Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Restoration and Recovery: Part 3

Restoration is not easy. Besides the demand of adherence to historic standards and the extra pressure to employ for modern function things antique and often fragile it also asks everyone to adjust away from old habits and practices.  The paths we walk, the doors we enter, the seats we occupy feel like they are off limits until the dust settles again.  

When the restoration work is done some of our habits return and some never are practiced again. Recovery is the partner to restoration because it also names the new customs or habits that give us a sense of self and others as much like the best of the past once gave us.  I'm imagining new ways to use the patio, increased use of the “little house”, a parlor that is once again a showpiece (think wedding photos!).

These concepts of restoration and recovery apply to us as much as our buildings because we are embodied beings, we are incarnated.  We don't just float around like ghosts immune to gravity or solidity.  We are grounded and consequential, we have weight and presence, we leave tracks and markers.  

Because we are incarnated our recovery shows through our behaviors, our adaptations and our learning.  When the work is done on the patio and the connections to the “little house” the changes that will matter the most will be the ones that we find in our recoveries.  Restoration sets the stage and recovery sings the old songs in a new way.  

Because we are incarnated our recovery means we are not alone.  Every soul who occupies these spaces renewed through faithful restoration helps all others to find their ways in and through the same spaces.  As we see and hear about the joy or pleasures that others have experienced because the patio is easier to use, the parlor brightened, we are drawn to find our own experience after them and in some cases with them.  

Because we are incarnated our use participates in the reinterpretation of space.  What was seldom used can become special, sacred, religious.  I remember how dear Ginger would put her lawn chair in the space between the parish house and the church and just sit there.  Her spirit is still helping us to embody a new use of that space. 

Years ago when that recovered Episcopal cohort restored and reinterpreted an old Methodist worship space they embodied a spirit that still walks the grounds, sits in our pews, visits our parlor and gazes across our patios.  Our uses will likely differ to varying degrees from those first to call 338 Academy St. their parish home.  But we are just like them as we restore and reinterpret these same spaces 55+ years later.  Thanks be to God for their embodiment and continued presence.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Restoration and Recovery: Part 2

I said last week that our choosing to inhabit an antique/historic property is that we have the benefit of certain qualities that come with the "way they use to make things."  Things like solid doors, metal fixtures, big windows, high ceilings, etc.  Both the church and the parish house are sustaining gifts to us from the past largely by way of this characteristic.  

Not all that is from the past is a gift to us, some items are problems and others can even surprise us.  Work to rebuild the patio has begun and in removing the boxwoods Dick Cotrill found an old well.  
Plans are to document its placement and fill it so that we can safely cover it with the new surface of brick and cement.  

Currently the demolition of the patio will allow us to re-use almost all of the original bricks. Precision Masonry of Athens is contracted for this work and has proposed a design that will mimic the simple cross pattern that currently decorates the walls around the patio. Donations have been secured to cover the costs of this rebuild.  

It almost goes without saying that this is an excellent recovery beyond restoration.  The rebuilt patio will have a larger area and a smoother, safer surface, especially for those using the ramp to enter through the kitchen.  

There are also plans to improve access to the little house with paths that match the patio in combining brick and cement.  We'll have to say goodbye to the magnolia tree that "graced" the parking lot and patio.  It's roots have already cause some cracking in the patio wall and are intruding on the entrance to the little house from the parking lot.  

There are other gifts from the past that keep on giving.  The drapes that have hung in the parlor windows will be repurposed to cover the sofa that has been in the parish house hallway near the back door.  Fabric from the drapes will also be used to recover the two upholstered chairs in the parlor. Donated fabric will be used the re-upholster the sofa that is presently in the parlor.

It feels good to say that we have carefully and deliberately moved into a good version of restoration and recovery.  We have honored the past and will leave for those after us a property that can continue to support growth both in use and in spirit.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Restoration and Recovery

I wrote last week about our vestry taking time in retreat to consider how "getting back to the basics" calls for adapting one's perspective. I took that idea all the way to recognizing the size and scope of our vision, especially as it impacts our budget and planning.  Pretty simple stuff that especially in our case takes into account our choosing to use antique properties and not buildings kin to "everyday china."

