Posts by NVBI

The blessing of Mathilde

We were delighted when Christian and Kerstin Lontzek came from their home in Halberstadt, Germany to spend three months in Aberlour.   Christian had found us two years ago when he and a friend camped in their car outside St Margaret’s and came to our service.    He returned last year with his wife Kerstin and then in July this year he and Sebastian Schmook, the other half in their duo of Pipe meets Organ, gave a wonderful concert in St Margaret’s.

In September Christian and Kerstin brought their daughter Mathilde and have been part of our congregation, bringing joy and music to our services.   On Sunday, the Rev Roy Vincent conducted a service of blessing in St Margaret’s for their daughter Mathilde.

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Antiques Valuation Day

Antiques Valuation Day at St Margaret’s Church 17th September 2016

A successful visit by three valuers from the auction house Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh took place on Saturday 17th September.   Inspired by the success of the Antiques Road Show, we held a day in the church for people to bring in their family treasures for evaluation and comment.   Coffee, tea and a generous supply of sandwiches and cakes were consumed while everyone waited their turn with the experts.    Items of all sorts were brought in, from gold curling medals to a child’s pedal tricycle to a 400 year old silver-gilt urn, and everyone enjoyed learning more about the history of their possessions.

It was a happy and sociable day, and we are most grateful to everyone who came.   The wonderful sum of £1,233.68 was raised for church funds, and we are particularly grateful to Colin Fraser, Theodora Burrell and Trevor Kyle for their knowledge and expertise, and for giving up their Saturday to enable our fundraising effort.

 

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Finished at last!

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From this….

 

We are delighted that thanks to generous funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Scotland,  donations from kind supporters and money raised after a great deal of hard work, we have achieved our goal of making the church wind and watertight for the foreseeable future.   There is nothing much to show for all the work except smart painted gutters and repaired downpipes, but high level repairs were always going to be visually unrewarding, and the best we can say is that we have prepared the building for the next stage of the project, with planning for this taking place over the winter.

However there are two hurdles to cross before we can plan with confidence:  the first of course is to raise enough money, and the second vital part of the planning is to exclude the bats from the building.   We cannot expect the community to use the building with pleasure if bats are flying about above their heads!  The health and safety issue is paramount, but the damage they are doing to the fabric of the building and its fixtures and fittings is very depressing.

We have applied to Scottish Natural Heritage for an exclusion order:  watch this space!

 

to this!

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The key to the future….

An article in The Times on Saturday 29th June 2013 seems particularly apposite for us at St Margaret’s as we carry out repairs on our A listed church, and consider the best way forward for the future.   It was written by the Ven David Meara, Archdeacon of London, and is reproduced here to encourage us in our task, and to remind us again that so many parishes are facing the same problems!

Thomas Hardy succinctly summed the competing aspects of church buildings: “To the incumbent the church is a workshop.  To the antiquary a relic.  To the parish it is a utility.  To the outsider a luxury.”  To Hardy these expectations were incompatible, but that is no longer true today.

The Church of England is the custodian of 16,000 churches, 12,000 of them listed as of historic and architectural importance.  Their maintenance is the responsibility of local people – a heavy burden in small parishes.

The Society of Antiquaries of London recently hosted a conference on the theme “Piety in Peril”, bringing together statutory and national bodies to examine our ecclesiastical heritage.

The challenge is threefold.  First, while our parish churches constitute an unique architectural record and contain fixtures and fittings of national importance, they are first and foremost places of worship and mission.

Tensions do undoubtedly arise when a parish wants a comprehensive reordering or the utilisation of some part of the church for an office, a kitchen, a lavatory or a meeting space, but one of the messages of this conference was that with sufficient creativity, pre-planning and goodwill such differing needs can be brought together in harmony.

The National Churches Trust has made many grants for the improvement of facilities so that wider community use may be possible, and the revised criteria for Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grants stress engaging more people with the heritage asset and benefitting the whole community.

This value-for-money approach, quite rightly, puts pressure on churches to make their facilities available to as wide a range of people as possible.  We need to broaden our base of community support, find new partnerships and explore new ways of managing these precious buildings so that as many people as possible can benefit from them.

The second challenge is financial.  In years to come we shall face an increasing burden of church maintenance costs right across Europe, with the decline in state funding and the drop in charitable giving as we weather the recession.

Around 70% of the money for church repairs is raised locally, supported by various grants and charities.  In the UK the HLF has given more than £400 million to over 3,700 places of worship since 1994.  This year £30 million will be available “to help breathe new life into places of worship” with individual grants of £10,000 to £250,000 for listed structures.  As well as reducing the repair backlog, HLF funding will also help provide new facilities “to ensure these important historic buildings can be used and enjoyed more widely by their local communities”.  So, alongside urgent repairs, “funding will be provided for new work to extend community use such as toilets, kitchens, lighting and heating”.

