A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Churches Tourism Association convention. The final morning featured a ‘Using Technology’ session which featured of presentations on a number of relevant technologies. I’m hoping to do a short series of posts looking at some of these in turn.
What Did Google Ever Do For Us?
We’re all familiar with Street View on Google Maps – a great way of checking what an unfamiliar place looks like before you get there. And of course it only shows you the outside of buildings, right? Not any more! Google Business Street View is an extension of plain old Street View into the interiors of publicly accessible buildings. Google’s idea is to let you see the inside of commercial buildings such as restaurants – Google has some information here. Fine for businesses (for which Google developed it) but it turns out this technology is great for churches too!
View Larger Map
Chris Jones of LeicesterPhoto Design demonstrated the technology, using the example of the medieval St Mary De Castro Church in Leicester, for which he was the commissioned photographer. The tell-tale on Google Maps is when you come to a double arrow – see the picture to the left – which indicates that you can ‘cross the threshold’ into an accessible interior. Chris has some information on this service here. (If the above example doesn’t show for any reason, go to Google Maps and enter the postcode LE1 5WH.)
So why is this technology interesting?
For historic buildings Street View is a new way that enables them to tell their story (in visual form at least). Clearly this doesn’t give the ‘visitor’ the full experience of being in the space, let alone the historical detail. But as a taster it is fantastic. And this is relevant whether your church is steeped in history, or is “post war charmless” – either way it helps people who have never visited the building before to feel more comfortable crossing the threshold. Not knowing what to expect is a powerful disincentive for people unused to church – and church buildings – to engage with us. This is a great example of one area where the church can learn from the world of retail. Even better, it is an area where the Church of England is leading retail – Chris is one of 20 accredited photographers who have agreed a national pricing structure with the Anglican Church, and the group will shortly be doing a test shoot for the National Churches Trust.
Those of you interested in how technology can help tell stories may be interested in the new app that will shortly be released for Coventry Cathedral. There are versions for iOS and Android.
The app is one in a growing series produced by the wonderful people at Christianity and Culture in York. What C&C are so good at is providing content that is well researched, compellingly presented and also (if you are interested) spiritually throught-provoking.
The The initial feel of the app is very good, with easy navigation and engaging content. The menu page provides a number of ways to access the material. From the trails section you can choose one of the following four themes:
- The three cathedrals that have occupied the site;
- Art and Architecture – focusing more on the features of the building;
- Pilgrim Trail – which gives you more of the faith content;
- Explore – a more general guide including most of the above.
I particularly liked the audio bit – giving a feel for the acoustic of the second cathedral before it was destroyed by bombing in 1940. I tested the app out on site at Coventry a couple of weeks ago, and it worked well – certainly better than the audio tours, which you have to return to the desk before you’ve had a chance to listen to the information that relates to the outside of the building! And the app is great because you can download it and explore the building before you visit, which makes the experience while you are there all the richer and less hurried.
Visitors and Pilgrims
Why does this matter? Because there are lots of people who are drawn towards our church buildings who would not identify themselves as Christian. Interpretive materials such as these teach us all more of the story of these buildings, but particularly they open them up to the visitor in a way that printed materials cannot. They are part of our welcome, and perhaps the beginning of a conversation that may see some that come as visitors leaving as pilgrims.
Why not download the app and explore for yourself? The app is due for an official launch by the Cathedral, but until then C&C would appreciate any feedback on glitches, or suggestions. They can be contacted by emailing the C&C office.
The 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.
- 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.
The resource structures each time period along the following themes
- 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.
So 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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”)