We have the benefit of certain qualities that come with the "way they use to make things," so that even our 175 year old building is useful and ready.  But that same building shows the limits of its original period as well.  When we gather it is comforting to find our spots in pews that have held generations of worshippers, but part of our comfort -- thanks to central heat and air-conditioning -- comes by asking this lovely property to live in two eras.

That's why I've reintroduced the concept of restoration instead of repair as the guide to how we maintain AND use these historic structures. Restoration always includes an attention to the history along with the use.

A basic principle of restoration is to always reach farther back AND farther forward when our structures need our help.  It's not enough to keep things like they were. That only works when pieces are on display in a museum. It's not enough to fix things so they can still can be used. That only works when no one new needs to use then.

We know both concepts from our own experiences.  How many times have you heard an elder extol the beauty of a family heirloom only to finish with "don't touch it!"  And how many times have you borrowed an old car only to hear the litany of special tricks needed to just get it started?  
Restoration is basic to our lives together at Advent.  So is recovery.

Recovery is an internal realization that our hearts can still be moved without old crutches.  It is the end of living on bad habits and second best sources.  Recovery for us is finding a deeper presence beyond the worries and anxieties of crumbling plaster and tumbled bricks.

Recovery is both work and the result of work, disciplined work in humility and confidence. Recovery comes when we don't bite off more than we can chew and we take the time it takes to do the work which we have been given to do.

In other words, our lives are never free from this calling to restore and recover.  Answering the call is never a "one off" effort simply to repair.  It is "continual love and service" to a future generation using the gifts that God has given us.  Answering the call means to care for those resources that God has given us without substituting easy fixes or without shutting down part of our lives.

Restoration and recovery are basics.  God has called us to get back to them so that through faithfulness and discipline these antique properties are still resources for the worship and love from this place of those who come after us.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bigger Basics

338 Academy St.

Our vestry is being renewed by the inclusion of two new members - Dene Huff and Joyce Morehouse.  We are actively pursuing a third to fill the vacancies made as Kate Booker, Dan Jubelt, and Ginger Kroeber fulfilled their three year rotations.   Thanks be to God for their faithful service to this parish.  

Part of realizing this renewal is for the vestry to go into retreat and take time to consider its work from a larger perspective than the one our monthly meetings encourages.  Thanks to Elizabeth Branch we were able to take most of Saturday, January 21 and comfortably broaden our view, our interests and our imaginations.  

We took on the theme of "Getting Back to Basics."  We focused on how best to structure leadership roles back toward the more customary Senior/Junior Wardens.  We talked about embracing the responsibility for budget oversight much of which had been left to Tom Sherwood and the Finance Committee.  We looked at our year-long calendar paying particular attention to how we make room for each other outside of Sunday morning worship.  We even looked at Christmas 2017 events and talked about how best to use our customary 5pm and 11pm services December 24th, which is a Sunday.  

Lots of basics and because of that lots of big pictures, too.  We talked about the bigger picture of historic preservation and not just the patio.  We talked about the bigger picture of funding for more than ministry since we more and more understand the demands of using an antique property.  We talked about the bigger picture  of parish growth and property development.  We talked about hosting events off our property -- like the Palm Sunday procession -- and how to invite the community.  

Our big picture went carefully into the past and with some courage into the future.  That's what getting back to the basics will do.  It always happens this way, sometimes because I can't keep a secret but other times because we share so much in our love of this parish and each other, historic preservation and the enlarging demand of it is all the more on the mind of several parishioners.

The picture above shows the parish house BEFORE we purchased and renovated it.  Hardly looks like the same place. That things are so different in appearance now is nothing but good news for us.  Granted some liberties were taken in removing the Victorian gingerbread and cupola.  The bigger picture then was to get as close as possible to a colonial period appearance.  Because of that vision we have a property that coalesces well and evokes the earliest days.  

Thanks be to God for the bigger picture that restored Episcopal worship to Morgan County. Thanks be to God for the bigger picture that brought us to this property and to these historic buildings.   Thanks be to God that in getting back to our basics we are finding our own bigger pictures.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When is a Parable not a Parable?

Let me be direct and say one only needs to look at the patio to be sure there are problems that still need solving.  There are good suggestions from just about every quarter of the congregation. There is diligent effort on the part several parishioners, Dick Hodgetts principal among them as he more than fulfills his vestry commitment.  There are others and to you all we are grateful.

