This month, at St Matthew’s, we begin the first phase of refurbishing the church building. The original vision for a development project began when my predecessor was here, so to say it’s been a long time coming is something of an understatement. We need a church building that is fit for purpose, one that is comfortable, welcoming and accessible. In this first phase of the work, we will be taking out the pews at the back of church on both sides and levelling the floor. This will create an area that can be used for serving refreshments after services and for a variety of occasions during the week. It will also mean that our font, a major feature in the building, is more accessible and visible.
In the longer term, we would like to improve the building further with a kitchen facility, step-free access from the car park and even a new toilet! (The current convenience is functional but hardly convenient!) All of this costs money, of course, and you will know that our finances are hardly in a strong position. It is my view that we need to invest now for the future of the church in this community. Simply keeping things ticking over, while our reserves trickle away, won’t work. I know that not everyone in the congregation shares this vision but I hope that most will come on board and support it.
Throughout March, while the work is carried out, the church will be inaccessible during the week but we aim to be open for services on Sundays. (Evening services will take place in the choir stalls.) Wednesday morning coffee will take a break until after Easter but we plan to hold Thursday morning communion services, and any funerals that come in, at St Cross. Praise and Play will move to the church hall, and start at the earlier time of 1.30pm (to fit in with other users). Some information about the arrangements are to be found in the March edition of the magazine. Other details will be given in notices.
The builders will work Monday to Friday and leave the building in a fit state for services on Sundays. We will need help from volunteers to clear and tidy the church ahead of the work starting, and each week to make sure that the building is clean and safe for worshippers. After Sunday services, we need to leave things ready for work to start again on Monday mornings. If you can help, please speak with me or with one of the Churchwardens.
All of this coincides with the Church’s season of Lent, so maybe there’s something we can learn about making changes and moving on. People often associate Lent with giving something up, or perhaps with taking something on. But abstaining from chocolate or alcohol, or supporting a charity or good cause – valuable things in themselves – don’t really get to the heart of things, and may be little more than a form of sanctified self-improvement. In the early church, Easter was the time for new converts to be baptised, following a period of instruction and preparation. Easter was also the time when those who had been excluded from the life of the church could be reconciled. After a while, others joined them in self-examination and penitence, as a way of preparing for the celebration of Easter. This period came to be associated with Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism and before his public ministry, but Lent hasn’t always had a fixed length. And, if you are good at counting, you might want to have a look at how the period from Ash Wednesday (26 February this year) to Easter (12 April) can be calculated as lasting 40 days. (Answers on a postcard to the usual address.)
Lent, Holy Week and Easter, are an invitation to share in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, as God in Christ has chosen to share our lives with us. The bible says:
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6.3,4)
Some of us will be following a Lent course this year based on the hit musical, ‘The Greatest Showman’ (2017). That might not seem an obvious starting point, but author Rachel Mann has written a book that aims to help us do just that. It’s called ‘From Now on: a Lent Course on Hope and Redemption in The Greatest Showman’. Rachel is a parish priest and poet with an interest in popular culture and its relevance for the gospel. She says that the film – which is a fictionalised and musical version of the life story of circus entrepreneur PT Barnum – speaks about how we (like the characters in Barnum’s circus) can overcome life’s obstacles and “begin to live authentic lives”.
Perhaps a goal for Lent (and for life) might not be one of self-improvement, but a journey of discovery of who we already are, in Christ.
Have a great Lent!