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Statements of Significance transformed

Posted on: 08/04/2013

HeaderIf your church is an old building, or even remotely interesting, then when you propose changes to it you will need to write a Statement of Significance. There have been a variety of attempts to provide guidance on how churches should approach this (including on this site), but the quality of the result is often very poor – at one extreme some churches photocopy a page from an architectural history, or at the other extreme submit an expensively commissioned piece of work by an external consultant. Neither of these delivers an enduringly useful document, one that the church takes ownership of and sees as important in informing their use and care of the building. The root of the problem is that few in the churches can see the point of them.

Getting StartedThe wonderful Christianity and Culture is hoping to address these deficiencies with a new web-based tool, developed with significant financial support from English Heritage, who see this as a major priority. A workshop took place in mid March to test drive the format and detail of the tool with a real-life example of a church (St Peter’s, Norton on Derwent, outside York), and this post reports on two exciting aspects of the discussion – firstly giving you preview of the tool itself, and why it is such good news for churches with historic buildings, and secondly presenting some thoughts about what the tool could become, which is even more exciting!

The ToolProgress

The first key innovation is that the tool breaks the Statement down into a series of sections, which enables the work to be shared, as different people can be given responsibility for each self-contained element. Furthermore, because it is web-based, the document is always accessible, and can be updated as new information is discovered and as personnel change; it therefore can become a shared point of reference that can be accessed and amended as required.

Having registered on the site, you have a choice of starting a new Statement, or open an existing one you have been working on. The current structure is split into 8 sections:

  • Step 1 – General Information – this identifies the building and its location
  • Step 2 – Existing Scheduling and Orders – this is where you put the text of any listing description etc.
  • Step 3 – The Church Setting – a description of the area around the church, both built and natural.
  • Step 4 – Churchyard and Site – the external space that belongs with the church, including any built, natural or archaeological features.
  • Step 5 – The Church Building -Inside – This section allows you to add specific features, including a photograph and a description, to include any important furniture and fittings.
  • Step 6 – The Church Building – Outside – As for step 5, but for the outside of the building.
  • Step 7 – Social History – particular people associated with the church, and community comment and memory.
  • Step 8 – Your Sources – where you got your information from.

Each section will be supported by guidance and examples, including images and short videos. This itself will be of great value in helping to clarify the type and extent of information that will be of value.

All of this is great, and should help these Statements to become something other than an imposed chore. Having put all the information in, you will then be able to export a formatted pdf document for printing and electronic circulation. It is anticipated that the tool will be launched later this year. If you cannot wait to get your hands on this, and want to contribute to its development you can contact C&C for login details to gain access to the prototype.

The Potential

So far, so very good. But what is really exciting is the prospect of giving broader access to anyone and everyone to view the collected information. This would allow anyone in your local community, or indeed the world, to look at your church, and to get a feel for its character and history.

General InfoBut then imagine what would happen if it became interactive, and we were allowed to leave comments, like a digital visitor’s book. Suddenly the site becomes a community, and mere interest starts to become active involvement.

And then what about using the site for recording additional information that comes to light in the process of researching the building? What about oral history, for example the account of the family that was bombed out of their East London home and lived in the church for a week? These personal accounts are gold-dust, for both present and future. Or what about a brief video tour? This material is a really valuable part of the significance of the building, of the narrative of the church in its particular place, yet the audio file would never make it into a Statement of Significance, let alone be publicly available. There is huge public interest in this additional material which is often the part of ‘heritage’ that is easiest for people to engage with, and which tells the building’s story most eloquently.

Without doubt these digital visits would in turn drive more physical visits. The ability to contribute, to shape a community around the church, would stimulate interest and potentially give that wider community a role in looking after your building. Which is to be welcomed! And when you did come to propose changes to the building, not only would they be better considered, you would also be able to demonstrate (in most cases) that the church hasn’t always been the way it is now. The commenting facility would also be one valuable means of community consultation, which will give those that must approve your proposals confidence that the community had been given a voice.

Imagine if we could use a site like this to build a social history of the community. Imagine if I am sitting in Australia or Canada and were able to upload a photo of my grandmother’s wedding in the church, or of the party held at the Queen’s coronation, or whatever.

