Shrewsbury Abbey is inviting us all to visit and take part in a wonderful line-up of Christmas events this year – to help support the ancient building. Katy Rink spoke to Rev Dr Tom Atfield about the challenges he faces.
Shrewsbury Abbey is facing a grave financial shortfall, says Rev Dr Tom Atfield. The church's charismatic vicar hopes a host of fabulous Christmas events will help bring people into the space and encourage them to engage with the building.
The Christmas season begins this weekend with a fabulously quirky new event Abbeyfest (November 26/27) in aid of Lingen Davies Cancer Fund. The Dan Owen concerts on Dec 1 and 3 are sold out, but there are a whole host of festive concerts to enjoy, beginning with The Joy of Christmas on December 9, hosted by ‘Gio Compario’ himself, the Welsh singer and actor Wynne Evans. See below for a full list of Christmas events at Shrewsbury Abbey. Most have online ticket booking now too, so you can get organised early!
“We would like to bring as many people through the doors of the Abbey for as many reasons as possible,” says Rev Tom Atfield. “We’ve a fantastic programme of Christmas events and concerts and all sorts of people coming to use our space. Then we’ll deal with the New Year with faith, hope and good forward planning.”
The GoCompare Man Welsh singer Wynne Evans will compere The Spirit of Christmas at Shrewsbury Abbey on Dec 4
Rev Tom makes no bones about the fact that The Abbey is in trouble, financially. With running costs of £200,000-£250,000 and a predicted income of around £70,000, the Grade I listed building –which is properly titled ‘The Abbey Church of the Holy Cross’ - is facing an impossible shortfall: “The pandemic accelerated trends we could see over the last 5-10 years,” he said. “The Abbey was lucky in terms of receiving external funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other sources in the 2010s.”
The Abbey is a designated Scheduled Monument, with foundation stones dating back to 1084. It was put on the Heritage At Risk Register in 2013 and received £400,000 to deal with urgent stonework repairs in 2016.
“It kept us repaired, but it didn’t address our funding shortfall,” Tom reveals. “We’re dealing with a medieval listed building here which needs constant repair and maintenance and unfortunately, the Church of England congregations have become smaller and more elderly over the last 30 years. We have had some new faces come in, but we have unfortunately lost a lot of people in the last two years.”
Rev Tom is determined to swell congregation numbers – the hope is that if local people become accustomed to enjoying the wonderful, peaceful space of The Abbey during events, they may be curious enough to return for services there too: “Our primary use is as a place of worship. We would like to bring people in on pilgrimages and for private prayer and we’d also like to have more weddings, but we’re also inviting people to come to other events that happen in the space – come and listen to a band, or watch a film here.
“There won’t be any quick wins in recovering from the pandemic. It will take years and years and lots of hard work to stabilise the finances of The Abbey. We need to find £100,000 more per year than we currently have.”
It begs the question – would the Abbey Church ever be forced to shut its doors?
“The Abbey is too big – it’s too expensive to shut it,” Rev Tom said. “Closed churches become the responsibility of the central Church of England and they don’t have the money to take them on. English Heritage have said they aren’t taking on any more churches and we would be hard pushed to ask the Churches Conservation Trust to look after another church building in the town centre (St Mary’s Church is under the care of the CCT).
“The Abbey is staying open, but it’s a question of its condition and fitness for public use. No-one wants to go to church in a hard hat and a ski suit!”
Along with the newly packed calendar of events –with more to follow in the New Year – there are also plans for a new internal tourist trail, with QR codes, to improve interpretation inside the church.
By visiting the Abbey and making a donation, or buying tickets for any of the festive events listed below, we’ll all be helping to support this fabulous, ancient building.
Shrewsbury Abbey Events Calendar:
November 26/27 – Abbeyfest
Enjoy an array of beers and gins from independent brewers and distillers both local and further afield, a selection of food stalls, live music and more. Tickets are £10 (over 18s only) or £12 on the door and you’ll receive a drinks token, an event glass and brochure. Or why not buy a VIP table of six and treat your friends?! The festival is open from 5pm to 10pm on Friday 26 and from 2pm to 10pm on Saturday 27. Booking is via www.lingendavies.co.uk/abbeyfest/
December 4 – The Spirit of Christmas (Shrewsbury Choral Christmas Concert), 7.30pm
With Wynne Evans, also known as the ‘Go Compare Man’, Meole Brace Chamber Orchestra, Shrewsbury Choral, Shrewsbury Abbey Choir and more! Tickets are £20 from shrewsburychoral.org.uk - https://www.shrewsburychoral.org.uk/buy-tickets
December 9 – The Joy of Christmas 2021, 7pm
A Concert with a Brass Band, two choirs and guest speakers reading mainly comic stories. Presented to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support and the Severn Hospice. Tickets £10 from ticketsource.co.uk
December 11 – A Christmas Concert
A Christmas Concert on Saturday, December 11 features performances from the all-male voice barbershop chorus The Telfordaires, music from the Shrewsbury Light Orchestra and the Shrewsbury Male Voice Choir choristers. Michael Jenkins, Head of Music at Moreton Hall School, will be the compere for the evening. Tickets for the Concert are priced from £10 which includes a mulled drink and a mince pie. Booking is via https://www.lingendavies.co.uk
December 18 – Handel’s Messiah – Shropshire Charity Concerts, 7.30pm to 9.30pm
Shropshire Charity Concerts (incorporating Shrewsbury School Community Choir) presents the 32nd performance of Handel's Messiah in aid of local charities, held in the stunning setting of Shrewsbury Abbey. Following the loss of the 2020 ‘Messiah’ to Covid, this very popular event returns once more this Christmas (please note the different date from previous performances). Tickets usually go fast so book early – they are £15 from from ticketsource.co.uk
December 19 – Shropshire Scouts Carol Service, 6.30pm
Hear the combined forces of Shropshire Scouting sing! Shropshire Scouts Jamboree Team presents this fun-filled Carol concert open to Scouting Members of all ages and their families – it’s in support of The Abbey Church and Shropshire World Scout Jamboree experience to South Korea in 2023. Boreatton Marching Band and Shropshire Brass Band Refreshments available, please wear uniform tops and neckers and of course a festive hat!
NB - The Frozen Singalong originally scheduled for Dec 20 has been put on ice for this year (sorry – too good!).
For more information about all events visit: shrewsburyabbey.com