Behind Our Decision on the Chapel
Since we at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church have made the news lately with stories about the replacing of our old sanctuary (now the chapel), we thought it might be helpful to the community to offer a brief rationale for this decision.
Choosing to speak in logical, not theological language, and oversimplifying the complexities of the issues, I can state the dilemma we faced in two questions:
-- Do we preserve the old sanctuary, which is lovely but has overwhelming problems and even if renovated cannot address our needs and thus our mission?
-- Or do we decide to construct a new, attractive building without the decades-long problems and which can provide space to meet our needs?
Some history should help to explain how we reached the decision we did.
Since it was built in 1939, the old sanctuary has been plagued with significant water problems in the basement. In 1986, we dug out nearly the entire basement to waterproof it and to provide drainage. Heartbreakingly, this major effort failed.
Despite this setback, in 1993 we fully explored with a church architectural firm the possibility of expanding the old sanctuary to handle our growing congregation. It was determined that it could not be expanded. So we built a new sanctuary, which was dedicated in 1999.
Faced with the prospect of tens of thousands of dollars just to paint the exterior of the building, we embarked upon a process to determine the future of the old sanctuary and the cost effectiveness of doing expensive maintenance.
We hired environmental engineers to analyze how it could be used to meet other facility needs. Their report was not just discouraging. It also informed us of a not-to-be ignored mold in the lower level, which forced us to close the basement area in the summer of 2004, significantly reducing our available meeting space. Not only were our youth displaced to a small, inadequate room, but we were also forced to turn away many community groups because of lack of space.
In October 2005, we had a churchwide long-range planning conference to establish a vision of what we hoped our church would be in 2015 and how we would specifically meet each of our goals. (See our Long Range Plan on our Web site, www.brownsonchurch.org).
One aspect of the Long Range Plan developed by this exhaustive process was the prioritizing of facility needs. The two most important needs are an adequate, preferably generous, space for our youth (which has not had a real space for four years) and classrooms that can hold 30 to 60 people for our flourishing Bible study and Sunday School classes. These "conference rooms" would enable us to meet a continuing high priority: providing meeting rooms for dozens of community groups.
In the spring of 2007, we made one more attempt to salvage the old sanctuary. We hired a church and educational architectural firm that specializes in retrofitting older buildings. The architect submitted five plans using the old sanctuary building, but he acknowledged that no one could guarantee a solution to the water and mold problems.
Expending millions of dollars in hopes that the water/mold problem would be solved was not only risky, but also imprudent. Furthermore, none of these five plans adequately met even the top two facility priorities: youth space and conference rooms.
Fully aware of the emotional ties of members to the old sanctuary, fully aware of the community's preference to make no changes (always) in the appearance of the corner at May Street and Indiana Avenue, we arrived at the difficult decision to replace the old sanctuary with a new, but very beautiful, building.
None of us relishes the idea of replacing the old sanctuary -- least of all I, the pastor. I have plenty of other matters to fill my plate without building and capital campaign activities. Yet when it comes to a comparison of what we presently have (a building with multiple unsolvable problems and inadequate space) with what we can have (a new building with youth space and conference rooms, and an end to the moisture and mold problems), the decision was actually made for us.
As with any congregation, to undertake such a major and expensive project requires support in the 90-percent-plus range. Early responses to the capital campaign indicate just such an enthusiastic level of commitment.
Make no mistake: We at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church will miss the old sanctuary. But good sense, fiscal responsibility, good stewardship of the limited land we have and the opportunity to achieve what we believe to be our God-ordained mission compels us to look forward.
The Rev. Grady Perryman is pastor of Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines.
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