There's an episode of the science fiction TV series, Farscape, which is set inside the decomposing corpse of a gargantuan space creature. There prospectors mine the body for valuables and in a way give the dead animal a sort of new lease of life.
I was reminded of that scenario in a trip to Gorton Monastery. This is a huge church and attendant buildings which was abandoned around twenty years ago by the Franciscans who built it in the mid-nineteenth century. After years of dilapidation, it has been mostly restored as a venue for just about everything from corporate functions to community dancing. The restoration is still under way, and has been done with considerable sensitivity and taste. The damaged reredos at the high altar has been retained, and the original crucifix restored to its place in the chancel arch.
It is licenced for civil weddings (after a considerable struggle, given the religious trappings which are still in situ) and welcomes spiritual events of all sorts. Interfaith discussion, new age fairs, and a regular opportunity to walk a replica of the Chartres labyrinth are just some of the possibilities to explore. And you can even hold Christian services there.
It is all very impressive and most commendable. There is no doubting the dedication of the staff and supporters, and some of the tales they tell, especially of the return of the crucifix, are inspiring.
And yet, I still feel a bit like a corpse miner. I think, in the end, the issue for me is that the building is not what it was intended to be - a place of worship. I am a great believer in diversifying the use of church buildings, of throwing them open to the community, and so on. But they are still in that case churches. I'm not quite sure what the Gorton edifice is, but its lack of churchness is undoubtedly what jars for me.