In some of my rare, quiet moments, I enjoy watching home decorating television programs. I can usually turn to Home & Garden Television and find something to escape my own surroundings, with their battered baseboards and chipped walls. In addition to the fantasy designer home shows, I also enjoy the programs that feature repairs to structural nightmares. They remind me of the Jerry Springer-type talk shows of the ’90s, the ones offering us the reassurance that even though our families were weird or dysfunctional, there was always someone who was worse off.
Having just completed a long, drawn-out basement renovation, I know the satisfaction of successfully reordering and re-purposing one’s space. But my family and I know, too, the struggles of coping with the transition; from the initial destruction that prepares the space for its transformation, to the noise, dust and occasional casualty of possessions that fall victim to renovation and construction projects (our clothes drier was an early martyr, going down choking on drywall dust).
And still, we came out on the other side with a whole new space in which to spread out, an entire level of our house that hadn’t been used for some time. I have my office back, the kids (who were toddlers the last time the basement had been usable) have a new place to play and once again, we have a guest room.
This must be what a congregation feels like after it completes a redesign of its liturgical space (please see our feature, entitled Altering the altar).
My own church has been facing this, in recent years. A five-year capital campaign that saw the installation of new windows and a barrier-free lift and bathroom, enters the final phase this year with a renovation of the sanctuary. Most of the construction, thus far, has been somewhat inconvenient, but renovating the worship space will be the biggest test of the congregation to date.
So, too, has the church’s national office faced tremendous change since its move last June, into a new building less than a block away from its former home. Moving into office space in a condominium building, national church staff (Anglican Journal staff included) are still surrounded by work left undone and the reality of a space that, in many ways, does not suit our needs.
The year’s first snowstorm pointed up the lack of closet-space for coats and boots in at least one department and the omission of a supply cupboard has meant that toilet paper and paper towels are stored in plain view in the office lobby, just off to the side of the grand, sweeping staircase. At times, we struggle to remember how truly awful our workspace was, before this new building. We have to remind ourselves to embrace the positives – the friendly, inviting lobby that greets our visitors; the heating system that actually blows heat.
We muddle through, cursing the frequent fire alarms set off unwittingly by construction people whose continuing work has made them unexpected colleagues. We grumble at the noise – co-workers are suddenly only a cubicle away.
Clearly, change to one’s surroundings can be a blessing, but can also be at the same time unsettling and downright scary – in a church as much as in any institution.
How do people adapt to change
in a worship setting?
I can practically hear people of my parents’ generation, even my own generation, asking what will happen to the old windows and pews, often donated to the church by families in memory of lost loved ones? A parishioner who has always sat in the third-last pew on the right can be confounded, annoyed – devastated, even – at the prospect of movable seating that is configured differently from one Sunday to the next.
Facing one’s fellow parishioners, rather than just the celebrant, can be a bit startling to those who have only ever worshipped facing one way. To others, the idea of using sacred space for anything other than worship feels, well, wrong. And, yet, change happens, as sure as the sun rises and sets. It’s part of the human condition.
Change without purpose – change for its own sake, is simply provocative and can be used to ignore or mask problems that are bigger than one’s immediate personal context. But when change, especially in terms of physical space, comes as the result of a shift in philosophy, inspired by well-identified, changing needs, and planned in consultation with those who occupy the space, it can be a wonderful thing.
The challenge for all of us, is learning to embrace it.