Most weeks meeting for worship down in the lower Memorial Hall seems like a major inconvenience. But it is an excellent opportunity to prepare ourselves for the flexibility the new space will afford us when the renovations are completed upstairs.
When we set up the temporary arrangement in the hall we deliberately chose a semi-circle, with the chairs gathered around the altar and lectern. This allows everyone to be closer to the front, but also closer to one another. It removes the great distance between priest and people that is found in more traditional arrangements. In fact, now the priest sits among the people and simply steps forward to the lectern or altar when it is time to do so.
This arrangement says a number of things about who we are as a faith community. First, it suggests that God is in our midst, rather than somewhere “up there” at the front. Second, it places all God’s people on the same level, as indeed we are. Third, it identifies the entire space—one could say, by extension, the whole world—as sacred and accessible to everyone, not just to a chosen few.
It may appear that we are simply putting in time while updating our worship space. In fact, we are updating the entire way we think about worship. Our temporary set-up downstairs allows us to explore this new understanding and prepare ourselves for taking it with us when we go back upstairs.
Our contractor Karson Builders, has been doing a great job of moving the renovations forward which means that there has been much construction noise, dust and accompanying messiness about our facilities. Acknowledgments and thanks are extended to Brian, Clara, Lynn, Beverley and Eduardo who have been, and will continue to be, working out of our administrative offices in the midst of the ongoing renovation work. Anyone who has been through a home renovation knows that it is not an easy thing to live through so many thanks to everyone who spends their days working at St. Stephen’s for continuing to serve the Parish so well during the challenges presented by a renovation project the scope of Open Doors.
The BRAG committee has been discussing a number of exciting design elements for the Narthex and Sanctuary with the hope there will be sufficient funds remaining to permit the realization of these elements. For example, the pipe organ screens need to be replaced and we hope to create a feature wall to display all of our memorial plaques. In addition, although the two rear windows between the Nave and the Narthex have been removed from the project, we hope to incorporate a design element by introducing glass panels with decorative screens as entry doors into the Nave. This will allow for the transparency we had hoped for without the cost of the larger windows. We therefore would again like to remind those who have pledges stretching over the next few years to please keep your payments coming. It is also not too late to provide a new gift to the Open Doors fund, or to sponsor a specific design feature.
Work continues on our renovations at a brisk pace. The lower level bathrooms are now framed and the fixtures will be on site shortly for our new men’s washroom, women’s washroom and family washroom facilities.
The elevator shaft is close to completion and the elevator will be on site in two weeks time.
As well, the Enmax power service, which incudes a new substation for our expanded power requirements (such as the elevator and the new theatre lighting), will be complete this week. We are now literally powered for the next 100 years!
More to come!
The installation of the new flooring has been underway this past week. The Labyrinth piece of the new flooring has been ordered and will be installed in the main floor area of the Nave. As well, one bank of the new theatre lighting is now in place in the ceiling of the Nave, with the two remaining banks to be installed shortly.
As last reported, BRAG had been concerned about a delay of potentially a considerable amount of time in the Enmax work due to the Calgary flooding (which would have then delayed a number of other elements of the renovations). While flooding issues in Calgary did result in some delay in Enmax being able to get to the work at St. Stephen’s, BRAG is pleased to report that Enmax has now commenced work at St. Stephen’s.
Although not the most glamorous part of the project, our expanded sewer facilities are now in place and work is proceeding full speed ahead on the new lower level washrooms. More to come on the progress on the washrooms and other lower level elements of the project in the coming weeks.
Our Renovations continue to move forward with excellent progress being made. For those who have passed by the church in the past week you will have noticed the large hole that has been dug in front of the main entrance for the installation of the new water and sewer lines. In addition, while we had been cautioned by Enmax that the recent flooding in Calgary would result in a delay of several months in Enmax being able to commence work at St. Stephen’s, we have now been told that Enmax expects to be able to be on site this coming week which is very good news.
Many will also have noticed that the shrubs and flowers have been removed from the flowerbed adjacent to the Canterbury Room entrance. This was necessary in order to accommodate the new entrance ramp. What we did not want to lose however were the beautiful vines on the west-facing wall adjacent to the Canterbury Room entrance. BRAG is therefore in the process of refining the design of the new entrance ramp to ensure that these vines are able to remain in place.
The rolls of new marmoleum flooring have been delivered and the new flooring should be installed in the coming week. As well, the chairs that will replace the pews have been ordered. The finished chairs will be delivered to the church by truck; however, the unloading of the chairs into the church is not included in our cost. Therefore, when the time comes, we will be looking for 30 volunteers to unload the chairs from the delivery truck into the church. Anyone who is interested in volunteering for this should please contact Jean Springer for details.
Stay tuned … more updates on our progress to come!
