Some of you will know that the future of our church building has been hanging over our heads like the sword of whoever (yes, Damocles) since our arrival here. We have been down every conceivable avenue, either to try and make it work for our small congregation (but could not raise the finance for a new heating system) or to work out what else we could do with the space (it seats 1,000!)

All sorts of ideas have been put forward but none of them have had ‘legs’, so to speak, and we have started a process of consultation with the diocese, community leaders, English Heritage and anybody else who wanted to get in on the act.

But what has had us puzzled from the start is that none of us in the church has had the foggiest idea which way to go. We haven’t had a ‘vision’, although we are praying a lot!

Suddenly, out of the blue, the Eritrean Orthodox church has materialised.


They have a congregation that has trebled in three years, now counts itself in hundreds, with at least 60 children and almost as many teenagers. They do not have a church of their own and have moved around from one set of premises to another for the past 3 years.

They want to consider taking over our church building.

We have another consultation this Wednesday with the powers-that-be … we are all praying like mad … we believe that God ain’t phased by problems which seem massive to us, and it is rather exciting to see whether this is the way forward, both for them and for us!

It will be a very big change for us, and the older folks in the church will not find it easy. But we have to face facts, and move on. There will surely have to be a time of grieving and loss, but there is also the prospect of a future that won’t be dominated by continual and huge financial problems.

And as we are fond of saying, the church is not the building, but the people.

Watch this space …


32 thoughts on “A BIT OF A MIRACLE?

  1. My sister was a member of a church which was under threat due to its dwindling congregation and crumbling structure. The people who loved it struggled for several years to find a solution but in the end it was closed and sold off. It is now the home of an undertakers business and houses their chapel of rest. It has undergone considerable renovation and my sister says that she is glad that it was “saved” but she has never joined the congregation any where else.


    1. People do get very attached to a building! Our oldies are not going to find it easy. I hope we don’t lose them in the process but it’s always possible. They do understand that we don’t have a choice, that whatever happens, we cannot afford the building and must find an alternative. Thanks for your comment, Marika.


  2. Glad news indeed! There is one such stone pile in central Sunderland that is now a Skh Recreation Centre …and a small chapel, this side of the River Wear, that is now a betting office! I am completely with you on the lack of significance of buildings and I was told this as a child. Woth a child’s curiosity I asked why they built great big cathedrals. I had no idea about the sort of questions you should avoid asking. Half a century later and nobody has given me an answer that holds water …a bit like many a church roof (especially when they have nicked the lead).

    Give me the over-arching branches of one of god’s trees, over the vault of a stone ceiling, every time …a tree stump for a pew and no altar.


    1. Because the Christian faith started in Israel, the first Christians not only got together with each other for prayer and teaching but also attended the temple daily. Once persecution started and they were scattered, they took the faith with them and groups began to spring up all over the ancient world. To begin with they used public buildings, but as time went on and numbers grew they wanted their own, so up went a church. The buildings are understood to be ‘for the glory of God’ and therefore to be as beautiful as possible.


  3. I wonder if they will have a lively African service. I have a 75rpm recording somewhere of the Mesa Natale which was a great deal like the Mesa Creole, another favourite of mine. Then again, they might be a mix of all sorts of ancient and modern cultural sounds. It occurs to me that I will have to ask a favour of someone to convert these recordings to CD. Hmm.

    Will the Eritraen congregation fill the church?
    Perhaps they have other ideas how they can divi up the square footage.


    1. Apparently it is very lively with lots of instruments – they have a choir and I can’t wait to hear them, as the Romanian and Russian Orthodox forbid instruments and use only voices (which can create the most inspiring sound).

      They were pondering how to use the space. There are about 300 of them at present but they are growing every week. They are working out how to partition it up, and are already deciding to use the back section for youth work and refreshments – and idea we had already had, and in fact we’ve removed several rows of pews and had the parquet floor cleaned and polished, so it’s all ready to go.

      They will need to put down carpet, as their theology demands no shoes (a la Moses and the burning bush). They will also need a screen across the sanctuary, and will put up icons of course.

      We were also showing them the room in the tower, the Lady Chapel and the 2 vestries, all of which they will use.

      Poor old community minister – she’s barely moved in to the vestries! Again, we found funding to paint them, carpet them and put in heating, so they too are ready to go. And once we get the side roof mended, the building will be sound once more and there should be no further major problems …


      1. The first record I referred to, now that memory has been jogged, is The African Mass. I really must find the two records. I can hear their sounds echoing forth from my memory banks.

        Making music in religion is a subject all of its own and probably with a wealth of various types of material, for someone who has the inclination.


  4. Looks like the Eritreans could be the church’s salvation. It’s also heartening that two different denominations can share the same place of worship without butchering each other – as we can see in other parts of the world.


    1. They seem to be lovely – expressed themselves very grateful for our welcome and support (we are rather fond of the Orthodox, having worked with them in Romania). And we were able to talk the same language. We told them we’d been praying for ages, and that it was our dream that another congregation would come and fill the building with worship … and they were appreciative of this, and we could agree that if this is God’s will, then we can trust him to provide what’s necessary! They will have to wrestle with the heating problem instead … but they will have far more people to do the wrestling.


    1. Thanks, Liz! It would be so wonderful to see it full and open 24/7, as well as giving a spiritual home to a growing church that doesn’t have one.


      1. Our congregation will just move into the church hall, which is where we’ve been all winter anyway. Some of the oldies are not going to like it, but they cannot come up with a solution so they are going to have to lump it.

        We retire next year … and Hub and I will be moving … again!! Hope your move goes smoothly, Pauline, but you have all my sympathy – it is pretty miserable, especially on top of all the moves you’ve already had.


  5. Very Interesting….:yes: The Building is ‘There’; much too big for a shrinking ‘Community’…..Ideal for another expanding ‘Community…..’….Should be ‘QED’….;)xx


    1. We had the new diocesan secretary here, just last week. He has a business background and is clearly a bit of a ‘new broom’, and very aware that he is responsible for a number of churches in the diocese which are just not viable as Anglican buildings. Hub’s comment was that our efforts to secure a different future for the building may well be very timely, as the DS seems to be a pragmatist and more than willing to look at alternatives. I must say, we have had nothing but support from the powers that be, both the diocese and also the trustees of the living. How many people can say that … 🙄 ??


      1. That sounds very encouraging….:yes: As it is, the C of E has too many Church Buildings – Nationally 🙄 Gives a rather ‘warped’ perception of the ‘National/Established’ Church…:>> :)x


  6. A church that seats 1.000 is big!!! It will be most interesting to see what develops, but I definitely agree that a church is not necessarily the building. Good luck with this one Gilly.x


    1. Thanks, Janet! 5 of the Eritrean leaders attended our worship this morning and then Hub and I spent some time with them, showing them round the building and talking things over. They are clearly very keen and I have a positive feeling that this time, it may actually go ahead …. I do hope so, and nobody finds a spanner to throw in the works.


  7. Wow….It is wonderful if the building is to continue serving Christians I think……..

    And yes…the church is the people indeedy :yes:

    How amazing! I wonder what their services sound and manifest like? Fascinating!


    1. We are rather fond of the Orthodox, having spent 5 years with them in Romania, although the Eritreans are a different branch. They are full of enthusiasm and ideas and if it all goes ahead (and I really think it might!) they are hoping to have the church building open 24/7 – which would be wonderful!


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