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Hold fast to your core purpose

28 March 2013

We are busying ourselves with ideas for such things as new lavatories and new uses for our church. We feel very focused, but what are the things that we might be missing out?

THE focus of an active church must be its worship and spiritual life; added activities are only that - added, not overwhelming.

As you develop your ideas on paper with your architect, walk around the church and consider ideas from every angle to ensure that your core purpose is more than upheld - it can be enhanced.

Your church is sacred space. As people walk in, they need to feel welcomed, but welcomed into a place that is redolent with a sense of God and what is sacred. This has several implications for planning change.

Ensure that every activity, every session, returns the church to a clean, open space laid out for prayer and worship. In particular, make sure that all the trappings of various activities are taken away, or placed in cupboards. Try to avoid stacks of chairs, boxes, bin bags, tea towels on radiators, and so on. When you walk in, let the space take your breath away every time, and draw you into prayer.

If yours is a church that accumulates junk everywhere, start tackling the issue systematically. If your sense of God is enhanced by the beauty of your church, others will find the same.

While you are worshipping on Sunday morning, someone may need to use the lavatory. Neither you nor they may wish to be parading up the aisle (even a side one) to get to a lavatory near the chancel; you might not want to hear the sound of flushing during prayers, or to be aware of other distractions. Discuss all these issues with your architect.

Similarly, if you plan to cook food in the church, you will not want odours of food during services. It is not conducive to worship and focus on God. In this case, if you are cooking regularly, you may need a closed-in kitchen rather than a server, although the latter is much less intrusive in most buildings.

Extensions to ancient churches are, on the whole, undesirable. Occasionally they can be great, but bear in mind that they are significantly more expensive than internal facilities, and it is far harder to gain permission for them. Extensions raise almost as many issues as they solve. Consider an extension only after preparing a comprehensive Statement of Significance, and consulting people such as the DAC and English Heritage for advice.

In your booking forms, and letting policy, make it a pre-requisite that other groups who are using the church restore it completely when they leave: tables should be folded and stored, chairs put back, and all materials and equipment cleared away. Although I recommend having enough storage for all the church's kit, it often creates problems if you make storage available to others; there are issues of safety, insurance, responsibility, and so on.

Some churches want to use a nave altar. But just as often we are encouraged - or required - to retain all the chancel furniture and layout. In the context of the new appearance of the rest of the church, do not ignore the chancel. Cleaning and refinishing the chancel wood, and renewing hangings and lighting can all enhance the chancel, high altar, reredos, and east window as a backdrop to worship.

Send questions and comments to maggie-durran@virginmedia.com.

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