We’ve been working with Vince Micha and the Kubala Washatko Architects on a master plan for renovations of Grace Church. Today, they made a presentation of plans with budget numbers. In my opening remarks, I sought to connect the master plan with Grace’s mission. Here is what I said:
Where Anglican tradition engages the contemporary world, Grace Church
opens its doors on Madison’s Capitol Square, inviting all to join us in sharing
the love of Jesus Christ in worship and in outreach to our neighbors and the world. –Grace’s Mission Statement
I took a call this week from someone who was looking for space to use on Saturday morning. A group of runners in Crazylegs wanted to gather for prayer before the race. I mentioned the courtyard but pointed out that there was nowhere to sit and because of logistics, we couldn’t offer them anywhere inside the building that day. Later yesterday, in addition to the food pantry in the morning, in the evening AA met. There was also a dance in the guild hall and a free concert in the nave. Yesterday was a typical Saturday in many respects: several things going on, each of them facing obstacles of one sort or another but still drawing in a few dozen or a hundred people, not counting the guests that slept in the shelter last night. But remember, outside our doors on Saturday morning were the Dane County Farmers’ Market and Crazylegs. Thousands of people passed by Grace Church yesterday as they do every Saturday and during all of those weekends when there are festivals or parades or athletic events that wreak havoc with our parking. Thousands of people passed by our doors but did they notice? Did they try to come in? Was anyone in all those crowds trying to make a spiritual connection?
We are gathered today to hear from Vince Micha and his team about their master plan for renovations. We will also have some rough estimated numbers to go with the phases of the plan. At the end of our time together, Senior Warden Mary Ann Cook will speak briefly about the next steps in the process. She will also talk about fundraising. There are important questions about the financial side of this master plan that need to be addressed. The Vestry is working on all of that and will be communicating with the parish about all of those matters. But this meeting will focus on the architects’ presentation and on your questions related to the plan.
The Master planning process began in a desire to renovate and upgrade aspects of our physical space—the undercroft, restrooms, accessibility, and the like. Over the course of the last eight months, many of you have been engaged in sharing your ideas about our space, our needs, and your hopes for the future. The architects have listened carefully as they developed their plans in response to the themes they heard and these plans are both a response to what we’ve said as well as their vision of what our mission and ministry might look like in renovated space.
But that’s not the end of the process or the end of our conversation. I read our mission statement a few minutes ago. We need to ask several questions. 1) does this master plan embody our mission? Does it help us open our doors? Does it help us share the love of Jesus Christ with our neighbors and the world? If it does, wonderful! If it doesn’t or if it could be improved, then let’s work on that.
There’s a second set of questions that we need to ask. As a number of people have observed, the master plan reflects our current mission and ministry, our current programming. Well and good. But what will our mission, ministry, and programming look like in ten years? Is the master plan flexible enough to adapt to our changing needs and a rapidly changing culture? If it is, wonderful. If not, …
There’s often a tendency, well, I’ll call it a temptation, to distinguish between a congregation’s operating budget and physical plant on the one hand and its ministry and mission on the other. As I’ve said before, I think that’s wrong because it fails to take into account the vision of those who built this church and it fails to take into account the role our physical space plays in our community. There was a lot of open space in Madison when Grace Church was built. It could have been located almost anywhere, but this corner was chosen. Also chosen was a particular architectural style that sought to convey a message in the 19th century city landscape. Our fore-parents had a clear vision of what an Episcopal Church was in a 19th-century state capital. Their vision may no longer have quite the relevance it had 150 years ago. It may be that what we are doing is recasting a vision for an Episcopal Church in a state capital in the 21st century.
One way of asking this question is “How can Grace Church be a blessing to our community?” We have been blessed with a beautiful building, a spectacular location, a long history of civic involvement, and important outreach efforts. How can this master plan help us bless our community?
I would like to highlight several areas of focus that I think should engage us as we move forward with our masterplan.
1) Helping people connect with the sacred, to find in Grace and in our programs opportunities to deepen their spiritual journeys. Of course, we already do that, through our worship and other programming. But what more can we do? Can our courtyard can become a place for gathering, even meditation? Can we find ways of balancing security needs with making our nave or chapel open for visitors during the week? Can we, through redesign and greater accessibility, open our doors for outside groups to use our space more regularly, and at the same time develop worship, fellowship, and learning opportunities that take place at times other than Sunday morning and are attractive to those who live or work downtown, especially perhaps to young adults?
2) Space to experience beauty—We have built a successful concert program “Grace Presents” thanks to the vision and hard work of Bruce Croushore and others, including the late Steve Smith. How can we foster the arts in other ways? Can we create space for exhibiting the visual arts, perhaps drama, encourage other concerts, even a resident performance group? How can we move beyond being a concert venue and become a community that encourages artists to engage the sacred both for the wider community and for themselves?
3) Can we explore new ways of engaging the community and fostering dialogue and conversation about the role of religion in contemporary life? Our presence on Capitol Square next to the state capital and in the heart of a vibrant city is an opportunity for us to engage our civic community in conversations about the common good, about meaning and value, about the sort of community we want to create in this city and this state. All of these are contentious issues but the question for us is whether we can imagine Grace becoming a place where people of different points of view and perspectives, people from different segments of our community, with different assumptions and values, can come together for conversations that could seek commonality rather than division, hope instead of despair, and unite around a vision that seeks the good of all, not just of a few.
These are ambitious goals, big ideas. They are a combination of things I’ve heard from you over the past months and years, ideas percolating in the conversations around coffee hour, at vestry meetings, and as we’ve talked about the master plan. We might not be able to accomplish all of them, but if we do, and if the master plan helps us to accomplish them, then we will be a blessing to our neighborhood and to the wider world.
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Wow! all three of your “areas of focus” are first class. All three involve “opening the doors” of Grace to the larger world.
#1, I can remember coming up the steps of Grace years ago while visiting the capitol. I tried the door, but was unable to get in. Since it is right on the square, I can imagine that thousands of people have tried that door, and found it locked. Somehow symbolic.
#2 There are, of course, some great examples of churches that reclaim the visual arts. Grace cathedral in San Francisco is one of them. Of course the Connick stained glass windows are beautiful, but Grace also incorporates local visual artists in multiple ways – including immense fabric art, and Eastern Orthodox icons of 20th century figures such Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
#3 There are no doubt many people in Madison who are seriously interested in exploring the role of religion in contemporary life. I am involved with one group that is reading David Bentley Hart. None of the group members are church folks, but they want to discuss in depth the history and significance of religious thought.
I appreciate your advancing these areas for consideration. A breath of fresh air!