Lincolnshire churches win major tourist awards

  Churches ancient and modern throughout Lincolnshire were presented with tourist awards, by the Anglican Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd John Saxbee at a ceremony in the Chapter House at Lincoln Cathedral last week. The overall winner was Louth St James church, which claims to have the tallest parish church spire in England, visible from miles around. Open from Easter to Christmas, the church welcomes visitors from all over the world, as well as many local people who enjoy a cup of tea under the tower, or browse for unusual gifts in the shop or take time to be quiet in one of the side chapels. There is a special area for young children, a free walk round leaflet, a spectacular view from the tower for the hardy and stewards on hand to assist in every way. Joint second were two South Kesteven churches, Grantham St Wulfram and Stamford All Saints. Both welcome large numbers of visitors off the nearby A1 road and main railway line. St Wulfram received five stars from Simon Jenkins in his book "England's Thousand Best Churches" and he described Stamford as having "the finest collection of mediaeval churches of any small town in England" calling All Saints "a bravura display of Gothic architecture". Perhaps the biggest surprise in the results for the diocese was that the third diocesan wide award (out of an entry of sixty five churches throughout the diocese) went to the ultra-modern St John the Baptist church on the Ermine housing estate in Lincoln. The distinctive church with its swooping hyperbolic paraboloid roof was designed in the 1960's by local architect Sam Scorer. Open daily it has what Church Tourism officer Rosemary Watts calls the "Wow" factor, with an unmistakable atmosphere of spirituality bonded to a warm welcome for all. Boston St Botolph, last year's winner was Highly Commended, as was Epworth Wesley Memorial church, the only Methodist church to have entered. The small town of Epworth already welcomes thousands of visitors each year since it is the birthplace of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. Next year, 2003, is the three hundredth anniversary of John Wesley's birth and plans are already in hand for what is expected to be an exceptional number of overseas tourists. As well as the overall awards, there were separate classes for the 'Honeypot' churches (the main churches in each local authority area which were judged against each other) and for churches in large medium and small parishes, measured by population. Theddlethorpe St Helen church came first in small churches, with Epworth Methodist and St John the Baptist Ermine leading the medium and large classes respectively. At the award ceremony Rosemary Watts commented on the high standard reached by so many churches, and the clear improvement over the previous year. She thanks the many tourism officers, elected councillors and clergy who had formed a team of three judges who had visited each church incognito and without warning, to assess the welcome on sixteen different criteria including the interpretation of the church, arrangements for children and facilities for the disabled.

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