Building Vision - Reordering the Church

We were lucky enough to welcome author and retired priest Richard Giles recently (January 17) - not only a delightful companion but an acknowledged expert in renovating churches. Around 90 of us attended his revelatory illustrated talk on reordering churches, in which he invited the congregation to think about how Holy Trinity could be made more accessible, flexible, warm and welcoming for current and future worshippers, and for larger outside groups. That vision can now become reality, thanks to the church having been granted £400,000 from the legacy of David Thomas through the David Thomas Trust Fund. David was one of our valued congregation members who died three years ago. The money has been given specifically for the purposes of the re-ordering.

But, as the Rector made very clear, "There will be a full consultation process both with the congregation and the wider community to understand and listen to the views people have on how to take this forward."

The last major renovation of Holy Trinity, of course, took place in 1842 when the ancient nave and chancel were rebuilt. The oldest part of the existing church – which dates back to Norman times – consists of the two 14th century transepts and tower.
"Let's make no mistake: our tradition is one of constant change," Richard told the congregation, as he showed images of early Christian places of worship, stretching right back to Dura-Europos in Syria; one of the earliest known churches, it was converted from a domestic house in the third century. He also examined how early worshippers restructured pagan sites for their own Christian use, including Roman public buildings; and he explored different places of worship around the world today, where more traditional, formal spaces contrasted, for example, with a Swedish meeting of worshippers in their parish hall, "with a lovely feeling of people gathering round a kitchen table".

A number of photographs in his presentation were of Philadelphia Cathedral, in Pennsylvania, where Richard spent nine years as Dean, retiring from the post in 2008. During that time, he oversaw the transformation of the cathedral into an open space with moveable seating. Indeed, his 1996 book, Re-Pitching the Tent, has been influential in helping churches all over the world to re-envision their interior and exterior spaces.
He urged listeners to think about how Minchinhampton's church could be made more current, flexible and overtly welcoming: "Your church is open all day but it doesn't look as if it is because the doors are closed. So the question is: How can you make your building appear to the street scene as a place of openness?" Every aspect needed to be considered during any re-ordering process, from the altar, pulpit and font, to the areas of hospitality that draw people in. "I am not here to tell you what to do but to help you tell each other the dreams you have," Richard said, stressing that wide consultation would be needed in any decision-making process.

Question-time after the talk elicited a variety of comments, such as a responsibility to get things right for future worshippers, and concerns about how to manage all the inevitably differing opinions into a coherent whole.

But there was also enthusiastic commitment as summed up by our former church warden Simon Ritter: "Change isn't anything to be afraid of," he said.
Thanking Richard for his inspirational talk, Helen emphasised that this was the beginning of a process that would value and respect the views of everyone. "There is no plan already set in place," she said. "We need to come to a communal vision and understanding of what is right."

At this meeting a photograph was shown of the church interior with the pews airbrushed out. The photograph was very kindly provided by Hilary Kemmett and is reproduced below.