Really, there isn’t much of a hierarchy or order to these six - except that access comes first.
Every person is a person. Everyone is loved by God and deserves to be treated with love and dignity. Right now, anyone with mobility problems finds it difficult simply to get to the front door at St Peter & St Paul’s. When they get there, there’s a step down into the nave. Then there are uneven floors, pew platforms, steps up to the chancel and lady chapel and tower to negotiate. If they are lucky, an able bodied person will clatter a ramp around and make everyone look at them as they come in. And then everyone will stare at each other and fuss as they wonder where a wheelchair might go before they work out that (for a funeral or wedding) they’d best go at the back in a corner.
How loved are they feeling now? How much dignity is left?
That’s why we are spending this money.
2. Why are you turning the Church into a Community Centre?
We aren’t! Let’s remember: the Church is always the people who meet to worship God and serve the people of the village. The Church Building (the beautiful place where the Church meet together) should serve both of these purposes. Does our wonderful building help us worship God? Does it help us serve the young? The elderly? The lonely? The bereaved? Can we do more? The PCC are simply trying to make the very most of what we have in order to ensure we don’t leave this fantastic place empty most of the week. Hospitality & Service are essential parts of church life.
We aren’t planning a venue for ping pong. We are trying to be a better Church.
3. But why not just use the Village Hall or the Sport & Rec if you want to do something other than Sunday worship?
Well… because we have a great building, and it seems such a waste not to use our own place for our own activities. We are a wonderful village - we don’t want to stop other groups from having time in the other places! Plus - if I want to have you round for coffee, and when you arrive I take us down the driveway, ring on the neighbour’s doorbell and ask to use their front room - in what way would it feel like we were having coffee at my place? We’d simply like to be able to do Church things in the Church building.
4. Why does the Church need loos and heating? It’s always been OK in the past!
Why does the pub need heating? Or the school? Or the village hall? Or our homes? Why do we all have our own loos? In Victorian times, all these places would have been as cold as the Church building can be, and indoor plumbing would have been decidedly hit and miss. But today… we all expect more. And we can do more. If the young and the elderly are to use a public building, we have to help: it’s important we get it right - but it’s not rocket science.
5. Why does the Church need space for Children’s Church? Haven’t the children always used the Pre-School?
‘Children’s Church’ is our name for Sunday School. We run a Family Service once a month, and Children’s Church on a different Sunday. Both are growing slowly and are run by wonderful volunteers - come and try them out! We haven’t been able to use Pre-School for quite a while because of an insurance issue, but we have used the Samuel Radcliffe room in the school. However - that’s quite a walk when it’s raining or snowing or cold (or sunny and the play area looks inviting)…
And besides, we think children matter. A lot. So we really want to create an area that says this loud and clear inside our own building.
6. Why are you putting a kitchen in the Lady Chapel?
We aren’t! No-one would let us, and we would never want to. We do want to open this space out so it can be used for different things - right now it is most often used for coffee after a Sunday morning service, or for interval drinks in a concert. We want more than that. We want to open it out so these things work well, but also it might be used for a prayer group or a Bible study, or a small midweek service, or PCC or any number of Church things. We are looking at buying some furniture that a small group could use, or a coffee morning, but our plans will mean that it could still be a chapel. The PCC have as one of its essential values ‘flexible space’ - so that we can make the most of every part of church.
By the way - we aren’t planning a kitchen in any part of the building. Why would we? That exists in the Village Hall for village events. We are looking at a sink & a prep area in the vestry, where people washing up after coffee or arranging flowers might work.
7. Why are you taking the famous wooden screen down?
We are planning to move the screen to the arch between the lady chapel & the chancel, in such a way that if a future PCC want to move it back - they can.
The reason for the move is liturgical - to do with worship. We want people to see the altar, where communion is celebrated, more clearly. We want funerals not to worry about coffins having flowers knocked off them as they go under the screen. We want couples getting married not to be squeezed into a space where there is no room for the best man to pass the rings, or where the bride & groom can’t kneel comfortably. We want children to be seen as well as heard - both in church and in school services. We want to be able to offer Family Communion using a nave altar. We want to be a proper village church, with room and time and something for everyone.
Yes, concerts for SACS and Dr Radcliffe’s and other groups will benefit from the extra room, and that’s a bonus. But this is driven by today’s worshipping church - which is different from that of 150 years ago. And things will be different in the future; so everything we are doing can be changed again.
8. Why are you ripping all the beautiful and historic pews out?
From the beginning until now, there has been a huge desire to remove all the pews. Not just within the PCC - lots of people in the village have asked for this (especially those who have sat through a long concert or school event). Early on, however, independent heritage experts told us that both the bench ends and the pews themselves were important, and we needed to work with them.
So we listened, and with the independent experts, the Diocesan committee that oversees historic buildings, and with other outside agencies, worked out a compromise. All the bench ends will be kept and used. Pews will be kept in the middle of church. The wooden platforms the pews are built on will go, and new stone floors will replace them where needed. A custom-made mechanism has been devised to make the pews movable (no wheels or castors involved) and superb craftsmanship has been employed to produce one trial pew so that the PCC, the heritage experts and the Diocese can judge if what has been proposed on paper is actually deliverable.
This will leave space for reflection and other activities, and when needed good wooden chairs will be available for congregational use. Again, this is in part about being ‘flexible’ but it is also about ‘access’ - so that any disabled person who will attend in the future will no longer find themselves being put in a back corner.
9. Why haven’t the PCC consulted the village?
We have! At the start we had a campaign with people filling in cards about what they wanted us to do, we had large open public meeting, and every Easter since then our annual congregation meeting has been advertised as an open meeting so anyone in the village could attend and hear and ask questions and vote about the project. For three years, people have voted with a deafening ‘yes’ to the PCC taking the project forward.
Also, the PCC is re-elected every year - itself a vital consultation as new members are chosen to join the process.
That’s not to mention endless Steeple Aston Life articles, website features, letters and email correspondence…
By the way: Church Law actually has the same status as Civil Law, and the legal and democratic process for a project like ours which the PCC are following (which can’t be ignored or replaced) has consultation with all sorts of groups written into it. That’s why we started in 2014 and still aren’t any where near building: we don’t just get to do our own thing. It all takes time!
10. Will there be further consultation?
Yes. And then some more… When we have worked through the next stage of developing detailed plans with the Diocesan authorities and the consultative bodies that are part of the legal framework we have to work with, and are ready to place these plans before the Diocesan Chancellor to ask for Faculty (the Church equivalent of planning permission) we plan to hold an exhibition weekend where everything will be made really clear for everyone in the village to see, with full opportunity for everyone to respond and express their views. All of this will be passed on as we apply for the Faculty. We are rather tied to other people’s timetables here, but we very much hope this will be early in 2019.