Sydney Opera House
I believe that BUILDING and CHRISTIAN FAITH AND
THEOLOGY are parts of one sphere of life. My ministry project has been
to endeavour to make that a reality. This website tells the story.
In the title I use the adjectives 'Reformed'
because the United Reformed Church in the UK is my base and 'Ecumenical'
because everything is done in partnership.
A BUILDER: BEING A CHURCH MEMBER
and my father were local builders at
. They owned their
own small business. My grandmother and my father were fully committed
members of the local Congregational Church. The building business gave
the family a worthwhile task to carry out in the community, while their
church membership gave them a sound moral base for their relationships
with customers, employees, bankers and others. What I saw in them of
faith-based morality and behaviour I also experienced at Brentwood
with its motto Virtue,
For ten years I
followed on, first with a Diploma in Building Management and then with
with firms in Ilford in
, Felixstowe in
, and Norwich
in Norfolk. These were larger firms than
I had known at home but small enough for me to discern what made them
tick - a mix of sound business sense, a commitment to good quality
building work and an equal commitment to good ethics. It so happened
that one of the directors of the Ilford firm and one of the
firm were Methodist Local Preachers.
There was no hypocrisy about them; they practised what they preached.
They helped my continuing but largely passive church membership to make
some sense in relation to building and business. I completed my
membership of the Chartered Institute of Building and started to wonder
what being a professional might mean.
death brought me back to the family business and the
two years. I could probably have
stayed for life but I needed to move on. I had my foundations; now I
needed some structure and to make new kinds of connections and discover
the nature of my own contributions.
THE BUILDING INDUSTRY: SERVING THE CHURCH
I found (or was
found by) two appointments which opened up new worlds for me. The first
was as a staff member of The Chartered Institute of Building in Bedford
. There I met senior leading builders
from all over the country, some of the younger and ambitious members of
their firms, professors and leading academics in the fields of building
technology and management, and colleagues from the professions of
architecture, structural engineering and quantity surveying. My civil
service-like task was to help prepare Institute views on topical matters
and draft publications on professional practice activities. This was
working for the good of the Chartered Institute, its members and their
industry, and the society served.
I moved on to
the National House-Building Council (NHBC) in Portland Place
. This was much nearer the front line.
NHBC was the statutorily-recognised registration, standards, inspection
and warranty body for some 20 000 house-builders developing up to 150
000 houses per year for private sale throughout the
UK. My main task was as Technical
Secretary advising the Standards Committee of house-builders and
customer interests on what the design and construction standards needed
to be to get the right matches between technical performance and cost,
always bearing in mind the needs of first time house-buyers. This was an
unremitting search for 'the right way' for the buyers, builders and
mortgagors, and society at large.
weekday jobs were pressured, work for the church took the form of
compensating relief. I qualified as a Nationally Accredited Lay Preacher
in the United Reformed Church and enjoyed Sunday visits to lead worship
in mostly small and ordinary places on the edge of London
and out into the
coast and countryside. There was no responsibility
except that of doing an interesting and creative task appropriately and
well. This was a different form of service from the weekday one. It gave
me a work/Sabbath model of life. The connectedness was in that
contrasting and mutually enriching pattern.
The United Reformed Church, as in most places, is round the back
BUILDING: RESEARCHING THEOLOGY
Ten years in
house-building was enough . a great industry but very tightly focused. I
able to move on to the Construction Industry Research and Information
Association (CIRIA) based in
. CIRIA was basically a system by which
firms of contractors, consultants and public bodies can combine to
research issues of common concern and obtain government financial
contributions if the outcome of the work was published. My task as a
Research Manager was to work with members on identifying issues and then
put in place an appropriate person or firm to carry out the detailed
work. Projects varied from formulating procedural advice for clients to
highly technical matters requiring original investigations or the
evaluation of site experience.
|The Queen Elizabeth II Conference
We watched its construction from our
Central Hall Westminster
Right next door to our office
At one stage my
committee was particularly committed and enthusiastic. It discovered
it contained two Methodist Local Preachers (again!, see Connection 1), a
very dynamic Roman Catholic 'Liverpudlian' who had started life as a
bricklayer and become an innovative and realistic engineer, two
delightful Anglicans and two motivated, ethical agnostics - plus me by
then a candidate for the URC ministry! For the two or three years that
this group was in existence I was conscious that here really was the
'church-at-work', the Body of Christ incarnate in the world.
My weekend focus
had moved to the William Temple Foundation's scheme for the study of
Christian Theology and Urban Industrial Life, an extra-mural activity of
the University of Manchester
. For three years I was able to work on
a project digging out biblical and practical theological insights to
issues thrown up in the various building jobs I had had.
My building and
theological researches were tending to converge in the area of
relationships, competencies, trust, ethics and integrity - integrity as
both a moral quality and as wholeness, the whole thing or process, the
good that is more than the sum of the parts. I took away with me into
the university world a desire to do more in this area.
