Our congregations are many, widely scattered and sometimes very small. Few if any of the members of our diocese were attracted to our church by the prospect of becoming custodians of heritage real estate, but having become part of a group meeting in some interesting pieces of old architecture, most have, up until now, borne their responsibilities diligently. Over the past many years our buildings have been, for the large part, lovingly and fastidiously maintained. But now faced with the costs involved in strenghtening and insuring, some congregations are starting to blanch. They are asking, quite justifiably, whether these lovely old hunks of stone are really worth the trouble. In real terms, the costs of maintenance and refurbishing is completely beyond the resources of some of our parishes.
There is no easy way ahead. The building in our care are often valued by communities far wider than our own. They are subject to interest from the Historic Places Trust and various local bodies. Demolition is not an option, and given the by laws of some regions of our diocese, sale is not practicable either.
It is not all bad news of course. The debate about buildings has caused a much deeper and more wide ranging discussion about the Church: what is it apart from its places of worship? What are we called to be and do? I have been greatly heartened by the consensus that has emerged in every single place where this discussion has been held; that, the Church is a gathering of people, not a pile of bricks, and that we must not allow the issue of where we meet to distract us from the real business of living and proclaiming the Gospel. We are not about to abandon our historic places of worship but neither will we allow their concerns to destroy us.