As people are taking a peek and getting the feel for our new worship space some are curious about how it is going to work exactly. However we want it to work, would be our answer, flexibility being the key concept.
If you examine the positioning of the new, overhead, theatre lighting you will see that the lights are trained on three possible “stage” areas: the centre of the former chancel (where the altar was situated most recently), the new apron stage down in front, and the heart of the labyrinth. These suggest some of the locations where the altar might be placed, or where a performer might perform, with chairs assembled around or in front accordingly.
For worship, however we orient ourselves in the new space, visual unity will be provided by our newly commissioned font, ambo and altar, which will always be placed in proximity to one another, suggesting these three dimensions of our worship life: Baptism, Proclamation and Eucharist.
By the way, the font, ambo and altar are nearing completion and we await their unveiling with growing excitement. The creations of Jeremy Pavka and Matthew Bourree of MMJT Contemporary Design, the dark walnut and bleached maple structures will be a study in form and motion, reflecting the flexibility of the space overall. Which is to say, stunning!
One of the goals of our renovation project is to make St. Stephen’s more welcoming and accessible, both for ourselves and for the wider community. But you wouldn’t know that these days!
Our outdoor entrance to the Canterbury Room door has now been removed, leaving in its place a fenced-off mess hole. We are also aware that the outdoor steps to both the main doors and chapel doors are crumbling, rendering those approaches not just uninviting but also dangerous!
But behind the destruction there is a plan, beyond the mess there is a hope, sort of like life after death. Temporarily, access to the building is limited to the doors to the Memorial Hall, for which a ramp has been built. Alternatively, during the week, the doors off the alleyway are available and there is a doorbell at the east entrance there to contact the office for someone to unlock the door from there (the doorbell at the west door rings only down in the kitchen so it is less likely that someone will hear and respond from there).
Once the renovations are complete we will have a broad new ramp at a low grade of incline from the front of the building to the Canterbury Room door. We will also have repaired or replaced the steps to both the main doors and the chapel doors (though this is not part of the renovations and will have to be financed through our regular budget).
So a way into the building will be created! That is our plan. You might even say, “Where there is a way, there is a will”. In the meantime we must endure a little short-term pain for a long-term gain.
It is interesting how, the closer we get to completion, an entirely new set of questions, challenges and opportunities presents itself. For instance, how ought we officially to open the new space?
The opening date, not surprisingly, is being pushed back now to early November. While the church itself should be ready before that, the elevator, ramp, washrooms and creation space will take a little longer … and we would like to reclaim those spaces all at once.
When we do move back we will need the bishop to bless the new altar, ambo and font before we can put them to use, so an ecclesiastical service would be necessary, and likely not on a Sunday morning (as the bishop is already booked on Sundays well into 2014). The Diocese would be invited and we would offer tours and hospitality to our guests and visitors.
Then there would be our first Sunday worshiping back in the church, which could be November 10 or 17. We would want to arrange the seating to showcase the new and flexible possibilities, so some thought needs to go into that. And we would provide the opportunity for our members to walk around and become familiar with our new space, perhaps even as part of our liturgy.
Then, a short while later, we will want to invite the wider community—our immediate neighbours, friends of the parish, performing arts groups, government representatives, plus all the various trades and industries that contributed to the renovation—to see for themselves the possibilities of our new space as a cultural hub and gathering place for the community.
This may become the Grand Opening that never ends.
Our Building Renewal Action Group (BRAG) continues to work at the Art of the Possible, trying to manage what remains of the project without incurring any debt. Generous donations continue coming in, which is very encouraging, but still we continue to remove things from our To Do list to place them on our Wish List.
We now have a clearer idea of when the renovations will be completed. The church itself might well be ready for occupancy by the end of September … except, that is, for the delivery of the new chairs, which is now slated for the end of October! The elevator, lower washrooms, and Creation Space (that will house our Sunday School) are unlikely to be completed before the end of October as well. So it now looks like an early November opening.
This allows us to plan a number of special events. The Bishop must be called upon to bless the new altar, ambo, and font before they can be put to use. Then we will have our first Sunday services in the new space. And then we will have a public Grand Opening where we show off our new facilities to the wider community. So lots to look forward to!
Our entrance foyer is now crowded with the massive metal components of an enormous three-dimensional puzzle that will become our elevator! The flooring is being laid in the church this week, including the labyrinth inset—for which a generous donor has stepped forward! The downstairs washrooms are taking shape, along with electrical improvements in the undercroft. The “Creation Space” that will house our Sunday children’s program is beginning to look like a serviceable room and, thanks to another generous donor, the Excellent Adventure will now have furnishings!
Work is now set to begin on the outdoor ramp that will lead up from the outside corner of the church to the Canterbury Room door. That work was held up when we realized that the original plan would have sacrificed the ivy growing on the west side of the church. It was not inexpensive to come up with an alternative plan and then issue a change order, but we felt it was worth it because of the aesthetic value of the ivy.
The new altar, ambo and font are also nearing completion, with a new matching cross, paschal candle and processional torches to be included as part of the package. The drawings were stunning so we cannot wait to see the finished product. The Bishop has been invited to hold several possible dates for the blessing of these sacred items, as is required before they can be put to use.
As the end of the renovations comes into view (giving thanks to God for the absence of dust, noise and inconvenience) we find ourselves facing a Day of Reckoning. How much work remains, and how much money do we have to accomplish it?
The truly amazing fact is that, at every step along the way, as some doors have closed—like the windows we were going cut in the narthex, looking into the church—others have opened—like the sacristy renovations.
But now it also becomes clear that some features of our original plan simply remain out of reach. So our Excellent Adventure program will have a new and improved location (in the old Bethlehem and Nazareth rooms) but it will not have any chairs and tables, sinks or countertops! Similarly our new chapel will not have room dividers to close it off from the main church (though we have a stunning plan that involves some of our old stained glass windows).
If anyone wonders if perhaps our Open Doors campaign (to raise funds for the project) has ended, it has not. It has remained active throughout the renovations for any who want to make a donation toward the project’s completion. And it has never been more necessary than now. Thanks as always for your incredible generosity!
Great progress is being made on our renovations, prompting us to look ahead to issues relating to their completion. The anticipated completion date is now October 13—Thanksgiving!
We are preparing a Donor Appreciation plaque to hang in our narthex. We will be displaying draft copies in the Memorial Hall over the next few weeks and sending out a copy electronically by email. Your help is needed in one of three ways:
- If you are a donor, please ensure your name is on the list;
- if you are a donor, and your name appears on the list, please confirm the spelling and any other details;
- if you were not a donor, but would like to become one (and have your name on the list) please make a donation to “St. Stephen’s Church” (marked “Open Doors Campaign”) by September 15th.
As renovations have continued, a number of features of the original plan have had to be dropped due to budgetary restraints. So we have developed a Wish List of the items that would bring back some of the elements of our original vision. These include (along with an estimated cost):
- completion of sacristy renovation (to include washroom): $20,000
- furniture for Creation Space (Sunday School & Conference Room): $5,000
- organ upgrades: $50,000
- professional performance-standard piano: $50,000
- padded individual kneeling cushions: $2,500.
If you are interested in donating any of these items, please speak to a member of Corporation or BRAG.
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!