Advertisements



St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Oxford, UK: or, how to remodel an existing church building

As I announced back in May, I got to spend the second week of August in Oxford, England for the 2011 Oxford Patristics Conference. It was a fantastic experience, and it will get its own blog post soon (I should be able to return to more regular postings now that Flesh of My Flesh is back from her year abroad). Something I’d like to bring to the attention of both of my devoted readers now, however, is the amazing work St. Nicholas Orthodox Church did on renovating an existing church building. We attended Vespers there the night before we flew back to the States and got to see it all with our own eyes. Let me tell you, this really should be, I think, the model for what to do when you’ve got an existing church building that you have to figure out how to retrofit. (I hasten to add that I do not mean to say that there aren’t good examples of this here in the States; St. Raphael of Brooklyn Orthodox Church in Iowa City comes to mind, and actually the two situations parallel each other to some degree, both in terms of circumstances, outcome, and ongoing efforts, so my present discussion of St. Nicholas is not meant by any means to suggest that it represents something that nobody in the States has done.)

You can read the story about St. Nicholas Church for yourself, how they acquired the building and everything they’ve had to do to it, right here. I can’t really add to any of that, except that from what Fr. Stephen Platt told me, there is a garage next door that used to be the church hall back in the building’s Anglican mission days; he hopes that once the renovation work on the temple is paid off, they can buy the garage and turn it back into the church’s hall.

My own observations are that the community has done a marvelous job of entering into this project with faith, and by doing so they acquired a building that was within short walking distance of many of the colleges — and it’s a lovely walk, too, on a footpath that takes you through a field and over water and so on — and is right smack dab in the middle of a residential area where there are people rather than being in the middle of nowhere. It’s a church that can actually be a visible witness to its neighborhood, and uniquely so, since the neighborhood has seen everything the parish has had to do to reclaim the building from being something of a severely under-utilized eyesore.

I will also note that they’ve made it a point to first and foremost treat the building as a place of worship, and they have prioritized their efforts accordingly. I am familiar with phased church building projects where the approach is, “Well, people come to church for services, but they stay for everything else a church does, so best to build something that one can get by in for worship and that maximizes the ability to do all of the ancillary things. Then you’ll grow faster and can build the temple down the road.” I humbly submit that this approach doesn’t really work, at least not from what I’ve seen. The Church is first and foremost a worshipping body, not a coffee-drinking body, and when you put what is supposed to be our first priority in second place so that the men’s group has somewhere to meet, I think people sense that. Worse, from what I’ve seen, the ways you have to rethink your liturgical practice in a setting you’ve built only for the bare minimum of accommodation have a nasty tendency to become permanent. This means that if the day ever comes where you get to build the permanent temple, you’re already wondering, “Well, why do we need [X component of ecclesiastical architecture] anyway, when it adds another $250k to the price and we’ve learned how to get along just fine without it in our existing space?” By contrast, St. Nicholas has prioritized the liturgical function of the building over secondary activities, and it shows with the care they’ve put into their furnishings. They’ve clearly been able to do a lot with what resources they have, and they’ve also shown a lot of forethought in leaving the walls white so that they can be frescoed later.

You can see all of my pictures of the church here. One more thing — as you can see from the PayPal button at the bottom of their page, they are still fundraising to pay off the five-year loan that allowed them to finance the building purchase in the first place. Whatever they can’t pay off in that timeframe (that is, by November 2013) will probably be converted to a standard bank loan, but obviously it’s a burden that it would be better to not have to carry for such a community, particularly if they hope to buy the hall in the future. I encourage anybody who is able to contribute something to this ongoing effort.

While the existence of two (well, three) Orthodox parishes in Oxford may have come out of difficulty (and I won’t elaborate; you can find the story elsewhere if you like, and I myself am not certain I understand everything), God seems to have turned it around for good. May it continue to be so!

Advertisements

6 Responses to “St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Oxford, UK: or, how to remodel an existing church building”


  1. 1 Jennifer N Campbell Lopushok 27 August 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Richard! How did I miss all this time that you even HAVE a blog?! So, hello there, nice blog! I’ll put your blog on my blog roll today, (for all the good that’ll do ya, since my readership is definitely smaller than yours, =0) ! But still, every little bit helps).
    Jennifer
    —————-
    Philothei of Salem
    (http://philothei.blogspot.com)

    • 2 Richard Barrett 30 August 2011 at 11:14 am

      Hi, Jen! How are things with you guys? I’m not at all surprised you didn’t know that I have a blog – it’s not really like anybody else does, either!

  2. 3 Dan 30 August 2011 at 10:39 am

    Richard,

    Dan here – we met at Oxford a couple weeks ago, enjoyed the organ recital together etc. Just wanted to make my presence known to you – I’m quite happy at the prospect of staying in touch via your blog (which I’m enjoying so far).

    Nice post about the Oxford church. I’m looking forward to your full rundown of the conference.

    • 4 Richard Barrett 30 August 2011 at 11:11 am

      Hi, Dan! Nice to hear from you, and glad you found the blog. How’s the new school year working out for you so far, and how was your vacation following the conference?

      • 5 Dan 31 August 2011 at 4:12 pm

        Vacation was lovely, though a bit whirlwind. We returned to Canada and then took an immediate vacation from our vacation for a few days, which was nice. Now I’m back in the thick of it – a very busy beginning to the year as I’m rather inundated with work for my union, along with the regular late August rush.

        How was the remainder of your trip? I can’t recall if you’re writing at this point – have you gotten back into work yet?


  1. 1 St. Raphael of Brooklyn, Iowa City — another lesson in Orthodox building repurposing « Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist Trackback on 1 November 2011 at 1:37 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Advertisements

Richard’s Twitter

adventures in writing alexander lingas all saints bloomington all saints orthodox church american orthodox architecture american orthodox music american orthodoxy Antiochian Archdiocese Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America Antiochians books byzantine chant cappella romana chant church architecture ecclesiastical chant ethnomusicologists ethnomusicology fellowship of ss. alban and sergius Greece Greek greek food greekness hazards of church music international travel tips ioannis arvanitis joe mckamey john michael boyer kurt sander Latin liturgical adventures liturgical architecture liturgical music liturgical texts and translation liturgy liturgy and life lycourgos angelopoulos medieval byzantine chant Metropolitan PHILIP militant americanist orthodoxy modern byzantine architecture modern greek music music as iconography my kids will latin and greek when they're newborns my kids will learn latin and greek when they're newborns orthodox architecture orthodox architecture is bloody expensive Orthodox choir schools Orthodox Ecclesiology orthodox outreach orthodox travel pascha at the singing school Patriarchate of Antioch Patriarch IGNATIUS IV Patriarch of Antioch publishing random acts of chant richard barrett in greece richard toensing rod dreher sacred music st. vlads st john of damascus society Syriac the Bishop MARK fan club the convert dilemma the dark knight The Episcopacy The Episcopate the only good language is a dead language this american church life travel we need more american saints why do we need beautiful music in churches?

Blog Stats

  • 215,530 hits

Flickr Photos


%d bloggers like this: