Chairs! (For now)
In January when I first floated the vision of Memorial becoming ‘A Model Church for the 21st Century’ we talked a lot about what that would look like. One way the vestry has been exploring his is to replace an institutional model of thinking (plan, plan, plan, plan, execute) with a ‘new process’ model of thinking: Brainstorm, implement, review, adapt, implement, repeat. Over the last two weeks we have seen one example of this before our eyes in the sanctuary - new, blue chairs. A comment I heard repeatedly over the weekend was - “I love these chairs, whose are they?” Whether for the wedding, reception on Saturday, or for the Holy Eucharist and Baptism on Sunday - over and over people asked me about those new blue chairs in the Sanctuary. And the answer is they belong to us! I am so glad you like them! But don’t worry! They are not permanent. Unless we decide they are.
A little bit of backstory:
In order for the Sanctuary to work for services and for an event space, we knew we needed chairs. We intended to borrow some chairs but the chairs we identified were not of good quality and were going to present a number of challenges. At the same time, the worship committee and the vestry wanted to explore what the sanctuary space would look like as a more flexible, open space. Summer is an ideal time to do this because our attendance is lower, the services are less formal, and the fall marks a good time to put things ‘back into order’ and start again. Of course, new church chairs are fantastically expensive. To replace our current stock of hardwood and cushioned chairs would be about $300 per chair. Close to $50,000 all told. However, after consulting with some other churches, including our former interim rector Kristin Krantz, we identified a significantly cheaper option (less than $6,000 total) that we can use for the summer and either keep or sell/repurpose in the fall. We had some generous contributions to help make this happen so it has not impacted our budget. Instead of making a big push for something we were unsure of, we did it in a smaller, more manageable way that would allow us to evaluate and adapt going forward. The pews and the old chairs are in storage in the lower parish hall for the summer. Following this experiment we will do some significant listening to the parish about how they feel about the changes, and then make a determination with the vestry about the vest way to proceed. I know that for some of you this is a significant change. Those pews are well worn, and hold important and significant memories for us. They have marked baptisms, weddings, funerals, productions, and the growing up of family. They may be a bulwark against the passage of time and a source of important comfort. Unfortunately, they also are falling apart and I have been advised that if we don’t do something, they may end up being decommissioned all on their own.
So What is Next?
The Worship Committee will be experimenting with the worship space over the summer. We know there are some significant repairs needed in the sanctuary, particularly the altar rail, the cork tile floor, and some of the stain glass. As your Rector, it is my hope that we might consider a significant renovation of the Sanctuary and Church Building, beginning sometime in 2020/2021. Our Buildings and Grounds Committee has shepherded significant renovations of the Rectory and the Parish Hall, but the Sanctuary continues to have quite a few needs outside and inside. It is my hope that seeing the space opened up without the pews, even for a short period of time, will give us some vision as to what the possibilities could be for the space moving forward and create some excitement around the future of our worship and our common life together. So please join us for worship this Summer! Test out the chairs. The sight-lines. The angles. The worship experience. And help to provide feedback as to what you are looking for in your Church experience. From the moment you enter, to when you take your seat, to how you receive communion, to the music that brings you in and that carries you home. If we are to be a model church for the 21st century - it will take all of our investment in the ongoing conversation.