Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Holy, or wholly accessible?

At 10.30 this morning, the planning committee of Exmoor National Park will sit at its headquarters in an old Victorian workhouse, behind the statue of local heroine Lorna Doone in Dulverton, to decide whether All Saints Church at the top of the hill should be allowed to have a new road put across its ancient graveyard for "vehicular access".

This is a hot issue for the locals of this medieval wool town, just the Somerset side of the Devon border. For metropolitan visitors and tourists, it is the sort of ecclesiastical drama that surely ranks somewhere between Trollope and The Archers.

But it is more than that. The "Grasscrete" and tarmac road into All Saints is a prime example of how the church is torn between modernity and tradition. Unless the church offers access, in every sense, to the community it serves, then it will die as a museum piece. That's one view. Then there's: don't mess with the tranquillity of this beautiful example of our holy architectural heritage.

Government and the Church of England seem inclined to the former view. Last month, culture secretary Andy Burnham proposed the introduction of health surgeries, post offices and day-care centres in churches, an initiative that was welcomed by, among others, Dr Richard Chartres, Bishop of London.

But in a tightly knit market town such as Dulverton, there are resentful mutterings about what this means. To townsfolk it sounds anachronistic, but many of them won't speak out because so much local trade is intimately integrated. And that includes the church.

More here-

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