Another Newcastle visit reflection post…….I saw lots of buildings in Newcastle Diocese. Yes, I know that sounds a bit odd, go to any place of human endeavour and there will be some sort of edifice.
The first was a church/community centre in an urban bit of Newcastle. The local parish had given up a building, and been part of the planning and realisation of an amazing community building – which a sanctuary which is a chapel for most of the week, a nave which divides into separate meeting rooms, a walk in coffee lounge which is open to anyone all week, more meeting rooms, an IT training room, a preschool unit…..it was quite something. The centre employes a couple of full time staff (the preschool is run separately), and makes extensive use of volunteers, not all of whom have anything to do with church. Various rooms are hired out on a regular basis, and the coffee lounge struck me as particularly inspired.
But….but….although the church had been a prime mover in the new building, and under the current agreement don’t have to worry about fund raising to maintain it…..at what point does a church become a community centre with a chapel? There is a challenge to grow disciples, to help people make the transition from belonging to a community group to being part of a worshipping, serving, church. Make no mistake, the Body of Christ in this particular building were very aware of that challenge, the challenge of sharing the Gospel with people who had come to the building for very different reasons.
The last building we were shown was the conversion of a small Workhouse in a remote village. Here, a committed parish priest had worked for years, building connections and networks of investors, taking on a small row of shops, funding some affordable housing, and now a beautiful community centre, which housed the “otherwise must close” library, a tourist information centre, meeting rooms, and “pods” which could be rented as offices/workspaces. I didn’t actually see the church at all (which is something I will make a point of doing when I next visit). But once again, there is that same challenge, in a very different setting, to make it clear why Christians try to build communities – because if it isn’t to share “the knowledge and love of God and of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord”, then why bother?
Some of the buildings we saw in between were churches. Stonking great huge Victorian churches, with ceilings as high as low flying aircraft, with footprints the size of small farms. (OK, I exaggerate a bit. But not much. These were some seriously large spaces.) More to the point, they had been some very dilapidated seriously large spaces. One had had a quarter of a million pounds invested in its roof, a five year project, and was now finally watertight….so work could start on redoing its ruined plasterwork. Another had been painstakingly restored while its worshipping community spent several years meeting in an old bakery. Whilst raising money, their people had also worked hard on community connections, on trying to evolve uses for these remarkable buildings beyond a few hours of services each week. Again, facing the same challenge of building the Body of Christ.
Finally I ponder two more buildings. One an old community centre converted to give a holiday centre for children. The other an academy school, purpose built, with a budget to make your eyes water. Neither was formal church, although the Church is heavily involved in both. But each set of leaders had a confidence about why they were doing what they were doing. As I think back to my first Newcastle post, I think bravery is part of the answer – do you agree?