The Righting of Wrongs

What makes this so powerful is that it allows the readmission of the broader community to its church. In my view it was one of the greatest crimes of the Victorian age to remove the community uses from our churches, which have therefore come to be seen as the ‘religious club’, to which you either belong or not – in or out – saved or damned. This is a relatively recent aberration; by contrast, the medieval model was much more nuanced, allowing the wider community to engage with the church.

The potential here is therefore to turn church buildings into forms of social media. I wouldn’t suggest this is all that a church is or should be, but, if you think about it, this has always been a part of what a healthy church traditionally was. By means of this tool, Statements of Significance, which started out as a misunderstood burden, could become a means of radical re-engagement with the broader community. Bring it on!

Learning from Retail – Mary Portas

Posted on: 30/01/2013

Holywell_High_StreetThe parallels between the retail sector and the church is an area that is of great interest – retail has much to teach the church, but the key question is drawing the right lessons and not the wrong ones. Revd Philippa Boardman’s excellent session at the recent National Archdeacons’ Conference at Swanwick told the story of rebirth of St Paul’s Old Ford in East London and brought out some wider lessons. For me the highlight was her co-option of The Portas Review, and particularly her section on ‘My vision’ which, if you want to see the original, is on page 14.

To demonstrate the proximity of church and this vision for the future of the high street, Philippa took this vision statement and simply substituted the word “church” in place of “high street”; the text then read as follows:

My vision

I want to breathe economic and community life back into our high streets churches

 

Let me spell out my vision of the future.

 

I don’t want to live in a Britain that doesn’t care about community.

 

And I believe that our high streets churches are a really important part of building communities and pulling people together in a way that a supermarket or shopping mall, however convenient, however entertaining and however slick, just never can.

 

I want to put the heart back into the centre of our high streets churches, re-imagined as destinations for socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning. … The new high streets churches won’t just be about selling goods worship. The mix will include shops space for worship but could also include housing, offices, sport, schools or other social, commercial and cultural enterprises and meeting places. They should become places where we go to engage with other people in our communities, where shopping worship is just one small part of a rich mix of activities.

 

This will be the new value.

 

High streets Churches must be ready to experiment, try new things, take risks and become destinations again. They need to be spaces and places that people want to be in. High streets churches of the future must be a hub of the community that local people are proud of and want to protect.

For me this is as compelling a vision for the church as it is for the high street and provides lots of food for thought.  Clearly the church is (or should be) all about standing in the centre of the local community; and yet I suspect there are few churches that could not learn something from the vision statement above.

Look out for further posts that pick up some of these ideas in more detail.

Growing The Rural Church

Posted on: 22/02/2012

Scargill House
In just two week’s time the Growing the Rural Church conference will be taking place at Scargill House in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. The conference is aimed at church leaders and members across all denominations, who are making progress growing the rural church. The three day structure enables the conference to look at three key questions:

  • Reaching rural communities both new and long standing
  • Buildings – burden or blessing
  • Enabling participation – empowering the people of God  

Scargill HouseSo why should those of us (like myself) who are not directly involved in a rural church be interested? Surely this is not for us? In preparing for the conference (I’m doing a workshop session on the Wednesday afternoon) I’ve been challenged in my thinking in a couple of important ways.

Firstly, if being the body of Christ means anything, then surely it means being actively engaged with other parts of the church that have concerns that are less directly relevant to our own. Many churches are used to looking abroad and getting involved in whatever way with churches in other parts of the world – so why not in our own back yard?

But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there is what the rural church can teach the urban and suburban church. I suspect that is rather more than ‘townies’ such as myself  care to admit. One important area – and I suspect that this in one way or another is where the growth in rural areas is coming from – is in the very real ways in which the rural church is able to root their local communities.

The Wednesday is the buildings day, and includes input from Peter Aires (Head of Regeneration and Major Projects at the Churches Conservation Trust), Lesley Morley (Chaplain to Yorkshire Agricultural Society and former Rural Officer for the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds), Alice Ullathorne(Church Building Support Officer Diocese of Ripon and Leeds), and myself. The other days also look excellent, with some great speakers, including Simon Mattholie of Rural Ministries and Sian Lockwood OBE (Chief Executive of Community Catalysts).

The conference runs for 3 days from Tuesday 6th to Thursday 8th March – more information and booking details here. You can book for single days, or for the whole lot, with or without accommodation; I understand there is still some availability for each of the days.

I can’t wait – I think it could be a game changer.

