Phoenix from the Ashes Songs of Praise


Phoenix from the Ashes

Bill Turnbull discovers churches once on the verge of closure that have been completely transformed and introduces soprano Hayley Westenra.


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On 5th September 1694, a great fire swept through Warwick.

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Whole streets were destroyed along with most of St Mary's Church.

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The town and the church were rebuilt

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and today this is one of Britain's finest parish churches.

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We've come here to find out more about this wonderful building.

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We're also visiting other churches in Warwickshire and beyond

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which have been renewed in surprising and inspiring ways.

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Today, how a village church has literally risen from the ashes.

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A transformation into a place of play as well as prayer.

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What a new chapel means for a 19th-century college.

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Plus hymns from our congregation

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and international star, Hayley Westenra.

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Across Britain, churches are changing.

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Many congregations are going through challenging times.

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While some churches have closed, and even been demolished,

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new ones have opened.

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Wherever people need to worship, often what brings them together

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is a desire to praise God and our first hymn,

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based on Psalms 148 and 150,

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is a magnificent hymn of praise.

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The tower of the Collegiate Church of St Mary rises over the town of Warwick

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higher even than the castle.

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However, when it came to rebuilding the church after the great fire,

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the tower here nearly wasn't built

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because it was realised the original design was flawed.

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The story goes that Sir Christopher Wren was called in

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to advise and he said it needed to be built outside the church's walls.

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This is why the tower sits over what was originally the road

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with the entrance to it separate from the church.

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Inside, the church's three fine organs are proof of a long and distinguished musical tradition.

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The choirs of St Mary's Collegiate Church are now going to sing

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a verse from a prayer traditionally attributed to St Patrick.

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# Christ be with me

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# Christ within me

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# Christ behind me

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# Christ before me

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# Christ beside me

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# Christ to win me

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# Christ to comfort and restore me

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# Christ above me

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# Christ beneath me

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# Christ in quiet

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# Christ in danger

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# Christ in hearts of all that love me

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# Christ in mouth of friend and stranger

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# Christ in mouth of friend

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# And stranger #

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Martin Green was looking for a new job after spending three years as the vicar

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of St Nicholas Church in the Warwickshire village of Radford Semele.

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He was moving on, or so he thought.

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I was away on interview, had the first stage of interviews

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on the Friday night and that night, had a very vivid image, really.

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A vivid image of a kind of dark mass, really and out of which

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there was an arm and a hand coming.

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That sense of help.

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So, there was something calling me back.

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I came home and that night

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the church was broken into and set on fire.

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What was left?

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Nothing, just the walls, really. We were left with a shell and the tower.

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-It must have been devastating?

-It was.

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That sense remains with me, standing in the ruins.

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It felt as if that spirit of worship

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and prayer that had been there for generations had just vanished.

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There was a huge sense of grief because of memories and events

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and things over generations that had been part of village life

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and suddenly, all of that was gone.

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The village war memorials were here and they were all destroyed.

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They were screwed up metal.

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Almost six years after the fire,

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the church has been completely rebuilt.

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It is beautiful and very different from what was here before.

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The mix of the new and old has been really cleverly done, I think.

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The top of the bell tower, which I have left uncovered

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so people can see the original stone, I think it is lovely.

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The cross that we have on the communion table was made

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out of some of the burnt joists under the floor.

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The building has risen again, there is new life for the church.

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Is there new life for the community of the church,

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-for the spirit of the church as well?

-Well, there is, yes.

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When the fire happened that Sunday it was Palm Sunday.

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The church congregation moved over to the community hall in the village

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and we stayed worshipping there over those five years

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and during those years, the church has grown, so in fact,

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the church moving back in is a bigger and stronger church

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than it was when the fire happened.

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We've had a difficult journey but, having said that, for me,

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it has been a story of what the church should be,

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that out of brokenness and destruction, there is hope

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and God's part of that is bringing something new

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out of something that's actually been a terrible tragedy.

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All the mediaeval stained glass was destroyed in the fire

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that devastated St Nicholas'.

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Now the new windows are one of the finest features of the restored church.

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Most of them were designed and made by the stained-glass artist, Emma Blount.

