Project Route Map

Is God in the hospitality business?

Posted on: 07/06/2011

mar10 street1Yes, I believe He is! The St Andrew’s Centre, Histon, near Cambridge has recently won planning permission for a radical overhaul of its buildings. Guiding this through to planning permission was not easy (taking some 20 weeks) but the eventual success was anchored in the articulation by the church’s leadership of a clear vision for the project.

That vision is for the hospitality of God. Central to that vision is a top quality cafe that creates an open and generous welcome to the building, which also houses children’s work throughout the week and halls for church use and for hire. The project will make the church much more accessible to the community, since the building is well located on the busy High Street, whereas the church itself is more remote. This is not a building project – it is a mission project that happens to include a building…

As James Blandford-Baker, vicar of St Andrew’s, says, ‘This project is so significant because it is about extroverting our life together; it is putting the life of the community of God firmly into the public domain. It makes us open to public scrutiny of who we are, and of how we conduct our relationships.’

Churches are often significnant buildings within their communities, and all sorts of people may feel a sense of ownership over them. And change is often seen as very threatening. In the case of Histon there were concerns raised from many quarters, including not one but two Parish Councils, meetings were held, additional work undertaken on traffic and highways issues. It often felt like going the extra mile. The Conservation Officer after multiple changes to the design still recommended refusal.

St Andrew's Centre, Histon - plan

Cutaway view of ground floor

But that process was ultimately very worthwhile – toiling through the planning process was also about being God’s community in the public domain. And when it eventually came to the planning committee the application was passed by a huge majority, with Sebastian Kindersley, one of the wiser heads among the councillors, voicing an appreciation for what the local church was willing to do in their community.

Where churches are concerned, a building project is never just a building project.