My house (photographed by a Churchwarden when it was being built in 2005) is perfect for the job but is also probably a bit of a PR disaster. It was commented again this week (on a Funeral visit as it happens) how big it looks and how sorry people were to see the loss of the ‘scout hut’ (as it was perceived) on the site. And, since I hear these comments directly quite often, I imagine that the impression in much of the community must be that ‘the church’ has too much money, indulges its clergy and doesn’t care much about community provision.
The site was bought by St Michael’s in the 1930s, small piles of bricks were abandoned on it when war time restrictions prevented building, and an ex-RAF hut was moved to it after the war. This was replaced by a new building in the 1960s and huge numbers of people have affectionate memories of packed Youth Group meetings and flourishing uniformed organisations meeting in both old and new halls. The new hall had deteriorated by the end of the century and eventually had to be shut on safety grounds; the remaining external users weren’t willing to join in the sort of joint community project which something like a Lottery bid to do it up would have required. The money raised by selling the site has been put into the project to create proper community facilities and disabled access in St Michael’s church itself, which is where our present Youth Group meets among other things.
It is actually a coincidence that the site was sold to the diocese to build a parsonage, but it is understandable that those in the community don’t perceive ‘the church’ being divided up in this subtle way. The 1930s Rectory in which my immediate predecessors lived had its own problems and was being disposed of to a builder when I arrived; attempts through a long vacancy to identify a suitable replacement house or building site had failed and I was quite happy to move into a much smaller Curate's house. The availability of a building site at the centre of the parish a few years later was the first opening the diocese found for resolving the need to provide a proper Rectory for the future.
It is large, although the parsonage need to provide study, loo and entrance lobby, and the planning need to look like a bungalow and thus put one bedroom downstairs, makes a ground plan that looks even larger. It seems like ‘protesting too much’ to point out on a Funeral visit that this week we turfed one of the children out of the main sitting room to make way for a church meeting and scrapped ice off the windows of a car which doesn’t fit into the double garage because it is full of the things needed for the Christmas Fair at one of the churches.