THE CHRISTMAS STORY
This week we celebrate the most beloved of all Christian holy days: Christmas. Surprisingly this feast developed rather late in Western Christian history, its present form and popularity owing more perhaps to Charles Dickens than to traditional Christian practise.
In the early days of the Church it was Easter that received the greatest attention. In fact, the earliest writings in the Bible show no awareness of the details of Christ’s birth at all, suggesting the Christmas story as we know it developed rather late in the process. But the 4th and 6th centuries saw great controversies about the meaning of the Person of Christ which drew attention to the Incarnation—literally Christ’s “enfleshment”—which is celebrated at Christmas.
While early dating of Christ’s birth placed the feast on May 20, Roman practise eventually settled on December 25, perhaps to counteract the pagan feast of the Nativity of the Sun God. In the East however, even where December 25 became the normative date for Christmas, many churches placed greater emphasis on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, and many still regard that day as the greater festival.
Christmas in the West traditionally has been celebrated by three Masses: at midnight on Christmas Eve, at dawn on Christmas Day, and again later in the day. Popular custom allows us to offer a variety of worship services to meet a variety of needs, as we do: the Pageant for families, a late-night Christmas Eve service, and the quieter Christmas morning service.
FIGURING IT ALL OUT
Last week we reported on some things still to be figured out as we settle into our newly renovated space. This week we turn our attention to the finances required to run our new facility.
The vision that guided our renovations focused on a more welcoming and flexible building complex that supported our own program needs while engaging the wider community, especially through the arts. That meant, among other things, washrooms appropriate for larger crowds and sound and light systems suitable for artistic presentations. But both come with a price tag beyond their installation costs.
Larger useable floor space in the church and the new washrooms require cleaning, as do all the hallways with their increased weekly use. So we have offered Eduardo our caretaker a full-time contract, doubling his hours. Similarly the advanced technology up in the balcony requires an experienced hand to set and monitor the sound and lights, both for worship and for public performances. Chad Dudley our web site designer is that person, and he is training a team of volunteer techies to help him out. Then to coordinate special events—either our own or the community’s—we need a House Manager, someone to oversee the building’s use. We are still searching for that person.
The funds for these new expenses will come partly from the groups that use our church, who are surcharged for any additional staffing they require. The rest comes from our own members—from you!—who support us through your regular offerings.
Last Sunday we hosted two concerts in our new space: a choral concert in the afternoon and in the evening a benefit concert for Madison House, a residence for veterans who might otherwise be on the street. The second event was particularly telling, and also very encouraging.
The program—“Christmas at Madison House”—was a parade of young musical talent, each act performing three or four songs in a wide range of styles, from pop to jazz to Latino to folk. Our rector was invited to close the program with a few compositions of his own.
The new stage proved equal to the task, as did our sound and theatrical systems. But it took a deft hand—by which we mean Chad our technical support person—to manage the sound levels and the lighting for such a diverse program.
But the organizers could not have been happier with their new venue. They raised over $1000 to help give the residents of Madison House a Merry Christmas. They praised what we had done to the place to make it so accessible. They also thanked us for our willingness to make it available for their fund-raiser. Clearly they will return, perhaps making their program an annual event at St. Stephen’s.
This was our hope: that our building might serve as a way of connecting with the wider community through the arts … and especially the developing arts, the young up-and-coming artists who will make their mark in years to come. We’re launched.
“We’ll Figure it Out!”
Well, we’re in! After six months of displacement, dust and disorder, we are finally back into our church for worship, along with our new Sunday School space, ramps, an elevator, and washrooms. It’s all shiny and new and there is much we now have to learn about our renovated space.
In fact that has become our motto in recent months as we have been planning our return—”We’ll figure it out!” It was a default position for us when we could not imagine with certainty how things were going to be. Here is a partial list of some of those things we still have to “figure out”:
– Who will move the chairs and other furnishings when we need to change the configuration?
– How do we secure the church offices now that the elevator stops at the third floor?
– How do we let people know where the new washrooms are? (They’re down on the basement level.)
– Who will monitor the sounds and lights during regular worship services?
– Now that we have a ramp, how do we make the doors accessible for wheelchairs?
You can help us with this. Please give us your observations and suggestions and also your offers of assistance as we settle into our new space. If the sound isn’t working for you, tell us. If the arrangement of chairs is confusing, let us know. If signage is unhelpful, point it out.
We’ve travelled a long way together. Now we need to work together to inhabit our new space.
Next week our renovations wrap up, with only a few eleventh hour deadlines still to be met. These include the arrival of the new chairs (slated for Monday or Tuesday), the replacement of all the light bulbs in the church and chapel (including one defective spotlight), the installation of the new cabinets in the sacristy, and the completion of the worship accessories (processional cross and torches).
Two worship services will help us celebrate and reoccupy our new space. The first is the Blessing of the Furnishings—our new font, ambo and altar—on Thursday, November 21, at 7:30 p.m. The Bishop will be present to lead us in this dramatic spot-lit service as we move in procession through the church, ending in a large circle around the altar for communion. A wine and cheese reception will follow, with BRAG members available to lead guided tours through the renovated parts of our building.
Then on Sunday, November 24, at 10:30 a.m. we will celebrate “The Return of the Exiles” as our combined Sunday morning congregations process up from the lower Memorial Hall into our new church! The service will include our first baptism using the new font and a novel arrangement of chairs to help us gather in a new way. The coffee hour that follows will take place in the church itself, with BRAG members available again for guided tours.
