Trading spaces: Part I

Saturday 9 August 2014 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — National Garage Sale Day (I am not making this up).

You know me, dear readers, I’m the very model of propriety and efficiency. These two personal propensities converge in determining how Church facilities are best and properly used. This is yet another responsibility that falls on the weary shoulders of a poor pastor. When I was a young curate, I couldn’t have cared less.

A pastor should begin with the past. Study what you have inherited — church, rectory, parish center, other? What were the original designs and purposes? 

Then move into the present. What is the current configuration and usage? Why and how did it evolve over the years? This means researching old photographs and architectural sketches as well as listening to those who remember. Lastly, find out what the people who now use the spaces have to say about the subject. 

Finally, it’s on to the future. How might the spaces be better and more properly used? The answer impacts pastoral ministry. This might involve consulting the parish pastoral council. It may also involve the parish finance council. 

In the first parish I administered, the parish center and the rectory were the same building. The building consisted of a wood-framed public schoolhouse attached to an 18th-century Cape Cod cottage. The old schoolhouse had been purchased from the town and moved to Church property.

Classes were held in the schoolhouse section of the building and also in an otherwise unused apartment over the double garage. The parish hall was the rectory living room. A lovely spiral staircase led directly from the parish hall/rectory living room to the pastor’s bedroom — an impropriety. 

After one Coffee Sunday in the parish hall/rectory living room, as I turned in for the night, I stuck my hand in a half-eaten jelly doughnut. Some child had wandered away from his parents, climbed the stairs, and stashed the doughnut under my pillow. We were not amused. 

There was also a problem with the location of the Religious Education office. You had to climb a few stairs and enter the back door of the rectory. It was not handicapped-accessible. The back door opened into the “mud room.” There sat the washer, the dryer, and the Religious Education coordinator. It gets worse.

From the mud room/Religious Education coordinator’s office, you entered the rectory kitchen. There the catechists would gather before class. One gossipy catechist would routinely check my refrigerator to see what I was having for supper that night. But wait there’s more.

From the rectory kitchen you passed a door leading into the dining room and came to the pastor’s office. It was a very awkward way to meet with the priest. 

What could I do? Not much. I just relocated the pastor’s office to the ground floor. At least it was accessible from the street. It could also double as a classroom for children with disabilities. It wasn’t ideal, but it was the best I could do.

There was no parish office.

The next parish I pastored had a staffed parish office. You climbed the back stairs, entered the rectory, passed through the entire length of the rectory dining room, and came to the desk of the parish secretary — in a tiny room with no outside access and one window. The pastor’s office was adjacent to the parish office, which would have been handy had there been a door connecting them. There wasn’t. To see the pastor, visitors had to retrace their steps through the dining room, tramp across the kitchen, and there the visitor would find the pastor sitting patiently at his desk. By the way, that rectory’s attic also hosted a large colony of bats. I let them be. The bats struck me as somehow appropriate to the situation.

I moved the parish office into a larger, brighter, and handicapped-accessible space in the classroom area of the church, cut an outside door to the pastor’s office and another door in the interior wall. Now you could come to meet the priest in the rectory without having to pass through a labyrinth. It wasn’t ideal, but it was the best I could do. 

In yet another parish, the pastor’s office was located in one half of the formal double-parlor. The parish secretary was directly across the hall in a lady’s parlor, as befits proper Victorian etiquette. Neither was handicapped-accessible. The parish center was across the parking lot from the rectory. The Religious Education office occupied two rooms in the parish center. In the parish center, on one side of the corridor were the two rooms of the Religious Education office. Directly across the corridor was a junk room (original meant to be a library). My solution was to move all offices into the accessible parish center. The unused library became an open-plan office shared by the director of Faith Formation and the parish secretary. Across the corridor, the Religious Education “work office” became a visitor’s parlor and the coordinator’s office became the pastor’s office. I demolished the rectory.

I get dizzy just thinking about all this, dear readers. My present situation will be the subject of the next column. 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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