It has been public knowledge for some time that the Emmanuel Church building in Brook Street is being closed for public worship due to an extensive dry rot problem. The building has been handed over to the Church Commissioners to determine its future.
However, what a lot of people struggle to appreciate is that churches can operate from all sorts of different premises because a church is a community of people, not bricks and mortar. Across our nation the use of school buildings, village halls, pubs, and cafes by church communities is on the increase due to the changing place of the church within society. In Emmanuel’s case we have been using the adjacent Plungington Community Centre building for the past two years, the building which was once Emmanuel school. Plungington Community Centre (left) and Emmanuel Church (right).
Faced with an unsustainable situation the church governing body made the hard decision to focus our time and resources on the people of the church, and on the people of Plungington, rather than continue channeling our efforts into a building that had become unfeasible for a small church community in the twenty first century. The transition from one building to another has not been without its challenges, but two years on we are increasingly finding that our new setup enables us to focus on the things that are most important to us, namely sustaining our regular worship, caring for people, and providing community life within the area.
Our services now run at 2.00pm on Sundays in the Plungington Community Centre, and have a lively ‘spirited’ feel. We get an average of 40 to 50 people in attendance.
Once a month on a Wednesday after school (every third Wednesday) we run something called ‘Messy Church’ with crafts, games, a bible story, and a meal. Our team of volunteers has a lot of fun with the local families who attend, with the Community Centre providing good facilities. We offer Messy Church for free and welcome all to come and join us.
‘Open the Book’
Each month we visit Eldon and Roebuck primary schools delivering something called ‘Open the Book’ to the children. It involves enacting bible stories, with our volunteers having fun dressing up in a few costumes, and encouraging the pupils to participate in the stories as we bring them to life. Our visits are always appreciated by the pupils and staff.
If there’s one thing I’ve discovered since becoming vicar of Emmanuel it’s that they are a community who know how to enjoy themselves! We enjoy a number of good social events in the Community Centre, with many joining us who are not church regulars. In the autumn we hosted a 1940s evening, ‘Pete’s Pie and Peas’ night, a wine tasting evening, and a Christmas concert with Eccleston Brass Band that was packed out. And we’ve plans to run plenty more.
We’re also able to run special services from within the Community Centre at Christmas, Easter, and other times of year. Our recent carol services over Christmas were well attended and enjoyed, and on February 10th we were able to run a traditional Ash Wednesday service to mark the beginning of Lent.
Caritas Care and the ‘Cafe Emmanuel’
In November 2015 the Plungington Community Centre became managed by local charity Caritas Care. We at Emmanuel rent the premises through Caritas, along with other users of the building. Caritas Care have plans of their own for developing the usage of the Centre to serve the needs of Plungington. It is a joy for us to partner with them for the wider good of the area. One of Caritas’ first initiatives is to establish a drop in cafe during the day simply to create a gathering place. The cafe has been aptly named ‘Cafe Emmanuel,’ and was opened to customers for the first time on Monday 1st February. It is now open Monday – Friday 10.00am til 2.00pm – why not drop in some time?
So what can’t we do when using a Community Centre?
The simple answer is ‘not much.’ For instance we are still providing baptisms for those who wish, setting aside one of our afternoon services each month to meet this need. We have already held a number of baptisms within the Community Centre and they work well. It is likely that following formal closure of the church building the bishop will license the Community Centre as the ‘Emmanuel Parish Centre of Worship,’ which would enable us to conduct weddings and funerals from within the centre. In practice a lot of funerals are held entirely at the Crematorium, and the local Funeral Directors are already aware that those living within the Plungington area who are seeking a Church of England funeral can be guided towards the vicar of Emmanuel to take the service. Our change of venue has not affected this.
I fully understand that a Community Centre setting lacks a lot of the traditional features associated with Christian worship in our country; be that stained glass windows, wooden pews, or the various icons found within traditional church buildings. We hold on to the conviction that the focus of Christian worship is to be found in the word of God and the Spirit of God, neither of which are contained within any one building, and nor do they require any of the traditional frills! If we do possess crosses, or candles, or kneelers, they exist to remind people of God’s word and God’s presence, and to this end we put out a few visual features when setting up on a Sunday to help people enter into worship. The World War II memorial window at Emmanuel is considered by architectural historians to be particularly special.
Despite the sadness around the closure of the church building, and all the fond memories associated with it, I believe that Emmanuel is on an exciting journey of reconnecting with its local community. We are turning outwards towards the people of Plungington with a message of welcome, hope, and love. I am grateful to Ed Walker (blogpreston editor) for this opportunity to write about Emmanuel church and the journey we are on. At Emmanuel we also want to support and affirm the good things that others are doing in Plungington. We are motivated by our Christian faith but often find ourselves united in common purpose with those of other faith or none. Emmanuel can only do as much as our people power enables us to do. So your local church needs YOU! We are always ready to welcome new people who want to get involved.
What about the Emmanuel church building?
Emmanuel PCC has endeavoured to look after the outside area of the building, keeping the security alarm on, and discouraging vandalism. We are all hopeful that a positive use for the building will be found, with the necessary repairs funded through a viable redevelopment. It is certainly a beautiful historic, grade II listed building. The Church Commissioners will seek an alternative use for the structure so that the fabric of the building may be safeguarded for many more years to come. They have advised us that it is unusual for an alternative use not to be found for a closed church building. Such is the value of these listed buildings that they cannot be demolished without permission from the Secretary of State.
For more information about alternative uses for closed church buildings you can read online chapter 17 of the Church of England ‘Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011.’ Typing into google ‘Suitable alternative uses – the Church of England’ will bring up the document.
If you would like to speak with Peter in response to this article he would be happy to hear from you. His contact details are firstname.lastname@example.org, 01772 726987, 07771 993004.