The challenge with this kind of building is to accommodate all the various things that go on in a busy urban Church flexibly, but without it feeling like an old-fashioned scout hut. This means a conscious choice not to cut corners, to include various designated areas among a lot of versatile space, to include first class social infrastructure (WC’s, kitchens, etc), and not to skimp on materials. This last point was especially relevant at St George’s, because it had a 1960’s Church which had to come down because it was build of various miracle substances of the 1960’s, including Sick Concrete and asbestos. That all seems a long time ago now, and it’s especially good to see a growing congregation usually nudging three figures of a Sunday where all was, certainly in the early years of this century, blood and guts.
Two immediate thoughts struck me, seeing it all up and running:
- Lighting makes an enormous difference to a building. This one has all sorts of bells and whistles built in, including solar power generation off the roof, and the ability to light the areas you are using properly brings the whole place alive in use, along with high quality wired-in services.
- We often say, in new housing areas, “of course we shouldn’t be thinking of new build because the Church is people not buildings.” Theologically this is fine — we don’t need to build, but the half truth looks slightly hollow when you see first class building in a context that had been branded a failing estate. It may seem noble and somehow incarnational not to invest in buildings, but they can be endeavours that catalyse faith, generate as well as spend energy, and bring people together. It is also incarnational to invest sacrificially in an area’s renewal. Failing to consider at least the possibility of such investment in a challenging urban parish runs the risk of colluding with the whole culture of failure, grot and crappada that stalks the streets anyway. Christianity is not a religion, as much as a process of social and personal transformation, and it is good to see a distinctive sign of this transformation, corporately and concretely, at work on the streets.