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Tetbury Advertiser: September 2023

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Skateboarding, yoga classes, and wedding receptions.

Just some of the more unexpected things going on in churches around the country. The aim: to use our buildings to better serve and support our local communities, as something we want and need to do.

We want our church buildings to be a vital part of our local community. Of course, offering a sacred place to meet people’s spiritual needs – from a quiet moment for reflection to worship filled with life and song. But, in responding to God’s call to love and care for those around us, we also long to find ways to also use this space more creatively.

And we need to do this too. Churches like St Marys’ are wonderful iconic and historic places. But when the building is just used three or four times a week, and maintained by the efforts of a handful of people, it is a luxury we simply can’t afford. Every year, we spend more than £30,000 each year to maintain, heat and insure the church building – and that’s raised from personal giving, not grants. In a way, it feels a bit like farming … we need to find ways to diversify, and increase the use of our building, to make all this sustainable.

So, St Marys’ is beginning a conversation, talking with the people of Tetbury: asking you to imagine how the church might better serve and support the community – and what the building needs to make that possible. The “shopping list” might include more loos (there’s only one), a decent kitchen, and a space for children to meet for Sunday School (basically they use a cupboard right now!). Then there is the heating of course, and finding a holistic and environmentally friendly solution.

In all of this, like most churches, the pews are an emotive issue. For some people, they hold strong emotional ties and historical significance. Others find them impossibly uncomfortable. Others simply long to liberate the space: to create a place where people can truly gather together, and where diverse and exciting things can happen.

So, we are asking: why, how and what. Why is St Mary’s Church here? How can we adapt the building to best serve that purpose for both the worshipping community and the wider community? What facilities does the building need?

Be assured, there is a rich history of asking these questions! It dates back to Abbess Tetta’s monastery, probably opened in 681 and almost certainly built on an earlier church site. Later, the medieval community came up with their answer with a large open building for worship, parties and basically anything that needed lots of space from markets to mummers plays.

The radical Georgians asked the question again in 1777 and as a result demolished the medieval building (apart from the tower and spire) and replaced it four years later by our present Georgian Gothic building. The Victorians made some major changes, many of which was removed in the early 1990s.

So, as the “New Caroleans”, in the opening decades of the 21st century and in the reign of King Charles III, we have to ask the questions again to ask how we can make best use of the site for ourselves and the wider community to build on 1400 years of reshaping.

Please be part of the conversation. Come into church, where there’s a display and a questionnaire to complete.

We would love to hear from you.
With love and prayers, Poppy

The Revd Canon Poppy Hughes
Parish Priest, St Mary the Virgin & St Mary Magdalen Church, Tetbury
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