Last Christmas

One of our parishioners posted this capture on facebook with a note reminding us this would be the last Christmas in the old church. It’s a long story connected with the parish founding. As was told to me, the founding pastor was instructed to build a school first, including a gymnasium. It was later decided that the school wasn’t needed right away, and that the largest room in the complex could be converted from indoor athletics for worship.

More than twenty years later, the first windows were cut into the upper walls. Three groups of three. You might also note patterns of three in that dark-stained wood behind our younger deacon and retired pastor. The windows will remain, but the dark wood will all be gone by mid-2020, if all goes according to plan.

This will be my fourth church renovation. The first was an update of a 1945 building that took seven months. We worshiped in the city’s high school gymnasium–and it was fairly bright. The second was minor–it involved about a month in the parish school auditorium to re-do the sanctuary area. The third was the clean-up from an arson attack and took seven months in public facilities and other churches.

The plan in the books is about a year in the parish social hall. We’ll begin a week or two after Triduum.

I find myself both bothered and amused at the criticism I used to see levelled at “non-traditional” churches, whatever that means. For many parishes–and even their clergy–buildings were imposed by diocesan fiat, or by financial necessity. If I were on staff or consulting with a spanking-new parish, I’d tell them to forget the school and rectory. Build the church first. It’s the most important task they’ll undertake in the early days.

I visited a parish once for a job interview. Sunday Mass was in the school auditorium. It had been so for almost thirty years. I recall the parish was in heavy debt for building its school and had never really mastered it. No church building was on the horizon. It was very sad.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to Last Christmas

  1. Devin Rice says:

    A local Orthodox mission that was renting office space just recently bought land and built a “future parish hall” that also currently serves as worship space. The nave is divided from the social area by glass doors. The building A) really serves well as a worship space in the Byzantine tradition (and looks better than many purposely built Roman Churches, B) has enough room for potluck dinners for the size of parish and for supporting community, C) and if for whatever reason the property had to be sold, it would be a much easier task.

    I wonder if unintentionally, the parish stumbled onto a model that would work in many Catholic parishes. In modern society, no one knows what future demographics will be in certain areas. Having built in flexibility would be a benefit.

    • Liam says:

      Which branch of the Orthodox Byzantine tradition? Were the ministers limited to the priest and deacon, and no or few instrumental musicians or other lay ministers (that is, does it hew closer to a more “traditional” Orthodox parish (not cathedral/monastic) praxis of relatively few liturgical dramatis personae, as it were? Is there pew-like seating or only limited seating for those in need (the latter being more “traditional”). It’s certainly true that more “traditional” Orthodox parishes appear to be strongly disinclined to make “meeting people where they are” much of an influence in *worship* arrangements (it’s more like “no, thanks, we just offer to take people where they should be”)!

      • Devin Rice says:

        It is an OCA parish. Besides the priest and deacon, there are servers (male of course) and a choir with no instruments. The congregation engages a lot in their responses and I have never heard Church Slavonic used in the services so it is at least not a regular feature.
        The Church has no pews but rather chairs both around the perimeter and in the middle where pews traditional would be. But the chairs take up less space and provides somewhat less seating then pews generally would. In other words, there is plenty of room to stand where there are no chairs.

        The parish itself is very welcoming to visitors, not so much in adaption of the liturgy but in making sure that are worship guides available and parishioners who will help out the lost.

      • Liam says:

        Thanks, Devin. I suspected it was OCA or ROCOR – a traditional Russian Orthodox arrangement where furnishings are focused on the sanctuary and iconostasis, and where a certain minimalism of appointments/furnishings for other ministerial and worshipping folk obtains as compared to Western churches. Your description of worship guides is within the “we just offer to take people where they should be” approach as opposed to alterations to make worship and the space more like what seekers might be coming from, as it were.

  2. Devin Rice says:

    I also posted a link to the parishes Facebook page for pictures but I guess links get picked for moderation. It is Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in Mechanicsburg PA so you can see for yourself the interior.

    • Liam says:

      Thanks. Bigger than I expected for a OCA mission, but then again I realize that only part of the main “space” is dedicated to worship, and the furnishings are about what I would have expected. Given time, talent and treasure, larger wall icons may eventually grace the side walls of that space.

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