Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Greater Churches Conference 1

An afternoon with English Heritage and a Places of Worship Support Officer. Doesn't sound like the most dynamic event, but in fact it was excellent and even inspiring.

This week is the biennial conference of the Greater Churches Group (a name that all-too-easily suggests that there are lesser churches out there somewhere, but shouldn't). The Wikipedia entry for the group describes it as a 'self-help organisation within the CofE', which is rather good. We're at a retreat house in Somerset (although I'm writing this at my kitchen table in Bristol).

So this afternoon I've seen a pro-active and important side to English Heritage that showed them taking seriously the living nature of church buildings and been treated to a visionary account of how church buildings should be seen as an asset to the mission of the Church. What was advocated was a return to the medieval sense of the church building as a mixed economy space, for worship and also for selling, meeting, even brewing. The Reformation and then the 19th Century specialisation of the church have moved us too far away from this.

The key message was that the church building belongs to the whole community and not just those who worship there. It should serve people's real needs (not what the church thinks those needs should be) and allow folk in on their terms, as they are.

Much food for thought here, and tomorrow they all visit St Mary Redcliffe (hence I'm at home having just put the finishing touches to my contribution).

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