'BUILDING AND SOCIETY': DEVELOPING 'CHURCH AND SOCIETY'
While I had, and
ever increasingly have, great respect for the
, the lay church, the
people of God, it had long seemed to me that ordained Ministers in
Secular Employment, Tentmaker ministers (after
St Paul) and worker priests had a
special contribution to make both theologically and pastorally. There
are people who do this in the hard world of the building industry and
they too deserve unlimited respect. However, I felt that for me ordained
ministry would be best developed in a university context.
The moment came
when I could join what is now
as a lecturer and tutor in
Building Management at the
campus. After a long time working with
the relatively good and great in the industry and professions I was
placing myself in the hands of young and not so young students who were
exceedingly down to earth and at the same time highly idealistic. One
survives! I took people and communication issues as my main Management
themes and was able to broaden out to wider built environment issues
heading of Building and Society. Over time, colleagues asked me to
develop programmes on Professionalism, Values and Ethics in Architecture
and Town Planning, including John Ruskin's architectural values. My
theological studies had given me a base from which to work. Somehow it
seemed natural to agree to be a lead pastoral tutor helping students
with personal issues, and a lead dissertation tutor, where students have
an opportunity to
explore particular interests and, if they wish, their own values,
beliefs and motivations.
. How did what I was doing there connect
with the Eastern Synod of the United Reformed Church? As Church and
Society committee secretary I believed we had to make it connect. Every
six months we took a regional environment or development topic such as
housing, water or roads, went to a specific place for a weekend, paid
visits, discussed issues over dinner with people involved, integrated
our findings into the local Sunday service and published a leaflet for
the churches of the Synod. Some enthused over the connections, some
thought ... I don't know what.
WORSHIP ON MONDAY: TALKING BUILDING ON SUNDAY
Chaplaincy at Anglia Ruskin University Chelmsford Campus started in two
Anglican Diocese of Chelmsford was preparing to fund a full-time
appointment while at the same time I and another ordained minister on
the academic staff and colleagues who were Elders and Readers in their
churches sensed that part at least of our ministries should be integral
with our work in the university. Over time a .chaplaincy team.,
monitored by the Chaplaincy Council and led by our full-time colleague,
became a reality. One of the core
tasks of the team was to institute a pattern of daily worship including
prayers for the university community and its life. Prior to the
beginning of most semesters we have held a team 'awayday' with
campus chaplaincy colleagues and to
which we have invited others who share our interests in spiritual and
pastoral matters, including our chaplaincy colleagues from the Jewish,
Muslim, Hindu and other faiths. These have always been off-campus,
sometimes at Pleshey, the diocesan retreat house and sometimes at Little
Baddow URC where I am minister. After various moves, the home of
chaplaincy is in a flat in the
and is open 24/7 with food and a sitting room always available for any in
need. Worship and spiritual life
is very much a weekday, on the job activity.
Cambridge Inter-faith group
On about half
the Sundays in the year I visited local URC congregations to lead their
worship. Experiences from teaching, student pastoral care and chaplaincy
were the real life components of my preaching, prayers and liturgy. They
had to be as there was no time to develop any other angles. Most
congregations saw the point of this and some linked it up with the
university experiences of their grandchildren and so on. As I shall show
in Connection 6 there are enormously rich links between the Bible and
buildings and builders so sermons were never short of an illustration.
experience for me was that of leading the academic and worship parts of
a residential weekend for the Regional Ministerial Training Course on
the theme of building as part of all our lives and as profession and
vocation for some us. Luckily an active building site was right next
door to the conference centre at Ely where we were.
Ely Cathedral Octogon
A building miricle!
THE BIBLE: TRAVELLING THE WORLD
Particularly in the Reformed strand of Christian tradition, the Bible is
the basis for
everything. It seemed to me that if I was to justify my commitment to
both the world of building and the Reformed tradition I had to make some
hard-wired connections between the biblical text and story and the
worlds of building, buildings and the built environment. I decided to do
this in a disciplined way for MPhil and PhD degrees.
In the MPhil
work I set up four pairs of scenarios for comparison and discussion.
These were: (1) Solomon's building projects in
and the then topical project for the
restoration of parts of the Queen's Apartments at Windsor
following a major fire; (2) the
strong prophetic teaching on social justice with building illustrations
in Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah and the political and economic issues
relating to housing in the
UK; (3) Moses' approach to moral law in
business-like activities and issues relating the moral and legal
relationships affecting particularly sub-contractors in the building
industry; and (4) details and nuances from Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and
Job and 'wisdom' in the building professions.
Solomon's Temple, Jerusalem
|Windsor Castle after fire
For the PhD work
I made detailed geographical and historical studies of the built
environments of Chelmsford Borough in the UK
, 1000 year story, and a part of
, a story of a mere 200 years in
European terms but much longer in Aborigine terms. These stories were
related to beginnings in early Genesis, wonder and beauty in relation to
some of the Psalms, the significance of structures in relation to
Nehemiah's wall of
Jerusalem, cost and worth in relation to
parts of John's Gospel and homes in relation to parts of Revelation.
|Shire Hall, Chelmsford
convinced me that if work is done at depth it is possible to be both
intellectually and faith-fully certain that the issues and experiences
of building today have resonance with both biblical times and places,
and biblically-based enduring values. That could possibly be looked upon
as the defining work of a self-supporting Reformed minister in building.
