As you know, for some time we have been considering alterations at the back of church – a kitchenette and a toilet with access for disabled people. The Friends of St Michael’s have suggested an alternative – to build a community room on the outside of the church, with space for 50-60 people as well as a bigger kitchen and toilet. Chair of the Friends, Graham Youngman, has been twice to the PCC with clear and exciting proposals and we have had a visit from the Diocesan Advisory Committee, consisting of architects and experts with wide experience of church building work.
The favoured choice – strongly supported by the DAC – is to create a community room, carefully and sensitively designed, on the south east (front) side of the church at the chancel end . An outside entrance and an entrance through the church beside the organ would provide access.
The PCC supports this proposal and wants to know the views of the congregation and community. It will not be cheap! 
You can still read Chris's thoughts on the subject of the Future development of St. Michael's on the attached sermon.
Do you ever watch that programme on TV with researchers trying to trace the missing relatives of someone who may have left money or assets to them? It’s great to see the joy on their faces as they hear that Uncle Fred had shares worth £200,000 and they’re entitled to a stake.. but not so good when they discover Uncle Fred had 10 children, each of whom have had 10 children, and the money has to be divided between at least 100 people, after all fees have been deducted.
Well, here’s some good news! We’re all shareholders in Archangel Enterprise. It’s one of the oldest and best established institutions in Woburn Sands with extensive premises and grounds which are supported and frequently visited by local people, people from further afield and even people from abroad… and what’s more, Archangel Enterprise owes not a penny in mortgages or loans, it has no debts, it’s got regular income, hundreds of investors who don’t plan to move their money somewhere else, a little bit in reserve - and its development potential is, quite frankly, enormous.
I’m being a little facetious, and wonder if anyone knows who Archangel Enterprise is… Yes, St Michael’s Church. The Archangel Michael. Shareholders isn’t quite the right word, maybe stakeholders or, better still, stewards is the best way to describe us.
Of course, caring for a building isn’t the sum total of our stewardship duties. We have a message – that things can be different, that God really does want to intervene in our messy world and make it better, that things can change, for the good. And we are those agents for change. So the building is just a small part of our discipleship, our Christian service.
But back to the Church building. St Michael’s Church and churchyard can be a real benefit to our ministry of love and service. So our care for and use of this building really do matter. Not just to us, but to the wider community, who also have a stake.
4 years ago, I spoke about the need for a new heating system in the Church. I also spoke about the possibility of some work glazing in the Lady Chapel. I also said that we are exploring the idea of adapting the back of the Church – with a new toilet with wheelchair access and simple, discrete kitchen facilities for making and serving refreshments after services and events.
And I asked these questions: Should we do work like this at a time like this? How can we afford to spend this kind of money on the building when times are tough? Should we be doing so when there are so many more pressing needs in society and across the world?
A year later, we’d got the new heating installed and we’d paid for it! Thank God – and you - for that. We’re all warmer than when we used oil and froze! We drew on a legacy we’d had for some years – about £34,000 I think - and that covered half the costs, and through your generosity we quickly raised the other half. And having spent all that legacy, guess what – very quickly and completely out of the blue, someone left us £20,000 in their will.
Jumping to the present, you’ll see that we are getting the windows replaced – some have been broken for over 30 years, but there’s also work being done to the ferramenta, the ironwork holding the glass in.
A few days ago, we had a visit from the Diocesan architect and a glazier to discuss the glazing in of the Lady Chapel. I’m sure a number of you won’t be familiar with the reasons we originally gave for glazing the Lady Chapel and making other alterations to the building.
So let me run through our thinking.
First, as I said earlier, we are stewards of this beautiful Church and its grounds. Actually, we – you – have the biggest plot in Aspley Heath. We owe not a penny on the building and we are, if you like, the active stakeholders in this exciting enterprise. Each year, at the Annual Meeting, we stakeholders vote in a group of people to represent us on the Parochial Church Council. We value the ideas and views of everyone, and everyone is entitled, if they wish, to stand for election as Church warden or member of the PCC
So, we hold, under God and on behalf of the wider community (whether they know it or not), responsibility for this wonderful resource. But it takes quite some maintaining – and so does a modern and progressive vision for its use and usefulness.
We have, therefore, to ask this question: as good and responsible stewards of St Michael’s, what do we need to do now to make this building and churchyard fit for purpose for at least the next
50 years? We can’t do it all at once. But we can imagine ourselves into the right frame of mind by asking: how does this Church building and the churchyard truly serve the interests not just of the members of our congregation but of the whole community?
