I’m beginning a round of tours of sites of special interest. Not historic architecture, or places of pilgrimage, or the nature reserves of east London, but places where I can compare my own working environment with other people’s.
In November I took responsibility (no, surely some of the responsibility belongs elsewhere) for a church-and-community-centre, one of a number in the surrounding area, and a hybrid well-known elsewhere. And my tour is of other urban churches which use this combination as a way of adapting the sites and/or buildings bequeathed us by the Victorians, in order to finance our continuing presence in the city and offer service to our neighbours.
I want to learn from the way other people and places do it, but more than that I want to underpin what we do here with some theological thinking. I want, at least, to know what the questions are — which came first, the need for money or the understanding of service? How do we identify the nature of that service — by responding to whatever regeneration pot is best filled, or by identifying the greatest need? What are the ethical issues around competing with other worthy causes for what money there is? Do I/we declare the building a no-smoking zone in the interest of abundant life, or say ‘yes’ to the single mothers and the street people who find it a safe haven? And, biggest question of all, how do the people who worship on Sunday relate to the weekday users?
A lot of the questions circle round the ancient counterpoint of immanence and transcendence — how do we hold the two together, and make evident the holiness both of the day centre for adults with learning difficulties and of our gathering as the people of God?
Answers on a postcard, please!