IN MAY 2001, I returned to the village of Derrington, in Staffordshire, after an absence of 16 years; during this time, I had worked in the East Midlands, and worshipped in a wonderful, proactive Methodist church in Kirkby-in-Ashfield.
On my retirement, I, a cradle member of the C of E, was convinced that I should attend my parish church, where I knew that there was a band of committed fellow worshippers. Since I joined, the church has steadily diminished in numbers. We have endured almost six years of interregnum.
Yes, there have been some gains; for, during the last interregnum of some 18 months, our united benefice worked together to ensure that services were maintained throughout, and there has grown a wonderful sense of fellowship and good will between us all.
The decline in numbers has occurred mainly because of death or ill-health. We now have a new minister who, I can see, has the gifts necessary to lead, enable, and encourage. Will we grow as a church when we have not done so in the score of years since the millennium? Sadly, I think that this may not occur; for we are consistently thwarted in our mission by our lack of one necessity: a church lavatory.
My heart goes out to those who come to our church for funerals (frequently identified as opportunities for mission). At a recent service here, five young people, on arrival, asked immediately where our lavatories were. Amazed at our lack, they decided that they would have to try to wait.
The real victims, however, are the elderly and infirm, gallantly tottering up our path on sticks or Zimmer frames; for that charming sylvan setting is completely beyond their abilities, even if they were willing to suffer any accompanying indignities.
SO, WHY have we, along with our other benefice churches, not got an in-house lavatory between us? Well, these old buildings leech away at our funds. Obtaining grants is a long and time-consuming business. The quotations that we have had for such facilities, which included a small servery, have varied between £100,000 and £50,000. It would also mean the closure of our church for six to 12 months while the work was being carried out.
And, before any such plans can be essayed, we have to negotiate the fearsome and somewhat esoteric mysteries relating to faculties, DACs, listed buildings, English Heritage, etc. — and I haven’t even begun to mention local council regulations regarding mains sewerage and water supplies.
How, therefore, can we do any of the outreach work that I envisaged when I returned here? I would love to help form a group for those who, like me, are bereaved. We have a most peaceful little church here, which would lend itself to fellowship, talk, and support; but how can we do this if an emotionally upset person requires the lavatory? It is also difficult, to say the least, to engage in children’s work without a working lavatory.
I am regularly and rightly asked by Tearfund to help, “Twin a Toilet”; and yet, right here in 21st-century Britain, mission work is impeded, at least in rural benefices, because we, too, lack this most basic of amenities.
PLEASE, could the C of E not consider employing an architect to design a simple and elegant wooden building capable of housing lavatory facilities? (Perhaps a competition could be arranged in which newly qualified architects could be invited to participate.) This building should meet the requirements of even the most demanding of diocesan faculties; so, therefore, their only need would be to determine its appropriate site within the church grounds. In doing this, we would be spared the need for expensive structural alterations to our many beautiful buildings.
And it is at this point, also, I would suggest, we consider going that extra mile endorsed in Christ’s teaching. I remember reading about a vicar whose son was severely disabled by cerebral palsy. He made a heartfelt plea for all public lavatories to include provision for the necessary changing areas and the hoists and lifts required. The vicar said that such provisions, if widespread, would transform the lives of those like his son. Here, we could lead the way.
I also recall our Lord having such compassion on the paralysed man whose friends took the trouble to climb the stairs outside the house, then dismantled the roof and lowered him to where Jesus sat. Should the Church not be proactive in leading the way in this matter? Dare we be so adventurous?
So, come on, Church of England, let us show the drive and initiative of those four men who were so determined to provide life-giving opportunities to a friend. Let us make clear God’s scandalous love in overcoming a scandalous situation by meeting the most basic of our human needs, and perhaps, we could, in gratitude, Twin-a-Toilet abroad, too.
Rosemary Lofty is a member of the PCC of St Matthew’s, Derrington, in the diocese of Lichfield.