“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
“Don’t remember the prior things;
don’t ponder ancient history.
Look! I’m doing a new thing;
Now it sprouts up; don’t your recognize it?
I’m making a way in the dessert,
paths in the wilderness.” Isaiah 43: 18-20
For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns —
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once,
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best
to keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
and try to stack them in a better load.
~ a poem by Robert Frost
Not many months from now our Building Committee will submit to the congregation of Central United Methodist Church a Master Plan. The committee has been working diligently through an armful of options, priorities, dreams, and decisions. Like poet Robert Frost there is nothing we want to leave behind but sometimes we have had to sit down in the middle of it all, drop the armful in the road, and do our best to stack our needs in a better load. In my last blog I said:
There are so many dreams born of the Strategic Plan. We will seek to unify all of our children into one building (birth – sixth grade); We have hopes for connecting buildings to create a magnificent Gathering Space; we need to re-join our staff into one or two buildings versus the six they are in now; there are anticipations for a new music suite for our choirs. We are considering options for carefully and beautifully re-configuring the Sanctuary chancel area and altar area to improve sight lines, accessibility, and utilization of the space without compromising the integrity of this iconic building, and perhaps a large and dedicated contemporary worship space…
The committee will present these ideas formulated into phases, include cost estimates, and some visual representations of how these ideas could look if implemented. But, we know that once that is done Central will have an armful of decisions to make. All of us together will have the opportunity to crouch down in the middle of plans, priorities, missions, and bricks and try to stack them in a better load. A challenge we will face is determining what measure we will choose to guide us in our decisions on how to proceed. There are those who passionately and nobly believe there is no higher calling than preservation of the facilities we have now. Others believe the business of being a church is really our chief business. And our chief business as a church is our chief mission: to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, building for the future, and leaving behind what no longer serves. These two positions, preservation versus leaving behind what no longer serves us well for the future, may lead us to conflict in determining our path forward. I can’t explain the issue any better than one of the staff members from our master plan firm, HH Architects, who recently said:
“… we believe that as part of programming and designing and planning for the future, (especially when planning with dated buildings on a campus) the church must decide whether they will allow “buildings to drive how they provide for ministry, or whether the ministry needs will drive the design of the facilities and campus.”
My point (in making this statement) was purely that of trying to help the group understand if the architecture of the existing buildings (including but not limited to, footprint, height, aesthetics, etc.) are set, then they may be in conflict with desirable programming and functionality of space including, size and number and type of spaces, layout of space, flexibility, code and accessibility related issues, volume, etc.
For example, if the Dickson street façade [two older buildings flanking the sanctuary] must remain in place, or be duplicated with new facilities to look like the existing facilities in proximity, height and width of façade, this will by default be creating the need to have a certain look and location of the flanking buildings which will drive the layout and functionality of the building, and based on previous programming will create some compromise and conflict.
Further, if an existing building cannot adapt, then there will be compromises in programming of ministry goals and needs, and thus creating the understanding that the building architecture will drive the ministries in lieu of ministry desires driving the building design.
As many will tell you who have to deal with our facilities on a daily basis, in general, we have two very aged facilities (Education Building and Wesley Building) that may no longer be suited for our ministry needs moving forward. This in no way understates the fact these facilities have served us very well for many decades, but we must honestly ask ourselves if they will be able to serve future generations well moving forward without compromising our ability to do effective ministry. A long term cost is that if we add onto a currently 60 year old building, in 40 years we will have a 40 year old building attached to a 100 year old building and is that the right thing to do to the next generation of church members?
In many ways this comes down to whether we will have preservation be our priority or have ministry needs – the mission of the church – be our priority. Sometimes they coincide and sometimes they are in conflict.
I am not sure if we can all appreciate the implications. If preservation of two aged buildings is our priority are we ready to perhaps compromise our ability to adequately provide for the future needs of our children’s ministries (and other ministries as well)?  Are we willing to leave our children’s spaces spread out all over campus instead of housing them all (birth-sixth grade) safely in one building next to our sanctuary? Shouldn’t we be willing to trade the limitations of our current facilities for a new and more functional facility that provides modern and well-suited classrooms, restrooms, theatre/large group space, storage space, and proximity to worship areas? In the name of preservation are we willing to give up dynamic and up-to-date facilities in favor of remodeling an aging building and possibly adding a third floor that could be too costly and too out of proportion to our existing Dickson Street façade? (There are many negative implications with the possibility of adding a third floor that the Building Committee has reviewed). Are bricks and mortar the most important thing of all? A majority of the Building Committee believes we should present options for building new spaces to supplement, compliment, and enhance the iconic beauty of our sanctuary.
There are things that can be done in the sanctuary to unleash the capabilities of a larger choir and orchestra without compromising its beauty. Some of the things being explored include: removing the barrier created by the modesty panels to provide more space up front to bring forward the piano and the organ; relocating the altar to the front of the chancel area so that all the congregation can see its beauty and symbolic importance; creating a central pulpit that extends modestly into the front seating area providing our ministers with improved ability to connect with the congregation and better visual lines for the congregation to see and connect with our ministers as well. The functionality of the current chancel space is poor due to a multitude of levels and is difficult for the ministers, musicians and choir to navigate. it is totally inaccessible for some. The plans underway would address these limitations.
Just three weeks ago Central had its first open house. It was successful but it highlighted more than ever the need for a Gathering Space or Common Area dedicated to bringing the congregation together as a community, a community of disciples, winning people to Christ, and transforming the world. In time we can build that Gathering Space and it can connect new and existing facilities together, which provide enhanced opportunities to build relationships with one another on our campus that simply do not exist right now. But before then, we all have an armful of decisions to make, and perhaps to stack them in a better load. Our current timeline is to have the options available for congregational review and input by the early part of 2016. We end as we began:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Central’s Lay Leader