SOME say it's more like a house than a church. In fact, St. Cecilia's at Trimley St. Mary, which Bishop Par ker of Northampton opened last week. cost only £11,000—the price of a large house. It seats 150, and for very little extra money its size can be doubled.
The congregation enters the square church behind the altar and circulates round to fill the three empty sides. Walls are of wood to give warmth and maximum resonance to congregation singing and praying. And they are removable, so that as the population of Trimley grows, St. Cecilia's can grow too, without shivering a timber.
Fr. John Reffitt, parish priest at Felixstowe, Suffolk, the nearest big town, forsees Trimley village building up rapidly in the next few years.
That was why, in planning a chapel of ease to serve it, he called on an eight-man team of Catholic architects in London to work out the design. It had to be cheap and expandable.
And it had to give a feeling of intimacy between priest and people, promoting the new liturgy.
The team took up the task eagerly. They had formed 18 months ago, as a specifically Catholic branch of Mr. Peter Hammond's interdenominational New Churches Research Group. to study precisely these problems.
Mr. Lance Wright is the chairman. Other members are architects Peter Ansdell Evans, Austin Winkley. Michael Hattrell, Jaime Bellalta, Philip Jchb, Colin Fleetwood-Walker and Professor Tom Markus. Mr. Edmund Jones, O.S.B., is their ecclesiastical adviser.
Nearly every Wednesday they meet to study how the Catholic architect can help make churches best suit the Church's needs, today and in the future.
"We study theology all the time," Mr. Evans told me. That, he explains, is what the church architect must do if he wants to be functional.
"We've got to avoid readymade solutions. First we must find what you want a church for, and then decide how to build it."
He feels it a mistake to rely on history for a quick solution to today's problems.
The vaulted ceiling at Coventry Cathedral, for instance, was a mistake, he believes, that was hardly excused by the explanation "English people have worshipped under vaulted ceilings for centuries".
Instead of using that approach, the committee began by asking, "What is the Christian religion? What are people doing in churches?"
The chairman, Mr. Wright, calls it "starting from the inside instead of from the outside", unlike those modern architects who strive for effects without studying the assembled community "who after all are the Church".
At Cardinal Heenan's request, the team recently drew up a list of suggestions on how to redesign churches to meet the demands of the new liturgy. especially Mass facing the people.
Now they are preparing a handbook for priests and architects that will explain their suggestions. But first they want to try out their ideas on a few big London churches to see if they will work.
Mr. Wright believes experiment is the key to architectural success. "Unfortunately," he says, "the big problem in the past has been that architects have not tested their ideas."
They had just gone on building new churches without checking to see how well the old ones functioned.
St. Cecilia's, then, was a prize opportunity for the team to try out their ideas. They will be watching the parish closely over the next year to see how well they work.
The fact that It resembles a house is deliberate. The team feels strongly that big city parishes need to be broken down into smaller units. This they regard as a necessity for worship that is truly communal. And, they say, it would not necessarily require vast numbers of new priests, provided laymen took over more responsibilities.