Churches – where people seek to do good.

In a special guest post, Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie, Priest at Holy Trinity church, Sloane Square, London, shares with us his views on the church as a place where people have always and continue to, do good within their communities.

‘Yea because of the house of the Lord our God : I will seek to do thee good’ Psalm 122, Verse 9

“I have a desk in church. Sometimes I wonder, especially if I ever glance across a bank statement in the midst of my work, whether this is wicked of me. Would Christ come in today and over turn my desk for a furtive look at my online banking app?

I hope not – for I am not alone in my appropriation of God’s house but instead am surrounded by legacies of this building’s rich and varied use. The high altar stands in front of its rich marble reredos as a statement of the centrality of sacrament rendered in stone and in the corner behind me boxes of toys and books sit as testament to the role of new life in inheriting and learning the ancient faith in their new generation.

Brass plaques and stained glass speak, in rich Victorian prose, of lives lived in august splendour and next to them temporary notices about hand wash and distancing whisper of the strange confines of the lives we must needs live now.

All of these are, I suppose, marks of people. All these fixtures and fittings were planned and paid for, used and loved, wept over and celebrated, by creatures of flesh and blood.

Living stones

It has been a worryingly popular false dichotomy circulating of late which would suggest that people and buildings represent an ‘either/or’. That either the building or the people are ‘The Church’. Of course it is more complex than that. The church is a building, but one quite unlike any other: that is to say it is living stones. It is a building shaped entirely by people; by their hopes, their grief, their prayers. By people, and by their relationship with their God.

Holy Trinity church, Sloane Square, London

Our churches, therefore, are monuments to interconnectedness. To the idea that – to quote the priest-poet who had oversight of perhaps our nation’s most famous church, St Paul’s – ‘no man is an island, entire of himself’. Rather, we are linked by our history, common human tragedies and joys, and by an incarnational faith, which undergirds the whole. ‘Because of the house of the Lord our God : I will seek to do thee good’: that vision of the church is one that grounds it in relationship and community. The house of God is a sermon on ‘love thy neighbour’ wrought in brick and mortar.

Many churches seek to do good to their communities. I look from my desk in church today, cold though it is and in the midst of this lockdown, which for so many had proved more bitter than any flurry of winter snow, I see a house where people have long sought to do good. The very walls seem patched together with memorials- some to my taste, others less so- but all to those who sought to do good. There are less explicit memorials here too: the slight wearing of a pillar, its stone gently touched each week by one who loved its specific place, the shallow trough in the paving where the gate bolt has dragged for well over a century- a gash in the stone itself standing testament to gates open and welcomes extended.

Small ordinary goodnesses

Despite our present situation, it is a house where people still seek to do good today: lavatories are open as a clean and safe place for those who spend their day on the streets, a collection for our local foodbank is ready to be delivered, careful preparations are underway for a funeral, so that the dead might be commended to the eternal with the love by which they were known whilst alive. Small, ordinary goodnesses perhaps- but ones to which it is ever more important that we cling in times as drear as these.

Our church is very typical in this regard. It aspires to be a house of good because it is first and foremost a house of prayer and across the nation I see and hear of churches doing exactly the same, each and every day. As we seek to rebuild our society, seek to be more aware of where it is we might do good, the houses of the Lord our God- and the people who make them what they are- will be as important as ever. When I leave my cold desk in a moment I shall pray for them all just before I leave, and for all those- the National Churches Trust in particular- who support them.”

We thank Fergus for sharing his thoughts. Thousands of churches and chapels across the the UK currently seek to do good work within their communities, as documented in our House Of Good report produced last year which highlighted the social and economic value of church buildings.

As well as being a clergyman, Fergus is also author of ‘A Field Guide to the English Clergy,’ a Best Book of the Year for The TimesMail on Sunday and BBC History. More information available at One World Publications.

Thomas ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ Gray’s Tercentenary

One of Buckinghamshire’s hidden gems has been brought to life by the Thomas Gray Anniversary Project.

Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771) was an English poet, letter-writer, classical scholar and academic. His Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is arguably the most famous poem written in the English language and is believed to have been written in Stoke Poges, a village with which Gray had a close association throughout his life and where he was buried. 2016 marks Thomas Gray’s Tercentenary.

240px-Stoke_Poges_Church

St Giles’ Churchyard, Stoke Poges

Started in 2012, the project worked to restore Thomas Gray’s tomb in St Giles’ Churchyard, Stoke Poges, carry out conservation work on the Monument and introduce a new generation to that much-loved poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”.

Although nearly 5 metres high, the “plain, square block of stone of good size, without ornament or embellishment” which lies at the heart of the Thomas Gray Landscape in Stoke Poges is often overlooked.

This has now changed with the installation by the National Trust of the Thomas Gray Landscape board which welcomes visitors to the site and draws their attention to the legacy of this unassuming poet who penned one of the world’s most famous poems, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”.

On 9 July 2016, the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt. Revd Alan Wilson came to Stoke Poges to unveil the board and engage the attending audience with his explanation of the importance of this poem and its message concerning the contribution of every individual to the common good and the transitory nature of celebrity.

The Bishop of Buckingham studies the new information-board about Thomas Gray in Stoke Poges

The Bishop of Buckingham studies the new information-board about Thomas Gray in Stoke Poges

Diana le Clercq, a key player in organising the Stoke Poges Village Thomas Gray celebration was delighted to welcome volunteers who had worked on improving the landscape around the Monument and several of the children from Stoke Poges School who had participated in the Thomas Gray School Expeditions started in 2012.  Alex Kurtis who was there with his sister Sarah and their grandmother Pam Oliver is now a student at John Hampden School, founded in the name of a famous Buckinghamshire man who is mentioned in the Elegy.

“Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast

The little tyrant of his fields withstood”.

 

The Thomas Gray memorial

The Thomas Gray Memorial, Stoke Poges

Visitors enjoyed picnics by the Monument where the Burnham Concert Band played, tours of the Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens where teas were served by the Friends and visits to the Bell Tower after the bells rang out to invite people to attend the unveiling at 3 pm. The afternoon finished with a short programme of music and readings in St. Giles Church.  The day was the culmination of a project that started several years ago.

Readers interested to learn more about the Thomas Gray landscape are invited to attend the Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens Heritage walk which will take place on 11 September as part of Heritage Weekend.

More details

Looking forward to The Big Update?

We will, as always, be attending the Historic Religious Building Alliance’s The BIG UPDATE!

This year looks as exciting and informative as previous years, offering the chance to keep up to date with what’s happening to secure the future of historic religious buildings, and to meet others with similar interests and concerns. All are welcome.

There will be short, informative talks with space for questions and discussion, and time to network.

 

Speakers include (not in order of appearance):

* Keynote speaker: Sir Laurie Magnus, Chair of Historic England (a body which came into being when English Heritage split into two earlier this year)

* Philip Arundell talking about grants offered by the AllChurches Trust

* Ingrid Greenhow, talking about the ‘Taking Stock’ programme for Quaker Meeting Houses – a survey of these buildings to obtain a strategic overview of their importance and future opportunities.

* Rachel Harden, Deputy Director of Communication, Church of England, talking about effective ways of publicising a church project

* Shahed Saleem talking about the British Mosque, based on his survey of mosques and providing a foretaste of his forthcoming book

* Andy Warren of Natsol – everything you have always wanted to know about installing a compost toilet at your church

* John Winton, currently National Director of Churches Tourism Network Wales. This is soon to develop into Sanctaidd, a new organisation which will provide comprehensive support to all places of worship in Wales.

* CASE STUDY: Sara Loch and Chris Curtis on the Cupola Project in Blandford Forum

 

All are welcome.

The cost, including a full hot lunch and all refreshments, is £44.00 per person. Discounts are available to paid up members (see the booking form). Places are limited; paid up members receive priority. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any queries.

www.hrballiance.org.uk

Venue: St Alban’s Centre, Baldwins Gardens, London EC1N 7AB

 

See you there!

National Rural Crime Network survey

Police at churchSadly, our beautiful places of worship are sometimes victims of crime.

Thanks to the many dedicated organisations helping to care for and support places of worship much progress has been made in keeping heritage crime, including attacks on places on worship, on the national police agenda. However, we need to keep up the good work.

In response to concerns from people living and working in rural areas, the National Rural Crime Network is launching the biggest ever survey of rural policing and crime, and we hope that the results will provide evidence to support our pressure to make places of worship as great a priority as farm theft and other issues with which the police are more familiar.

The National Rural Crime Network survey has received Home Office funding to undertake the rural crime and policing survey. The on-line survey will run for about five weeks and it is hoped that the findings will help shape and inform:

  • awareness of crime in rural areas
  • appropriate crime prevention
  • government policy
  • policing and partnership activities

The survey provides an opportunity to raise public awareness of crime and anti-social behaviour within the historic environment and to provide data to  help the police to integrate heritage crime into their core business and working practices. Although it is a national project and clearly not aimed specifically at places of worship it does give everyone the chance to make their case and it would be good if the places of worship perspective could be well represented in responses.

If you care for a place of worship in a rural area, please consider taking part in the survey:

http://www.nationalruralcrimenetwork.net/research/internal/national-rural-crimes-survey-2015/?member=NorthYorkshire

 

For more information about security and personal safety in places of worship please explore our new website Resource Centre.

And for some recent good news from the Churches Conservation Trust, showing that stolen items can indeed be recovered by Police if they have enough information.

Church buildings: burden, blessing and an asset for mission

Together with many Dioceses and some other national organisations we were lucky enough to receive funding from English Heritage for a Places of Worship Support Officer. Although this programme has now finished many regional PoWSO’s have been kept on by Dioceses and are continuing to give much needed support and advice to the churches they work with.

Here we welcome guest writer Andrew Mottram to introduce a new report written jointly by PoWSO’s in the West Midlands area. A discussion document based on their experience in the Dioceses of Hereford, Lichfield and Worcester from 2009 to 2015, the report is full of content and ideas which may be relevant to churches and those who care for them across the UK.

St Luke, Reddall Hill, Cradley Heath (Andrew Mottram)

Since 2011 up to seven PoWSO’s in West Midlands and Wales have met regularly and found that there were common problems frustrating their work to support Church congregations struggling with their buildings.

In addition to a widespread lack of understanding about the benefits of preventative maintenance, the main issues are the Church of England’s structures and legislative requirements – from the appointment of clergy to the closure process, all of which can hinder the effective management of church buildings.

In 2014 “I wouldn’t start from here” was produced by the four West Midlands PoWSO’s as a discussion document shared with other PoWSO’s in England. There was general agreement that the problems identified were common across the country but there were innovative solutions being considered in some dioceses.

CBBBAM is a summary of the previous discussion document and offers solutions to the issues raised. In summary there are too many buildings for the people available to manage them. This leads to neglect and to assets becoming liabilities. There needs to be a strategic approach to managing buildings, ensuring that there are creative solutions to surplus buildings and effective support for parishes in the management of their buildings.

Andrew Mottram

Download the report here.

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