What to do when a beloved church building must be renovated?
§ 240 § When renovation of a church is to be undertaken or when it becomes necessary to raze an old church, special care is needed. A church that has served its people over many years will not easily be relinquished, especially by those with deep roots in the parish. In this type of project, parish involvement in the assessment of need and in subsequent planning is especially critical. Although consultation allows opposition to emerge more quickly than it otherwise might, in the final analysis it is better that all points of view be heard and dealt with in an atmosphere of respect and collaboration than that they be left unvoiced to fester for the future.
I still remember a very wise pastor who called a special meeting to respond to the “opposition.” He walked into a full church with a folding chair under his arm. He set it up at the end of the main aisle and said he would dialogue with anyone and everyone for as long as it took.
§ 241 § There will always be some members of a community who will find it difficult, if not impossible, to relinquish their past church, but an open assessment of the local needs, coupled with education about the liturgical rites, can go far toward drawing a parish together in support of the work to be done. In principle, the community deserves to hear how the renovation will enhance their ability to pray with solemnity, beauty, and dignity.
§ 242 § It is also important in situations such as these for respect to be shown for the existing building and its appointments so as to preserve as much of the original worthy fabric as possible. When the project involves a renovation, materials such as marble and wood paneling, as well as other artifacts or furnishings, often can be refurbished and incorporated into the new design, provided they are of requisite quality. Informing the parish of the efforts being made in this regard may make the adjustment to the new worship space less difficult, if not more appealing.
It can be difficult when materials are thought to be of quality, but it is discovered not to be so. In the parish above, every effort was made to utilize the “Italian marble” of the high altar. Alas, it was a quarter-inch veneer glued to a concrete frame.
§ 243 § There are times, however, when the materials are no longer suitable, either because they are worn or because they no longer serve the needs of the liturgy. In such cases, pastors and committees need to consult with the diocesan worship office or the chancery regarding any policies governing the disposal of such items. In recent years there have been examples of religious artifacts and sacred vessels appearing at auctions and on websites for purchase with seemingly no consideration of their purpose or significance.
§ 244 § Finally, when a church interior is to be gutted or torn down, celebrating a final Mass to mark the closing of the church building is appropriate. Perhaps the most appropriate ritual would be the final celebration of Mass in the church, followed by a procession in which the people journey to either the new place of worship or to the place that will serve them temporarily until the necessary work on the new or renewed space for worship is finished.
All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.