A few weeks ago about thirty of us from our group of churches spent the day together on our away day. It was a really good time of talking, listening and praying together.
We had the opportunity to think together about the all that we are doing and to ask what do we do well and what do we struggle with. We also spoke about the things that have changed in our community and culture and the difficulties that they bring but also the opportunities that we might have.
We had a wide ranging discussion about outreach, worship, buildings, communication, and even about the changing role of the clergy.
A big focus for the day was in thinking about our buildings and how suitable they might be for ministry in the contemporary world and what possible adaptions we might be able to make for them to be more suitable for the present and the future.
Often we think that buildings have to remain as they are but, even a cursory look at Studley Church, for instance, tells a different story. Whilst the church has been there over nine hundred years the fact is that it has been added to, and changed radically, over those centuries as the needs of the worshipping community and the world around have altered.
As the church grew the building was added to. The sanctuary, the south aisle, the tower and, of course, most recently, the porch have been added to the original building at different times.
Everything about the interior has been altered over the centuries. When the church was originally built there would have been no pews, everyone would have stood, later there probably have been some benches. The pews are very much a relatively recent Victorian addition!
As times changed there would first have been no music in church, then there would have been groups of musicians and singers leading the worship, then came organs which were, again, very much an eighteenth or nineteenth century addition. More recently there has been a move back to groups of musicians and singers. Even the way organs are powered has radically changed.
Then there are the changes from candlelight to gaslight to electric light!
Unfortunately, there are those who think old buildings should not change and there has been the growth of the “conservation industry” in recent years which doesn’t always seem to recognise that buildings were never meant to be frozen in time and if they do not change and adapt then they can very easily become no longer fit for purpose and risk falling into disuse. That applies to all our buildings and not just the churches.
Of course, instinctively many of us resist change and that is not necessarily a bad thing because it does make us think very hard in making sure we do the right thing and respect our heritage, but we cannot be rules by it. It is wrong to think that buildings should be frozen in time although more usually people simply want to freeze them in their time based often on what they remember as children.
There are others who seem to take the view that churches should be uncomfortable, dark, cold and unwelcoming. It is view that I, for one, find very difficult to understand.
As a result of the away day we will continuing the discussion at our Church Council meetings this month and beyond and be looking to put forward some concrete plans in the autumn.
As I have said many, many times now we have to recognise that the world has changed and for the church, doing nothing is no longer an option. We can no longer assume that we will still be here in thirty or forty years’ time.
At a national level there has been a radical change in thinking, for instance, in how we use the assets we have as the Church of England. There has been a realisation by the Archbishop’s Council and the General Synod that there is little point keeping money for the future when there is a possibility that unless we do something right now there will be no future. As a result, significant sums of money are now being released by the Church Commissioners for mission. Coventry Diocese have been allocated some of that to employ people to work specifically in reaching out to those in the twenty-to-thirties age range and finding new ways to be the church There are already positive signs from that work.
As the church we are commanded by Jesus to proclaim the gospel afresh to each generation – it’s a big responsibility and this is a critical time.