It’s not actually such an obvious question.
Yes: the roof would come down if it wasn’t done!
But why is it that St Mary’s Parochial Church Council (PCC) and its congregation are having the work done instead of some national Church of England body that looks after all its church buildings?
And the answer to that is: because none exists… Surprised?
Historically, it was the duty of the incumbent (rector) and the congregation together to maintain the church building. The incumbent was responsible for the chancel (the part at the front where the altar stands) and the congregation looked after the upkeep of the nave (the part where they sat – or stood rather, no pews then!). And if they couldn’t afford to, well, look around the country to see what happened. There are heritage trails of ruined churches.
Then PCC’s were established in 1921 and they inherited the duties and liabilities previously borne by the churchwardens: that included the care maintenance preservation and insurance of the fabric of the church and the goods and ornaments thereof.
When the necessity for urgent work became clear, the PCC’s first concern was to wonder how on earth they were going to pay for it!
Even the largest fundraising events usually raise no more profits than in the low thousands but the costs for this were going to run into six figures! – and there really was no time, or manpower, to start a fundraiser on such enormous scale. Applying for grants was another route but would sufficient grant aid be available? Work to find out was put in hand, yet how much time would that take? The roof would not stand another winter.
All members of the PCC are trustees and as is generally known: if trustees neglect their duty they become personally liable for the consequences – a bit hard on these 22 residents of Wivenhoe, you might think, having such responsibility for a local building that is much more than a place of worship alone. And that thought leads directly into the second reason for ensuring the roof is kept in good repair.
St Mary’s has been prominent as a venue for a large number of community events. It has acoustics that suit choral and instrumental concerts, even jazz concerts; it hosts annual community events like the June and December markets, Art on the Railings and Art in the Church; a couple of historical Church Ales; performances by the Shakespeare company, and Mad Dogs and Englishmen; a Passion play; it goes on… and it is not clear that any other local venue could have accommodated these events.
And then there are all the weddings and funerals, when so often the church was full to overflowing when the community gathered to remember one of its own; the Remembrance Sunday and Civic Sunday occasions; the Mothering Sunday and Christingle services; visits from the local school as part of the RE syllabus; the visitors who come from all over to see the place their family history made important to them.
St Mary’s place in the community cannot be doubted and for anyone sailing up the river Colne or walking the river paths it would be hard to beat its tower as a local landmark.
So for all those reasons too, the PCC felt it would be right to try and raise the money to preserve the building, rather than throw up their hands, look for somewhere more easily maintained and heated to continue church services and abandon the building to crumbling decay.
And then, the most unexpected thing happened.
One of St Mary’s long time parishioners who desired to remain anonymous had remembered the church in his will. When, sadly, the time came for the will to be read, it transpired that a generous legacy had been left with the stipulation that it be used for the repair of the fabric of the church.
This was an almost unbelievable turn of events and the PCC’s gratitude and relief is immense.
And we hope that of the community of Wivenhoe will be, too.