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Making Property Serve Mission by Fred Batterton

26 May 2017

Maggie Durran assesses advice about buildings

Making Property Serve Mission

Fred Batterton

Studio B Architects £21.99


Church Times Bookshop £19.80


THIS is a handy book with an Aussie edge. The author, an architect, worked with several churches in the UK before emigrating down under.

Early chapters explore the increasingly familiar territory of mission action plans as the basis for adapting, adding to, or building from scratch. The assessments include reviewing the sense of openness and imme­diacy when newcomers arrive, considering the interface between the newcomer and established patterns, and the various func­tions that a church would like to engage with in the building.

It goes on to consider historic churches (with all their limitations), modern new-build churches, the church in a warehouse, and even the superchurch. Often, the author points to consideration of tensions, such as those between heritage values and future mission, and sacred space and tool for mission. Most of the examples in the book relate to modern or new buildings with St Aldate’s, Oxford, as the primary listed-building example.

The book, which covers less formal wor­ship in a variety of denominations, would be a great source for a larger congregation considering revamping their space to suit changing communities. There are many questions and considerations that would turn the church’s building committee into an informed, considerate, and consultative group that looked at the needs and aspirations of many people and engaged with the architect intelligently to achieve a common purpose.

Studio B ArchitectsReordering 1: a plan from 1863 of St Aldate’s, Oxford, when fixed open pews replaced privately owned box pews; from the bookAlthough the book considers heritage buildings, making changes to listed buildings is far more irksome and challenging than the brief cover it receives here implies. The author works in a context where replacing a building could well be considered, as his quoted examples suggest. That is a rarity in the UK, where so many churches are small, in terms of both building and congregation.

Once past the discomfort of cultural difference, the reviews of purpose and potential use seem well worth following through as a church begins to think and plan for building changes. I will revisit several pages, or recommend them to others: considering the spectrum between sacred, community, and commercial uses, what you will allow or not allow; seating, and choosing your chairs; and “lazy ownership”, where maintenance is put off for a future generation to deal with (when it will become a very expensive repair). A side comment that the clergy have no training for dealing with buildings raises that much repeated question, why do they not?

The iconic building that inspires people to reflect on the glory of God needs much more cover than is given here. It would need to include notes on how even detailed fixtures and fittings are part of the worship. A little more of the Richard Giles approach would not go amiss. That, perhaps, reflects the tradition from which the author comes, but the process and its application to change remain valuable.

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