CHURCH AS PLACE
: DISCERNING THE PLACE OF BUILDING
For much of the
time covered by Connections 2-6 above I was largely a wanderer in church
terms. A time comes when wandering has to reduce and 'staying' and
'dwelling' and 'being' have to take greater prominence. Thus I was glad
when the opportunity came to be Minister at Little Baddow URC to the
east of Chelmsford
. Like many UR
churches its origins are in the
controversies of the 16th and 17th centuries. In the case of Little
Baddow the story firms up in the 1620's when Thomas Hooker and John
Eliot, dissenting from Bishop Laud of
and others, set up house, school and a
meeting place for dissenting ministers at Cuckoos Farm. In 1662 the
incumbent of St Mary's Church, Thomas Gilson, broke away. Although he
personally went back, a nonconformist congregation has continued. In
1707 land was given and a Chapel built, to be followed at a later time
by a Manse. This is now one of the oldest operating chapels in
. With its grounds it is a place, quiet
and beautiful, in the countryside yet within minutes of fast road and
rail links to
. The Reformed are not much given to
talk of 'holy places' but this I believe is such. It is spiritually
close to St Peter's Chapel at Bradwell, the Saxon base of St Cedd,
apostle to the
, and the home of Essex Christianity. A
natural style of worship for use here is that of Iona Abbey.
|Iona Abbey, Scotland
recently rebuilt cloister
Awareness of place and at Little Baddow a place to belong has made me
increasingly think that builders, architects, town planners and
their/our fellow professionals, are contributors to the making of
places. Places are physical in terms of buildings and infrastructure,
mental in terms of their activities and economies, and spiritual in what
they come to be and mean. It is important for young and not so young but
new professional in university to read and think about what was, is and
will be really happening when bricks are laid, views from windows
changed and people housed - or left un-housed. Over more than a decade
Anglia Ruskin has been incrementally
building and occupying a new campus on old factory sites alongside the
River Chelmer. The initial hardware of place is nearly complete but the
spiritual building of place has only just begun. The place of building,
it seems to me, is to begin the building of place, a work to be
completed long after the original builders have gone.
OF MANKIND: CITY OF GOD
This section is
in the process of being to be lived.
environments are to a major extent about cities. One can visit cities
physically. My most recent visits were to
Moscow, both entirely new to me. They
made many impressions. One was of great space and spaciousness
particularly in the squares. In England
we are so used to feeling cramped.
is wide open. The second impression was
the breathtaking beauty of white basilica church buildings crowned with
gold. Intellectually I was stunned by how different places were from
what I had imagined. The Kremlin with its great space, several
cathedrals and churches as well as government offices was a good place
to be for a morning.
is less than an hour away. Not only does
it give us itself, it opens doors on other cities. An exhibition in the
of pre-1960 etchings and litho-prints took one
into the very heart of
New York skyscrapers under construction,
domestic life in high rise flats, the loneliness of a rooming house,
evenings in parks and pubs, sunbathing on rooftops, art classes,
and much else. In a short visit
something can be experienced of a city distant in time.
Route to everywhere
|New York 1960
There are no
flights or trains to the City of God. Perhaps it's the place
and a thousand others come together as
one City of Mankind. In Russia
there are many churches of the
Transfiguration, of the transformed Jesus. Perhaps the City of Mankind
transfigured and transformed is and will
be the City of God.
In conclusion I
am going to make four comments.
First, it has
been neither wholly designed nor wholly fortuitous that this paper has
fallen into eight sections each describing one type and phase of
connection between building and Christian faith and theology. Frequently
fonts and baptisteries are eight-sided. It seems to me that these eight
types and phases are various aspects of what one is baptised to be and
do. Sometimes churches that place a high value on preaching are
octagonal in plan. These eight types and phases may be looked upon as
ways in which we hear and live the Word of God.
Octagonal Baptistery at Pisa
|Octagonal Chapel at Norwich
Second, as the
story has moved through the eight types and phases there has been a
corresponding movement from the 'being' of connection 1, through the
'doing' of connections 2-5 towards the 'thinking' of connections 6 and 7
to, finally, the 'contemplating' of connection 8. Perhaps this is the
way life unfolds.
sequence has included at least five of the categories of ministry that
churches seem to like to sort people into. Connection 1 was straight
forward Church Membership and connection 2 Accredited Lay Preaching.
Connections 3-6 were a mixture of Ministry in Secular Employment and
University Chaplaincy. Connection 7 is Local Church Ministry or
Tentmaking and connection 8 may become Retired Ministry.
Lastly, the picture below of an octagonal window is a reminder that
while it has eight
sides, its mullions and transomes mean it has nine panes of glass! So
there may be a ninth section yet to come apparent!