A Tale of Two Conferences

Internal view of St Paul's Old Ford

Internal view of St Paul’s Old Ford

As with buses, so with church conferences! Within the space of 10 days there are two significant conferences that are relevant for anyone thinking about churches – particularly how they are used and how they should be changed.

The first if these, New Work in Churches, took place last week (October 31st) at Lambeth Palace. It was organised by the Church Buildings Council, and brought together a range of speakers, most of them architects including Eric Parry (St Martin in the Fields), Sophy Twohig of Hopkins (Norwich Cathedral Refectory) and Oliver Caroe (Lichfield and St Paul’s Cathedrals). As you may have gathered from the churchbuild site and from these blogs, technical solutions and beautiful outcomes are not (for me) the greatest challenge – more important are the processes of arriving at a coherent vision for what a given church in its locality is called to be, and then articulating that vision to build consensus both within the church and across the broader community.

Hence it was particularly refreshing to hear from Sophia de Sousa, chief executive of The Glass-House Community Led Design, and the one non-architect to speak. As she pointed out, a church building will generally be loved within its community; proposals to change a church will therefore bring out this sense of latent ownership, which if not handled properly will be expressed as opposition. Change, and particularly proposals for partnership, will challenge perceptions. For example, local people might:

  • see the church building as places only for those practising religion;
  • be wary of mixing religion and enterprise;
  • be wary of changing a building that is in the collective memory of local historical value.

Sophia used one of our favourite examples of a church reimagined with community engagement: St Paul’s, Old Ford in Bow, East London, which includes 3 floors or community facilites including a cafe, meeting spaces, an educational charity and a gym all within and alongside the continuing church functions.

Michaelhouse, Cambridge

Michaelhouse, Cambridge – Cafe in the Nave

The forthcoming Sharing Sacred Spaces Symposium will take place on Saturday 10th November at Michaelhouse in Cambridge; I understand tickets are still available. By contrast to the New Work conference there are no architects due to speak – it is likely therefore that the symposium will have a more practical focus on process and the sharing of client experience. The speakers are professionals with a variety of roles (mostly within the church) all focused on helping churches with the adaptation of their buildings. Of those I have heard speak before Andrew Mottram, Heritage Buildings and Community Development officer at the Diocese of Worcester, promises to be particularly engaging with his understanding of the interrelation of the operation of church buildings with their theology.

The Symposium bills itself as being for those – church wardens or incumbents, architects, development officers – who either have already adapted a church, or are actively thinking of doing so, and wish to share their experiences and problems. The fee of £60 includes a hot lunch, which will be hosted at the nearby Trinity Hall. Further details and booking form can be downloaded from the Michaelhouse website. And if you’re unable to make the symposium but find yourself in Cambridge, Michaelhouse is highly recommended for a cup of coffee or a light lunch!

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