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Font of bright ideas

04 January 2013

THE ancient Church of St Edburg, Bicester, Oxfordshire, is not only getting ready to install lavatories and a server, to cater for the rapidly growing numbers of people who use it, but is facing a huge challenge in dealing with pew platforms and pews that have rotted. The church plans to replace all the flooring with stone, at more accessible levels. The floor will still be here in 500 years, it is hoped, rather than dissolve into the mire after 100 years, as the Victorian wood has done.

So here is the new idea. When the lavatory area is created in 2013, the font will be moved to a new central location on a line between the west-tower door and the high altar. And beneath the font, the church is going to bury a Heritage Box. It will be made of steel, and will be coated with lead. Local people with a substantial, slight, or no connection with the church have been invited to put messages into the box. One day, some future church repairer will dig up the floor, and find the messages.

It has taken several months of build-up and publicity. All groups connected with the church - and people connected through occasional offices in all the registers - received individually signed letters from the Rector, inviting their participation. Local newspapers and radio have taken up the story. Posters are on display, and the church opened specially for three days of message- writing. Volunteers were on hand to help.

Each message is written on acid-free, archival paper (A5), with archival pens. (It would be no good opening up the box in 500 years to find that the ink had faded or the paper dissolved.) A number of people asked the church's stand-by calligrapher to write their message neatly for them, and some had help devising the message. There are memorials, prayers, family information, and much more.

This was a fund-raising activity: the minimum contribution for adding a message was £5. The most common gift was £20, and several were £500 or more. Messages and gifts have come from non-churchgoers; a gift from a social club has been given in memory of a member; and one gift came from a mourner who spotted the Heritage Box display on his way out. Many contributors wanted to talk about their loved ones who had died.

With several thousand pounds raised, and more still coming in, the Heritage Box was due to be closed on New Year's Eve, and receive its lead jacket. The leaflet accompanying the event included a Gift Aid form. That will generate at least another £1000.

This idea would not suit those churches that have already replaced their floor with permanent stone, but others may wish to copy the idea. The key to success is a really good leaflet that communicates clearly with non-churchgoers, and contains all the essential information. Then take time for thorough marketing. Scouring the registers for past contacts - from funerals, baptisms, weddings - produced well over 1000 names. The Rector signed the letters, volunteers addressed the envelopes, and, to save postage, members of the congre-gation delivered almost all of them.

To let the Revd Maggie Durran know your fund-raising ideas, and your questions and comments, email maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

The Village Churches seminar mentioned on 14 December is on 2 (not 3) March. Email Maggie Durran (as above) for more information.


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