We speak to some churches who are making the most of their churches, in very different ways.
It may be a small church that only has services in the summer months and for Christmas, but St John the Baptist’s in the village of Tolland is much loved and they show that love in some creative ways. For many years they have celebrated with a Clypping Service, which sees the members of the congregation circle the church, first facing inwards as they bless the church and then turning outwards to bless the community.
Churchwarden Linda Lloyd explains, “It was instigated by our last vicar, the Revd Margaret Armstrong, and has proved very popular. Last year the Clypping Service became a real celebration as we managed to time it for the arrival of a party from America who are descendants of the Wolcott family who emigrated to America on the ‘Mary and John’ in 1630. The church was decorated with English and American flags, Bishop Ruth joined us and lessons were read by a representative of the American party and a resident from Tolland. We then all had lunch and it was a lovely celebration.”
The church has also found other creative ways to celebrate the love of their church. Linda says, “We tied the baptism of my grandson in with Rogation and, as well as blessing that he grows into the faith, we also blessed some wildflower seeds sourced from a local farmer’s wildflower meadows and gave them to the congregation. Our churchyard is already rich in flowers, such as early purple orchids, bird’s-foot trefoil and primroses, but it was a great way to encourage people to think about the importance of the health of the soil, and the growing of nectar and pollen producing flowers for insects.”
St Bartholomew’s in Failand is also much-loved, but with an isolated location and an aging congregation which was struggling to attract younger people, they were aware that their funding was dwindling. An article in The Telegraph and a feature on the BBC’s Countryfile led Churchwarden Chris Sage to find a creative solution to open their beautiful church up to a wider audience and also bring in much-needed funds, by opening their church for camping.
Chris says, “When I heard about church camping I thought it sounded interesting so contacted the Church Conservation Trust to find out more, and they came and visited us. They loved the church and the location – and the fact that we had electricity and a flushing toilet! In the end, however, we’ve gone ahead on our own. We are lucky in that there are lots of places of interest in the area, with the National Trust’s Tyntesfield nearby and Bristol Harbourside and Ashton Court just 10 minutes away.”
The Revd Julie Harris, Curate for the Parish of Wraxall and Failand, says, “It’s amazing that we can offer this building for people to come and stay and just feel the spiritual warmth and wealth of the church and the history that’s gone behind it. From a missional perspective, people will want to come and even just do a retreat as it’s a great area to meet God. It’s also a brilliant initiative that says ‘our church is for everybody’. It’s not just for those who worship, it’s for everyone and that’s pure discipleship. I’m quite excited about this I can’t wait for our first guest.”
While there is plenty of excitement about the initiative there are some natural pre-opening nerves.
Julie added, “There’s the logistics of everything, we do worship here and it has to be respected as a worship centre and there’s all the slight nervousness about people treating our building with the respect that it deserves. That’s the only reservation that I have, but I’m so pleased that we can welcome people into this building, because that’s what it needs. It needs to be loved by everybody not just by the congregation but everybody that comes to stay and I’m sure they will just leave with a spiritual peace.”
With his background as a social worker for visual and hearing impairment, making sure his churches are accessible to all is a very important for the Revd David McGeoch, vicar for Glastonbury St John and St Benedict with Meare. He joined the benefice nearly 11 years ago with the understanding that the two Glastonbury churches were planning for reordering, but he has looked at accessibility for all his churches.
He says, “The benefice is a really good example of how different churches can make their buildings more accessible. St John’s reordering, which is under way is budgeted to cost over £1m, thanks to the generosity of the congregation, plus substantial grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Viridor Credits. St Benedict’s has a loan from the diocese and spent about £220,000 on their reordering, while Meare has spent their modest savings to improve accessibility. You don’t have to spend a lot to make a difference.”
David adds, “We need to consider hearing loss, sight loss, confusion and physical disabilities. If you look at those four key areas, then you don’t have to do a lot to make a difference.”
The Blessed Virgin Mary and All Saints church at Meare is on two levels and the main church door is not accessible to wheelchairs so they have got a facility to put a path to their north door. David says, “We did an accessibility audit and looked at the simplest and easiest ways we could address those key disability. As a result, we have put in path grids and keep the grass cut ourselves to make sure people can walk or wheelchair around. We have also put a hearing loop system all the way round the church and use yellow paper to help those with visual difficulties and dyslexia. Our books and liturgy are also available in Braille. What we are still struggling with is getting funding to install toilets as there is no mains water.
Both Glastonbury reordering projects have taken about 10 years to come to fruition and David says, “There have been lots of ups and downs along the way. Lots of learning, lots of tears and lots of joy. St Benedict’s was completed five years ago and is now really coming into its own. It was just a Sunday church, used three times a month, now it is used every day of the week and rather than lose anyone, we have increased our congregation by 50 per cent. This is because we have been able to expand the different styles of worship and the type of things we do in the week.”
David believes the increase in people coming to the church is down to it being more accessible. He says, “Being a Victorian building we were on three levels. Now, as well as a ramp up into the church, we have built up from the original floor, installing underfloor heating below, so we are pretty much now on one level. It’s been brilliant and makes the church so much more versatile.”
Versatility is also a key component of the reordering at St John’s, which is now under way. Their floor is also being levelled and, learning from the lessons of St Benedict’s reordering, improved lighting is also a key element. They are also seeking to make the church more open and welcoming from the high street by opening the west end of the church with a glass vestibule that will allow people to see right into the back of the church.
David says, “Buildings can seem a burden sometimes, or unexciting, but when you consider the space inside it and what you can do with it, then it becomes exciting. Then you can see God and be missional.”
Find out more
Want to make your churchyard more wildlife friendly? Visit EcoChurch South West.
Interested in opening your church for camping? Visit Failand Church’s camping website for inspiration.