Saturday 24 January 2009

Church Building and Building Church?

Outsiders often love Church buildings, where insiders often feel more of a love/hate thing about them. Insiders know all the pitfalls and challenges, as well as appreciating their place in the local skyline. It's been fascinating to spend two days with the Ecclesiastical Law Society, contemplating buildings as mission opportunities.

Sir Roy Strong sees no future for parish churches as mere museums or clubhouses, bottled up in formaldehyde. They have to engage everyone who relates to them to have a future; and if this means toilets, then so be it. He is interested in the long-term history of Churches before our eighteenth and nineteenth century forbears turned them into one day a week places. We need to recover a longer perspective; and be slightly careful about amenity societies and others, if they ever exercise power to comment without responsibility.

Charles Mynors and Richard Giles led us through legal and structural possibilities for buildings. I came away from Richard’s talk in particular feeling that where things sometimes go wrong is when congregations themselves lose the script about their worship. It’s a trap to engage architects before you know what you’re trying to achieve and why — results can be disappointingly muddled and incoherent.

Andrew Mottram and Paul Bayes then led us through the concept of buildings for mission. It’s mad to start with design, before you know what you’re trying to design. This comes back to the need for clear thinking from the outset. All sorts of people way beyond our conventional constituency are seeking out special, holy places in their lives. Look at those shrines you increasingly see lovingly kept see by the roadside, where people have died. When people oppose change, it’s easy to grumble about them — but what is God saying to us through them about where we need to be? People can be very positive about their parish churches, but not if they are only fitted for gathered communities with high exclusion thresholds various. he gave various examples of different groups relating to buildings in surprising ways, sometimes very positively and creatively.

Tonight? John Mummery, Justice of Appeal and Chairman of Tribunals under the Clergy Discipline Measure. Stern and thrilling stuff awaits, perhaps...


Unknown said...

...and then there's the joyous fact that if you try and move a pew or add a loo the sky will fall in.


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

That was the kind of thing we were engaging with — not an exact science, I fear, with many quirky and local factors lurking round various corners. The news about adding loos was extremely positive. Roy Strong, as a leading conservationist, was absolutely clear that the best way to conserve a building is to get it used, and you can't expect people to use a building without sensible facilities. Pews were a bit less distinctly moveable than loos were installable. Siome principles did emerge, however, including the need which was obvious when you think about it, but I hadn't, to be very clear about what you were going to do, positively and lituirgically cogently, in the space from which your pews were moved.

One golden movement was during a panel discussion of how you would stop people using churches converted to village shops to sell condoms — one gruff voice near me grunted in best Rumpole, "well at least it would be something for the weekend." Not the world's funniest joke. Sorry. But the big point is that the weekend wasn't in any way an exercise in "tell us what you want and we'll tell you why you can't do it." A lot depends on local factors, but there's everything to play for!

Steve Hayes said...

A friend once lamented about Coventry Cathedral that apparently so much thought had gone into the envelope, and so little to what went on inside.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

It's funny how some buildings make best sense from the air, or as architects' models. Trouble is, unless you're Superman, you never get to see them at their best.

That said, I've only ever been to Coventry Cathedral as a tourist. I'm sure it has various subtleties I wot not of... I hope I will be part of some fabulous and upifting service there some day, and can revise my view.

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