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Why are we here?

August 26, 2017


Today’s article is my text for tomorrow’s address at St. John’s. It is very specific to that church and its building. However, I feel that it has points within it that apply to the task of maintaining and enhancing our church buildings more generally, as well as the Christian mission and inheritance that they so wonderfully display. If you are not a part of St. John’s then I hope that you find the discussion helpful to you as you care for God’s house wherever you may be.

I’m having a break from the internet and so the next article will be in two week’s time.

Now for this weeks’ article: Why are we here?

Why are we here? Why are we sitting in this building this morning? It’s a nice day, we could be out somewhere. There are also other places to meet. We could meet in a school like DC3. We could meet a short distance away in King George’s Hall. I don’t know about you, but it would feel so wrong not to worship together here in this place. I feel it, and I’m sure you do too. But why do we have this attraction to this building?

I am attracted to worshipping here for many reasons. It is a beautiful building, with stories of the Gospels in the windows and that great verse of welcome over the chancel arch: “Come unto me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” I feel Jesus’ invitation every time I walk into this building. It is as though I hear Jesus speaking to me, “Come unto me – Come in here, stay, pray and worship before leaving refreshed.”

I enter here and I feel the history of faith in this place. I feel the prayers of all who have gone before me. I see their love for God in the time and care that they took over this building. Firstly they had the vision to build this church when they had a perfectly good church on the hill. Then people here continued to work, to change the building to make it the best it could be for God in their time.

Chancel steps were added, and beautiful windows have been added two. At some point an organ was added so that the latest worship music could be played in this building. Throughout its life this building has been a beacon of God’s love at the centre of this town.

Now it is our turn to consider how best to continue the work of glorifying God through the fabric of the church. It is now up to us to decide what to do and what not to do. You have risen to that task in so many ways. Some of you will have been part of the work to construct the Lady Chapel, and I think all of you will have been involved in the work to build our toilet. Many will have seen the kitchen go up and only this year the kitchen was refurbished to keep pace with modern food hygiene laws.

The question now is what is next. How do we continue to make this building a place of sublime worship and practical outreach to the town? I have been working with your PCC to consider this question, and I know that many of you have passed on your thoughts.

One acute problem that we have is the lack of a distinct room for the children to learn during the service. Somewhere, that they can be involved in the worship then quickly withdraw for their activities. Somewhere, that they can make a little noise without worrying about disrupting the sermon. We have tried all sorts of possibilities and the only space that might fit the bill is where the organ now is. I was therefore asked to consider having the organ removed and a room put there. I resisted the thought; it seemed too radical. This was at the beginning of this year, but try as I might I have not been able to find an alternative. In fact, the current Lady Chapel could be enhanced by moving it forward into that space, making it a more self-contained chapel for quiet prayer and contemplation.

Then I thought about the music here. So I asked Jonathan for his opinion, and he felt that the quality of the music would be improved by removing the organ and having an electronic organ in its place. He even suggested a reasonably priced organ for us to consider. Then I thought, “this is all very nice but the diocese would never allow us to remove the organ”. But when the DAC (Diocesan Advisory Committee) were asked they were very much in favour of using that space for a chapel, rediscovering the Victorian window hidden by the organ at the same time.

The next thought was about the pews. The question being, “Are they the best seats for us when we worship and for those who attend the events that we host.” Well, pews do seem right for a place of worship, but then I realised that these Victorian pews were the height of worship fashion when they were installed. They were a modern innovation from the old box pews of many Victorian churches at that time. The pews are in good condition but they are hard to move. So we have already removed pews from the side aisles and from the back. We now need more room for tables at the back, so I have been asked to consider removing a few more to clear space.

I am also conscious that the primary school only just squeeze all of the children into this building for their big services at Christmas, Easter and at the end of the school year. Space is so tight that we can’t fit in any parents to see their children take part in these events. This is distressing for the children and parents, as well as for the rest of us. It also means that we lose an opportunity to have lots of parents hear the Gospel here in this building. Without the pews we could sit the children on the floor, freeing far more space for parents and staff.

Removing the pews would also give me and the PCC scope to continue to make our modern and traditional worship as pleasing to God as possible.

For months now, I have been exploring these pros and cons of all of this, the organ space and the pews. We had a public meeting and took people’s views. We had sheets left in church for people to tell me and the PCC what they think. Then we had our last PCC a few weeks ago. At that PCC we considered all that we had heard and agreed to go ahead with:

  1. Removing the organ to create a space for our children on Sunday and a quiet chapel during the week.

  2. Removing the pews and replacing them with chairs to enhance our worship and make the nave more useful for all church and community uses.

We also agreed to take steps to improve our sound system and our projection system, but I won’t talk more about these here.

At that meeting we also were aware that many people who worship here had not had the months of prayer and deliberation that we had had. We were aware that these decisions may be disturbing or even upsetting to some of you. So that is why the PCC asked me to speak to all of you like this. The PCC acts on your behalf to lead this church. So we want to make sure that you fully understand what is planned before we go ahead. We want you to be fully involved as we go along, for instance in choosing the right chairs.

We are not willing to just leave you behind. These plans are exciting and we think they are right for this church. But more important than these plans by far, is the love and care that we share here in Christ’s name. Jesus calls us to “Love one another”, as he has loved us. This commandment will not be abandoned now. So please talk with me about these plans. Talk with PCC members. Me, Tim and some members of the PCC have committed ourselves to praying together weekly, in this building, for this building, in addition to any existing prayer or worship here. You are very welcome to join us. If you can’t join us here in this place, still bring all of this to God in prayer.

This building is a beautiful and holy place. A place for us and the people of our town to experience the presence of God. I feel Jesus’ invitation every time I walk into this building. It is as though I hear Jesus speaking to me, “Come unto me – Come in here, stay, pray and worship before leaving refreshed.” Please help me and the PCC to make sure that the Spirit of the Living God remains evident to all who come to this place.

We all love this building as God’s house. We all want to do what is best for it and for God’s glory in this place. I and the PCC are custodians of a spiritual and community heritage: help us to fulfill this duty well.

  1. Sandy permalink

    Hello I’m not a member of your congregation. I’ve read your comments on the issue of space. I believe that a while ago there was standing room only in churches. To satisfy our modern requirements would it be feasible to remove all present seating and use collapsible chairs thus providing a truly flexible space. The integrity of the building and environs would remain intact.I believEd wasn’t in the least concerned about which building or space was used for people to gather for his messages. Thank you for your time. SANDYss

    • Hi Sandy, Thank you for your comments. I agree that flexibility is needed. We have times when there is standing room only in my churches here. There are also times when straight rows are not the ideal. Folding or stacking seating can be a good way of providing this without necessarily reducing the beauty of the building or the sense of God’s presence. God bless, Nigel.

  2. Redenhall & Scole permalink

    Thanks Nigel

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