Here's an issue. Swanvale Halt church has for some years hosted a Music Club which organises concerts (usually in the folk-rock genre, not my sort of thing but others like it) in the church. They commonly draw audiences of a couple of hundred and are increasingly successful. Now when I came to the parish this was what it said in the Parish Profile, under the 'Community' heading:
Swanvale Halt Music Club: Organised by members of the Roman Catholic congregation, this is a monthly music club that hosts live concerts at the church featuring national and international artists. Performances take place in the church with a Fair Trade cafe bar run in the Church Room. The profits from the concerts are donated to the church.
You'd have thought from that that the Music Club is a volunteer-organised, not-for-profit venture. It isn't. It's actually part of the business of a local music promoter who happens to be a member of the Roman Catholic congregation, and doesn't donate all its profits to the church at all - it's just that in its first couple of years the events weren't really making a profit. Now they are, as the events and the venue have become better known. It took me quite a while to work out what the real situation was, and I remember one member of the church in my first year here getting very angry when I referred to the Music Club as 'a community organisation'. I'd forgotten what the Profile had said until I looked it up again this morning.
Almost every time we have a PCC meeting, or any other discussion that touches on the matter, there's a real feeling of resentment at our interactions with the Music Club. We don't get enough money from it, we're being exploited, we're bending over backwards to accommodate them, people say. I suspect that some of this is down to the confusion that you can see reflected in the Parish Profile; is the Music Club just a commercial booking like any other, or is it a commercial booking which happens to form an element in the life of the community that brings us benefits as a church and which we want to support by treating it differently?
Last night we had a lengthy PCC meeting which discussed the new draft hiring policy, drawn up by me as an attempt to use theological principles to guide our thinking over what sort of organisations or events we'll allow to use our facilities. Part of this is the question of the use of alcohol, and that touches on all the raw nerves relating to the Music Club. Drink is sold at the concerts, but originally the church stipulated that it was not to be taken into the church itself. The Music Club promoter argued very strongly that his customers couldn't understand this and strongly resented it, and said that he would arrange for plastic tumblers to be used for drinks and pay us extra per concert for cleaning, as this seemed to be what people were most concerned about. He pointed out that many other churches which host music events don't make this distinction. We eventually, but certainly not unanimously, agreed to allow his customers to take alcohol into the church space for a trial 3-month period. There weren't any obvious problems at the end of that, so the new arrangements carried on.
However trying to work through the hiring policy last night threw up deeper ideological issues. Several PCC members feel very strongly that allowing alcohol which has been purchased to be brought into the church space is 'turning the church into a pub'. The trouble is that they can't really work out why they think this. In the hiring policy I tried to work through the matter and suggested that the sacramental space of the church should be considered separate from the hall adjoining, and that because of the problematic role alcohol plays in society and the idea of the church as a place of peace and serenity we shouldn't allow alcohol to be sold in the church space though we would allow it to be consumed. This doesn't seem to be enough for the PCC. However a couple of weeks ago a baptism family offered to bring some champagne for refreshments after the service: because the hall was out-of-action due to decorating we had the refreshments in the church itself. Everyone seemed OK with that. Furthermore, only one of the PCC is a teetotaler, and to make a big point out of alcohol as a church when you drink in your private life makes it pretty hard, it seems to me, to make the case to outsiders.
This is the thing that worries me more than anything else. The concerts are arguably the most high-profile point at which the church interacts with non-churchy people, and what we decide has to make sense to those secular concertgoers in terms they can understand, or we risk simply being seen as bigots. I am not sure what I think: instinctively I don't have a problem with alcohol in the church space, although I can see how you could put together an argument against it, and that's what I seem to be doing. I find myself acting almost as a kind of ecclesiastical therapist, trying to help the church work out what they feel and why.