This afternoon, discussing repair work for a church tower, I pondered, what purpose the tower? Many are the repository of bells. Some hold the village clock or sundial. In border or coastal areas, they served as lookouts or defensive structures. Above all, they serve as markers.
One of my first challenges here was finding my way around. Stonham Aspal, Earl Stonham and Coddenham were easy; prominently located on main thoroughfares. Others, hidden by folds of the land or screened by trees, are more of a challenge; especially for a motorist. Approach by foot and the view changes. From hill to hill, these same buildings can be seen from quite a distance, and it is often the tower that first proclaims, ‘God is here, in this place, this community’.
Unlike the motor roads, placed to hasten traffic on its way, footpaths give us time to consider where we are going. The earliest histories of all our buildings lie buried deeply in the soils of time. More ancient still are the paths that lead to and fro; routes to bring us into the presence of God, routes for us to carry God back into the world. Towers were built to make God’s presence, and the presence of God’s people more visible. They were built to last.
The church tower stands as a symbol; bidding us, guiding us, to a place to encounter God. They stand also as a faithful testimony to the work of past generations who have cared for them, and those who care for them still. Though built to last, towers need maintenance; they will not stand long unaided.
Today a church tower needs maintenance. As we ponder the work required [access for craftsmen, care for bats, funding of work], I am reminded that it is not just these stones that need maintenance. St Peter reminds us that we all, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house. (1 Peter 2:5). As a building of living stones, we too need careful maintenance: in prayer, in worship, in sacrament; if we are to play our part proclaiming the presence of God in our communities.
Rev Philip Payne
The Pew Sheet for 20 June 2021 can be found here.