks.
There are well-established markets for such items both in this country and in Japan, the US and Germany, because the current world increase in prices makes them an attractive proposition to criminals, and a lot of stolen church antiques get shipped out of the country.
Churches are being urged to consider property marking, intruder alarm systems, adequate lighting, good natural surveillance around the church, and removing or replacing valuable items.
Some churches don't even have a proper list of their contents, so if something does disappear, finding or replacing it is impossible. Many of these items are valuable and the community feels sentimental about local works of art, but locking the church door is not the answer - we have to stop the drift and get our churches open again.
18 AugustReuse content