Sunday, 7 July 2013

Stormy Changes

"Great chunks of my past, detaching themselves like melting icebergs." (Doctor Who, "The Five Doctors")

The disappearance of some Post Boxes in Jersey has led to a wave of nostalgia about posting letters. The language used, as for example by the Jersey Evening Post, can be emotive -" they will be scrapped". It is true that some will be sold off, but it is for the new owners to decide their use. I suspect that meliting them down for metal is not foremost in their objectives.

Of course, those post boxes are scarcely used, if at all. Statistics have been kept. But people like to know that they are there, even if they no longer use them; they are a symbol of security, part of the fabric of their culture.

Very much the same, of course, could be said with people's attitude to churches. They want them to be there, even if they rarely visit them, if at all.

An old joke mentions how they are used birth, marriage, death - the child, christened without their own choice, the marriage, where the man complains about having to come to church, and the vicar tells him that next time he comes, he won't be in a position to have a say either!

I remember when the Catholic church near Millbrook was closed. "Our Lady of the Universe" at Millbrook was closed, sold off, demolished. The main complaints about its closure came from those who remembered it, perhaps from childhood, but who no longer attended. It was a part of their personal history; that was why they clung onto it.

Sometimes the same can happen when innovations are made within churches. The removal of pews from the rear of the church, for example, to create a space for the congregation, can again cause an adverse reaction. The lovely old Victorian pews, that fine wood, and altering the way the church looks inside - there is again a wish to cling onto that.

But those churches which do this are doing it for their current congregations; the people complaining are usually those who do not really attend church at all. They would like the church preserved in amber. They forget the history of churches, particularly the old Parish Churches, is one of renovation. There was a time when there were no pews at all. The weakest went to the wall, because it was somewhere to lean against.

When pews were introduced, they were often bought, in the gift of the rich. St Mary has a lingering trace of this with its old box-pews, which could be entered and latched against others. Other churches such as St Ouen have pews with a small plaque for (for example) the Seigneur and his family. And most of the old Parish churches underwent a pretty thorough Victorian restoration. New supporting pillars were added. Stained glass windows came in. In the case of St Brelade's the walls were stripped so that the bare granite could be seen.

The heritage lobby would probably have a fit if these kind of massive changes were made today. But the Victorians had quite a different attitude to the past. For them, the church was to be renovated, and improved - for the benefit of the congregation. It was change for living, breathing, buildings, and change directed with a strong feeling for aesthetics, but not afraid to change when needed.

Today's Parish Churches function in different ways, hence the removal of the pews so that the congregation can gather after the church service. In the past, of course, they would probably all know each other because of the smaller community, but while more Parishioners may have attended, they may not have socialised, not wished to socialise. Class still ruled within churches, and the Rectors often fought a battle against it, not least when removing the right of some people to own their own pews.

Change, and the changing world can be seen at St Brelade's Church, which is showing all this summer a film with music called "The Storm".

It came about when Churchwarden Brian Clarke saw a film projected onto the walls of Winchester Cathedral. He was impressed by the concept, and thought to himself "If they can do that, we can do that". He commissioned Terry and Gabi Braun, BAFTA award willing arts producers, to create a unique film for St Brelade's Church, which could be projected onto the ceiling of St Brelade's North Aisle.

"The Storm" explores humanity's changing relationship with our fragile planet, inspired by the power and fearsome beauty of nature and the challenges that global warming poses. It enables the ancient Parish church to provide a space for serious thought and quiet contemplation.

Film director Terry Braun says: "Cathedrals and churches used to have brightly painted interiors - a good example of which can be seen on the ceiling of the Fishermen's Chapel next to St Brélade's . These paintings traditionally employed symbolic images of the natural world. In many ways 'The Storm' can be seen as a 21st-century method of digitally 're-painting' St Brélade's with depictions of our current relationship with nature - clearly a troubled relationship, and one that is in need of serious re-imagining and rethinking."

The 30 minute film can be seen throughout the day, except during church services until Saturday 5 October. Admission is free.

Why not visit sometime?

1 comment:

James said...

But those churches which do this are doing it for their current congregations

...which is well and good if you're a membership church like the Methodists and Roman Catholics, but a lot more problematic if you are an Established church which (in theory at least) exists as much for the benefit of its non-members as for its members.