Renovation Progress Report: Old First E-pistle 07.16.21

Renovation Progress Report: Old First E-pistle 07.16.21


This Sunday’s Scripture reading is about David and the building of the Temple. More accurately, about David not building the Temple. But we’ll hear about that on Sunday. I’ll be preaching on our building renovation in its crucial context of our ministry. But looking towards that sermon, perhaps this is a good time to give a progress update on the renovation. 

We’re working at this project diligently and trying to get it to move along as fast as we can. But that hasn’t been easy. Here’s where we are: 

Painting: the vast majority of the painting is done. Once the new chancel is built, the new wainscot is installed and the new choir library shelves are finished, the painters will come back for the last bit. 

Permitting: this is our hold-up. We were later than we had hoped getting our architectural plans drawn and the permit application turned in, because we needed time for congregational decision-making. 

Our first application was returned needing some revision. There were no changes on the glass door design, minor changes on the chancel design (L&I wanted higher “curbs” on the edge of the chancel platform). And, we were asked to provide 1) an engineering report on the load on the structure of the platforms we are constructing, and 2) an asbestos report on the Sanctuary. 

Good news: there’s no asbestos in the Sanctuary. The engineering report was done easily. And we made the design changes they requested. 

We resubmitted the application and should hear by July 22. Councilman Squilla’s office is trying to do what they can to advocate for our permit, but they tell us that there’s not much that can move L & I! If more is asked of us, L & I will have another 21 work days to respond after our resubmission. This wait is the biggest difficulty we have faced so far. 

So pray that we get an approval on July 22. Or if you know anyone who can pull some strings for us at L&I, please talk to me! 

In the Meantime: the carpenters are doing what they can. The doors to the Sanctuary have been redesigned to open flat against the wall; and there is molding being added so they mimic that molding on the doors at the front of the Sanctuary (minus the crown molding). The new choir library shelves in the balcony are almost finished. We have figured out how to create the needed handrails in the windows by the balcony stairs at the front of the Sanctuary.

Janice and the carpenters are discussing having them install the new wainscot before the new floor is installed. The carpenters may also begin framing the opening for the new attic access (even though the attic stairs that were originally to arrive at the end of May and have been rescheduled 3 more times and aren’t expected now to arrive before late August — COVID delays!) We are considering all kinds of staging decisions to keep work going while we wait for the permit. We are also looking ahead to try and figure out how to get the needed work done so we can get back into the Sanctuary as soon as possible, even if everything is not yet completed. 

The Perimeter Pews: Janice and her colleague Connor have gotten all pews rebuilt and repainted. They are all standing on their ends in the West end of the upper narthex waiting to be placed back in the Sanctuary. 

The Worship Chairs: New Holland Furniture has begun to manufacture our first order of 170 chairs. We are waiting to hear about a delivery date. But the company reminds us that the chair delivery date cannot be earlier than three months from the time they receive the fabric. If we, by God’s grace, get in the Sanctuary before the chairs arrive, we have enough of the red choir chairs and other chairs to seat the congregation in the interim.  

S.E.A.C. wasn’t exactly sure about our chair order: how many extra wide chairs, chairs with two arms (or just a single arm for the end of rows) will we need. We also were not sure about some of the other options (there are a surprising lot of bells and whistles for church chairs).

So our first order was “the basics” — mostly simple, armless chairs, but a few triple-wides and enough chairs with arms for people who need help standing up. 

Once we get this first set in our space and begin using them, we will know better the answers to our questions and can place a second order for the remaining 40 chairs. 

The Reredos: S.E.A.C.’s current understanding is that the upper portion of reredos is mostly “untouchable” because of the historical provenance — the writing at the top hearkens back to the building’s first decoration in 1837.

But we will still need to decide what to do with the “open bible” and the space within the pillars. 

S.E.A.C. has had a really interesting discussion of the “open bible.” It turns out that we do not know when or, therefore, why the Bible was first depicted on the reredos. 

