As we approach the New Year, I have been asked to provide a detailed update on where we are with the Steeple Building project. The following is a slightly expanded version of the article that appears in the Jan 2017 Steeple Aston Life.
In January 2016 my article for the Steeple Aston Life ended: "This is about Vision, not Division. This is about all of us wanting to do the best for the church and for the village and for every person here. This is not about people taking sides or falling out over building plans. We are a family. We belong together…"
One year on, I have been asked to inform everyone where we are with the Church Building Project, what has been happening, what is (and isn’t) on the cards in the months ahead. Here goes:
The project has always been fired by six ideas:
to provide better access to the building for every member of the community. Outside paths need to be improved, and inside floors need to be level. Access matters because everyone matters.
to provide better heating. No building in this day and age should be cold. We have the technology!
to provide toilet facilities, as young, old, and visitors expect. It's simply good manners to provide these things.
to provide basic kitchen and hospitality facilities for coffee mornings, concert refreshments, etc. Fellowship is part of worship, and hospitality is key to caring.
to allow some flexible space so the church building can be used and useful more than just a couple of hours each Sunday. We want our creative primary school to use the space more; and look forward to everyone in the village finding new ways of using of our historic building - from Art Weeks to Christmas Tree Festivals.
to provide specific space for children. Our Sunday School deserve a room of their own. If we say children matter, we have to back up words with action.
A business plan
When asked for a ‘business plan’ I always start with this: a business plan isn’t: “to maintain a major building to minimal standards, without basic facilities, capable of being used only for two or three hours a week at most.” That may be the status quo, but sometimes we really do have to question the way things are.
The church is the community of people - NOT the building. As a community, we are here (1) to worship God and (2) to love and serve the village. That's not rocket science - it's Jesus' great command to us: love God, love neighbour. The building should reflect our aims. Honestly, it is OK (but limited) for the first, and (like so many other church buildings) pretty poor on the second. We need to do better - and we can. In my last parish, we grasped this nettle and made similar changes. At the beginning we had no idea what it would mean in practice. At the end, we won awards for community transformation. That’s a business plan. Let me give examples of what happened: One warden (who ran a catering business) put on monthly lunches for the elderly - and a hundred people came. Another (ex-warden) offered French classes. Half a dozen very keen folk attended regularly. They were very different events - but both provided community for people who would otherwise be lonely. Both saw folk drawn in by the love of God. We shouldn't copy that parish - we should do what is right for here, so that we build community and transform people's lives.
Not in competition
We have the Village Hall, the Sport & Rec. Do we need more? I’ve been clear from the start: the church isn’t in competition with our other wonderful village venues; now, or ever. But if we free our imagination & tame our pride, (not the other way round!) we can serve the community with, for example, a cafe for mums whose kids are at school or pre-school, school children’s classes, art displays, or whatever ideas you come up with! (But I do think we’re the wrong venue for ‘Allo ‘Allo…) Some of these things could happen in the community buildings that exist already; but if we do them in our building - they come from our hearts, serving and showing God's heart, and that's so important.
Pews, screen, font, doors
Enough ideas, let's talk details. For some, the building project has contentious items, such as doing anything with the pews and the screen at the front of church. At one time, the PCC considered removing all the pews. But we had an independent Heritage Report drawn up which pointed out that our pews were important historically. So now we plan to keep pews in the centre of the building, along with all of the medieval carved pew ends We will however create space at the sides for the kind of events mentioned above.
We are looking at moving the screen to the arch between lady chapel and chancel, which the Heritage Report allows, in order to provide a clearer area from which to lead worship, and to help school events and concerts. The font will move to new space in the south aisle to allow families to gather more easily for baptisms. If funds allow, new glass doors will provide warmth and sight into the building - and I hope we can include the Steeple Aston Cope more firmly in the fabric of the building by engraving the Cope angels on the glass doors. The V&A are also looking to provide some lovely Cope display boards for us.
Right now, the PCC & I are working with a series of experts. We have to find the best form of heating, we have to discover if the floor of the tower can be lowered for the toilets, get a host of heritage bodies to look at everything (in addition to the Heritage Report), get technical drawings, apply for Diocesan permissions, get planning permission to improve the paths. Never mind finding the money for all this! (We do have a funder interested, but that’s a very long way from having funds secured…) IF everything happens really quickly, we may get to building in 2018.
In 2015-16 we spent around £13,500 on fees, a feasibility study, and Heritage Report. £10,000 came from regular church finances; donations and the first jazz concert made up the £3,500. We realised that 2016-17 would bring almost another £20,000 of costs and the PCC decided that the ongoing project must be self-financing. This led to our "pledge weekend" and so far, £10,900 has been raised through individual donations from people in Steeple Aston, plus over £2,500 in Gift Aid. A restricted fund of £2,600 which the Diocese held for us for the church building has also been released, £750 was raised by the jazz concert, £300 by Ride & Stride, and the Dr Radcliffe Foundation have promised £2,000. With some months to go we are close to our original target. Thank you to everyone who has contributed. Every gift makes a difference, and with every new gift someone new becomes involved.
Sophie Cleobury is bringing her amazing choir for a weekend of fundraising in February. They’ll be giving an evening concert on Feb 4th, and singing in church on Feb 5th too. Do come along, enjoy the beautiful music and ask me any questions.
This is your church. Everyone matters. God’s love isn’t just for the people who turn up. In this village, in this life, we are a family, his family. I finish where I started, and I mean it more than ever: This is about Vision, not Division… Whatever happens, we want our church - your church - always to feel like a place where everyone matters. Because in God’s eyes, everyone does matter. That’s the vision.