Of course, most of our Christian discipleship is carried out not in this Church building at all, but in our daily lives at home, at work, in our schools and neighbourhoods and networks.. But we still have to think carefully and prayerfully about our stewardship for this place.
Which brings me back to the Lady Chapel. By glazing it in, with glass behind the wooden screen and a glass door, and also providing some really good cupboard space, and also removing the altar rail and plinth which the altar stands on, we can create some really nice, attractive, comfortable space for doing a number of things: with the altar against the wall – but able to be brought out for services – and with comfy chairs, we can hold meetings like PCC, or planning or discussion groups, or private conversations, in safe space which you can see out of – and into – which is independently heated from the rest of the building. And the children can be in there in warm, safe, soundproofed space. The cupboard space will allow us to remove the cupboards storing hymn books and various other things at the back of Church and tidy up that whole area – creating more room.
Talking about the back of Church, the current area of cupboards, shelves and hymn books could be replaced by an unobtrusive kitchenette with sink, running water and serving hatch.
We now have wonderful gatherings after Sunday services with tea and coffee and refreshments (and, by the way, thank you all who provide the refreshments) but we depend on someone carrying the boiler from the choir vestry to the back of Church and carting down cups and trestle tables and so on.
Imagine – a kitchen where drinks and eats can be served through a hatch – far safer and nicer and taking up less space.
Move towards the entrance, and there, a little tucked away, is the font. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze there and we would like to suggest some reordering, moving the font to beside the pillar at the back, and making it much more of a feature, easier to gather around – but requiring a couple of back pews to be taken out. That then creates space where the font stood for an easily accessible toilet which you can get a wheelchair 3 into. At the moment, the only toilet we have is actually quite inaccessible for some people.
And – what a privilege – when you go to the loo, you can meditate on the list of past and present vicars of St Michael’s on the plaque on the back wall!
Let me pause for a moment and just remind you that this coming Wednesday is the anniversary of the death of our dear friend Coura Willcox. She was, I think, the first person to suggest that we do something with our porch, because it’s wasted space.. but quite a considerable area. And now we are starting to look into that.
Going outside, we have a wonderful Churchyard which is being brilliantly maintained by Phil Wagg and his gang of up to 40 people and by Janet Greenwell our graves mapper. I think we are privileged to have a churchyard which is still in use and regularly visited by people whose loved ones are buried here. We keep the Church open every day so people can pop in for a few moments of quiet also.
What we want to do is ensure that the churchyard stays open and has spaces available for people to be laid to rest here. That means creating more space. And what we suggest is this: 1. that some of the oldest headstones be carefully moved and set up elsewhere in the churchyard so that more recent burials can take place. 2. that we create some car parking spaces, maybe at the back of the Church, by moving some old headstones and curb stones and broadening the existing path. 3. that we set out a new area for cremated remains at the south east end of the Church. 4. that we clear the growth along the walls around the churchyard and place cremated remains there, with headstones cemented to the wall.
2018 is the 150th birthday of this Church – and that seems a good target date for having all this work completed. So what we will be doing, as responsible stewards, will set the tone for a Church which is much loved, well cared for, and open and accessible for the next half a century. Members of St Michael’s in 2068 will be facing new challenges we can’t foresee and may perhaps they’ll be asking the very same questions about how to be good stewards and how to be a Church and building fit for purpose. It will by then undoubtedly be what we now call a “smart building”, with whatever electronic communication facilities exist by then. And one of our members has offered to help make us a smart building now, with wi-fi.. so we’re already on the cusp of something very exciting.
So what happens now?
I suggest that, next Sunday 23 August, after the service, anyone who would like to joins me for a little walk round the Church and, weather permitting, the churchyard, so we can see what is being mooted and comment, critique, feed in ideas and suggestions.. And also start to ask ourselves – is this work that I would like to get involved in? Have I the time and interest, the ideas and energy to make a contribution to the process of developing the ideas, raising the funds and managing the changes needed?
We need to raise quite a lot of money – in addition to our normal running costs, which are about £1000 a week. That will involve coffee mornings and garden parties, special events, sponsored activities, charity cricket or football matches, applications to grant making trusts, company and business support and lots more.
Archangel Enterprise – it’s a very special company set up to provide goods and services - free and open to everyone. It’s a co-operative, as its members are its owners. It’s a construction company charged not just with caring for its premises but, more importantly, building God’s Kingdom. Congratulations, all of you – you’re the workers, you’re the shareholders, you’re the owners.