Church Support Societies

For a slightly different blog, I thought I’d discuss the church societies that I support, and why. This doesn’t mean that I don’t drop money into collection boxes and buy other fundraising items, but these are the societies that I am a paid up member of.

  1. Friends of Friendless Churches (FoFC)
  2. The Ecclesiological Society
  3. Friends of Essex Churches Trust

It would be lovely to support even more, but with the birth of our son, we did cut down somewhat on charitable donations, curbing the Kew Gardens and RSPB membership. In addition to two charities that I perpetually support, I maintained our donations to all of the church support groups, as I believe these are not as well supported as those in the mainstream hobby/interest areas.

I’ve listed the groups in the order of which I enjoy their publications. By default, as a member of FoFC, you are also a member of the Ancient Monuments Society, and 2-3 times a year you receive the AMS & FoFC Newsletter, as well as the annual publications of the society’s Transactions. Both of these titles are worth the membership money alone – which for an individual is now £30pa. The newsletters are about 60 pages, whilst the transactions are about 140 pages. Each contains news on buildings at risk, as well as updates on FoFC properties. I always keep an eye out for news on my personal Essex favourite – Mundon St Mary. There is only one other FoFC property in Essex – Wickham Bishops Old Church of St Peter. Whilst my primary interest is in the FoFC information, I do find the other building information fascinating. It’s like a condensed version of Restoration, with many saddened buildings needing a lot of care and attention.

The Ecclesiological Society is also worth being a part of – though their publications are unfortunately not quite as regular as that of the FoFC/AMS. Two or three times a year usually sees the publication of Ecclesiology Today – which generally contains 4-5 longer length articles of interest. By virtue of it’s very name, the Ecclesiological Society concentrates solely on church architecture and fabric. There is also a regular Church Crawler column – written by Phil Draper of Churchcrawler, which generally highlights churches at risk and their plight.

Occasionally, the Ecclesiological Society sends out full sized books to members, as part of their membership. These usually come as a complete surprise to me, as I tend not to read every drop of information supplied in the regular publications. In the time that I’ve been a member, the following full publications have been given to all members:

  • Pews, Benches & Chairs – Cooper & Brown
  • Sir Ninian Comper – Symondson & Bucknall
  • Temples – Worthy of His Presence – Christopher Webster

Lastly, the Friends of Essex Churches Trust is mainly concerned with supporting requests for grants, but does also offer several church guided tours each year. There is not as much in the way of publications from this trust – and I do not attend any of the tours, working full time – but I like to belong to support this very worthy cause.

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BOOKS PART 3 – Friends & Support Group Books

The next two books are both published by Essex Church charitable groups. I cannot rank one above the other, as they are both valuable in their own way.

The first, “A Guide to Essex Churches” is now long out of print, though second hand copies can still be found. It was published by the Essex Churches Support Trust, and edited by Christopher Starr. It contains information in a style that I have not seen in any other book for this county.

Rather than group information within parish, the book instead groups it by feature. It makes it very easy to look up, for example, details on Royal Arms within the county. Each section is written by different authors, and the following is a selection of the 16 chapters within the book:

  • The Gothic revival
  • Church carpentry
  • Monumental brasses
  • Funeral hatchments
  • Wall painting
  • Bells
  • Organs

This book organisation was a boon when someone contacted me via the website, and asked me whether I knew where any pre-Commonwealth Royal Arms could be found in the county. To be honest, I’d not really studied it, so even if it is not a complete list, I was able to offer the four mentioned in this one section of the book.

The second of the support group books, “Essex Churches and Chapels” is still available from Amazon – please see the BOOKS section (link at top right). It is edited by Canon John Fitch, and does not cover every church in the county. The following explanation is taken from the introduction: “To have attempted to include all the churches and chapels would have made it impossibly unwieldy and defeated our purpose”. Also, one annoyance – for me at least – is that parish prefixes like “Little” or “North” are always appended to the parish name following a comma. So LITTLE BADDOW becomes BADDOW, LITTLE. With no index or table of contents, flicking through the book can be frustrating.

What this book does offer, though, is a more free flowing narrative that the Pevsner guides. It actually makes for a more easy read than the Pevsner – mainly because it does not need to cram everything into such a restrictive volume size. Also (possibly in an attempt to replicate the feature-based organisation of the earlier Christopher Starr book) there is a chapter at the end entitled “Lists of Special Features”, which lists fonts, monuments etc. Though the chapter starts by stating that it is not an exhaustive list – and a brief glance does highlight omissions – for instance the list contains just 14 medieval fonts and 11 post-medieval fonts.

Both of these books should be on the bookshelf of any student of the county’s churches.

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