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Old churches in England are like convenience stores in the States: There seems to be one around every corner.

And like the ubiquitous 7-Eleven or Circle K, many of the medieval houses of worship that dot the countryside are open around the clock.

Now you’re probably not going to check out the nearby village church in the middle of the night (unless that’s your thing, of course). But you probably could. At least at some of the thousands of churches and chapels around England.

"There’s an increasing tendency to lock churches at night … because of vandalism and whatnot. During the day, though, there’s vast numbers of churches you can go to and walk into," said Napier Malcolm, honorary editor of British Church Newspaper.

The old buildings are wrought with character, what with the centuries-old stone, iron, wood and stained glass from which they were erected, and re-erected, over the years.

As British society moves toward secularism, Malcolm said, many of the churches no longer have parishioners or only offer occasional services.

In England, the church is usually the core from which a village sprung. It evolved from a place of worship to the heart of the community, not to mention the most lavish, warmest and driest structure around.

"Many are widening what they do and going into community work, going back to what they were as the center of the village," said Fiona Newton, projects officer for the Institute of Historic Building Conservation.

While some have widened their roles to become post offices and community centers, "at the very least they’re keeping the doors of the building open so people can get a look at it."

So next time you see a quaint church on a walk or country drive, stop and check it out. It’s a hard concept to grasp if you’re from the States, where churches are built and used exclusively by specific religious groups. But here in England, religion might be the last thing you find at an old church.


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