For church enthusiasts this is one of the major frustrations. Sadly, all of us encounter a church that are locked. Insurance companies are often blamed, but it is our understanding (from a vicar!) that in fact some insurance companies regard visitors as a deterrent to thieves. Theft and vandalism, however, are a danger to many churches especially in urban locations. Insurance payouts cannot make good such damage so perhaps we should not be over-hasty in our condemnation of those churches that prefer to give limited access to visitors. That said, I think that in too many cases it is simply a case of “it’s our church and we’ll lock it if we want to”. Often the locked churches are in the most respectable of communities amidst prosperous homes. Urban wastelands generally they are not.
Many churches will leave a note of where a key is held, so don’t go away without checking the outside notice boards. I find that where I do have to find a keyholder they are invariably obliging and polite. Some churches, I am afraid, don’t even bother with that or, to be fair, perhaps can’t find anyone available to be a keyholder in daylight hours. I understand this, of course, but it would surely be polite and less annoying to put up a note to this effect?
I know from conversations I have had up and down the country that the attitude of the Bishop or Deacons can often have a big effect on whether churches in a given area offer visitor access. That is very certainly the case with local vicars. Some Parish Church Councils are, however, completely intransigent. So don’t automatically blame the vicar: some might agree with you!
My advice is to do your research before you travel. There are three main resources you can use:
1. The church's own website will sometimes tell you about access.
2. An excellent website http://www.digiatlas.org/ attempts to show the state of access for most English churches. The situation changes from week to week, in my experience, so no website can hope to keep up so use it only as a guide. There is also a mobile phone app available at a nominal yearly charge.
3. The website http://www.achurchnearyou.com gives you contact details for almost every English church. Do email the vicar or church office before making a long trip. Sometimes this website also has access information.
It won’t stop you ever being disappointed but it will help you to plan.