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!
Well, if there was any doubt that we are in renovation mode, we have only to try to park off the alley or enter the church to make believers of us!
The hole has now been dug in the back in preparation for the elevator shaft. It will be built to provide entry on all three floors: the basement (in what was the Nazareth Room), the main floor adjacent to the Canterbury Room, and the office floor across from Lynn’s office.
The church itself has now been emptied of furnishings to allow for the installation of new flooring, and we have moved our worship down to the lower hall. The metal chairs there may not provide too much by way of comfort, but the Building Renewal Action Group (BRAG) is considering chairs to replace the pews that are not only sturdy and attractive but also … comfortable.
We tend to think of our renovations as a personal matter. We are updating our buildings to support our new directions in ministry and mission. So we might be a little surprised when the media take a sudden interest, as they did this past week.
The selling off of our pews has turned out to be a bit of a witness in its own right. All week we have been fielding calls from the media about our upcoming sale, about why we’re doing it, about what it means. And each time, we have an opportunity to tell our story once again … of St. Stephen’s, of what Go seems to be doing here, and of our attempt to find new ways of being the church in the world.
But the media is not the only way the world has been taking an interest. We have now received a pledge from a former member, who came to St. Stephen’s with his mother back in the 1940’s, and who wants to “gift” us with a refurbished sacristy as part of our renovations.
So the word is out. There’s something happening at St. Stephen’s. And we, by the grace of God, are privileged to be a part of it!
WHEREVER THE SPIRIT LEADS US
Pentecost is about new life. And not simply life unfolding before us, as we witness in our gardens every springtime. But life unfolding within us, as we feel the rejuvenation of new directions and new possibilities.
The disciples had no idea what was happening when, like the rush of a mighty wind, the Holy Spirit came suddenly upon them, sending them out into the streets to witness to God’s power. It is from this point on that they were no longer called “disciples”, a passive term, but “apostles” or “those who are sent out”. While Jesus had sent them out many times during his earthly ministry, now they were being sent out—compelled—from the inside, from the Spirit of Jesus residing within them.
And so with us. Clara will be ordained to the priesthood this afternoon, “sent out” to preach the Good News, to preside at the Holy Table, and to care for God’s People. As much as she will always be part of us, she is being set apart for a particular mission and ministry, one that will take her wherever God calls her.
Our congregation is experiencing such a “sending out” these days too. We have left our beloved church while it is undergoing renovations. We are worshiping below in the church hall like a people on a journey. When we return, sometime in the early fall, we will be in a strange new land, with new directions and new opportunities—wherever the Spirit will lead us.
A difficult decision this week.
After the plans had been drawn up for the lower level washrooms, to be situated beneath the narthex, it came to our attention that some people in the congregation would miss the convenience of a main floor washroom, in particular, seniors and people with mobility issues. So we found the money elsewhere in the budget to demolish the present washroom and recreate a fully accessible main floor washroom in its place.
But at a site meeting with the builder last week we heard concerns about hazardous materials in the ceiling of the hallway outside the Canterbury Room. Left alone, no hazard presents itself. But disturbed, as it would be in the building of a new washroom, the entire ceiling would have to be replaced … doubling the cost.
Without minimizing the convenience of a main floor washroom, we did not see where the money would come from to proceed. So regretfully we have had to let it go. The present washroom will be taken out (the space is needed to accommodate the entrance to the elevator) but a new one will not be built. We hope that, in the end, the stairs and the elevator will provide ample access for everyone to the washrooms downstairs.
“ONWARD, CHRISTIAN PILGRIMS!”
After years of dreaming, it’s suddenly happening all around us: construction has begun! The tiles are coming up, the pews are coming down, and asbestos is coming out, and we are going out of the Sanctuary today, not to return until we enter into the New Jerusalem: our renewed worship space. But we humans are creatures of habit; we rely on the known, the routine to allow us to function in the world. A temporary move can be a joyful time of congregational renewal, as the structures of routine are removed, and the community draws closer to one another, on pilgrimage into the unknown. For other congregations, the stress of the unknown shortens their patience with one another, as they struggle to make do in marginal worship environments with uncomfortable chairs, bad acoustics and makeshift liturgy.
Doubtless, in our temporary home, we will struggle. The chairs are uncomfortable, the acoustics may well be bad, and there will be days when chaos seems to triumph over order. But it is we ourselves that will decide whether we find in the Lower Hall a joyful time of renewal or a grim time of shortened tempers with ourselves and one another. We can choose the better way, by being gentle with ourselves, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, finding humour in mistakes, welcoming the God of creative chaos. And if we are intentional in this choice, we will find that this is who we really are, and we will be blessed.
Cantaré Children’s Choir
While church renovations begin to disrupt daily life all around us, we are already beginning to harvest the anticipated results.
This summer the Cantaré Children’s Choir will be taking up residence in our midst. Cantaré is a well-known and well-respected choral program led by Catherine Glasser-Climie. One hundred and fifty children, ages six through eighteen, gather each week to deepen their knowledge and appreciation of music, to learn the principles of diversity, respect and cooperation, and to rehearse for award-winning performances here in Alberta and across the country.
For the moment, Cantaré will house their administration in our tower office (aka, the former women’s choir room, Jeff’s office, and presently the counters’ room) and will begin bi-weekly rehearsals in our worship space. Once the renovation dust has settled, they will move to the upper studio in the Memorial Hall (where our church offices used to be, years ago) above the artists’ studios already well employed on the main floor. As we move into the fall season choral concerts will be offered in the church, bringing the public into our lively facilities and delighting them with God’s gift of song.
This is precisely the sort of relationship we had hoped to develop with the wider community through our renovated facilities. With fully accessible entrances and washrooms, theatre lighting, an improved sound system, and an evocatively sacred space, St. Stephen’s is taking its first steps toward becoming a cultural hub in the City.
To learn more about Cantaré visit their website: www.cantarechildrenschoir.homestead.com.
This week our renovations are all about chairs and pews. Bob Beaty is leading a team to begin dismantling the pews and preparing them for sale. A carpenter will cut them down to 3,4,5 and 6-foot lengths, and replace the end pieces. Then on Saturday, June 1, we will welcome the public for a massive sale. We will consider advance orders from church member (though prices have not yet been set).
BRAG members continue to study the options for chairs. They will be wood framed with upholstered seats and backs and each chair will have a kneeler. That much we know. But book racks diminish our ability to stack the chairs, so are we ready to worship bookless? The point of having chairs is to increase flexibility in our use of the nave area which requires the possibility of removing chairs that are not needed. Non-stackable chairs would have nowhere to go when they are not needed. So there is still more work to be done on this.
Meanwhile Brag is considering whether or not to include a labyrinth in the flooring of the nave. This would provide us with an important design feature would also serve for spiritual practice (like our weekly meditation group). But there is no provision for it under the budget, so it would have to either come from new donations or from our contingency fund.