Glastonbury may not have the glamping glamor, the privacy of a hostel, or the amenities of a hotel room minibar.
Yet the growing popularity of ‘Champing’ means that an increasing number of historic churches across the country are embarking on a plan to allow guests to sleep under bell towers, stained glass windows and old bell towers.
The plan was launched in 2016 by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), the national charity that protects churches at risk, and offers guests looking for an interesting getaway the opportunity to camp overnight in historic buildings.
CCT experts described the championship as an “innovative way” of attracting both Christian and secular people alike into buildings so that they “don’t die on our watch”.
Guests can now champion 18 historic churches across England in locations ranging from St Peter’s in Wolfhampcote, a remote 14th-century building in an abandoned village between the counties of Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, to St Leonard’s in Old Langho, Lancashire. Reign of Queen Mary I
But CCT has announced plans for expansion last year after claiming record revenue for the charity. It now plans to expand its franchise operation across the country, with at least 12 churches to be added to its champion catalog and “laying the groundwork for further expansion in the coming seasons.”
In documents submitted to the General Synod, the legislature of the Church of England, the CCT revealed that last year was “particularly successful”.
He added that the championship has seen its strongest performance since its launch, generating a net income of over £86,000 for around 600 bookings. In the same period, it added more than 250 CCT members.
Reverend Timothy Goode, who sits on CCT’s Board of Trustees, said book clubs, yoga and fitness groups are now popular activities held in churches to promote community harmony, and champion is just an extension of that.
“The championship definitely comes from the Anglican understanding of serving the needs of the entire community and being there for all people,” he said.
“This is another way in which this permission is offered for people to come and enjoy these buildings and explore them and have some fun at the same time because sleeping through the night is a fairly new experience. Old church building.”
The championship statistics come at a time when the Church of England is grappling with declining congregation numbers and struggling to stay in line with modern views on issues like sexuality.
In November, the census revealed for the first time in its history that Christians now make up less than half the population of England and Wales, and last week, bishops refused to support same-sex marriage and instead blessed couples who already had a civil union.
However, Reverend Canon Goode said that the goal of the CCT with the championship was to “ensure that these buildings continue to have a service life to the community,” even though they are no longer used as churches.
‘New Christian community’
He added: “Not knowing what the future will bring can really help to tell a new story, a new chapter in the life of that church.
“A new Christian community may have formed. That would be great… It could become a place where people do book clubs, yoga, fitness and stuff, which would be great. All of these shape society. And one of the greatest Christian callings is to build a loving, thriving community.
“It’s fundamental to Anglican service to the community, and even if the church isn’t its own congregation, it’s still there to serve the community in some way and actually give that community some representation.”
Janet Gough, a former trustee of the CCT and former director of Cathedrals and Church Buildings for the Church of England, said: “I think one of the challenges facing our generation is declining congregations and post-covid and all this kind of junk, we need to think of more innovative ways to attract people.
“And we’d like to think that things like our faith, championships will eventually encourage people to send some kind of spirituality in the church, but anyway, even if it doesn’t, it will mean our generation. They take care of these wonderful historic churches and they don’t kind of die in our care.”
CCT spokesperson Chana James said: “Championships are a unique way to experience a historic church. Many of our sites are hundreds of years old, and champions can reserve this ancient site specifically for the night.
“Since 2015, when we launched this concept, thousands of people have stayed in our churches and the feedback we’ve received has been incredible. I’ve stayed at several Champing churches as well, and I can confirm that this has been an experience like no other.”