The Oxygen UK study tour officially kicked off today as the group (or most of us) gathered at Cheltenham to begin our time together.
Before hitting Cheltenham, Sheri and I had a few more hours exploring with friends – this time in the historic town centre of Warwick. Part of our wanderings took us into the old Collegiate Church of St Mary.
For an Australian, it’s always a freaky thing to be walking through a building this old – parts of the church dating back into the 12th century. Our land and people have thousands of years of history, but we don’t have many buildings that exceed 200 years of age.
As we explored the various chapels, nooks and crypts tucked away, and threaded our way between tombs, memorial stones and stood in wonder at the massive pipe organ that puts anything the UC in Tasmania has to shame, I pondered a couple of things.
Firstly, this building stands as a testimony to the people who have inhabited it for the last 900 years. For that time, the building has been continuously home to a christian faith community, and it represents all that has been important to that community. It is, in a sense, their legacy for the generations that follow. Etched in stone are their stories, captured in windows and carvings are their heros, all to be passed on down through history.
It got me to thinking, as one who isn’t that committed to preserving church buidlings, what will be the legacy of my own faith community? If we don’t leave behind an amazing building to tell our stories, what will we leave? Or if we simply concentrate on being all that we can be, practicing justive, love and mercy, does it matter if we don’t leave any concrete, physical legacy at all?
My second realisation came as I moved from one part of the building to the next. Each area included information recording that date it was built, who were the significant people involved in the extension, addition or reconstruction, and the purposes for which the various parts of the cburch were built. This is a building that by its nature records something of the journey of its people, the building has changed, grown, morphed over the generations. It doesn’t represent a single historic community, but rather a story that has unfolded over centuries.
But now, in our desperation to preserve our heritage, this building has been snap-frozen. The most recent memorial I found was from the middle of the 19th century. The most recent significant building works somewhere around the same period. I could go back to this church in 20, 50, or 200 years and it will remain the same – no longer telling the living story of a faith community, but now frozen in time somewhere in the mid 1800′s. It’s one of the flaws of the heritage system in Australia too – we end up preserving a picture of our heritage at a moment in time for a particular building or community, rather than valuing the ongoing story of that community – and the values that underlie the bricks and stones.
And we are, in my view, the poorer for it.
Following our Warwick ramblings we headed for Cheltenham, and hooked up with Cheryl, Nicole and most of the rest of the Oxygen tourists (a few more will arrive tommorrow morning). It was a relaxed beginning to our time together as we shared dinner and started telling our stories to each other.
Tomorrow will be a chance to explore Cheltenham, to start our preparation for Greenbelt, and to spend the evening sharing the company of many of those who plan and host the Greenbelt festival each year.
It should be a fun day!