Sunday, 6 December 2015

New church in Settle!

Christianity seems sometimes to encourage people to pretend that material stuff does not matter. It seems a sticky area to me, as my impression is that places, buildings and objects are an important part of how we retain our sense of self, simply because of the memories that familiar objects evoke. I imagine that if we were forced to become refugees, many of us would lose forever quite significant parts of ourselves as a result of losing all our familiar places and material stuff. Of course we might be able to gain new parts in exchange, especially if we are young, but we still would have been changed.

While in Japan I learned to care a lot less about buildings. It doesn't do to get attached to them, as they can so easily not be there tomorrow, and replaced by something much more ugly a few months later. One extremely nice old house near ours got turned into a horrendous prisoner-block-style (but extremely expensive) flats. I was quite appalled with that. There was even a petition at one point, which I signed. But of course, the building went ahead. Here in the UK the efforts to make new houses blend in to the environment are quite extraordinarily marvellous by comparison.

After that preamble: today was a momentous day in Settle religious life, as the Methodists abandoned one building and moved across the road to another. This is a wonderful thing. So often one sees churches close, but this is more of a rebirth - a relocation to a smaller, very different, building. The old building, which is Victorian (about the same age as our house), is to be pulled down and turned into some kind of housing, possibly using some of the old stonework. Given other developments in the area, I expect it will be well enough done.

Although I've visited plenty of "modern" churches, I have never actually been into a brand new church before. It was quite exciting. The old place had a rather pleasing wooden focus to its interior decor, the new is a refreshing contrast; a simple vaulted ceiling and lots of very white paint. It is actually so white that it was like going into a cinematic depiction of the after-life; unfortunately Morgan Freeman was nowhere to be seen. One really cool feature is an off centre cross-shaped window. The off-centredness of the cross means that this is the only church that does not suffer from the horrendous lopsided visual imbalance that occurs in older, more symmetrical, churches that crow bar in a side projector and screen. (Don't actually know why churches use projectors. I dislike them. The projector to me is the crutch of the poorly communicating scientist, and they make me feel like I'm at a work conference. I also can't see them without my glasses on, and they give me a stiff neck.) Another nice feature is the view to the hills through the large glass doors at the back of the church.  The lack of other windows in the side walls is a bit of a negative. Perhaps it is to encourage people to participate more actively in the services - those facing the congregation get rewarded with the hillside views.

The transition service started in the old church, and then there was a procession of congregation and some official and somewhat symbolic accoutrements (a wee hand-held font, candles, bible that dates from the construction of the older church, chalice, some banners, some sheet music) over the road to the new place. The rain, which has been falling continuously since the start of November (apart from one cold, sunny day when the roads were covered in ice) stopped for the event. Methodists must sing at length about everything, so there was even a specially composed hymn with the requisite too-many verses detailing the adventure.

The most obvious potential design problem which I spotted on the plans which have been up the church for a while, is that the whole edifice of church hall and church is now two large upside-down-V shapes with a flat bit in the middle. I can't see how this cannot leak, but impressively, having just today suffered the worst rainfall in several decades, with some of the village underwater, and the rest of us with buckets catching the drips from our leaking roofs, there was only a damp patch on the ceiling, in this flat area. This is not bad going. I expect new buildings to leak. The other strange thing is the lack of windows on the side of the building. But there are skylights so hopefully these can be opened to prevent the build up of condensation - it very quickly steamed up today. The amplification of the microphone will hopefully be turned down - it was a bit of an earache today - the minister isn't a quiet person. Realising I had my fingers in my ears, I was thinking that next time I could sit near the back, but later noticed that there are speakers at front and back! However, my ears didn't ring at huge volume of the enthusiastic Methodistic singing, which is encouraging. There was also something incredible, which was that the smaller building seems to have eliminated the drag between organ and congregation which normally results in the singing getting slower and slower through the too-many verses of each hymn, a feature which tended to make me choose other places to worship on a Sunday morning. A slightly depressing potential design flaw is that the church does not seem to have been built with much space for the congregation to grow... 

In the 1970s, the Catholic congregation abandoned their little church (now our house) and built their new church (still quite small - it was packed-out when I visited). Now in 2015, the Methodists have done exactly the same thing. The really odd part is that these two hall-church buildings are now within about 50 metres of each other, across a little lane. I wonder if there is any chance that one day the whole lot will be replaced with one nice big church hall and one larger sized church. Surely they could time-share in the building even if they can't agree to worship together. The CofE's Victorian monstrosity is only a couple of minutes up the main road. Maybe its congregation could join the party too... 

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