After three months of scaffolding and building work, the roof on St Mary’s has been replaced and at the end of April there will be a Service of Thanksgiving in the church. We were hoping that all the scaffolding would be down by Easter but it this work is being done at a slow tempo.
There has been a range of fund-raising initiatives over the last year to help raise the funds and thank you to everyone who has been involved and contributed.
By way of contrast as we were thinking of the final stages of the project there was a huge fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and news media has carried the images of the destruction and also the plans to rebuild.
The reports form Paris have generated a wide-ranging discussion about the purpose of churches and cathedrals.
The first thing is that they are very expensive to maintain and keep open. There is a sign in St Albans Cathedral and it says that it costs £5,000 per day for running costs or £1,825,000 per year.
The new visitors centre has cost around seven million with four million of the total coming from the Lottery.
Within days of the fire in Paris, hundreds of thousands of Euros had been pledged to the rebuilding of Notre Dame and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said in an address that he wanted the cathedral to be rebuilt within five years and be “more beautiful than before.”
Yet some of the images from Parish have struck a deep chord.
A photograph was taken from inside the cathedral as the fire service entered and as they look into the huge space a white cross was illuminated against the dark background and at Easter it seems an apt image.
Good Friday is all about desolation. It's about shattered lives and heartbreak. It's about lost dreams and things that are destroyed and can't be put back. Yet, the cross provided a reminder of hope and new life.
On Thursday night at 7.00pm bells were rung across the country as a gesture of solidarity and similarities have been made with the original Coventry Cathedral that was destroyed in 1940 and also St Paul’s Cathedral.
When, after the Great Fire of London, Sir Christopher Wren began to build the new St Paul’s Cathedral, he discovered a stone from the old church bearing a single word: Resurgam — I shall rise again. Thanks to Wren’s genius and 33 years of labour by his masons, craftsmen and iron-workers, St Paul’s did indeed rise again.
Cathedrals are extraordinary feats of architecture but events this week have provided a reminder of transience.
Something that is nine centuries old was it is said about thirty minutes from complete destruction.
As the millions will be spent it is understandable that questions will be asked.
I was able to listen to an interview with Archbishop John Sentamu who was asked about whether this type of expenditure was justified in an age of hunger.
He replied that every faith needs a home that can provide hospitality and it was not either or in terms of responding to human need.
There was money to feed the hungry and provide beautiful spaces of worship. The problem was human greed.
Likewise, there are a variety of perspectives on what would be the attitude of Jesus to buildings.
He did say that the Jerusalem Temple would be destroyed, yet he also went into synagogues and taught the people. Likewise, people say you don’t need to go to church to worship and God can be found anywhere, whether that be in people or in nature, and to emphasise the point, most of Jesus’ teaching was done outdoors. It is also true to say that the church is not the building and it is people that matter.
Yet, I’m really glad that we have repaired the roof at St Mary’s and we continue to care for it for future generations. It is one of the oldest churches in Hertfordshire. It is a church that contains links to past generations and is the place where significant moments in the community’s life have taken place. Inside are memorials and graffiti that go back over 300 years. Although it has roots in the past it is also focused on providing a welcome to people now.
Church life is about community and friendship. It is focused on providing welcome and support.
Maybe one of the most important things about churches is that they can be places of encounter.
Places where the unexpected can happen.
Last Christmas I was given an album by Bruce Springsteen on Broadway and he speaks about his life as a musician. In one bit he says something that is very interesting;
Most of the time in life one plus one equals two, but now and again it can equal three. Now one plus one equals two, that happens every day, that is not magic. That's the grind. That's when you get up, one. Go to work, one. Go to bed, two.
But when one plus one equals three, that's when your life changes, and you see everything new, and these are days when you are visited by visions, when the world around you brings down the spirit and you feel blessed to be alive.
It is the essential equation of love. There is no love without one plus one equalling three.
It's the essential equation of art.
It's the essential equation of rock 'n' roll. It's the reason the universe will never be fully comprehensible.
At Easter, in an incomprehensible way that makes a great deal of sense.
The woman who come to the tomb are expecting to find a body, the disciples who run to the tomb can’t make sense of what has taken place and normal equations don’t seem to add up.
These encounters with God can happen anywhere, but when you are in a church the chances of the extraordinary are slightly increased.
There is often a peace and stillness that can maybe make us more intuitive, or curious about what is around us.
It is quite possibly true that God does not need buildings, but we are not God, and I think it is a good thing to have a place where we can come together and call home.