Church community or church in the community – some ideas about reordering from the experience of others
If we were to design churches now, they would look very different; accessible, catering facilities, toilets, meeting spaces, audio visual equipment etc but its unlikely we could ever afford the incredible stone buildings that our forebears built that we enjoy (and often take for granted) now.
Most of us love the atmosphere of an old stone church so long as it is not riddled with damp or the ceiling isn’t falling in. But we also like spaces to be functional.
Here in Manchester churches are reflecting on how they serve the community and the most obvious way is through providing a building that can host our life as spiritual people.
Of course spiritual does not mean just ‘religious’. It is perfectly possible for a church to engage people in spiritual work through hosting coffee mornings, lunch clubs, night shelters post offices, polling centres, concerts etc etc as well as worship (though we must remember that the first thing we offer to God is our worship).
To do this though we need to have a building which is practical, accessible, beautiful and soaked in prayer.
One way in which we can do this is by adapting our buildings and upgrading our facilities. There are lots of ways of doing this which enhance the existing building and provide much needed opportunities for communities to gather together to worship and to do all sorts of other things.
There are several organisations that help churches to think about how to get the best out of their building and here are some ideas for you to explore yourself.
For a picture of a church with a toilet ‘pod’ (their particular one also includes a meeting room and drinks station) see Much Wenlock Church on Trip Advisor
The Church Care website has this to say:
‘Community use of a church can mean any use which is not commercial in outlook.
This might mean rooms or spaces which can be used by local people for a variety of reasons. It could be a coffee morning which exists solely for people to come together rather than to raise funds.
The case studies below were written by representatives from churches who have undertaken projects to develop their church through community means. They provide guidance and advice for anyone looking to make their church an open and sustainable building. You can click on the www.church care.co.uk website to find out more.
St Giles, Langford – Diocese of Chelmsford (Conversion of vestry into village shop)
St Mary the Virgin – Stannington – Diocese of Newcastle (Creation of community room and IT Online Centre)
St Mary, Cloughton – Diocese of York (Addition of post office)
St Cuthbert, Copnor – Diocese of Portsmouth (Accomodation of GP surgery and community complex)
Springfield Project – Diocese of Birmingham (Children’s centre)
St John at Hackney – Diocese of London (New cafe)
St James, West Hampstead – Diocese of London (New cafe, gift shop, florist, and children’s play area)
Good coverage of the work St James, West Hampstead have done to double their congregation and bring 3,500 people through their doors every week was featured on “Songs of Praise”, and a link can be found on the church care website.
For Comments re churches that have worked on their commitment to the community see these on www.churchcare.co.uk
Waterloo, St John (Diocese of Southwark)
For many years the steps of St John’s were used as a gathering point for social drinking. This intimidated users of the building and the general public. With much hard work between the church, the local authority and the police the churchyard was made a controlled drinking zone and this was then enforced. The result has released the front of the church for a daytime food court that serves the local community, and includes special rates for students. It has made a considerable difference to the perception of the church even to people just walking by.
Inside the extensive crypt is used by organisations that help release potential – for example a mosaic studio that works with pupils excluded from school, a theatre company working with schools and young people and a training orchestra for emerging professional musicians. Three days a week the church is used for orchestral rehearsal – which realises sufficient income to employ a verger to keep the building open every day.
A chapel for prayer is kept available when the church is open.
Revd Canon Giles Goddard
Dunwich, St James (Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich)
The Suffolk coastal village of Dunwich attracts visitors walking the coastal path and visiting the nearby ruined friary and leper chapel. The church is kept open daily and a new porch gives visitors the opportunity to see into the building before they enter. Although often unstaffed a sense of welcome is extended with the provision of a kettle and all that is needed to make a warm drink and a leave a donation.
Loughton, St Mary (Diocese of Chelmsford)
St Mary’s redevelopment scheme completely opened up the front of the Church onto the busy High Road. Our Cafe faces the High Road and gives direct access into the Church. This really attracts many people and they join our mid-week service and toddler Church service. It has given us an opportunity to listen to many people who are on their own or in need and we have seen many who came in for a coffee becoming involved with the Church and making a commitment to God or re-finding their faith.
Amanda Hart, Parish Administrator
Algarkirk, St Peter and St Paul (Diocese of Lincoln)
Our church had been locked everyday, except for Sunday worship, up until the summer of 2012. During the time it was locked the church was visited and seen by nobody outside the small congregation. We suffered vandalism; lead theft; the deterioration of the building and its interior; and the accumulation of clutter around the church. We took the decision to open because we wanted to share our church with more people. Since opening we have welcomed visitors from all over the world; held a Big Clean Up event; established a programme of events and activities to be held in the church; begun using the church for book-swaps as there is no local library; improved the atmosphere in the church immeasurably and embarked upon a huge repair and conservation project. We still have much to do to secure our church for future generations, but by opening the church everyday so that people can come in and enjoy it, we know it will be worth it.
Di Reid, Algarkirk PCC
St George-in-the-East (Diocese of London) is an East End Hawksmoor church, but with a post-Blitz interior with little to steal or vandalise. We are committed to keeping the church open even when unstaffed, and many comments in the visitors’ book thank us for this, in comparison with their experience elsewhere: ‘an oasis of peace and light’ is a typical entry. Despite our inner urban setting, we have fewer problems than when church was locked. Staying open is also an important witness to our Muslim-majority neighbours
Revd Canon Michael Ainsworth