A Vision for our Building
For some time now Minchinhampton has been looking at what to do about a re-ordering of its building. Some generous funds are available specifically for this project, but during the vacancy, all plans had to be put on hold. A small group, comprising The Rector, the Church Wardens and David Goldsmith, with the aid of Katie Jarvis in our communications, has begun to take up the project, and we are very clear that the first stage in this before anything else is proper information and communication, followed by consultation. This will be with both the church community and the wider community, as we begin to discuss the purpose of our building and what needs improving as we seek to make our place of worship the best it can be for both ourselves andothers in our community.
It is very significant that, looking at previous consultations which happened before my time, a majority of the congregation recognised the need for our building to have some re-ordering take place. A 'Use of the Church Building Working Group' was formed and in 2011 undertook surveys with firstly User Groups and then individual members of the congregation. For this latter survey, 98 responses were received, with overwhelming support for use of the buildings for other purposes alongside worship, recognising our important role in the community. There was also support expressed for flexibility from over two thirds of respondents. It seems appropriate that when we come to begin our consultation process, we make available the findings of these surveys and reports once again, so that we can build on the work that has already taken place. And of course, some of this 'paperwork' resulted in actual work - the improved kitchen and toilet facilities.
But understanding what a re-ordering is and why, is essential to this whole process. It helps us to recognise that our buildings are part of our mission - they need to be used in ways that support both the worshipping life of the church and aid community groups to feel at home in the space that it provides. Gloucester Cathedral, which is itself beginning what it is calling 'Pilgrim Project', an ambitious development programme for its buildings, has coined the wonderful phrase, 'Turning sacred space into common ground.' In other words, we recognise our building is a holy and special place we have inherited and are enriched by. At the same time, we find the best possible way of inviting others in, to enter this 'sacred space' and find their place within it - whether that be for music, for children exploring faith in school visits or Experience Easter / Christmas stations, for prayer, for fellowship, for organised events. Whatever brings people over the threshold, the building should say both 'You are welcome here, whoever you are,' and also 'Here we meet with God.' At the same time, it should also invite us as congregations more deeply into the heart of worship, to enable us to recognise the sacred space in which we stand.
To launch this process of consultation by getting us to think about the why and what questions of re-ordering, we are having a special weekend Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th January 2015, initially for our congregations (community-wide consultations to follow). We have invited Canon Richard Giles to come and speak with us. Richard began as a qualified town planner and then parish priest, gaining over thirty years' experience of re-ordering church buildings in many different contexts, including rural and town situations. He then worked as Parish Development Officer for the Diocese of Wakefield, where his task was 'to encourage and enable parish communities to take a fresh look at their buildings as part of a mission strategy, and to re-order and re-equip them for worship, nurture, and social action.' He was also Canon Theologian for the Diocese, and wrote Repitching the Tent, a book which explores the need for improved design of liturgical spaces. From 1999 - 2008 he was Dean of Philadelphia Cathedral in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, USA, and from 2008 has been a Visiting Fellow of St John's College, Durham.
Richard will lead us in a session on the Saturday morning (17th January) that will aim to help us understand what a re-ordering might be, and what the reasons are for exploring this possibility for our church. He will show us examples of other re-orderings and the theological and practical reasons for improving our buildings. On the Sunday morning, 18th January, he will worship with us at the 10am and preach at that service.
We are delighted that Richard is willing to come and help us as we begin to explore our church building here at Minchinhampton.
Please do put these important dates in your diary!