The Church Thermometer

Church Thermometers are not what they were. I refer not to small glass tubes revealing how cold the vestry is, but to large exterior white boards with the temperature in red, showing how the tower appeal is going. Somewhere in England is the first parish church to have displayed one. In most towns you might find one propped up outside (or propping up) a church near you. Could this be an idea whose time has gone?

With the emphasis hovering between Gift Aid and sponsored parachutists with a dash of Stewardship, this public display of financial need is not so common. Someone should research its history: the rise and fall of the church temperature chart. Maybe they have, or a competition has discovered the grandest or a book of the fifty best. It will be on the internet; precisely. Thermometers went out as the website came in?

But they had a good innings and history; for history is now about ordinary little things, not battles and kings. Not that wars are unknown here. Professional fundraisers loved thermometers; some clergy vowed that both of these would arrive only over their (own) dead bodies. In the town of my first curacy, the next parish raised a massive board with the usual trappings; target £60,000 – which went further 38 years ago. The day the display went up, it boasted: ‘RECEIVED, £45,000'. But spot the spin; this hopeful message failed to show that £40,000 came from the diocese; the parish had found £5000. ‘Well', said the vicar; ‘received is the word'. This was the incumbent who quizzed our stewardship adviser on his diocesan programme: ‘Does your course feature Ananias and Sapphira?'

300 miles south is the village of Little Trying. Between ancient yews, peeping over the flint churchyard wall, stood a thermometer green with age, askew and illegible. No-one had extended the vertical red line for years. In lighter moments the PCC debated whether to launch an appeal for a new thermometer, perhaps a mini beside the original, or whether English Heritage would grant-aid this historic reminder of what money they once needed. Eventually it fell over. The pound, alas, was down again; but not only the pound.

CMI

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