Trading spaces: Part II

Friday 15 August 2014 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — 45th anniversary of Woodstock

You know me, dear readers. When it comes to Church management, I try to make the most of what we have. In my current assignment, the situation was more complicated than I had previously encountered. It took two years of study. 

I began in the Sanctuary. The tabernacle was tucked in a corner, its view obstructed by an organ. The lovely Sanctuary lamp was hidden behind a flag. The Sanctuary lamp stand was intricately carved oak. Unfortunately, those entering the church had to look hard to find the reserved Eucharist. The solution was to move the tabernacle, the Eucharistic pillar, and the lamp stand back to its central location. Father Peter John and I did so one afternoon. It took less than 15 minutes. It cost us nothing. The response of the parishioners was overwhelmingly favorable. The space formerly occupied by the Eucharistic shrine was reassigned to the very appreciative musicians, cantors and choirs who previously had no space at all. 

Next came the issue of the baptismal font and Paschal candle. The candle was of carved oak, matching the Sanctuary lamp stand. It was a nice large font but took up much-needed Sanctuary space. There was, meanwhile, an unused area near a main entrance of the church. Father Peter John and I moved the font to the main entrance of the church. Now all who pass the font can dip their fingers into the waters of Baptism. But there was still one thing missing — the Holy Oils. We had no ambry. 

I found a wooden tabernacle from a long-gone side altar. It was being used as a statue pedestal. A neighborhood furniture maker took the discarded oak tabernacle, replaced the wooden door with one of glass, and installed interior lighting. Voila — a lighted ambry for the Holy Oils.

Now we needed something on which to place the ambry. I found the original Baptism font by gently lifting a wooden cover on the credence table. There was a matching oak pedestal for the ambry. Since the craftsman donated his work and since we were recycling what we already had, the Baptism area cost us nothing. 

Then there was the issue of the Sanctuary crucifix. It was too small to be seen. Our church aisle is 200 feet long. The original crucifix was hanging out of view to three quarters of the assembly. So, that was a no-brainer. Move the large crucifix back to the Sanctuary. The problem was we couldn’t hang it. The space was now occupied by a beautiful stained glass window. Again someone stepped to the plate and crafted a stand to hold the crucifix. As an added bonus, the crucifix could be easily removed from the stand and used for veneration on Good Friday. The return of the crucifix was applauded by parishioners. An anonymous donor paid for the custom-made stand. The whole thing cost us nothing. We were reusing what we already had. 

Now, it’s on to the rectory and church office. Originally, the parish records were stored in a dank little room in the rectory basement. Back in the day, there was no such thing as a parish secretary (only a housekeeper). There was one tiny office shared by the priests. When Religious Education coordinators came into vogue, the coordinator was assigned a space off the rectory kitchen. Classes met in the basement of the church — the church hall — separated by flimsy accordion walls. 

A forward-thinking predecessor of mine, Msgr. John Regan, remedied the situation by building a light-filled addition to the rectory. Now, the parish secretary had a station, both priests had offices, as did the coordinator.

The same pastor went on to completely rehabilitate and modernize the church hall. Finally the children had suitable classrooms and the Religious Education coordinator had multiple offices (three). 

Over 30 years, functions evolve and the use of space changes to meet emerging needs. Parish secretaries morphed into administrative assistants. The rectory reception area became too small and too busy. There were no closet and no counter space. There was little privacy for any of us. One side room, furnished with a dining room table, was used occasionally for counter space. Nobody ever ate there.

This summer, we traded spaces. The church office moved from the rectory to the church — into the largest office in the undercroft. The former rectory office became a meeting room for various parish councils, study groups, and commissions. I call it the council chamber. The lonely “dining room” became a comfortable visitor’s parlor. One of the downstairs offices was repurposed as the cemetery office (we had none). There is now plenty of room for the safe storage of important parish records. Lastly, we scrubbed, shampooed, or otherwise sanitized every inch of space. 

All of this cost surprising little. Then a generous donor came forward and paid for the office transfer. It cost us nothing in the end. It was simply a matter of efficiently using what we already had. And that, dear readers, is the story I call “Trading Spaces.” 

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

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