We will finish the patio's restoration in time and as is becoming increasingly obvious not without the help of donations toward the increased costs.

But the patio and its persistent disarray is also a metaphor, just like the walls and corn in the quote below.  Don't get me wrong.  It's real.  But it means something.  It means something by way of and beyond the troubled process of replacing what had to be removed because we didn't know where the sewer pipe went and we needed the toilets to flush.  It means something that hurrying to get it back to some usable condition left us with more cobbling and danger.  It means something that yet another round of help and suggestion has joined what is already long in consuming the vestry's attention.  It means something that the anxiety level among some -- one is too many when it's people you love -- of our parish elders and patrons is sky high.

Writing about this reminds me of my favorite, Soren Kierkegaard who himself wrote about writing.  Actually he wrote about communicating and meant it to refer also to the preaching he heard on Sundays and the discourse in the streets and parlors of Copenhagen.

One of his consistent concerns was the value of indirect communication as compared to the direct kind.  He saw the ready resistance to truth,  especially the self critical kind in the church and the sad substitutes that were offered.  His geese parables are sad depictions of a population preferring to be told what they have already determined to hear so much so that they will reduce greater truths to match their prejudice and fear.

So Soren intentionally often avoided directly addressing "issues" and instead wrote metaphorically and parabolically, under pseudonyms.  His hope was that the truth as he understood and felt compelled to present it would slip through the filters with which those waddling christians had grown accustomed to protecting themselves and their interests.  Here's one of those parables.
"A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with high walls around it.  Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk. One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. 'My fellow travellers on the way of life,' he would say, 'can  you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence?
I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded and tucked into our sides, as we are content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.
The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. 'How poetical,' they thought. 'How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.' Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with? Often he reflected on the beauty and the wonder of life outside the barnyard, and the freedom of the skies.
And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher's message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!"
Soren Kierkegaard
We are always at risk -- no matter the challenges our world presents us -- to succumb to the perceived comfort of the known, to the good corn and the high walls.  Think "the way things used or ought to be."  Even when corn is not our natural or best nourishment and walls not the best encouragement to grow and learn.  

But according to Kierkegaard's parable we are often more at risk because of HOW we hear than we are by what we hear.  Accordingly, I have more than once used metaphors or stories about others not of this community to get at ideas or issues, indirectly.  To not trigger your filtering, to not blame, to not embarrass.

But based on my reading of the above parable its a mistake for me to think that I have that much influence over your filters.  We are going to hear what we choose to hear,  especially since I have no coercive capacity or intent.

And also we do not have the luxury of measureless corn or impenetrable walls.  I no longer have the luxury of visiting you from Athens. So . . . directly, I say we have an historic property that is aging faster than are we.  We have a budget that is constrained beyond its intent to fund upkeep of this property.  We have important members of our parish upset and worried that the walls are tumbling and corn is being wasted.

I'll save directly addressing my own role and performance to another occasion.

For now,  I'm saying that Kierkegaard's direct communication is not only our complaining that "we've not managed the repair of the patio and other matters in a well prioritized manner," it is also our saying "the patio is a metaphor that shows us we are choosing how we listen to and love one another."

Thank goodness Kierkegaard's geese parables don't describe some terrible destructive outcome.  Though perhaps even more sadly he describes geese not flying.  For us that would be not only not restoring the patio but also not talking to each other about how anxious and troubled many of us are.

So . . .  let's talk about talking and let's all talk to each other about our fears and anxieties, our broken dreams and greater awakenings.  Let's talk about the patio and let's talk about flying.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Thresholds and Transitions

One of the ways people know they are headed somewhere is that they step or pass through portals, doorways, or over thresholds.  That horror movies use this motif is proof that not all passage is safe or without risk.  Some portals are "points of no return."  Think Adam and Eve and the fiery sword of Genesis 3:23-24.

Other significant moments are more like a "foot in the door."  A different effort must follow that commitment or somebody ends up losing a symbolic shoe. Even being "thrown out of the nest" is a threshold moment of decision for someone different than one one making the "commitment."

In all cases portals are known by one's passage.  The good or bad of each portal or threshold is always the possession of the one moving through or not.