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I was very touched by what had happened to the church,

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that it had burnt down,

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and the windows were part of its rejuvenation and the new life.

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And I put a lot of prayer and thought into the designs.

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Emma is still working on one window.

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It will go in the prayer space in the church.

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The design is of a waterfall of God's love

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and God's Holy Spirit coming down onto people.

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The orange rocks represent the people and they are soaking in God

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and they're not trying to be good Christians, they're just being still.

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I am using fused glass techniques, so you cut out bits of glass

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and you put them on top of each other and then you fuse them

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in the kiln to 800 degrees centigrade.

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Then it comes out in these beautiful smooth bricks of melted glass

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that I will then put together with lead came that you slot the glass into.

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Then you solder the lead joints.

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Perhaps the most striking window is in the Chancery.

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It has a theme of rejuvenation and rebirth.

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In the lights at the top of the window, I've got an egg,

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a lamb, a lily, a peacock's feather and a peacock butterfly.

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They're all symbols in art that symbolise resurrection.

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The church had burnt down so the centre of the design

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is a burnt forest and then around the edges,

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it comes to life with a child with fruit and fresh spring leaves.

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That's what I felt was happening with the church, it was going to come to life.

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Sticky blue, this is!

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The church certainly has come to life.

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As well as the usual Sunday services,

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there are also regular sessions especially for families.

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They are rather aptly known as Messy Church.

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Shall we wash your hands?

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We do an hour of arts and crafts based around a theme

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and then we have a short worship out in the church.

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Then everyone sits down and eats together.

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It's about enabling children to come in a less formal setting

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and adults to come in a less formal setting.

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Sometimes a Sunday service can be quite daunting if you're not a regular churchgoer.

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We get tremendous support from the whole congregation,

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mucking in and helping with food

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and saving their old toilet rolls and everything for us.

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-Does it take a lot of cleaning up afterwards?

-Yes, quite often.

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We spend a lot of time hoovering glitter off the seats!

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I wonder how that would go down with some of the older members of the congregation?

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I think they saw what benefits it was bringing

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and the new faces we were getting.

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It's about bringing people to God in a different way.

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Eight years ago, the congregation of Howden Clough Methodist Church

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had dwindled to just six members.

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Having opened in 1872, the community in Birstall, West Yorkshire,

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didn't seem to need a traditional church building on their doorstep any more.

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But then one of the remaining church members had an idea.

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Turn it into a soft play area for children.

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When I explained to the congregation here what I wanted to do,

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the concept of a soft play area was totally out of their understanding.

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The vast majority had never ever set foot in one, and for them to graciously say yes

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really was a massive miracle.

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The first challenge was to find a theme that fitted with the place

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and so you start thinking, where could the Bible fit into soft play?

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The nearest I could get that the designers of the soft play equipment had was Noah's Ark.

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In the playhouse you have a blue floor which is the sea.

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You have the ship which is the Ark, animals in it.

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So everything round the side is the colours of the rainbow.

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When people come in for the first time,

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the first question I'm asked is, "Was this a church?

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"Have you just bought the building and converted it into a soft play area?"

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It's a brilliant opportunity because I am able to tell them,

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no, it still is a church. We are all Christians here.

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We haven't a conventional service because there's no pews

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and no chairs and no altar any more.

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Playhouse Praise that we started after six months

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was our version of a normal service.

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The chairs and the tables stay as they are

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and we have worship within the soft play area.

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We do crafts, we sing songs and we tell stories from the Bible

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to try and bring families into the understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

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Some people walked through the door and cried when they saw the place

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because they just experienced God here

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and they'd never experienced it before in a building.

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CHORAL VOICES

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On the night of May 17th 1941,

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German bombers attacked a railway viaduct in Nuneaton.

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Some missed their target,

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and the nearby church of All Saints Chilvers Coton was destroyed.

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Only the tower remained.

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But this church came back to life in the most extraordinary way.

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German prisoners of war were being held nearby,

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and some of them volunteered to help the parishioners rebuild it.

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Once you're inside, there's plenty of evidence of their handiwork,

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especially some beautiful and intricate carvings.