Peaceful Protest

Posted on: 17/11/2011

The current occupation of the area outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London has captured the national and international media spotlight for a number of reasons. However, my interest has been stirred by the apparent dilemma that faces the St. Paul’s establishment. That dilemma, as I see it, is that the church, as commanded by Jesus, is supposed to be sticking up for the poor and needy, and marginalised in society. And that is exactly what the protesters outside the Cathedral front door are claiming to do. So in effect, both the protesters and the church authorities are “singing off the same hymn sheet” (so to speak).

So why the controversy?

Well, the answer to that question is best answered by other, more politically astute commentators, but I am intrigued that the Cathedral leadership seem to be unsure of how to handle the situation they find themselves in. First they shut the doors, then they open them again, then they threaten legal action to evict them, then they don’t. It all looks a little confused.

I am at the moment dipping into a book by Giles Fraser called “Christianity with Attitude”. It is a series of articles written by Giles for The Guardian newspaper, and extracts from his appearances on Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”. Mr. Fraser, as you may recall, resigned from his post as Canon Chancellor at St. Paul’s in October. In an interview with The Guardian following his resignation, he said-

“I cannot countenance the idea that this would be about Dale Farm on the steps of St Paul’s. I would want to have negotiated down the size of the camp and appeal to those there to help us keep the cathedral going, and if that meant that I was thereby granting them some legal right to stay then that is the position I would have had to wear … I believe that we embarked upon a course of action that would lead to a place where I didn’t want to go.”

What would Jesus Do?One doesn’t have to read too far between the lines to see that the St. Paul’s authorities (with the apparent exception of Giles Fraser and possibly a few others) didn’t want the protestors camped outside the cathedral. The possible reasons for this are many, but surely it is the command of Jesus to take a stand against poverty and the causes of poverty and injustice, and to stand up for the marginalised? Even if the cathedral did not accept the protestors’ apparent argument that the actions of the traders in the Stock Exchange were the cause of all of society’s current problems, isn’t there a case for supporting a peaceful protest to raise awareness of such issues?

A question of space

And if the answer to this question is yes, then what about considering creating space in our expressions of church buildings for such actions? In looking at how we might redevelop or rebuild our churches, or construct new ones, it is easy to consider where the “usual” things should go – dais, pulpit, font/baptistry, kitchen, vestry etc etc. But such things are all primarily internal fixtures and spaces, visible only when you are inside the building. What about a space externally, where the church can publicly express itself? Often the space around the outside of a building is resolved last – trying to squeeze in enough car parking and landscaping to satisfy the local planning authority. But what if it was considered at the same time as the internals – as a place to hold (for example) an outdoor Easter service? A prayer meeting? An area to wash cars and give out bacon sandwiches – free- on a Saturday morning? Even a place to hold a peaceful protest about a local or national issue, to draw attention to it? Or a place to invite other groups to protest over issues that are aligned with Christian values and principles of social justice and the eradication of poverty?

Too often, in my experience, we get excited about our expression of church as it appears inside the building in the form of fixtures and fittings, and even the style of worship. What about – when the opportunity presents itself – giving some thought to how we can express ourselves as a church body outside the church. If this is a thought that fills you with fear and dread- then it might just be that it is the right thing to do……

[hr]Colin Smith is a planning consultant and a member of Keystone Domain.

“Here For Life”

Posted on: 11/11/2011

Creation, from the Genesis Cycle at the west door of York Minster

 

We’ve just posted some material over at curiosus.co.uk, our blog about conservation and heritage management, on the slogan “Here for Life”, which stands emblematically for an integration between people and places through time, the three critical dimensions of sound cultural heritage management.

In thinking further about this within a church context, the phrase also works well as a motto or rallying cry for churches engaged in their communities. Lots of churches do not make positive use of the physical presence of their buildings as anchors within their community, nor of the life stories that are associated with, and often commemorated in, that place. Equally the church is nothing if it is not about people being drawn together into the life of God. As Jesus said (John 10.10),

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”.

Symbiosis

It is much like the response to the reading of the law in Nehemiah chapter 8. Clearly what looks very much like revival was not caused by the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. But nor would it have happened without that rebuilding, because the walls created a sense of belonging, of restored identity, and of placedness before God. The same is true of our church buildings, of whatever age – or at least it can be if we engage with them properly.

So when thinking about your church buildings, “Here for Life” seems a helpful phrase to keep in mind.