Right from the start our Building Renewal Action Group (BRAG) has committed itself to managing our renovation project to be debt-free. That meant a decision in principle that we would curtail the scope of the project before borrowing money for its completion. That decision became real this week when two elements of the original design had to be dropped from our plans.
One is the windows that were to open from the narthex (entrance foyer) into the church itself. The idea was to open up the space as much as possible to those who were entering the building, making the worship space visibly accessible to worshipers and visitors alike. But it turns out that the walls in which the windows would be cut contain a low concentration of asbestos, and removing that asbestos would add $10,000 to an otherwise straightforward operation. So for the moment, the windows are gone.
Gone as well is the millwork—the cupboards and counters—we were to install downstairs in the former Nazareth and Bethlehem rooms. Both rooms were being renovated with flexibility in mind, useful both to our nursery and Sunday school programs and to community groups seeking meeting space. The millwork was therefore to accommodate storage and utility for these various uses. But our contingency fund has been eroding so quickly due to hazardous materials removal that we decided to finish the room for use now but leave the details for a later date.
Two major decisions were made this past week. Both were difficult decisions because of their central importance to how we will worship in the newly renovated St. Stephen’s. But it is very exciting!
Right from the start BRAG members have said, “If we get the chairs wrong, the whole project could be compromised!” So for the last month we have been considering three makes and models of chair to replace the pews. The chairs had to be comfortable, attractive, sturdy yet stackable, and not too pricey. So we have selected a model from Imperial Woodworks in Waco, Texas (No. 87 Wood Frame Chair, on their website). It features upholstered seat and back, a rear book rack, kneelers (for the chapel chairs) and it is easily stackable. We will also be commissioning kneeler cushions for those in the main church who choose to kneel.
We have also chosen a design for the new altar, ambo, and font. Jeremy and Matt at MMJT Contemporary have come up with an exquisite design concept for the three pieces that will attract the eye and, placed in proximity to one other, form a focal point for our worship in the new space. Visit their website to see for yourself the stunning work they do.
As the painting of the church continues, a startling new look for our worship space begins to emerge—which is light, open, and surprisingly large! Some have asked why we are painting over the beams and the wood panelling. The thinking is this: allow the eye to be guided to the architectural details that define the space, namely, the stained glass windows and the carved oak reredos up in the sanctuary. The overhead beams are not solid wood to begin with, but merely wood cladding, and the panelling that surrounds the room is not of a great quality, so neither the beams nor the panelling could be called architectural features. In the new space it will be the windows and the reredos that deservedly “pop” to the eye.
We are also in the process of considering two design proposals for the new altar, ambo and font, both of them stunning, and very different from one another. One set takes us in the direction of clean, light and ethereal, the other in the direction of stable, durable and soulful. An ambo, by the way, is a lectern that serves as both a reading stand and a pulpit—a single point from which we hear God’s word. The three pieces together will form the heart and the focus of our new space, wherever they get placed in the room.
This week we watched the concrete elevator shaft being poured, bit at a time, raising it finally to the level of the third floor. The interior walls have been checked for hazardous materials and prepared for the day when they will be cut open as entry points to the elevator on each floor. When that happens the office wing will become inaccessible for a few days.
The church itself has been both prepped and painted (to stunning effect!), a laborious task that required everything be wrapped in tape and plastic, including the overhanging lights. Scaffolding has been set up to accomplish this, which also allowed us to remove the large speaker that overhangs the chancel steps. (This makes way for our new and slimmer speakers—called “line arrays”— that will be affixed to the walls at each side of the chancel and point the sound to the listeners, rather than fill the room with sound.)
The pulpit, which at this writing has not yet been sold, has been dismantled and moved down into the memorial hall for temporary storage. No one could bear the thought of it simply being cut up, so we await a buyer, someone who might like the idea of their own elevated soapbox.
In recent weeks, since the renovation has started, we have not just been rebuilding our buildings, we have been rebuilding our community.
For two weeks Bob Beaty led work teams to shorten the pews and prepare them for sale. The job was massive, there being over forty pews to do, and the team efforts were herculean, as they gathered to detach kneelers and book racks, saw through solid oak, re-fit ends and supports, tap shims into place, and sand the edges of our new saleable pews.
Church members then found themselves fielding interviewers’ questions on radio and television as the word got out and the world responded with interest and even fascination. Why were we selling off our pews?! We have received calls and emails from across the country, many congratulating us on our vision and courage.
Then Nik Binder oversaw the public sale as our sales crew welcomed the community who came through the doors and bought everything in sight! We took in almost $45,000 in that sale. But the more important benefits were a little less tangible: we got to tell our story of a church refitting itself for a new place in the world; and we got to rediscover the rich blessings of our fellowship together in the Body of Christ!
Thanks to all who lent a helping hand!