First Festival Church in the Diocese of Oxford

St Mary the Virgin Church, Drayton Beauchamp, is the first church in the Diocese of Oxford to be awarded Festival Church status. The building will now remain open for worship and serve as a welcoming and functional community space.

On 1 November, in a service led by the Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, and the Venerable Guy Elsmore, Archdeacon of Buckingham, the church and local community gathered to mark the transition to a Festival Church and receive the status from Bishop Alan.   

As a Festival Church, St Mary’s will no longer be used for weekly worship services but will remain legally open as a parish church and hold a minimum of six services a year. These will mainly be for Festival and patronal celebrations of the Church including Christmas, Easter, Harvest and Remembrance Sunday as well as baptisms, weddings and funerals. St Mary’s plans to hold a service on the first Sunday of each month in addition to Easter and Christmas Services. The church building is also required to be available for the local community to use for a range of events and to serve the needs of the community such as housing the local food bank.

Bishop Alan holding certificate standing with Archdeacon Guy and local Clergy at St Mary's church

St Mary’s Church has in recent years, seen a dwindling congregation and along with increased maintenance costs, the PCC made the difficult decision to consult on future options. Following an extensive consultation with the Drayton Beauchamp Parochial Charities Trust, benefice, deanery, local community, the Archdeacon of Buckingham and the Buckingham Archdeaconry Mission and Pastoral Committee it was concluded that the Festival Church model was the most appropriate solution, and this recommendation was subsequently made to the Bishop of Buckingham.  

The Festival Church model enables the church to remain open for worship and the community whilst reducing the financial and time burden on the PCC. Where wider complementary use of the building and active support from a wider group of stakeholders can be secured, Festival Church can become a sustainable option for the church allowing for flexibility in the use of resources and time. 

The Secretaries to the Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Committee, and the Diocese of Oxford Advisory Committee respectively have been working with the church and the Archdeacon throughout the consultation process, providing advice and support on the options available and how to pursue them.  

The Ven Guy Elsmore, Archdeacon of Buckingham said: 

“These are tough times for churches in smaller rural parishes, especially in villages with a few hundred inhabitants. Initiatives like this help churches survive and breathe new life into communities. Rather than staying locked away for the few, they can become welcoming to the many for hospitality, learning and leisure, as well as continued worship. 

“When assessing a proposal for revitalisation, we consider finances, leadership, number of stakeholders and the mix of skills and energy that people bring. The partnership between the clergy, the PCC and the Parochial Charities Trust we see here is a model of excellent co-operation and augurs very well for a bright future for this church and community.” 

The Revd Sally Bottomer, Rector at St Mary’s Church, said: 

“We are really excited by this milestone achievement and the new opportunities this will bring for the church and the local community. Our Associate Priest, the Revd Alison Roberts, with her enthusiasm for the church and the community of Drayton Beauchamp has ensured that the building can remain open for worship and as a welcoming and functional community space.”

Although this is the first Festival Church in the Diocese of Oxford, this is not an unusual occurrence in other dioceses. Across the Church of England, dioceses are assessing proposals for the future use of church buildings in areas where congregations have been declining for some time and the cost of maintaining the building cannot be met. 

Festival Church status is one of several options available when considering the future use of a church building beyond being open for worship. Roles of churches can change overtime as circumstances change but the overall aim of any consultation is always for a church building to remain open and sustainable. As Festival Church is a titular status, rather than a legal one, this option can be reassessed in the future.  

Other legal options available include sharing the church building with other Christian groups, leasing all or parts of the building to third parties for cultural and commercial use such an arts centre or village shop, and leasing for community use such as a GP surgery or a children’s centre. In very rare circumstances, when all other legal options available cannot be justified, a church building can be closed completely, though, thankfully, this is a rare occurrence. Further information can be found on the website under Pastoral Reorganisation. 

St Mary the Virgin Church is one of three churches in the United Benefice of Aston Clinton with Buckland and Drayton Beauchamp serving three villages in the Vale of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. Regular services, events and group meetings will continue at the Churches of St Michael and All Angels and All Saints’.