A group of vicars had the opportunity to tour Westland, our local helicopter firm in Yeovil. It lies behind security guards and gates and is a bit of a mystery to folk like me who've never been inside. It wasn't fascinating. We were taken round a couple of hangars, one an assembly line for the Lynx Wildcat, one effectively a giant garage for refits and repairs to various Sea Kings and other aircraft.
We learnt a lot, most startling to me was that some of the choppers have been in service for 40+ years, and are still going strong. To keep them airworthy, they're regularly brought in for a refit, keeping the chassis but updating the equipment, adding on a radar here, damping the vibrations there, or completely gutting and refitting the craft. A group of helicopters for Afghanistan had been modified so that they could cope with both heat and altitude.
There are parallels to what we're doing in the church. We have the chassis: the established CofE, parish system, ancient buildings, parish boundaries - things which have been around for ages, and would take a long time to redesign (as does a helicopter). So the best thing to do often is to refit the chassis, either by adding on a few things (new styles of music, new facilities, stronger lay ministry), or by gutting and rebuilding all the internals whilst keeping the outer forms the same.
There is always the question, at what point does a longserving chassis no longer serve the purpose it was designed for, or take too long to repair? Some of the newer craft we saw had been designed to take fewer man-hours to assemble, and to have fewer joints and places where rust, cracks and decay could set in. There comes a point where you spend more time fixing the thing than using it. There's a time either write off or pension off models which have had their day, and develop something new.
The overall vision remains the same: to provide something that will carry people through the air, for transport, attack, defence, rescue etc., without needing a runway (I'm sure there's a snappier way of putting this at Westlands itself). This is the end, and the helicopter is the means. Trouble comes when we become so sentimental about, or attached to, the means, that we are no longer achieving the end.
The other thing they were exploring was creating a suite of helicopters which were easy for pilots to fly: once they had learned to fly one, they could fly others in the same group, rather than having to retrain in a major way. There's another parable here about creating forms of church which don't require a selection conference, 2-3 years in theological training and 3 years as a curate before you can run them.....