Traditionally, we like to tell the story that the open bible was a sign of our opposition (along with Philly’s other Reformed congregations) to the “Mercersburg Movement” (1844 -1886) within the German Reformed Church. In this reading of history, we reaffirm our low church Protestantism and our ties to the Second Great Awakening. 

But not knowing when or why it was added to the reredos, the image could also be connected to the “Bible Riots” (1844), a nativist movement against Irish Catholics, The Bible Riots used “the Open Bible” as their organizing image, and our pastor during that time, the Rev. Joseph F. Berg (1837-1851) was supportive of the nativist movement (as well as important in the Mercersburg Controversy!)

Or, also possible, the Bible might just have been chosen as a symbol for the redecoration of the reredos. 

S.E.A.C. has tentatively considered “bringing the Bible down off the wall.” No decision has been made! But we have noted that an open Bible displayed on a stand on the communion table might be more approachable, less of an “idol,” and less easily misinterpreted. We could also, with a picture of the current decoration, provide some interpretive history of our iconography and our congregation. 

For the time being, S.E.A.C. is going to do some preservation on the current surface, but nothing more. In the fall, there will be a process for the congregation to consider what themes or images make sense to our ministry now, and once decided, we’ll engage an artist to help us with a final design. 

The Electric: S.E.A.C. always knew that there would be wiring necessary for the new chancel and the technology needed for hybrid worship (once we decided that hybrid worship was to be a result of this renovation). We have decided also to provide more outlets in the sanctuary so the room might be resourced for multiple uses. 

The lighting designer has recommended added spotlights to highlight the sunburst and the reredos, and to provide more light for the chancel area. We also believe we can add “extenders” to some of the existing ceiling light fixtures to get them to illuminate more efficiently. 

Two other issues have arisen from the work of the electrical engineer’s plans:  

First, we need to add emergency lighting to the Sanctuary — exit signs as well as lighting in case of a power outage. We are planning to use inverters that will power select lights in the Sanctuary and Upper Narthex without the aesthetic intrusion of other emergency lighting systems. 

Second, we need to replace the electrical panel that we use to turn on the Sanctuary lights. What we have is antiquated and no longer safe for how we use it. These two items have added to the budget line for electrical. 

The Glass Doors: with no concerns from L&I on our design on their first read of the architects’ plans for the glass doors (behind our historic wooden doors), we breathe a hopeful sigh of relief. There was significant concern that the building code vis a vis egress might require us to apply for a variance for the doors (a costly and time-consuming process). Fingers crossed, we have shared the plans with three different vendors for bidding on our project. 

The Wood Floor: The carpet has been removed (and the sound in the room is already incredibly improved!) We will contact Smith Flooring once we have a timeline for construction. The framing, electric and decking all need to be done before the new floor can be laid. 

The Tech System for Hybrid Worship: None of this installation can get started until the dust has cleared. The vendor has explained that the equipment is so sensitive that he cannot begin work until all construction is done and the floor is laid. 

The Attic Ventilation Systems: The work involved for either ventilation of the attic space proper and repurposing the sunburst as a ventilation system for the Sanctuary needs to wait until the new attic access is completed. 

Funding: The generosity shown towards this renovation continues to be amazing. We currently have $431,000 pledged to this project. We have already received $349,000 (even though the pledge period stretches to April 2023). And the current budget projection is at $391,000. 

So that’s where we are. It’s a big project. There’s a lot of work still to do. And, I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit I’m nervous about making progress and getting this done. But we are a people who believe that God can make a way out of no way! So I’ll ask you to pray that we move this ahead, and don’t run into too many more roadblocks.

It’s been a long time since we’ve really attended to the design of the Sanctuary (And it could well be as long before it happens again). And these plans are about mission — how we can use that sacred space for activities that help make our world more holy, just, peaceful, loving and beautiful. Come on Sunday (either at 9 am or 11 am) so you can hear more about that… 

See you in faith hope and love,