Friday, 16 October 2015

The 'Evening Service': a thing of the past? (the village store)

Here's a little parable which might bring some coalescence between the reality that is the Sunday evening service and the report of the Church of England's Buildings Review group (BRG). I hope it provides some food for thought:

Once upon a time there was a village shop, the centre of the community, where everybody shopped and gathered to share news and to get everything they need to live out their lives.

The shelves, and the building, were full. Everyone considered themselves to have some interest in the place because, after all, it was theirs and they belonged to it as much as it belonged to them. Generation upon generation had gathered within it's walls to celebrate new life, new family beginnings and to commiserate with those who were mourning. This was the place the community gathered; in good times and bad!

As the years went by, the people started to go into the local town to do some of their shopping. There wasn't the same community feel, but the prices were cheaper, the service was quicker because there was none of the shared conversations and it fitted in with their lifestyles. Things were a little more private and the shops there were open when the village shop was closed - so it gave them choice too; things could be done when the people wanted them rather than when the shop was willing to be open!

The shelves in the shop became a little less stocked as , slowly, the cans passed their sell by date and were buried in the back yard. There was less money coming in and the shopkeeper didn't think there was a problem so failed to refill the shelves as perhaps he should have. The stock levels had fallen, but all things being equal, it was still a good shop and, of course, some people still shopped there because it's had been the centre of the community for so many years. This was their shop, wasn't it?

And time moved on and the shelves became even less filled and fewer people came into the shop. That said, they did come in on special occasions and wanted very little, which was good, for that's what was on offer! The people were in a different time and place; they had the internet and social media to share news, keep in touch and to get everything they need to live their lives. There was no need of the shop as a place of help and information, they just used a search engine or typed, 'How to...'. 

Some people came in because the place had been special to their parents, or more likely their grandparents, and it was something they felt they ought to do so that could say that they had been there. There was even a society to support shops like that in the village and they had special, 'Remember When ...?' heritage days too. The shop spoke of continuation and shared history and yet, because there was so little on the shelves and the language was different and the shopkeeper tutted when they went in with their baseball caps on (even when they were the right way around) so they tended to avoid it except for times when there was a desperate need!

But still the stock diminished and the ability to give the people who passed by anything that they wanted decreased with it to the extent that none but the hard core shoppers - those whose family had been part of the place for generations and who had now themselves become quite old but remembers the shop as it was when they were children - actually shopped there.

Then came the day when there were just a seven cans on the shelf and although the shopkeeper thought to himself, 'Seven cans is still stock and if I have stock I still have a shop,' the reality was that the place was no longer viable. 

'If only you'd have kept up with the times and kept refilling the shelves with the old familiar produce AND tried other products and brands. If only you'd given the customers what they wanted rather than keep to all the old stuff you used to stock,' said the bank manager as he took the deeds of the property and the keys from the shopkeeper and signed the 'completion of eviction paperwork' for the court official who was impatiently waiting to get back a warm office.

And so that was it - the centre of the village was gone, and with it the heart and history of that place too. The end had come and the community and a place of shared history and tomorrow's hopes were no longer. All that remained on view were a few solitary cans on the shelf. A reminder of what had been and a marker of days gone by when the people flocked to buy and chat and celebrate life in all its richness in 'their' shop.

Some remarked that whilst the building remained there was still a hope of a new dawn, but the cans were out of date and the dirt on the windows dimmed the inside and provided some sticking power of the bill and posters which now covered the shop front. In fact the place became so tired and untidy and covered with paper that perhaps that was why no one really noticed the demolition order.

Well not until the day the bulldozers arrived - and by then it was too late!

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