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Hallo again to all.

Last month we reflected on the repurposing of church buildings, giving examples of church buildings that had been converted into brewpubs, performance spaces, restaurants, and other decidedly non-ecclesial purposes. Since then, we've come to realize that we've seen many churches that have been repurposed as churches, often without changing their names. It takes far less carpentry and far less money to repurpose a church as a church.

We began thinking about this while following the saga of Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand, which is slowly and politically being repurposed from a worship space into a public monument. The building will probably end up looking exactly the same, right down to the pews and pulpit, but its purpose will be cultural and not ecclesial.

A church that was once St Artichoke of Jerusalem, with its century-old pipe organ and rood screen and stained-glass windows, surrounded by a quaint little churchyard and poorly-kept garden, might now have become The Artichoke Church, with the rood dismantled and moved in pieces to the crypt, in its place new electrical fixtures to simplify the guitars, amplifiers, and drums beloved of its contemporary congregation.

A number of our ancestors were born in cities and towns in the Diocese of Chichester, largely in the Archdeaconry of Brighton and Lewes, but emigrated to other places to start new lives with new jobs. Their parents and grandparents are buried in little churchyards throughout that archdeaconry, beneath inexpensive granite headstones whose lettering has long been unreadable, eroded by weather and moss. The historic economic base of that region, clay and iron and fishing and sheep, has been replaced only in part by modern media and technology and financial concerns. The people who live in the Diocese of Chichester have utterly different demographics than a century ago.

We journeyed once to visit the church in that archdeaconry where our great-grandparents were baptised and confirmed and sang with the choir. A Grade-II listed building, it was built in 1839, and by 1851 had an average Sunday attendance of 800 souls. Its small but serviceable pipe organ was added in 1882 and rebuilt in 1927.

On the day of our visit, at the 11:15 service, there were perhaps 60 adults and as many children. The service began with tea and pastries; after about 15 minutes the electric band began playing and everyone sang while many of the children and teens danced*. After the brief sermon the congregation formed small discussion groups to talk about what they had just heard, and to eat more food (which was handmade and delicious). The worship band was not ever going to be invited to perform at the Isle of Wight, but they were competent and energetic.

If the purpose of this church had been to maintain its standing as a liturgical congregation using Church of England Common Worship materials, hymns from the days of Queen Victoria, and lay readings from Year B of the lectionary, then it has abandoned that purpose. It has been repurposed to appeal to the people who live near it, and some of them actually do attend it. We feel confident that if the man who had been the Vicar of that church during the mid 20th century were to witness its contemporary service he would wince and say 'happy clappy', but he wouldn't have said it loud enough to be heard over the sound of the blue Patrick Eggle New Wave Pro guitar wielded by the band leader.

Is this sort of change really repurposing? Yes and no. It all depends, we suspect, on your notion of purpose. It's clever, and it keeps the church alive, but we believe our great-grandparents would insist that their church had made a deal with the devil. It wouldn't meet our needs, but we don't live there. And there are other brewpubs in that town.

What do you think?

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

5 November 2017

*These were native-born English people, mind you, dancing in church. A sight to behold, and a joyful one.

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