What exactly IS the role of our churches today?
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Lady B's no-nonsense banter from Cirencester Park
There was a post I read last week on our local Facebook page, written by someone who was visiting Cirencester, after having lived abroad for several years. They were complaining that our parish church, The Church of St John Baptist, had changed beyond recognition, that it was empty and ‘resembled a market’.
I took immediate umbrage and penned a fairly strong reply, pointing out he was wrong. I’m not sure he appreciated it as he rather waspishly accused me of being ‘entitled’ (that old chestnut), but it got me thinking.
What exactly IS the role of a parish church nowadays?
I have to confess immediately that I’m not a regular church goer. In fact, as our local and quite wonderful Canon Graham Morris reminds me gently on occasion, my attendance record is appalling. Put it down to being forced to go every Sunday at school, when I would have preferred to have been outside playing games, rather than having to sit through interminably long sermons delivered by vicars who slightly failed to read the room.
Please don’t be horrified, I remain a devout Christian. But my conversations with the good Lord are mainly when I’m walking our dogs. It’s our thing. We chat, I tell Him about my day and thank Him for the stunning countryside, and I promise to try and live a life He would approve of.
It works very well, yet I’m more than happy to attend church whenever the occasion requires. I love our hymns and, being a little more grown up, I listen to, and absorb, a good sermon.
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But whilst I may not go to many services, I am extremely proud and fiercely protective of our glorious church in Cirencester, so woe betide anyone who speaks against it. Therefore, I return to the original question.
What IS the role of our churches in the modern world?
There is no doubt they have had to adapt and change – to embrace the whole community and maintain a relevance, not just a reverence, in society, and I believe the church in Cirencester has perfected this role.
Normal services are performed, along with weddings, christenings, and funerals – in short, it fulfils all the needs of the congregations and regular worshippers. But it offers so much more. There are concerts, dinners, celebrations, and events for the children. There are charity sales, and exhibitions. It’s amazing.
We also have a church that works internally. There were vital modernisations completed a few years ago, and the whole structure was improved to a standard that would be the envy of any historic building. Underfloor heating was introduced, and for most this was a revelation. How many times have we left a church service realising we are no longer able to feel our feet?
Most of the pews have been removed, but in deference to tradition, they remain in the nave. This has left wonderful spaces through which visitors are able to wander and soak up the atmosphere. The gift shop has a fabulous choice and results in much needed funds, while the outer chapels are beautiful and undisturbed.
The most important thing is it is open and welcoming to the community, for whatever reason that may be, and I think it is a wonderful thing.
For the purists, this may feel irreverent, but I believe the good Lord would wish his house to be open to whoever needed it. In centuries past, churches were used for not just for worship, but shelter, markets, and meetings. So, has much changed? I think not.
The history remains safely in every stone, every crevice, and each sparkling pane of the beautiful stained-glass windows.
But within its walls, it is a place of light and love, embracing a modern world with all it’s needs. It has adapted, it has remained relevant, and it brings joy.
Long may that continue.
Follow Lady B on Twitter: @CotswoldLadyB