During this period of lockdown, with no evening meetings to attend, I have been watching more television than before – and have become acquainted with some wonderful programmes, such as The Repair Shop. For those of you who haven’t discovered this gem, The Repair Shop is a barn inhabited by the widest range of skilled craftspeople you could ever imagine; able to repair and restore every conceivable kind of object. Every week, four treasured possessions in a terrible state of malfunction or dereliction are brought by their respective owners. And every week four miraculous transformations occur, as the objects are skilfully and lovingly restored to the best possible version of themselves they can be.
What gives the programme its power is the story that is connected with each object, for invariably the possessions are treasured because of the memories associated with them, memories which often link family members from one generation to another.
So when the owner comes to the Repair Shop to collect their restored object and is astounded by the transformation that has been brought about, tears often flow, in the Shop and on the nation’s sofas, because in repairing the treasured possession, a treasured relationship has been honoured, strengthened, even brought back to life.
The Repair Shop has caused me to reflect on the way in which relationships can be expressed through inanimate objects, especially in the light of the recent debates about the place of statues and memorials in churches and in other public places.
In truth I have always had a problem with any kind of memorials in churches because all of them, whether commemorating an individual’s faithful service to God or benefaction to the church, are in essence honouring ‘(wo)man’ whereas the whole point and purpose of a church is to honour God. At best memorials are inappropriate distractions, at worst, in the case of the most ostentatious and self-regarding ones, they are surely blasphemous.
The difficulties that arise with statues in public places result from contested views as to who is worthy of honour and of our shared history. As we have seen with the debates sparked by Black Lives Matter, the more that we subject individual lives and past history to scrutiny, the more questions arise. And whoever we put on plinths, philanthropists or generals, nurses or clergy, there is always the possibility that they may one day be judged unworthy, for which of our lives would stand up to the closest examination?
As Jesus said, in response to the rich young man, ‘only one is good’ - ie only God. It is He alone that is worthy of unambiguous honour and praise. He alone who is impervious to shifting moral, cultural and historical perspectives; for He represents absolute goodness, truth and love, which cannot be relativized in any way.
Our churches should be the purest possible conduits for honouring God, and as for our instinctive desire to put people on pedestals… perhaps it is safer and healthier to let them be remembered through cherished objects that have meaning for those who knew them best, warts and all.
Often those who bring objects to the Repair Shop are not looking for a perfect restoration to mint condition, because they want to preserve the original authentic character of the object. They may wish to preserve some imperfections because particular memories are associated with them e.g. a shrapnel - dented helmet that saved the life of their soldier grandfather.
Perhaps that is why the Repair Shop feels a little like church, a place where imperfections are not erased but acknowledged, and worked with. A place where we, through God’s grace, can be restored to the best possible versions of ourselves and honoured as God’s treasured possessions.