Stanwick Group of Churches

May 2019 Letter

This month’s letter comes from John Hodges, recently appointed Churchwarden at Forcett and member of the Stanwick Group of Churches Choir.

Pauline and I watched in shock as we saw Notre Dame burn last week. I know the Cathedral well and love it, having spent most of my teenage school holidays in Paris where my Father worked. As the tragic scenes of the fire unfolded on the television and we followed the press coverage and listened to interviews with members of the public various things struck us.

Firstly all those interviewed whether Non Believers, Christians, Muslims or followers of any other faith expressed the same sense of shock and sadness that “their” Cathedral was in danger and there was a sense of ownership and affection which came through strongly in their words. 

Then as the fire gained intensity and the bell towers were threatened there was a realisation that Notre Dame might be totally destroyed and rebuilding would no longer be possible. The feelings of sorrow and anguish were palpable and tears were shed. It struck us that it was only when people faced the possibility that “their” Notre Dame might no longer be there that they began to realise how much they would miss her .

The next morning when images from the smouldering ruins hit the press the recriminations began. France has been a secular state since 1905 and cathedrals are owned by a Government department which is responsible for their upkeep. According to reports which I read Notre Dame before the fire was in a shocking state of disrepair and a figure of 150 million euros was quoted as being needed for repairs. The French government offered 40 million euros towards this cost and suggested that the balance must come from fund raising. Repairs were under way at the time of the fire, and there are already suggestions that faulty electrical connections associated with the repair work may have started the fire. Time will tell if this theory is supported but the message to us as we watched was clear - church buildings are complex and expensive to repair and whilst those responsible argued about who should pay, Notre Dame’s fabric deteriorated in a way which may have contributed to the fire.

I hope that the issues highlighted by the awful fire at Notre Dame may encourage us to think about our relationship with the beautiful churches which we have in this Benefice. I suspect that many people in the community, whether churchgoers or not, have a sense of affection for and ownership of our churches. They have always been there and for many local families they are associated with the key times in their lives - christenings, marriages and funerals. For others they represent an intrinsic part of our heritage and a beautiful part of our rural landscape. And there will be those who see them as a symbol of a religion which they do not espouse and they may feel that there is no future for them.

Many people are not aware that the maintenance of Anglican churches in England is not the responsibility of the State or the Church. It falls on local Parochial Church Councils to raise the money needed from Church collections, from legacies and donations from parishioners and from fund raising events. All these sources of funds are becoming more difficult as church attendances fall and personal budgets tighten. Grants can be sought for major works such as replacing a whole roof but even so the PCC has the responsibility of driving this process and success is not guaranteed.

There are pointers to us from the fire at Notre Dame. As a community we need to address and debate the issue of the future of our church buildings before it is too late. Otherwise our children and grandchildren may not be able to enjoy all the various aspects of our lovely rural churches as we do.

John Hodges

Churchwarden, Forcett


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