Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Times of Change

Nearly forty years ago, one of my illustrious predecessors at Swanvale Halt embarked on a reordering of the church, removing the chancel screen, bringing the altar forward, and moving some of the pews so that they faced inward towards it - the sort of thing that many churches at that time and subsequently did. The changes never went any further because Swanvale Halt has never had a lot of cash sloshing around, unlike Lamford, for instance.

Then, two years ago just before I arrived, a longstanding member of the church died and left the church her house, a one-bed 1920s bungalow she'd lived in since 1946. It was just a shell, but we sold it and raised a tidy sum of cash. Now we could begin thinking about the 'final' stage of those changes begun in the 1970s. The floor, the atrocious floor with its twelve different materials ranging from cracked Victorian tiles to battered timber boards stuck down with tape, to the beige carpet all Anglican churches are obliged to have some of, could go, along with the dreadful glaring lights which are so inaccessible we have to wait until more than half of them have blown to justify the cost of bringing in an electrician, and the tatty, viciously uncomfortable pews which were, so the story goes, secondhand when the church was built and which, the church clearers tell me, are 'of no commercial value'.

It's taken since then, but last Friday I put up the statutory notices inviting the good folk of the parish to make comments, objections and representations to the Diocesan Chancellor about the plans. Two years of sketches and diagrams, of berating the architect for being an idle git who spends most of his time in France, and of marvelling when you discover that 'Yes, we have all the information we need to make a decision' actually means, when used by the diocesan powers-that-be, 'No, we don't have the information'. Two years of thinking something is going to happen at a particular point, then having to reschedule not once but three times.

The notices remain up for four weeks, and then, presuming no serious objections are made, we apply to the Chancellor for a faculty for the work. He doesn't usually deny permission once the Diocesan authorities have recommended approval. Then, hopefully early in March, we begin, vacating the church to the gentle attentions of the builders before moving back in some time early in June.

It's terrifying. The vision of a clean-looking, more efficient, comfortable, aesthetically pleasing building is enticing, but once the first pews come out there's no going back. I know it will all be better, but a mere two years in to the job and I'm already more comfortable than I was with the existing structure, its quirks and difficulties.

I was in the office writing out the notices on Friday and one of the older members of the church was there, who remembers not just my predecessor who carried out the first reordering, but the rector before him, too. 'Thank goodness', she said, 'I was cleaning the other day and thought, This all looks so tatty. It's time it was done.'

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