Today I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Tomorrow, All Saints' Day, we celebrate the completion - apart from a few 'finishing off jobs' - of the big restoration at St Stephen Parish Church. Bishop Tim will be with us at 6pm and I'm sure it will be a great occasion. Everyone has worked so hard to get to this stage, and I think we can be justifiably proud of what we have achieved together.
But it's hard to see what has been done! So, a few thoughts...
If you'd like to see more photos of the church past and present, and more information about the project, there is currently a small exhibition in church. Do come and have a look.
Summer 2013. Sunday lunchtime. I take a quick iPhone photo of a wall plate in church that is detaching itself from the wall, and email David Scott.
‘I think we have a bit of a problem.’
Monday morning. David comes out to see for himself. A long length of oak was now resting on top of the spotlights, revealing a bit more than ‘a bit of a problem’ behind.
‘I don’t think your photo did it justice!’, he said.
So, we had a big problem. Thankfully Gloweth were already on site, and hastily removed the wall plate, making the church safe. I continued with my planned time off, my mind rather occupied by the possible extent of a problem that had been revealed. Not just a bit of dust and cobwebs, not just some fixings that had deteriorated. Dry rot. And, we were later informed, a perfect example of cubiform dry rot. It was almost so good, English Heritage told us, that we could be proud of it! Oh, good. I always think if a job is worth doing, it has to be done properly. So we have a big problem, with ‘proper’ dry rot, and another job on our hands.
Deep breath. Nothing to be done until we did some further investigations.
Experts, specialists. Poking of plaster, digging around in the dark, sharp sucking of teeth...
Pound signs before everyone’s eyes were growing bigger all the time. So we had a challenge. A big challenge, but the sort of challenge that we weren’t quite sure how big was going to get, not until we started work properly. No matter, we’re always up for a challenge. Panic not. It needs fixing, so we’ll fix it, for our community and to make God’s house fit and right again.
The promise of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant bought hope... and another challenge. ‘Raise the match-funded balance in nine months’. It seemed like a mountain. Impossible almost. ‘But nothing is impossible with God’ rang in my ears. Yes, there were many sleepless nights, over many months! There were many forms, many emails, many phone calls, many well-crafted letters. There were many documents, many photos... There were many prayers, there was much support and help for which we are all so grateful. There was a great response to our appeal. We did it! £230,000 altogether in just over a year.
May 2015. Work begins...
Then began a long succession contractors.
Not just any contractors. At first just Steve and Melville. They are stars. I will miss them. Then more contractors, all highly skilled, brilliant to work with, and who went on to complete such a fabulous job. I think I bored my Facebook friends by waxing lyrical about pretty rag slates, and how much dust lime plaster creates, and how to create sacred space around scaffolding...
But you won’t get me up ladders in my flip flops. Health and Safety you know. Clogs aren’t safe either... Yep, my summer footwear was all carefully planned. I don’t do ladders.
There was a lot of careful hard work, sweat, and tears (the latter mine not theirs, at least as far as I know!). There was even blood in the first week... I don’t do blood either (but nearly had to!).
There was also a lot laughter, and disbelief that I was a ‘vicar’ and not simply the lady with the keys. Took a while for that particular penny to drop with some! And tea, lots of tea. And trips to St Dennis for pasties. St Dennis?! And there was cake. But project managing wasn’t always a walk in the park, (or piece of cake). A project of this size never comes without its pressures and additional problems, but thank goodness for Chris Hunter’s patience and good humour on so many occasions. Things we could deal with.
And then there were the things that were beyond anyone’s control. There was rain... outside and in as Cornish monsoon season seemed to arrive just as the roof had been stripped! The summer of 2015. Pans, buckets, plastic coverings; rain dripping everywhere and making rhythms and sounds to rival any samba band. I laughed! I posted a video on Facebook. But after a while the novelty wore off, none of us were finding it that funny any more.
But we survived! We more than survived. It’s a great comfort to know that the rot and roof is dealt with, and all is watertight, safe and secure. We have a lovely church building, now beautifully decorated, ready for our Heritage projects to commence.
You’d almost never know anyone had been here... and that’s the sign of a great restoration. Many, many thanks to everyone who has been involved. It really has been a pleasure to work with you all.
And looking forward?
I'll be pleased to have some kind of 'normality' again!
More tea, Vicar?