Church camp movement aims to spread the word far and wide

<span>Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/–/ “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/</div>
<p><figcaption class=Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

For thousands of years, pilgrims have taken time from their epic walks to overnights in churches, mosques, temples, and monasteries to eat, sleep, pray, and meditate as they escape the hectic pace of one day and prepare for the next. Christians continue this practice on pilgrimage routes in England and Europe.

Now, people of all faiths and none are invited to “champion” – church camp – in historic churches in England and Wales. The plan was initiated in 2016 by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), a charitable organization that protects Anglican churches that have been made “unnecessary” (closed) and considered at risk. The project offers travelers an unusual stay and funds churches to keep the buildings well-maintained.

These wonderful buildings need to be used; It’s heartwarming to see the lights on and hear conversation, song and dance

Last year, 1,500 people (and 200 dogs) slept in champing churches, helping CCT generate record revenue for the year. It is now trying to bring more churches across the UK.

“The championship is still too small to raise significant sums,” says Fiona Silk, who oversees the championship business for CCT. “But it does provide extra funding for maintenance and repairs and is a way to help a church stay sustainable.

church exterior in daylight

St Laurence Church, Hilmarton, Wiltshire. Photo: Alamy

“It’s also about providing a warm welcome to people who don’t normally go to a church, and supporting rural communities as visitors dine out as well. Champing can also provide a kind of mission to the local people.”

Priscilla Moxey, borough council in St Laurence, Hilmarton, Wiltshire, says: “The idea that people from far and indeed near can come and stay at our beautiful Grade I village church and get the key for a night or two, it’s incredible to let them enjoy and absorb the history, beauty and architecture. a concept.

“These wonderful buildings need to be used as much as possible; and it’s heartwarming to see the lights come on and hear the conversation, the song and the dancing. I believe the championship brings the fabric to life and also helps care for it for future generations to enjoy.

Related: A spiritual walk in the South Downs: The Old Way pilgrims’ route

The 18 buildings in the Champion portfolio are a mix of active and redundant churches. The former still hold regular services and are classified as communal churches; the latter are still consecrated, but no longer have pastors and church keepers. One church, St Mary’s in Longsleddale, Cumbria, is a harvest church that only opens fully for the annual festival.

Facilities in redundant churches are often limited or nonexistent. Running water is rare and looses are usually of the dry type. Visitors sleep in camp beds. There are no curtains, but there may be stained glass to soften the blow of early sunrises. Churches tend to be cold in the winter and “ambient” in the summer.

My husband said after the championship visit the church looked different, more like a house than just a building.

Natalie Trapmore

The luxury of the championship is the originality of the site, the quirkiness of the architecture and all reservations are private – if you go alone, the church is yours. Prices from £49 per night with 25% off (£36.75) for groups of 8-11 and 30% off (£34.30) for groups of 12-16.

Natalie Trapmore, who leads the championship at St Nicholas, a communal church in Berden, Essex, says the plan is a lifeline. “It costs £20,000 a year – £55 a day – just to keep the doors open and the lights on. Champing was very helpful.”

He says the customers are a diverse group. “We get a real mix – families, lots of young couples, older people, people on their own, groups of ladies coming for the weekend. Some come to walk, others to cycle, some just for the unique experience of sleeping in a church. They even come to Stansted. We even had a Dutch couple who came because it was close.”

Some guests bring bat detectors to better observe St Nicholas’ pygmy bats. Trapmore wants to develop a walkway connecting St Nicholas to St Mary the Virgin, another champion church in Stansted Mountfitchet.

“But it’s also about using a community asset,” he says. “Our church has always been at the heart of our village. My husband, who is the headmaster, said that when he entered the church after the championship visit, the atmosphere looked different, it felt more like a home than just a building.”

With church attendances constantly dwindling and aging, champ can be a way to keep buildings alive and build bonds between locals and “pilgrims”, secular or otherwise.

“The championship can be spiritual the way people want it to be,” Silk says. “When you close the big heavy door, it’s just you and the walls. There is so much peace and quiet. This is excessive unplugging.”

Five champion churches to try

St Mary’s, Longsleddale, Lake District

This non-CCT church pictured above is in a remote location eight miles north of Kendal on a back road through a hilly valley. It’s an idyllic base for nature walks in the surrounding mountain landscape and for the weekend to get off the radar of the Wainwright-baggers. Longsleddale was the inspiration for Greendale, the fictional home of Postman Pat and his black and white cat.

St Nicholas, Berden, Essex
Founded in the 13th century, this early English gothic churchpearl It is rich in architectural details inside and out, added over the centuries and years. It’s on the glamping end of the championship with hot running water, a flush toilet, and a microwave. The homeowners decorated the nave with fairy lights and battery-operated candles to create a warm atmosphere.

Virgin Mary, Walkhampton, Dartmoor

Perched on a hill half a mile from the village of Walkhampton, St Mary’s is at a high altitude (213 metres) in the southwest corner of Dartmoor. The building faces northeast, an alignment that marks exactly a ledge known as Gypsy Rock: one writer speculated that this may point to the site’s Saxon origins.

St Laurence, Hilmarton, Wiltshire
Located in a small village, this 12th-century grade 1 listed church offers guests access to a kitchenette with fridge and microwave, and a flush toilet. They can also take from the continental breakfast basket, which is served right up to the church door. Useful for the villages and historic sites of Avebury and Lacock.

St Dona, Llandonna, Anglesey
A church was first built in 610 on this hillside overlooking Llanddona beach and Red Wharf Bay. This simply decorated yet cozy building dates from 1873 and is located on a farmland about a mile from the village of Llanddona. The historic town of Beaumaris is nearby.

For more information visit

Leave a Comment