Sunday, June 01, 2008

The challenge of sustainability

This Sunday was also World Environment Day and World Refugee day, giving us plenty to consider on top of the liturgical material for the day. We were able to use the nave and the chancel again, as the scaffolding was all taken out on Friday, and three quarters of the nave cleaned up for use. Just the temporary storage space now needs dismantling to restore the nave to normal. Some of the scaffolding has been re-erected outside to enable minor works to be done on the gutters and roof. We're getting as much done as we can, all in one go.

Everyone's very pleased with the results of the redecoration - a job that's cost £100,000, and which has been paid for out of the earnings of the Tea Room over a seven year period. This is a very impressive testimony to the long-term hard labour of our volunteers. On top of this a further £25,000 has been raised to pay for replacement window guards over the past two years, and a further equivalent sum spent on remedying structural cracks caused by subsidence. It's a huge amount of money to spend on bricks and mortar, but it's such a beautiful structure and so well loved by the thousands of people who pass through and pray each year. It's a place where many can reconnect with the mysteries of life and faith, a special staging point on their spiritual journey.

Given the small number of people who regularly support the life of the church in the heart of the city, these are remarkable achievements. The practice of being 'church for others' is embodied both in the ministry of hospitality, and in the maintenance of such prestigious bricks and mortar.

Because there are so few committed people involved in the long term, the question of future sustainability is one that constantly overshadows us. Despite relative financial success in coping with such huge demands, rising energy costs are going to pose a real challenge for the years ahead. We can't afford not to heat the church to a modest degree, as this helps to conserve the fabric and furnishings and prolong the maintenance cycle. The bigger picture is now challenging us to think differently. Heating such a large space means a large carbon footprint, a church that is part of the problem of global warming, not the solution. Practicing hat we preach is not going to be easy.

Mulling over these things in preparing my sermon for today led me to say that our next project to enhance the church must be to face the challenge of making the church a zero carbon foot-print building, using geothermal heating and photo-voltaic cells on the roof. There's a real danger that archtectural conservationists in CADW will be obstructive to these aims, and that doing battle with them on matters of princiciple may prove as difficult as fund-raising. I get the impression that members of the congregation understand the task, and know them, they won't shirk from it.

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