I put off writing this until the very last minute. I even hoovered before writing this, because it seems like a very hard ask.
Put bluntly I am asking us to money so we can buy some new and expensive chairs.
Am I aware that there’s a pandemic and people cannot gather so our need for chairs is almost nil?
Am I aware that we have an economic crisis that means jobs are threatened and even if by some miracle none of us in this fellowship are affected, we can be sure our wider family, our neighbours and our friends will be? Should we not be helping them?
Am I not aware that there is a refugee crisis and what is needed is housing in order to make people safe here?
Am I not aware that Regenerate-RISE need our financial support in this storm to face the future?
Yes yes yes and I am aware. And that is why I have waited until the 11th hour because I can hardly believe the foolishness, and the untimeliness of this appeal.
For over 2 years now have met in various groups of various sizes in various places to seek God and hear each other on the vision for this church. (It is called Mission Action Planning or MAP)
We came up with our values which have guided us so helpfully, by closely reading the story of Jesus feeding an impossibly large crowd with bread and fish. Those values are that we seek to be directed by Jesus, attentive to need, offering what we have, enabling all age participation, thankful and developing a culture of try.
We have also spoken in those times about our building. That it is our biggest asset after our people, but also our biggest challenge. That it feels wrong to be custodians of a massive space in the middle of a densely populated area that remains shut up to most of the people most of the time.
We have reflected on the need to be a church for all those who live work learn and play in the neighbourhood; and part of that means serving people and part of that means enabling their businesses, their social lives, their education, their parenting, their fitness to thrive with the resources God has given to us – one of which is this building.
AS part of our MAP in June and July we surveyed over 2000 people and 72 of them were good enough to respond. We asked people about this building and the results were that of the 72 who responded, every single person wanted the church building to be used for something as well as a place of worship and prayer. Music, art, drama, sport, fitness, films, dance, shared workspaces, intergenerational activities and indoor activities for young children all came up.
On Sunday mornings we sit in a space that others dream of using all week.
In fact, because we have to space the pews and sanitise them, we have accelerated this situation. Pre-COVID we did not offer this space to groups because of the pews and the difficulty of moving them. But as we have to remove most of them at the moment, the opportunity to offer this space has come to us early. And here is the amazing thing – our building usage has never been higher. Currently we host karate, yoga, choir practice and an after school French club meaning the church part of the building is buzzing with activity every day. That is on top of the use of halls and the crypt for nursery schools.
But the pews are not helping us. Last week as I pushed one to its sanitised position, the end of it fell off. I don’t know how many times I have caught my shin or my foot. The floor is getting scratched badly by all the movement.
So here we are. It is 'Thanks and Giving' Sunday. We are thankful for all God has done for us. Without God on the throne there would be no food, no seasons, no love in the world at all. He is both creator and sustainer. As we focus in on our life in this community, we are thankful because I believe God is answering our prayers to lead us forward, and show us what it means to be for all who live work learn and play in the neighbourhood. I think it means we are at heart a worshipping community, who pray together, study the bible together, share the Lord’s supper together and struggle together. It also means we share this space in ways which lead to the flourishing of our community through the arts, physical activity, and intellectual and social stimulation. These are Good Things, just like a harvest is a Good Thing for which we thank the giver of all Good Things.
So, although I was reluctant to write this talk, it was only because it feels like a hard sell. But a hard sell can still be the right sell. We need this church building to be a flexible multi-purpose space for our community. And the first stage of that is moveable stackable seating.
Of course, we could have found plastic chairs that were a fraction of the price, but we are also custodians of this place of beauty and careful design. In 1881 our brothers and sisters of Battersea thought of us – those who would come after them, when they built this place. Today, we think of those who we will never meet as we invest in its future.
The whole scheme that the PCC and I are working to is a phased renovation of St Michael’s. The North aisle office, vestry and chairs make phase one. Further phases will be the replacement of the boiler and heating system; improvement to the Lady Chapel to make it our permanent prayer space; a more welcoming attractive and accessible North entrance; and the redecoration and equipping of the interior of the church. The money we raise now from the congregation will not only pay for the chairs but will help us as we apply for grants to get the rest of the renovations underway.
We have two designs of chair for two different parts of the building. The chairs costs £240 and £184. The total price of chairs for the church is £54,000. We know that is a huge amount. And in truth, if you can only give to one cause this season, don’t give to this. Give to a homelessness charity or to help refugees or Foodbank.
But if you can, this is what we are asking. Will you pay for a chair for each member of your immediate family? I realise that I might be asking you to consider giving in the order of £1000 for this project. That will be impossible for some and as I said, it should not come from other giving.
But it is still a gift I am asking you to consider. If you hate how much this costs, and don’t want to give anything, you are still part of the family here. If you love this and cannot give anything, you are still part of the family here. If you give £50k for the project, you are still part of the family here, but you are no more so than the person who gave nothing.
We believe that we are being called to equip this building for use as a multipurpose space for the community with a place for prayer and worship at its heart. We do not yet know the full nature of its multi-purpose-ness. Will we build refugee homes in the upper hall? Will we lay a sprung floor in here for dance? Honestly, we don’t know. But God has given us this much of the road map and we are keen to follow. Make the space ready as a resource for the community. Phase one of that is to get chairs.
One of the spiritual gifts is the gift of administration. I always felt really sorry for the person with the gift of administration. Who wants that when you can have healing? Or preaching? Or hospitality? A gift of administration sounds a bit lame. And then I heard a man speaking at a conference whose organisation worked in war torn areas to bring relief and to work as peacemakers. It is highly dangerous work with a strong chance of kidnap or being killed in war. The one thing I remember most from his talk was that he thinks a person died because the paperwork on that person was not filed correctly. Then he turned to us the audience and said ‘If you don’t already, you need to love your administrators. Good admin saves lives.’
Not everything in the kingdom is rock 'n' roll. Some things are administration. Some things just need to be done and be done well. We need chairs. We have broken, uncomfortable and wobbly pews because they have been here since the 1880's. We would like to give those who come after us sturdy, comfortable moveable attractive chairs. It is not rock'n' roll, but people will always need to sit down. And like admin, sitting down in here to rest and pray might just save a life one day.
To give to this, please see our fundraising page.