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.
Last week we received the word we were waiting for: the Province has granted us $125,000 from the Community Facility Enhancement Program to help make our buildings more accessible to the public. We now have the funds to complete the full scope of work we had originally envisioned for our renovations.
Next week our contractor, Karson Builders, will oversee the removal of asbestos from our old boiler room and from floor tiles and walls where it has been found. This could take several weeks to accomplish. Then the real work begins.
“BRANDING” ST. STEPHEN’S
This week, following our 10:30 service, we will talk about “selling” St. Stephen’s. No, we’re not going anywhere. But we are considering how best to present ourselves to the wider community and therefore, in that sense alone, “selling” ourselves.
Churches never had to do this in the past. They enjoyed a central and even privileged place within the social fabric. Everyone knew what churches did and how they contributed to the common good. That’s because just about everyone belonged to a church, or knew people who did. Now, when a grocery clerk has to ask what a clerical collar stands for, we know times have changed.
As the church recedes farther and farther from public notice, we must become intentional, entrepreneurial even, to win a place in the modern world. So we must be as clear as we can about who we are, what we are about, and what we have to offer the wider community. Then we must employ all the means available to us to present ourselves to that community.
In the marketing world this is called “branding”. A product becomes known by a certain image, a certain impression, which plants itself in the public’s mind. But that impression must be both accurate and compelling. If it is not accurate, it is false advertising. If it is not compelling, it simply fails.
So as odd as it may sound, yes, we are preparing to “sell” St. Stephen’s. Take part in the conversation, if you can. It’s your church.
“BECOMING PUBLIC SERVANTS”
There was a time, not so very long ago, when church and politics mingled as easily as a glass of port and a good cigar. The Anglican Church in particular was so embedded in Canada’s political life that it was sometimes referred to as the “Conservative Party at prayer”! Not so much anymore.
There are those who grow nostalgic for those days of insider power and privilege. But the church in the modern age has been a given a new opportunity to define itself in the world. Now it must create its own usefulness. It must prove its worth and its place in the world rather than taking anything for granted.
At St. Stephen’s we continue to explore our usefulness as disciples of Christ and servants of God’s world. Over fifteen years ago Inn From the Cold started here, and that helped us enormously in finding a new role for ourselves: that of public servants. Now we are exploring relationships with the arts, offering our buildings as administration, studio, rehearsal, and performance space.
Some say these are hard times for the church; and declining numbers across the country would bear this out. But these are also exciting times, if we can but grasp the spirit of the age and discover new ways to love God and love our neighbour. Those of us who gather regularly here for worship and for ministry feel the great privilege of walking by faith and learning new ways to be ‘Church’ in the modern world.