September 5, 2019
As we undertake an important conversation about our worship space this fall, I thought it would be helpful if I write to you regularly to share what we’re doing. Our goal this fall is to have a full discussion about what renovations are desired in our worship space so that by the end of this calendar year the vestry can make a decision about the next steps. Next steps could include appointing a building committee, or hiring an architect, or hiring a liturgical consultant to advise us on possibilities. Or they could also include deciding to keep things as they are. In order to make a decision, your vestry needs to hear from you, so please be involved, come to the forums, give us your feedback, and be part of the conversation.
The first question people may have is: why are we talking about this at all? Why are we considering renovations to our worship space? So I thought I’d try to answer that this week.
We have two problems with our worship space that we need to address. One is that our organ is failing. As Murray Daniels told us in the Organ Committee’s presentation in May, the current organ is a hybrid: it is part traditional pipe organ and part 1980’s electronic (synthesized) organ. The original traditional pipe organ was deemed in the 1970s to be insufficient for our space, so it was augmented by electronic additions in the early ’80s. Right now, the pipe part of the organ does not work – the part that connects the organ pipes to the keyboard is broken. It can’t be fixed because the parts for it are no longer made. So right now we are only hearing the electronic (synthesized) organ. In addition, the electronic half is also failing – many keys and stops no longer work. Just last week, a few more notes stopped playing. It could fail altogether at any time.
So we are forced to make a decision about our organ. We could replace it with a new traditional pipe organ, a used/refurbished traditional pipe organ, a new completely synthesized organ, or another hybrid. Or we could decide that is an investment we don’t want to make and that piano music is all we need for our worship services. Our wonderful and committed Organ Committee is researching all of these options and their various costs. They made a report in the spring and will make another one this fall, as well as sending out a survey to get your thoughts in the late fall.
As we have researched organ options, we have learned that our church does not have very good acoustics. Any member of our congregation with hearing issues probably already knows this – it’s hard to hear in our sanctuary. This is partly because of the vaulted ceiling which bounces sound around. It’s also partly because our organ pipes and choir face each other across a narrow space that constrains the sound rather than letting the congregation hear the full sound of choir and organ. We have gotten reports and advice from both an acoustical engineer and an organ consultant. Both tell us that buying a new organ without fixing the acoustical problems would be wasted money. A new organ in the old organ space would be just as hard to hear as the old original pipe organ that was deemed insufficient and hard to hear. So if we want to replace or repair the organ, we need to think about how to change the space or put the organ in another location so it can be heard properly.
Secondly, you’ve probably noticed that the tile floor is also nearing the end of its life. There are many cracks and broken tiles. Some areas have been repaired, but the floor needs to be replaced. The problem is that the tiles have asbestos adhesive on them. So we also need to carefully examine options for the floor. Whatever we do with the floor will mean taking up all the pews and some disruption in our sanctuary.
Doing nothing about the floor and organ is not really an option. And it seems prudent and cost-effective to address both problems at the same time so we’re not duplicating any effort or spending money twice.
But it also gives us an opportunity to think about what else we might want to change. If we’re already going to have to move all the pews – do we like them as they are? Is the altar in the right place for us to welcome children to gather around it without worrying about them falling down the stairs? Is there enough handicapped access to the altar area? Could our sanctuary use a new coat of paint or our pews a refinishing job? Could our worship space better reflect the inclusive, welcoming church we want to be?
I don’t know the answers to any of these questions! But many smart people on our Worship Committee, Organ Committee, and Worship Space Discussion Team have been thinking and talking about them all summer. More next week on what they’ve been up to and what happens next.