But how did I not know about this? I have a house church. No one has paid me to stay here for the night. No one.
From their website, the folks who seem to have trademarked the name “champing” describe it simply as “the unique concept of camping overnight in historic churches, brought to the world by the Churches Conservation Trust, the national charity protecting historic churches at risk.” If you were vacationing in the UK, they have locations in Great Briton where for a fee you can do what most older men have been doing for years every Sunday in nearly every church.
Granted, ministers probably shouldn’t promote people sleeping in church. But if you are a place that as beautiful, peaceful, and perhaps even haunted it might be worth moving aside the pews to make room for champers to enjoy a night in your sacred space. Like the Champing website adds, “Don’t forget that by supporting Champing, you’re also helping to preserve these ancient spaces for the future.“
Lanie Lee writes in Nat Geo, “many of England’s historic churches become hallowed hostels by night. While “champing,” or church camping, guests are given the holy houses’ key for a candlelit night by the altar—just skip your Sunday best for a sleeping bag.” The director of the Trust, Peter Aiers adds, “It’s a great way to commune with centuries of history, whilst escaping the push-button trappings of modern life.”
Many of these small parish churches have been closed down. But some open their doors when they are not being used. They even set aside many of the stringent rules, and allow things that most people would frown upon in church, besides sleeping through a sermon.
Marketplace interviewed people who have done it, and here’s what I learned. Most churches allow champers to have a party in their worship space. One person said, “They’re allowed to have drink in the building. They’re allowed to have music. We just have to rely on their good sense not to misbehave.”
How wonderful is that? Isn’t that what church should be? A grand party? Jesus tells numerous parables about wedding feasts and great parties being thrown. This seems like a great way to remember those wonderful lessons.
Carissa Larwood seems to understand “Churches aren’t just for harvest festivals, Christmas carols or a quick peer at the stained-glass windows and Gothic architecture.” Instead they are also sanctuaries where people can find…yes…rest! At first I was a little offended by this concept of champing. It seemed a bit sacrilegious. But what could be more sacred than to opening your doors to give people rest, or to gather with friends or spend a night alone in a place that is holy and sacred?
Larwood writes this of her experience. “The night is filled with a rich kind of silence. A silence embracing soaring arched ceilings and sturdy stone walls that have echoed with a million whispered prayers. From my narrow camp bed, I can see straight down the nave to an altar where distant street lights catch the shapes in a 14th-century stained-glass window, and it’s so peaceful I can almost forget there’s a sprawling graveyard beyond the doors.”
Isn’t this the kind of religious experience we would want people to have? Imagine seeing a church as more than just a building full of people who forget why they are there in the first place. Champing seems to offer that opportunity. “I have the key to the door – satisfyingly large and ornate – and the church is mine to do with as I wish. I could have enjoyed a bottle or two of non-consecrated wine, perhaps, or even tested the incredible acoustics by singing the entire score of The Sound of Music. Instead, I find myself early to bed, drinking in the atmosphere of this ancient, sacred space and marvelling at having it entirely to myself.”
According to the Churches Conservation Trust, all the proceeds go toward restoring the churches and providing jobs in the communities where the churches are located. “Quite often, the churches themselves do not have a ready source of income,” said Guy Foreman, head of enterprise at Churches Conservation Trust. “Champing is very much part of a suite of opportunities that historic churches can utilize to build income that helps support their upkeep.”
In the United States alone, for every new church that opens four will close. Many of these closing happen because there is a lack of money coming in to literally keep the lights on. And those that eek by, their space is really only being fully utilized one day a week.
There is a historic church in downtown Los Angeles that voted to raze their building and put in its place a parking lot. Every Sunday, they set up tents on it for worship, which does not include the passing of an offering plate. Because the parking lot makes so much money, the church no longer needs to rely on rich donors to support their missions.
Kathryn Post, whose wonderful story on the religion news website introduced me to this champing thing, tells the story of one organization who was inspired by the trend that they created something similar of their own. Mission Hotels, which is based in Nashville, has been around for five years now. They have “three refurbished churches no longer host weekly worship and instead host guests in beds fashioned with church pew headboards.” Like their compatriots overseas, most of Mission Hotels profits are donated to local charities.
She writes, “Micah Lacher, owner of Mission Hotels, is a person of faith who sees the hotels as a way to continue the mission of the original churches. “We are providing a refuge and home for our guests with every stay,” said Lacher. “We are pouring into the community and creatively meeting needs for those who are underserved. These churches were doing just the same when they were in the spaces.”
Per Post’s post, “Lacher estimates that Mission Hotel’s donations have been used to provide more than 100,000 showers, meals and beds through their nonprofit partners Nashville Rescue Mission, ShowerUp Nashville, Room in the Inn and People Loving Nashville.”
If you ask me, well, that’s what church is all about. This is how we show our hearts, where, like I said in my sermon yesterday, “God has been champing all along.” If you want to go Champing in my house church, I’d be more than happy to welcome you. And I promise all proceeds will go to restoring this historic building that is in dire need of some TLC too.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”