A New Future for St Matthew’s Church
From an Address given on Sunday 24th April 2016 by the Vicar of the Parish of Brixton, St Matthew w St Jude
….Most people get a bit of a surprise when they come to St Matthews Church for the first time, such an impressive neo classical building with such a small space for worship inside. How did it happen what is the history here?
This building has been through many trials and tribulations since it was consecrated in 1824 and I cannot go into all the details here. Let me simply say that St Matthews was the first public building in Brixton and still stands in its original external condition although much around it has of course changed. If you look across the road this morning you will see Lambeth Town Hall Parade, wrapped up for the work which will reveal a new set of buildings in two years time. Externally St Matthews continues intact but the building was dramatically reordered internally in the 1970’s and the congregation has only occupied its current location in the worship centre of the building since the mid 1990s.
During this period, from the mid 1970s until now, the Vicar and PCC (Parochial Church Council) handed over responsibility for the maintenance and management of the wider building to other legal bodies that have operated at arm’s length from the PCC. These charities have done their best to keep the building standing and repaired and we thank and respect them for this work. However, in this period, the wider building has not been the direct responsibility of the congregation under the auspices of the Vicar and PCC. This is a most unusual circumstance as the vast majority of buildings such as our own in the parishes of England are the responsibility of their clergy and church councils. In very recent years also, we have not been satisfied with the way in which the building has been managed, neither have we seen the values we might have wanted to see flourish reflected amongst the activities of some of the buildings previous tenants.
In late September 2016, and the process has already started, myself, working with the PCC will be shouldering our historic responsibilities and taking the building back under the traditional authority of the Vicar and church council. We hope to run the building better and more effectively than it has been in recent years. At first you may not notice very much difference. We hope that the illegal chaining up of the front yard and gates around the grounds will soon disappear, and that we will quickly find a way to dispose of the rubbish bags that pile up at the gates, and that the sprinkler system in the roof of the portico is no longer used to dissuade rough sleepers from using our steps, but apart from these small but important changes you may not notice any great change. The really significant thing for the church community is less visible but for our own self-esteem of great importance and that is that for the first time in 40 years the St Matthews church community will again be responsible for its own building.
One of the reasons I think it important to make this transition is that in 2024, St Matthews as one of the so-called ‘Waterloo Churches’ along with St Mark in Kennington opposite the Oval tube, St Luke’s in Norwood and St John’s at Waterloo, will be celebrating the bi-centennials of their consecrations. If we did not resume our historic responsibility for the building, St Matthew Brixton we would be the only one of these buildings that was not under the control of the church council. St Matthews Brixton, a flourishing, diverse, inclusive, and confident congregation at the heart of the borough of Lambeth deserves better and we are committed to making it so.
Such a change is not without challenges. Buildings like our own need good funding to keep them repaired and good management to stop the tenants going astray. We don’t want any more seedy clubs operating in the building as has happened in the past. There are going to be many challenges then for us in future years but I have faith that we are ready for them and will overcome any obstacles that might come our way.
The restoration of PCC responsibility for the building will also require the development of new vision for what we stand for and wish to project publicly into the midst of a changing Brixton. Our first task is the careful resumption of responsibility for the building, but this must be at the service of a broader vision. One in which I hope many of you will want to participate in creating in the coming years.
The important date to put in your diary is the 25th of September 2016. On that day we will, as we do every year, celebrate the buildings Patron Saint Matthew, and our life as a church community with two hundred years of unbroken presence in this building. We will also be giving thanks for the work of the Brix who have run the building more recently. But perhaps most importantly for the future, we will legally be taking the building back for the care and oversight of the PCC and rededicating ourselves to maintain and serve its flourishing….
Revd Dr Stephen Sichel 24th April 2016