This happens a bunch in the lives of churches, especially churches that are growing or healing.  The Alban Institute has written extensively about how churches teeter totter over and back at these threshold moments.  Its pretty simple but heart-renderingly difficult to get established beyond the threshold.  Its difficult because each next step forces old habits and practices to make way for new ways of doing things.

I worshipped in a very small parish that started a weekly email newsletter.  The "matriarch" and several members didn't "do email" and she like them received a copy in the mail.  We have the same provision here at Advent.  But all it took was one phone call from an already emailed friend.  So what was originally a tool for communicating became the symbol for "bad" communication.

Her reaction was first to be offended at being left out.  After a conversation or two with the priest (not me, BTW) and some friends she was able to identify a deeper fear under her being offended.  They were lucky that she recognized and admitted her fears.  Think of her experience as being cut from the "grapevine."

Going back to NO email newsletter didn't make sense.  But leaving that gap between Tuesday's email and Wednesday's snail mail didn't work either.  The compromise was to delay the email's transmission. That was easy.  But it wasn't until everyone was brought through the portal.

Advent is marvelously and painfully at several thresholds.  Most have to do with simple growth. Some have to do with the fuse of time burning.  And others have to do with how we forget and remember.

That we are considering budgets, vestries, committee chairs, worship leadership options, physical plant development AND maintenance is a spiritual necessity of our passage in becoming more and more of what God hopes for us to become.  That we have the moments of a new year and an annual meeting should help us to take several of the first steps need to have us on the other side.

Granted we will be taking on more than we will leave behind.  That's what it means to be a people of tradition and faith.  Our passages, whether in the election of someone new to the vestry or the revision of a budget to accommodate new staffing or the appointment of committee leadership or the redesigning the bricks in the patio depend on every step we take not just the ones that get us over the threshold.

Its not just what we do, its what we do NEXT that can glorify God just as much.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Son-Light in the Darkness

Easter is always on a Sunday, being placed by the Western Christian tradition on the first Sunday following the first full moon following the Spring equinox.  Basically a calculation of sun AND moon can put Easter on any Sunday between March 21 and April 25. But Christmas as a day determined by a solar calculation is seldom on a Sunday.  Instead it is on the day that December 25th finds itself.

The narrative begs this timing.  As Advent -- the season -- has turned our focus to the interplay of encroaching darkness and promising light we need for Jesus to be born within the very first turning of those longer days of winter.

It took a long time for Christians to get all these elements together. Exactly when was Quirinius Governor of Syria?  How interesting that Luke recalls that Bethlehem is the family home of David the shepherd boy thus setting up a comparison with the failures of the city that David the King called home, Jerusalem.  What could be meant by adding swaddling clothes to the set of signs?  And what's with "lying in a manger?" Why are shepherds; dirty, poor, migrant-worker-like shepherds the first to hear the angels' Gloria?

Seems like all these features echo lowliness, humanity's lowliness.  Seems like the same principle is at work in the Annunciation to Mary and her Magnificat sung in response.  Lowliness and darkness are the origins of the Messiah, not Rome's palaces or even Jerusalem's temple.

Christmas is when it is because of what the light shining in the darkness means!  Indeed, has always meant.  God is at work reemphasizing His place in our lives not from the top down like a Caesar but from the bottom up, from the lowliness of a young mother, a manger and swaddling clothes, from within darkness to light.

You don't tell that story from the high noon of Summer's solstice or even the halfway point of Spring's or Fall's equinoxes.  You tell it in the dark of a winter in a hemisphere that was ancient Israel's and is ours today. You tell it so that all the subversion that is the lowly being lifted, the proud being scattered, the mighty being cast down, the hungry being filled gets right something that needs righting!

You tell it now because there is still too much darkness in our lives. Darkness that is ours no matter our rank or privilege. Darkness that persists through every human's, every caesar's, every president's, every priest's, every parishioner's attempt to be rid of it.

Only the light of God, pointed and small can make its way with us and we call him Emmanuel.  Can makes its way for us and He is Jesus.  Can make its way in us just like it did in Mary.  Can make its way through us because there is still too much darkness.

We'll miss grandeur of John's gospel this year.  It has the language in a couple of sentences that it takes Luke three chapters to convey.  It goes like this, "What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:4-5 NRSV.)

Thanks be to God!