By John Ellis
It is 55 years since Hoole Congregational Church moved out of a tin hut in a back street to splendid new premises on the main street. Someone with wise foresight ensured there was space for a large car park. The anniversary provided an opportunity for me to visit this part of Chester and lead worship in this striking building.
We were able to mark a milestone of human history too as we presented Miss Barbara Nuttall with a certificate to celebrate her 65 years on the diaconate and eldership of the church. The building would of course have been pointless without faithful people using it as a base for worship and witness.
Nonetheless strolling around the Hoole area the significance of buildings struck me afresh. There are at least four Christian communities meeting in close proximity and the URC building looks by far the best set of premises. In some of our churches the building is a problem but in many it is a major asset. On a conservative estimate, the United Reformed Church has £1,500,000,000 of wealth tied up in our buildings: we are billionaires!
Are we as imaginative as we might be in how we use our buildings? Many of our church halls are busy with activity but often the smartest part of our premises is only in use on Sunday mornings. Some of our buildings now express the characteristic URC commitment to ecumenism by providing hospitality to a variety of Christian groups, even though this often needs some flexibility on the part of all parties.
At Mission Council the previous weekend we encouraged a fresh energy for the Joint Property Strategy Group with the Methodist Church to help us be creative and innovative in our stewardship of property. But, as usual, what will really make a difference is local initiative.