Jay Hulme

 

I attend St Nicholas' Church, Leicester. St Nicholas' was built in 879, is radically inclusive, and filled with members of the LGBT+ community. People who attend services here range from almost ninety years old, down through middle age, through people in their twenties, like me, right down to a toddler, whose birth announcement still sits clipped to the priest's lectern – the message from his mothers an outpouring of love, and gratitude for this found community.

People often say communities like the one at St Nick's can be created anywhere - and that is true, but the ancient building is important. Especially to young people. Especially now. To explain why old buildings matter, even (and especially) to the young people that are often cited as the reason for their closure, we must look at the world from the perspective of a 'young person'.

When I was a child we didn't have a computer. I remember the excitement of the internet being installed. I remember being barred from using it because we had dial up and were expecting a phone call. I remember my Dad's first Nokia phone. I remember getting a 'big telly' – all cathode ray tubes and at least two foot deep at the back. I remember watching a VHS tape until it broke. Getting cassette tapes from my Grandparents for my birthday. I remember getting a DVD player. A CD player. The record collection getting shuffled of into storage. I remember being allowed out to play on busy roads. And then not being allowed. I remember phones pouring into schools. And being banned from schools.

I have lived through multiple worldwide financial crashes, eleven UK Governments, and a worldwide pandemic. I am only 24 years old. Everything is changing at a terrifyingly rapid speed. Things that were sci-fi only ten years ago are now utterly mundane. For peopleyounger than me, this change seems even faster, even more unsettling.

With the rise of short-term tenancies, the 'gig' economy, and most goods being made to last a few years at most, we do not have much to hold on to. Everything changes. We stumble through a world where constancy and security are unthinkable.

Statistically, people in their early twenties stay in tenancies for less than a year. I have a friend who has lived in eight places in six years. This is not unusual, and almost never by choice. For young people today there is no continuity.Nothing stays the same.

Wider human experience

Ancient buildings give us that sense of continuity, a sense of being part of something bigger, and a connection with all that has come before. Ancient churches, in particular, give us this in ways no other ancient buildings do. Not only are churches often the oldest buildings in any given place, they are also the oldest buildings that have been continually used for a specific purpose.

They are constant in a way nothing else is anymore. When you walk into an ancient church you walk in the footsteps of your ancestors, both in the literal, genetic, sense of the word, and in the broader sense, encompassing all of those who have come before. You are rooted to the wider human experience.

When the service begins, you know that what is happening has happened in this place for hundreds of years – the form changing and evolving through time, but still, somehow, the same – with a constancy of feeling, and intent.

When Covid ravaged Leicester, when ambulances rushed along the main road outside the church one after the other, sirens screaming like harbingers of the death that was all around us, the church was, to me, and to other members of the community, an important reminder. Even as we couldn't celebrate that Christmas in church, we considered the 1141 Christmases that this building had seen.

The multiple pandemics it had stood through. The death and devastation and change it had witnessed. And when we opened the church doors again, we continued – the service changing, slightly, to accommodate restrictions – but still, somehow, the same.

In old church buildings we are reminded of our place in the vastness of human experience. We are reminded that life has stretched on long before us, and will continue long after we are gone. We are given unparalleled perspective, in a world that is so often short-sighted.

Old churches are tapestries, records of the past. Of love and loss, birth and death, of poverty, and plague, and dizzying success. The stone tells stories people never can. The buildings change and evolve, and somehow remain the same.

The services continue. We sing and weep and everything in between, stood in these buildings that have held the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Ancient churches stand, steadfast and ever constant, amidst the rushing flow of time. It is a privilege to shelter in them, even for a short while.

St Nicholas' Church has seen almost 60,000 Sundays. Hopefully we can continue to treasure and protect her, so that she, and many other ancient churches, may stand to see almost 60,000 more.

 Jay Hulme is an award winning transgender performance poet, speaker and educator. Alongside his writing and regular performances he teaches in schools, performs sensitivity reads, and consults and speaks at events and conferences on the importance of diversity in the media, and more specifically transgender inclusion and rights.

www.jayhulme.com

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