Letter from Mrs Vanessa Dixon (CR Companion) to The Church Times

Concern over planned reordering at Mirfield                                                                                                                                                                

From Mrs. Vanessa Dixon  

Sir,- I was shocked and dismayed to read the letter from ‘long-time friends and admirers of the Community of the Resurrection’.  I would describe myself thus too, as would many whose lives have been touched by the immeasurable contribution of CR to the life of the Church. The proposed plan for the church at Mirfield is inspirational.  Retaining the church in its present condition is not an option.  The boiler failed last winter, and the electrical wiring two years ago, so the lighting is at present sustained by a temporary collection of trailing wires.  It is a sorry sight.  Anyone who has visited recently will attest to that.  It does not glorify God, and CR deserves better. The floor of the church has to come up, as the only realistic option for a new heating system requires this. The removal of the steps will create access for disabled visitors and enable elderly brethren to get to the altar to celebrate the Eucharist again.  The beauty of this building, in the architecture of Walter Tapper, is expressed by the majestic arches and the space they hold within.  These will remain.  The new creation will be held within the historic structure.  

The church’s architectural merit is not in doubt. As a life member of the National Trust I believe that a fine historic building is an admirable thing. I am not by nature a lover of change, and felt strangely unsettled recently when I went to work to find that something had been moved!  However, a church building is not a stately home, but a sacred space for the glory of God.  As someone who worships in a church which was gutted by fire and subsequently reordered, I can vouch for the fact that the new can be both more beautiful and more user friendly than the old.  

It is extraordinary to suggest that reordering the church might ‘erase the first century of the Community’s life and witness’. Shall we forget Charles Gore, Walter Frere, Trevor Huddleston or Harry Williams?  Not likely!  Would these or their many other distinguished brethren think that the legacy of their work resided in bricks and mortar, and that the value of their contribution would be forgotten if the church building was altered?  I think it is insulting to suggest such a thing.  

If this Community does not take a bold step now, that history is likely to come to a rather abrupt full stop. If the courageous step is taken there will be the possibility of new life.  No-one denies that it is a risky venture, and it might fail, but the alternative is decline and death.  The great works of the last century were accomplished by tapping into the river of God ’s grace which flows on still, but it doesn’t need a collection of obstacles thrown into it.  In the proposed design for the new church floor we see the River of Life flowing out from the Sanctuary down through the nave: a potent symbol for the pilgrim to contemplate.  

Becoming a place of pilgrimage is a very important aspect of the vision for the future, as is connecting with young people through the new education centre and heritage centre, which will ensure that the history is not forgotten. Say to a young person, ‘Would you like to come and see a church preserved as it was in the last century, for great works were done by the Community which worshipped there?’, and I think you would get a rather rude response. (I have offspring!)  Ask them whether they would like to see a place transformed, where the sacred space contains a new work, where the River of Life flows. They just might come and look.

The Community have agonised long and hard over the way ahead, and it is hardly surprising if some of its members are not happy. They are embarking on a leap of faith, but shouldn’t they be?   CR encourages its supporters to discern the presence of the Risen Christ in every place and situation.  Is there any religious community, therefore, for which it is more appropriate to take the perilous path that could lead to new life?  

The great and rather complex history of CR is well documented, particularly in Canon Wilkinson’s centenary history, which I have read recently with great interest.  The final chapter contains these words: ‘CR has been most true to itself when it has taken risks and freed itself to live on the margins, on the frontiers and internalised that experience in prayer.  One type of pioneering is clearly over.  But there are other frontiers ...’  

I hope that CR’s friends will support them at this crucial time, and assist the new venture with prayer, finance, or in any way that they are able.  After all, the Church needs a bold vision for the future.  

Mrs. Vanessa Dixon.