Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Old Rectory

Next to the ancient, parish church of Holy Trinity, Nailsea stands an impressive Georgian rectory. It is a listed building with the heritage-wallahs enthusiastic about its external appearance and any original interior features. It has been a money pit over the last few years and a new, modern rectory has been purchased for future Rectors. The previous Rector, who left last year, did explain that if he had been told when he came how much it would cost to live in this period-piece he may have reconsidered taking the job on.

So the Diocese of Bath and Wells, who own the property, plan to sell it. I believe they are right so to do.

Thing is, what we now call the Old Rectory and its garden are part of the historic footprint of Holy Trinity Church with its adjacent Trinity Centre. We also own a Church Hall some 100 metres down the road and have use of a medieval tithe barn opposite the church. There is a graveyard next to the Church Hall. In between the graveyard and the Old Rectory is a bungalow, in private ownership which was built when some of the diocese's land assets were sold off. The bungalow stands as a brick metaphor that if you sell off church land you can almost never get it back.

Part two of our conundrum is this. Holy Trinity church is stretched for space, especially on Sunday mornings, Tuesday mornings and various evenings of the week. Only last night two groups were denied permission to use any of the church plant for meetings because it was all taken already. Our parish profile has set out a vision of the church (by which we mean people here, not buildings) trying to be more involved in local community life and an intention to go for numerical growth. I believe that a church which has set out its vision for growth, and recruited a new Rector on the basis of that vision, should under no circumstances consider shrinking its historic footprint.

There are many things we could use the Old Rectory for. A small, and quite creative task group, met to consider the opportunities and within a short space of time had come up with the possibilities of:
  • New offices
  • New meeting rooms
  • Accommodation for interns
  • Accommodation for rent
  • Accommodation, short-term, for people in difficulty
  • Quiet space and garden
  • Studio
  • Retreat space
  • Rentable board rooms
  • Storage
  • Freeing up some of the space in the church currently used for storage and office to be used for ministry, welcome and prayer
  • An exemplary 'green' building, blending the best eco-friendly techniques with the beauty of the old
All, or some of these, would have clear advantages to the church and community but it was obvious that we couldn't do any of them if we didn't move sharpish to buy the property. Given the nature of the market we will probably never be able to pick up a seven-bedroom, detached Georgian rectory cheaper. Even if it turns out to be a duff investment a few years will surely see a return on the cost if we simply sell it on. We have one opportunity to buy it and will then have thousands of opportunities to plan how to use it.

We don't have the money and need to raise it. We are finding it hard to raise the money without putting some flesh on the bones of the plans. But it is too early to go definite on what we might use it for. It is not that we have no plan. It is that we have many and don't need to commit to one yet. But a more definite vision will probably help us to access grant aid. Impasse.

The task group met again last night to think on. We have no power and authority - simply an interest in the project. The result is that, over the next few weeks, we will show and present some drawings and rough plans (done by volunteers at no cost) of the sort of things the Old Rectory space could be used for. We hope that this will capture enough imaginations to persuade people to invest in the project before we commit to one specific idea. If it doesn't then we will have to face the criticism of being the generation that let the building slip through our fingers.

What does all this come down to? Is it trust? Is it vision? Maybe communication, or leadership? Probably all four. It is interesting that this is all happening during our vacancy when there is a leadership vacuum at the very top and several of us from a few rungs down are doing our best to steer.

If you read this and have a question or observation please post a comment or drop the church office a note.

The other members of the task group know I am posting this but the words are all my own. I'm biased. I think we should go for it and dig deep to stump up the cash. I am committed to chipping in. Let's talk.


fotofill said...

I am in absolute agreement with you. I think that there is a knee jerk reaction to sell off property without thinking the long term plan. I speak in experience as the Church I used to attend sold off a beautiful rectory (I don’t know that was before your time!) and sold the land. It was such as shame as many of the older and larger properties in Chester-le-Street have been demolished to make way for cheaper housing.
Keep the old rectory is the ultimate use of recycling. You are reusing it for another purpose. 100% yes!

Kathryn said...

Wow! I love to hear about people with big dreams & visions...Hope this one flies :-)

dmk said...

Buy it. People's giving rises when there is a clear vision to support. Just make sure the Diocese know what you're thinking about before they sell it to someone else!

This has interesting echoes with a local situation near Yeovil, of a village church who are desperate not to lose their Georgian Rectory - as far as I know nobody has yet suggested buying it from the Diocese (who want to sell it, and rightly so). I might drop a few hints!

St said...

The Diocese are fully on board David and being very supportive.

Hannah said...

Buy it! because as you say if the church wants to be in the business of reaching out and being involved in the community and having the community come to you the one thing you can never have enough of is space!!
Hope your vision spurs people to give and give generously

chris said...

Can you get someone so much behind it that they sell their home and give the money to part purchase the building then live in a couple of rooms and be the caretaker for it?!

Dizz Bundy said...

Clearly I have an emotional attachment to this building, but I want to support what you have said about the bungalow and also give you an example of the situation my current church is in (St Paul's, Auckland). About 30 years ago the church sold the Rectory (in the central city) to the University across the road. We now RENT THIS BUILDING BACK for office / meeting room space after a wonderful conversion. The moral is buy it, develop it, rent it to others, use it!!! PLEASE! Cheers Dizz

Ali Campbell said...

Buy it if you can, but, ask the question, "whoose historic footprint?" I am not saying that history is not important - but some churches have a history that, even if you go back through centuries, is "all their own" and ownership in the community has never been a factor . . . there are always those who don't want something to be lost . . . we continue to loose people (nationally in the church) with very little hoo-haa, there should be a Diocsan team equivalent to the DAC - but for people, not buildings! Oh, and I am blogging again . . .