In addition the Church Buildings Council and the National Churches Trust make grants for maintenance, repair and new facilities.  There is money available from a variety of sources, and churches need to be more proactive in making application for these funds.

The third challenge is a spiritual one, highlighted by Linda Monckton of English Heritage, who drew figures from the 2011 census to show the 11% decline in the numbers of those professing the Christian faith over the past ten years, and the corresponding rise of those who profess no religion (14 million, up from 6m in 2001).  This steady process of secularisation means that there is less understanding within society about the role of the church in the community and correspondingly less willingness to see ecclesiastical buildings as deserving extra protection and funding.  As congregations in rural areas tend to be small, and the band of willing volunteers grows older, so the stewarding of our ecclesiastical heritage buildings becomes harder.

As one conference speaker said, “Congregations keep buildings alive”, and the best way to ensure our historic churches remain in good repair is to grow lively congregations committed to open their buildings to the wider community and to share their faith in imaginative ways.

One issue that no amount of money or manpower can tackle is the problem of bats in churches.  More than 6,400 parish churches are used by bats, which are protected under UK and European law as endangered species.  Unfortunately, bat droppings and urine cause terrible damage to fixtures and fittings.  At Wiggenhall St Germans in Norfolk, for example, the congregation has spent £29,000 trying to resolve the problem.  The damage and cost there and elsewhere is unsustainable, and the law needs amending urgently.

In spite of this warning, the message of the conference was a positive one.  Our churches are in a better state of repair than they have been for many years, and there are resources available to help maintain and adapt them.

Churches need to broaden their support in their communities and find imaginative ways of opening their buildings to wider use.  If we understand our church buildings better we will value them more, care for them more effectively and involve more people in their stewardship.  With energy and a more flexible mindset the incompatibilities of which Thomas Hardy spoke can be resolved, and our churches can be saved and enhanced for future generations.

Slowly, slowly….

DSC_6859 DSC_6867Work is progressing slowly with the repairs to the church.   More of the fascia boards than we had hoped are having to be replaced, but a really good bit of news is that we have been given an Exclusion Order to try and keep our resident bat population out of the church.   A maternity box has been put up so that the bats can still breed, but are prevented from actually getting in to the building itself.

Cold, wet and windy weather has made life difficult for the workmen, but the bats have also been slow to wake up after their winter hibernation.   With any luck, the precautions taken to exclude them from the church have been put in place just in time to persuade them to move into the lovely warm bat box which has been on the exterior of the building awaiting occupation since 2008!

We are on the way at last!

At last we have embarked on our programme of repairs to St Margaret’s.   Snow is holding things up but the scaffolding should be complete next week and the contractors will start their work.   When taken down, most of the guttering proved to be too worn to be reused, so more has had to be bought.

After consultation with Scottish Natural Heritage, we have applied for a Bat Exclusion Licence.   In 2008, efforts were made to encourage our population of pipistrelle bats to move out of the church and into various bat boxes which have been put up on trees round the church, and one  heated box attached to the building.   These have not yet tempted the bats to move!  There has been correspondence in various newspapers about bats, churches, and people.   If those reluctant to disturb the bats (ours are the most common of the species) were on the cleaning roster for their church, or even attended services, concerts etc in a building inhabited by bats flying about above their heads, they might feel less well disposed towards the colonies in their church.  We realise it may take some time to exclude the complete colony, but we are hopeful of eventual success.

It is very good to think that we have at last started with our efforts to keep St Margaret’s Church in good repair and ready for whatever the 21st century may bring.   We would not have arrived at this moment without financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland, and all our generous donors.   A great deal of hard work is on going, and we are most grateful to all who have so kindly supported us.

At last!

It seems a long time since we were given the good news that under the Repair Grant for Places of Worship, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Scotland, we were to be given funding for repairs to St Margaret’s.   The total estimated cost of repairs to the roof, stonework, guttering and downpipes, including the cost of scaffolding for three months, is £177,664.

The funding table is made up of £66,429 from Historic Scotland, £65,900 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £23,746 in VAT repayment and £21,589 from St Margarets.

We have now had HLF’s Permission to Start on the delivery phase and our contractors, McKerron & Milne from Rothes, will move in with cherry pickers at the beginning of November.   They will remove guttering and downpipes, replacing them with temporary PVC ones to see us through the winter while the originals are repaired, cleaned and repainted ready for reinstallation when the scaffolding goes up in March.   Work will then start on the joiner work, slating, repointing with lime mortar, and replacing the gutters.   The hope is that the weather will allow completion by the end of May 2013 at the latest.

The project will be overseen by Ian Fraser from LDN Architects in Forres.

A great project, and we are most grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Scotland for making it possible.   This wonderful building will soon be restored and ready to survive into the 21st century and beyond.

Article in the Press & Journal

An article in the Press & Journal Friday 10th August 2012 about our fundraising campaign.