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For instance, the scenes on the lectern include Moses holding

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the Ten Commandments and Jesus preaching from a boat.

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The detail really is extraordinary.

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The font is made from one of the destroyed pillars, and this

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beautiful cover was carved by a German craftsman out of sycamore.

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And on the back here is the face of a child,

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which he modelled on his own son.

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The names of the craftsmen are engraved in stone in the churchyard.

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But perhaps the most potent symbol of what this church represents

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is the phoenix on the altar.

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It's an emblem of the rebirth of the church,

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and of reconciliation after the destruction of the Second World War.

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# Sleep my child

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# And peace attend thee

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# All through the night

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# Guardian angels

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# God will send thee

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# All through the night

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# Soft the drowsy hours are creeping

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# Hill and vale in slumber sleeping

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# I, my loved ones watch them keeping

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# All through the night

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# While the moon her watch is keeping

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# All through the night

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# While the weary world is sleeping

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# All through the night

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# O'er thy spirit gently stealing

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# Visions of delight revealing

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# Breathes a pure and holy feeling

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# All through the night. #

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There's been a theological college at Cuddesdon, near Oxford, since the 1850s.

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It's also home to an order of nuns.

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The original Victorian chapel had become too small to accommodate

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the increasing number of students, so a new one was commissioned.

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And in February last year, the new chapel, designed to meet

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the needs of both students and Sisters, was formally dedicated.

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Such was its acclaim that it went on to be

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shortlisted for the 2013 Sterling Prize for architecture.

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What we wanted was a space that the minute people walked into,

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they went "wow" and wanted to stay and pause and worship and pray.

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-It is an extraordinary space, isn't it?

-It's phenomenal.

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It's pure, clean, confident.

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The light floods in from the top of the chapel

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and all seems to flow down, and that lifts the eyes to the heavens.

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That was the intention, really, of the architect.

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There's a new chapel here

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but has it brought something new to the community?

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I think what the new chapel's done is renewed our faith in Christ

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for the nations for the 21st century.

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It's given us a sense that the faith that we learn about from yesterday

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is relevant today and has a voice for tomorrow.

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And the new chapel seems to say that, in stone and wood, in glass

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and in the amazing spiritual depth

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and character it has throughout the space.

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It needs to be a space that works not just for students,

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in prayer but also, of course, for the Sisters who are here as well.

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Absolutely and there's a small side chapel built for them as well.

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So, they can use that for more intimate worship,

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for the offices during the day.

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THEY PRAY THROUGH SONG

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I think it's absolutely wonderful, mainly because of the shape.

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And also, as you walk in,

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one's eye is taken up to the light.

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And if we think about Jesus is the light, it sort of says everything.

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And in some senses, it reminds me of being on a boat.

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-Ah, that was intentional.

-Yes.

-It's an upturned boat.

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Rather like you find in some Norwegian churches.

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Do not withhold your compassion from me only.

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I'm a second-year student in the college.

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The light coming through the glass windows in the morning

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when the sun rises gives you such a beautiful feeling that God is here.

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I find this chapel's really peaceful

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and you can come in here away from the hustle and bustle

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of everything that's going on at college and around you.

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So simple and plain, there's nothing to distract you.

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It's just the peace and the quiet and the blank canvas, in a sense.

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A place where you can listen to God.

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May the heavenly Father, who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead,

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give us hope in our brokenness

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and bring His glory to shine out of the rubble of our lives.

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And may His blessing of peace rest upon us now and always, amen.

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The places we have visited show how churches can be transformed

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and despite considerable challenges often gain so much when they,

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literally in some cases, rise from the ashes.

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And our final hymn is a reminder that God can be our guide

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through change and chance.

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Next week is Chinese New Year

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and Aled's visiting London's Chinatown,

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with traditional hymns from St Martin-in-the-Fields,

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a church with its own Chinese congregation and a special

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performance by cellists Julian Lloyd Webber and his wife, Jiaxin.

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Bill Turnbull discovers churches once on the verge of closure that have been completely transformed and introduces soprano Hayley Westenra together with hymns from the Collegiate Church of St Mary in Warwick.


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