Worshipers this Sunday will be unable to wander the church. The flooring in the narthex and in the hallways will have received their protective sealant so those areas will be out-of-bounds. Which is too bad. Because the recent progress has been stunning.
The finishing touches have been applied to the church and chapel, including the reinstallation of the altar rails in the chapel and the fitting of the old altar frontispiece into the reredos. Oak panels have been inserted where the curtains used to hang and the tabernacle has been moved forward to a more convenient location in the chancel.
Downstairs the washrooms have received all their fixtures, and the millwork has been installed in the Creation Space (the former Bethlehem and Nazareth Rooms). The connecting ramp to the lower Memorial Hall has been fitted with handrails (not so attractive perhaps, but mandatory).
Outdoors, the concrete for the ramp will have been poured by this weekend, making the church accessible from the street once again, and the damaged front steps are being repaired.
Finally, the new font, ambo and altar have arrived, though they will remain veiled until the opening. The accessories—a refurbished processional cross, a new paschal stand, and two new processional torches—will be completed by the end of next week.
Behind closed doors our new world is taking shape.
Renovation Corner #’s
As we prepare to close the file on the renovations here are some numbers you might find interesting:
10 The number of years we have been studying what to do with our ageing buildings.
3 The number of years the Building Renewal Action Group (BRAG) has been meeting to plan and coordinate the renovation of our church buildings.
9 The number of BRAG members who have carried out the project.
4.5 The estimated cost (in millions of dollars) of the original vision for the renovation of our church buildings.
1.1 The budget (in millions of dollars) for our renovations based on a feasibility study of what the congregation could actually afford.
1.75 The actual cost (in millions of dollars) by the end of the project.
350 The amount (in thousands of dollars) of public monies received, including both federal and provincial grants.
30 The amount (in thousands of dollars) of church monies received, including from the Diocese of Calgary and the Anglican Foundation.
1.3 The amount (in millions of dollars) received through the gifts, pledges and bequests of church members and friends.
112 The amount (in thousands of dollars) of outstanding pledges due to be collected in 2014 and 2015.
100 The amount (in thousands of dollars) of bridge financing required to cover the outstanding pledges.
0 The amount of any long-term mortgage of building loans relating to the renovation.
We have our dates! We expect to see the completion of the renovations within the first week in November, followed by our occupancy permit by November 15. This means we can begin moving back into our church, chapel and creation space (the former Nazareth and Bethlehem Rooms) the weekend of the 17th.
Here are some dates to mark on your calendar:
Moving Day. Sunday, November 17, 12 noon to 2 p.m. Sign-up sheets will appear the next few weeks for Movers, Fixers, Cleaners and Feeders to help us settle back into our renovated space. A true community effort.
Blessing of the New Furnishings. Thursday, November 21, at 7:30 p.m. It is the Bishop’s prerogative to bless new church furnishings. So Bishop Greg Kerr-Wilson will be with us in a unique service that will see our new altar, font and ambo blessed and set to use. A beautiful spot-lit ceremony not to be missed.
First Sunday Service. Sunday, November 24, at 10:30 a.m. There will be no 8 a.m. service that morning as we all assemble down in the lower hall to process together into our new, fully-functional worship space. Prepare to be amazed.
Activity is increasing around the church these days as renovations approach completion. The finishing millwork in the church and chapel will be done this week, including the reinstallation of the altar rails in the chapel and the refitting of the main altar frontispiece into the reredos. The control boards for both the new sound system and the new theatre lighting have been installed up in the balcony.
The front yard remains a mess, however, and the entryways remain blocked by the foundation work for the new ramp. Who knew that building a ramp could become such a costly and complicated process? When the first plan saw the ramp cutting through not only the flower beds that line the outer walls of the narthex, but also the roots of the vines that climb those walls, BRAG issued a change order to save the vines. But that slight dodge changed everything … as the new foundations take on the dimensions of an aircraft carrier!
The lower washrooms await the installation of their sinks and toilets and the creation space will soon receive its millwork, generously designed and discounted by the folks at DIRTT Design. The lower space will have the flexibility to serve the needs of our Sunday School while also providing rentable conference and workshop rooms during the week.
The adjusted construction schedule now extends into the first week of November, with an occupancy permit following (hopefully) the week after that. We are now looking to November 17 or 24 as our likely return dates.
This week it is fair to say we are almost there. Two weeks to completion, then a week or two for signing off and receiving an occupancy permit from the city, then we’re back in business.
Enmax has disconnected the old electrical service and powered up the new one. The elevator is essentially complete and awaiting approval. The new washrooms are tiled. The church and chapel are now ready with the exception of the finishing millwork (like reattaching the altar rail in the chapel, moving the tabernacle and completing the work on the reredos (the oak paneling in the sanctuary).
While final payment for all the work will be due by the end of the calendar year, our pledges stretch into 2015. So we are arranging some bridge financing with the Anglican Foundation to carry us over until all the pledges have come in. Other than that, we will be incurring no debt—no mortgage, no building loans—for this $1.7 million project. By any standard a remarkable achievement!
The Bishop is waiting for us to confirm a date so he can be with us to bless the new furnishings. We are working on a draft of our opening worship the Sunday we move back into the church. Plans are underway for an Open House in December. We’re almost there.