I am sure that many of you, like me, have precious objects that you look after with great care. There are many different reasons why these items are precious to us – they may hold special memories, were a gift from a loved one, are antiques or of value in their own right, or are objects that we have saved money to purchase as a special treat. I have two special possessions that I would like to mention here. The first one is a velvet elephant that I was given when I was one year old (so he is certainly of pensionable age now!) Jumbo has suffered a number of hardships in his life and as a result has been darned and patched in order to extend his life. He now sits on the chest of drawers in my bedroom in peaceful semi-retirement. My second special possession is a half sovereign that belonged to my father and was made into a gold necklace for me by my mother just after he died. This is obviously of sentimental value and so is treated with great care by me whenever I wear it.
These are both personal objects that have a special meaning for me, but there are other items or buildings that we value and hold dear collectively within our community. Within our benefice we have 7 wonderful, historic church buildings that represent the worship of our communities over hundreds of years. Each one is beautiful in its own way and holds a special place in the hearts of the local residents, whether they are regular church-goers or not. We would feel devastated if anything happened to these special places. It was, therefore, with great shock and sadness that I watched the images on television of the fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Notre Dame represents the history of France, the Christian worship of the city, and is a landmark and icon for tourists. I was not surprised to see the people of Paris on their knees in prayer as they watched the horror of the fire, or gasping in shock as the spire tumbled down, or keeping vigil by the site of their great cathedral.
What was shocking to me was to read in the newspapers that the cathedral was already in need of serious restoration work. Churches and cathedrals in France are the property of the state who have responsibility for their maintenance and upkeep, but many of them like Notre Dame have been deprived of government funding for the necessary work. This has resulted in crumbling stonework, rotting gargoyles and a collapsing roof. There are several reasons why the cathedral of Notre Dame is short of funds. It does not charge an entrance fee for visitors because this goes against government policy. Government funds are low – as in many countries of Europe. Finally, limited funds are given to churches and cathedrals because of fears of breaching France’s secular doctrine.
The situation at Notre Dame is a timely reminder for our communities to care for the buildings that we value and love. We are custodians of these properties for the future. In Britain the churches and cathedrals are not owned by the state and are supported solely by local communities and charitable organisations. Generous donations from individuals are vital for the maintenance of our places of Christian worship. Sadly, we often realise how much we value these places when we are in danger of losing them.
Fortunately, the damage to Notre Dame was not as devastating as it might have been because of the skill and courage of the fire fighters. The cathedral still stands and huge donations have been pledged for its restoration from wealthy individuals and commercial enterprises. Some of the images on television showed the large golden cross at the east end of the nave glowing amid the smoke and debris. It is a symbol of hope for the future. Patrick Kidd, a journalist for the Times newspaper, quoted the message of hope from St John’s gospel “The light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.”