I am lucky enough to have spent most of my childhood making things and (re)inventing my own way of life. There have recently been some kind comments about my chapel on Facebook as well as a question about whether I made or bought my choir stalls. I think I already discussed the matter of putting our creative efforts into building chapels or adapting buildings in Churches of the Future. I gave my advice from experience to others in this posting, and each priest or community of faithful needs to weigh up things like financial resources and abilities in working wood, metal and fabrics.
We live in a consumer world in which everything is made by specialised professionals to a degree of perfection beyond the technology of ordinary people. You need a lot of money to buy the desired thing, and when it no longer functions as designed, repair would cost more than a new appliance, so it is thrown away and the cycle begins anew: you buy a new one. Motor vehicles are somewhere between the extremes. The vehicle is repaired when it goes wrong, but by replacing a whole unit or sub-assembly that requires a high degree of technology to make or repair. Gone are the days when your local mechanic or ordinary guy with some knowledge and inventiveness could make at least a temporary repair just to get you home.
I’ll end my Luddite rant there, because I use high-technology just to do my blog and my job to earn my living, among other things. How many of us could go back to living like in the nineteenth century? There are people who try it on their own, in families and small communities. Preppers take a great interest in learning to live the old way, in case the modern social, technological and financial system collapses. Total self-sufficiency is an illusion, which makes money for businesses who produce manufactured equipment for “preppers”. It seems more of a philosophy or life or a hobby than anything else. I have found the idea tempting, but a critical look will show that we are trying to fit square pegs into round holes. If the world collapses as some people seem to want it to do, then we are in big trouble, whether we stay in the mould or try to “make it” in some remote place.
Realism demands us to accept the fact that we can try to compromise between self-sufficiency and being a part of “The Pit” whilst the system is operational (and we are paying for it), and then we have to accept that life on this earth is finite, and that most of us will be gone and forgotten without a trace. It is the message of Ash Wednesday and Lent, the foundation of our relationship with God. Our preparation is of a spiritual order, because humanity is fragile outside the narrow range of conditions the sustain it on this earth.
That being said, we can do the maximum of what is possible. Many of us take satisfaction in making what is within our own technology and capabilities. I have had training in woodwork and using machines safely. I learn things quickly and have turned my hand to many things like plumbing, electricity and masonry – more recently to boat rigging. DIY has become a big industry and materials are expensive, again, industrially mass produced with high technology. In most countries, DIY shops are even bigger than our supermarkets and shopping centres. We can beat the system to some extent by buying timber from small suppliers, but you still have to pay for it!
Someone asked me whether I bought or made my choir stalls or indeed most of the objects in my chapel. I was given a single stall some years ago by an old parish priest. It was lying around in storage. A good clean and polish transformed the stall, which you can see in this photo, and which I use as a bishop’s throne. It was last sat in by Archbishop Hepworth when he came over to France in 2011 to dedicate my chapel. It now has above it the arms of the ACC’s Diocese of the United Kingdom – and symbolises the fact that what I do in this chapel is under Episcopal oversight, that of Bishop Damien Mead. This stall inspired my design of the three stalls each side of the chapel. I bought pieces of good-quality oak to make the seats and sides. The “filling-in” is stained plywood and commercial mouldings to create fake panelling. After staining, I polished the wood with the terrific beeswax polish you can get from the monks of the Abbey of Saint Wandrille.
Normally, choir stalls are for clerics or monks, but I was sitting in cathedral choir stalls in my tender years to attend evensong in York Minster. Lay people attending services in the choir of a church is established practice in Anglicanism. My chapel is inspired more by the college chapel idea than the medieval notion of the people being kept outside the choir, as still prevails in Eastern Orthodox churches with the iconostatis. If people come to Mass in my chapel, they occupy the choir stalls. If there are more than six (which is very rare), I can add an old organ bench and a couple of stools. Having people facing each other like clerics encourages the idea of a community and “breaks the ice”. I encourage the “collegiate” arrangement in a church.
One criticism of small independent churches has haunted me over the years, our lack of long-term stability and permanence. When we priest-owners die, everything disappears without trace, unless someone from the Diocese has the generosity to go in a van and collect all the chapel stuff and books not wanted by the priest’s widow. What is precious to us is worthless junk to others – another source of realism and humility. Sometimes, our Continuing Churches can find stability at a diocesan level, and I hope I will be able to “leave traces” in this way. That being said, we live at a time when everything goes to waste – the finest churches of England, the schools, theological colleges, monasteries, even libraries where knowledge and history are preserved. The earth itself is being laid waste by short-sighted man, a species that wants to forget its own history and archive of knowledge. O when, O when, will we see the end of the tunnel? How long, O Lord?
If we do or make anything in life, it is a gesture or hope and a desire to give rather than consume everything. To end, here are a few quotes from Nikolai Berdyaev that I find poignant on creativity. These are some of the ideas that motivate me.