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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!

Upcoming Buildings for Mission Events

Posted on: 04/03/2013

CandC MenuDo you struggle with your church building? There are two ‘Buildings for Mission‘ events coming up at the end of next week that may be of interest, particularly for those in the north of England. Both events are linked with the wonderful Christianity and Culture.

Buildings for Mission: Friday 15th March 2013, at the Church of St Michael and All Angels, Houghton le Spring, Co Durham

This is organised by Inspired North East and is billed as a practical conference to help you take a fresh look at your church building; the cost is just £15. The keynote speaker is The Right Revd David Stancliffe, who is the former Bishop of Salisbury and also wrote the excellent Lion Guide to Church Architecture. The day includes a section on Tools for Action, and a serious of workshops looking at a variety of case studies.  Click here for booking information.

Buildings for Mission 2: Saturday 16th March 2013, at the Church of St. Peter’s, Norton on Derwent, North Yorkshire

This could be billed as ‘The Sequel’, as it addresses the four main areas of interest that emerged from the feedback forms from the first ever ‘BFM’ day in March of last year. These ‘hot button’ issues are the liturgical and practical issues around reordering for worship, seeing your building’s potential, interpretation materials for church buildings, and how to create a Statement of Significance

Cost for half a day £15, or the full day £25 including lunch and refreshments. Click here for booking information.

Why am I interested?

Both events will include a demonstration of a new Statements of Significance Tool which has been developed by C&C with significant input from English Heritage, and should revolutionise the creation of these crucial documents. The Tool is web-based, and splits the process into 10 sections, so that the work involved can be divided between different people, and will always be available to be updated. The Tool will be trialled at both of the above events; by using the event venue as a model, the idea is to get feedback on the way it works prior to its launch later in the year.

Coming to a church near you…

Christianity and Culture has designed ‘BFM’ as a toolkit of parts to enable dioceses across the country to run the same event. If you are interested in this, please contact C&C (01904 328095), and speak to Louise Hampson.

The English Parish Church

Posted on: 30/11/2011

The English Parish Church through the CenturiesThe English Parish Church through the Centuries is an extraordinarily rich DVD-ROM resource that has been produced by The Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture at the University of York. This effectively is an encyclopaedia of information on how we end up with the church buildings we do, covering everything from the early church up to the present day. The resource contains everything from easily accessible introductions to the latest academic research on parish churches and the influence of Christianity on literature, music, art and society.

Contents

  • 600 articles by over 225 experts in their respective fields
  • Video sections
  • Audio – eg church music of different ages
  • Interactive 3D models of how churches have developed from Saxon times to the present day
  • Galleries of images from national and international collections.
  • Glossary of terms, good for the complete beginner upwards
  • Christianity and writers such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Dickens, Brontes, Wordsworth, TS Eliot, Tolkien, DH Lawrence.
  • Case studies detailing individual churches from around the country.
  • Practical sections on care, conservation, creative use, re-ordering and interpretation of church buildings and their contents.

EPC Resource Centre - Internal 3D modelStructure

The resource structures each time period along the following themes

  • Introduction
  • Context
  • Daily Life and Worship
  • Church Art and Architecture
  • Interaction with Society
  • Interaction with Culture

 

So Why Should I Be Interested?

In short, because we live in an age of forgetting. Ironic isn’t it, when we are awash with more and more knowledge, that we seem to know less and less about where we have come from? This was the impetus behind the setting up of Christianity and Culture, that first year undergraduates were coming up to university with little or no frame of reference for the Christian cultural foundation of much of what they were studying.

But the forgetting goes the other way too – in the church we forget how much Christian content there still is within the culture at large, and are also woefully ignorant of where we have come from. I for one have learned a good deal from the small part of the resource that I have accessed to date.

And who would benefit from this resource? Well, almost anyone. Any church needing to prepare a Statement of Significance (and that’s most of us) would be well advised to have a copy. All Rural and Area Deans should have at least one copy. It would work well in schools, for architects and other building professionals – anyone really. Even my 7 year-old enjoyed it, particularly the external and internal 3D virtual model of the church.

EPC_ResourceCentre_case-studiesSo How Do I Get A Copy?

The resource costs £17.50 plus postage, which in itself is an absolute bargain and available by following the link from the C&C website. Alternatively if you contact candc@york.ac.uk and quote “churchbuild” you can get a copy for £15 plus £1 postage (within the UK). Even better!

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana, from “Life of Reason”)