Monument or Movement?

What do the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, the Provincial Government Buildings in Christchurch, New Zealand, the island of Saint Helena and Preston Bus Station all have in common?

Well, apparently this week they have all been included in the World Monuments Fund's 2012 list of historic buildings in danger of loss… The ruins of Coventry Cathedral and Napoleon’s place of incarceration on St. Helena are at risk because of natural erosion, the Christchurch buildings have been endangered because of the earthquake earlier in the year, while Preston Bus Station is being threatened with demolition… It is one of 3 buildings on the list which are described as examples of British Brutalism, along with the Central Library in Birmingham, and the Heywood Gallery in the South Bank Centre in London… Frankly, I think that the only reason for keeping any of those 3 is as a warning to future generations of what NOT to do with thousands of tonnes of concrete.

This list is produced every year, and we’ve had two Northern Irish buildings on it in the past: in 2008 Richhill House in Armagh was included … whilst in 2010 they listed Carlisle Memorial Church, referred to by some of my fellow Methodists as the erstwhile Cathedral of Belfast Methodism (and the photo at the head of this post).

I love old buildings and finding out about their history (as my children know to their cost on holiday) and am appalled at some of the unnecessary cultural vandalism carried out in the name of progress… particularly where that progress involves shopping malls and multi-storey carparks. I’m with Churchill who said “We shape our buildings: thereafter they shape us.” However, buildings are not the be all and end all of a society… The mark of a truly great society is not how it maintains its old buildings… but how it looks after its old people… Not how we pour money into monuments to the past, but how we invest in the children who are our future…

And this is even more the case with the church… The world is constantly changing and church buildings quickly become monuments to a bygone age… some more attractive than others… I doubt that anyone would rush to put a preservation order on my church building in Ballybeen… But the church is not supposed to be a monument but a movement… not a building but the body of Christ… And whilst the loss of the spire of Carlisle Memorial may radically alter the Belfast skyline, we need to ask ourselves what positive difference does the continued presence of countless congregations across this land make to the society around us?

Well, this was my last BBC Radio Ulster Thoughts for the Day for a while broadcast this morning... I was only supposed to do September, but due to public demand I was asked back for another week - if truth be told, they wanted me to do another week as I escaped doing one on the Friday before 9/11 as they asked the US Consul to do it instead...
Actually, I wrote this a couple of days in advance as I knew I would be busy all Wednesday and Thursday, and when I sent it to the producer for approval, said that I hoped nothing significant happened in the interim... of course since then we've had the PM getting into trouble over an ill-drafted speech referring to  Credit Card debts, Sarah Palin saying that she's not running for President next year, and, biggest of all for all the Apple addicts out there, the death of Steve Jobs...
But I decided to go with this anyway, on the basis that I didn't have any time to write anything else as I hadn't originally planned to be writing anything for Thought for the Day this week!... Ah well, you can't be up to the minute all the time...


this maybe a little after the fact but the Christchurch provincial buildings are almost a pile of rubble after the earthquake of Feb 22 2011. see

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