This year, February had an extra day – a Leap Day. It happened to be a Saturday, so what to do with an extra day? Some of us arrived at St Matthew’s dressed for action. After a safety briefing, we set about cleaning and clearing the place. Cobwebs and dust were dispatched. Hymnbooks and bibles were boxed. Paperbacks and surplus vases were taken to charity shops. Hassocks and cassocks were bagged. Henry the hoover worked harder than he has ever done in his life and Charlie the eagle was covered like a parrot in a cage. (Admittedly, he has always been quiet.)
Our work party – average age estimated to be between 70 and 72, incidentally – fortified by tea and biscuits, was getting the building ready for the next phase of its life. On Monday, the reclamation people came in. They removed the pews from the back of church (from the cross-aisle, westward), apart from a couple of smaller ones which were bought by individuals, and took up the floor in that area. Work on the first phase of our Big Welcome project had begun! We are creating a space that will be used for serving refreshments after services and during the week, and for Praise & Play and other groups and activities to use. In the longer term, we hope to have kitchen facilities, level access from the car-park, and a toilet, assuming that the funds are available. The plan is to use our beautiful building to give a big welcome to all.
The following Saturday, a similar group (with a similar age profile) came and, once again, got everything ready for the work that was to come. While we were there, someone looked at the void where the pews and floorboards had been and asked, ‘Have we thought about putting a time capsule in, before the work is finished?’ Being a resourceful sort of chap, I got on with it and ordered a waterproof stainless-steel canister, big enough to take some A4 pages, rolled up. And then I asked people what they would like to be put inside for future generations to discover.
- Photographs of the church before and during the work, of the area, and of people
- A copy of the current church magazine and this week’s newsletter
- The church history booklet, written by David and Margaret Hart (which includes a list of clergy up to and including yours truly)
- A leaflet about the Big Welcome project
- An aerial view of the parish
- Children’s writing and pictures of what church means to them
- A copy of my sermon (!)
- An audio recording of the latest news.
- A newspaper article about the current world (and the coronavirus being declared a pandemic)
I’m not sure we’ll have space for all of that, but I would like to include a letter from me to whoever finds it. I could say something about myself, the church and the parish. Who knows what they will make of it?
The work has been made possible by generous donations and fundraising. But we need to continue if we are to realise the vision we have for our building. I know people hate being asked to give money – it’s always the same people who get asked, and the same ones who usually respond! – but the reality is that we need to reach out to our community and to coming generations, or, sadly, our building will be little more than a museum piece. And we are not in the museum business.
I am encouraged today by support from folk at St Cross, who are inviting donations from those who visit their art and craft exhibition, and by the 5th Appleton Brownies who raised money with a cake sale. The St Matthew’s Praise & Play families held a sponsored treasure hunt and are planning a disco. My thanks to all who have supported the project so far, and all who are planning to do so.
What do you think will happen to the church in our two parishes, and in the nation, in the time between the capsule being buried and it being discovered? (The manufacturers say its good for 200 years, so if it fails, I’m going to ask for my money back!) It’s easy to be pessimistic about the church’s future. Recent surveys suggest that 68 percent of Anglican churches in this country have five children or fewer on a Sunday. 38% of churches have no children at all. A small number of churches are doing really well, but attendance by under-16-year-olds is dropping faster than adult attendance (20% decline in the last 5 years for children, compared with a 12% decline for adults). What future is there for the church if we lose contact with children and their families?
Our time capsule at St Matthew’s is a little gift from us to the future. But we have something greater to give: a church that is alive and well, and in the business of welcoming all.