Last weekend on Saturday evening, I almost died. Well, to be more correct, I actually DID die—poisoned by sipping a mug of cocoa laced with cyanide. And I wasn’t the only one to meet an untimely end: a rich heiress was discovered lying on a stone floor with a kitchen knife through her heart and a local builder died in mysterious circumstances when he was ‘apparently’ run over by one of his own cement lorries. All very Midsomer Murderish… I say ‘apparently’ because many things about that particular evening were highly suspicious. As you may have guessed, I was taking part in a Murder Mystery game played out by a bunch of amateur actors (including myself) in front of a live (as opposed to dead) audience. We were the only ones scripted to be killed. Everyone else had to try and collect clues and work out who had committed the ‘murders’. Good fun and all in aid of charity, but what made the event rather different was that the whole thing took place inside the village church.
Talk about an atmospheric location for an evening of Dinner and Death! The vaults rang with echoing screams when the curate fell out of the organ loft (obviously a venue to die for) and the lofty stone pillars rising into the darkness above added a suitably scary Gothic flavour.
Many of our local churches already host music festivals, bring and buy sales and even the occasional drama, but some people might think twice about using a church as a location for a game of murder (let alone four of them). However, you can rest assured. Since it was all to raise money for the new church roof, the vicar himself not only approved it—he even joined in as a member of the cast! And no (in case you were wondering) he didn’t die and nor was he the murderer. I mean, c’mon now—not even Miss Marple herself would think the vicar was capable of bumping off four of his own flock! But it did set me thinking about how, in these days of declining attendances, churches might be used in even more imaginative ways to raise funds for good causes including their own roofs. As long as the vicar or his Bishop approves, there could be more opportunities for Playing as well as Praying. Look at the positives: there aren’t many structures about that are so solidly built of stone and which provide a uniquely tall sheltered space away from wind and weather. They also stand empty for most of the week except Sundays and the occasional Saturday wedding, so here are some suitably lateral proposals for a wider recycling of existing ecclesiastic resources. As always in this article, not everything is entirely serious…
The air in a church is perfectly still and therefore ideal for competitive exercises that would otherwise be ruined by draughty breezes. These might include record breaking attempts at blowing giant bubbles. The Guinness Book of Records team could be on standby at our local to measure all bubbles hand blown at over two metres in length. And the same conditions would surely benefit a national TV competition to make and launch paper planes (Strictly Come Flying). All attendees would be given 6 sheets of A4 paper and the first person to successfully fold and fly an aircraft over the vestry (about thirty feet in height) would win a hamper of produce from last week’s harvest festival.
Then how about this new craze for controlled mountaineering? Instead of a fake plastic wall, a church could provide genuine tall columns made of real stone for intrepid climbers to ascend. Of course, you might have to drill a few small studs and hand-holds into the pillars to give the participants suitably placed grips, but it might attract considerable excitement and commercial sponsorship.
Churches are renowned not only as places of worship but also as still, safe and relatively quiet areas for silent contemplation. Yes—in fact the perfect conditions for a wildlife conservancy project! Fill the aisle and arches with recovering birds rescued from an oil spill or two (plenty of height for them to fly about when they’re better) and place endangered frogs into the font. Rare butterflies would appreciate the still air while they flutter over the transept and the pulpit might be a safe haven for feral cats (although they’re not allowed to chase the birds). I’m sure the Almighty would approve. After all, we’d be offering help to His (or Her) own creatures.
This calm and at times slightly damp atmosphere is also just the thing for some plants. Ferns, begonias and even mint would thrive in a church without any direct sunlight. And what about converting the central nave into a weekly mushroom farm? Brilliant idea! Planting on Mondays and picking early on Sunday morning before the 8 am Communion.
OK, this has really got me going now… I’m going to speak with our local vicar to see if he supports my two commercial projects for the church tower. The first is abseiling from the bell tower to the ground at £20 for half an hour (helmets and ropes provided, but please avoid being speared on the steeple—very painful). He might however consider my second idea to be rather too controversial but it would still generate (literally) quite a lot… Yes, I’m thinking of converting the church tower into a wind turbine. I reckon there’s a good chance that God might even approve as He (She) created the wind in the first place, and therefore would sanction its use especially on His (Her) very own building.