Posts Tagged 'orthodox architecture is bloody expensive'



On the difference between καιρός and χρόνος and building a church that makes the difference clear (Part I)

It’s really hard for me to believe that January of 2010 has just about gotten away from me entirely. Classes started on 11 January, then there were two Somethings Big at All Saints the next two weekends that pretty much ate my life, and now this last week, the third of the semester, has felt like the real first week of classes.

Oh yeah, and Great Lent starts up in two weeks.

My class schedule feels a bit more focused on my interests this semester than it did last semester; this is good, but it also feels like I’ve got more work to do. I’m sitting in on a class looking at the medieval city as well as an ethnomusicology seminar on music and sacred experience, I’m taking a seminar on Ancient Greek democracy (easily the class where I feel most outside of my area), a colloquium titled “Essential Readings in Early Medieval History,” third year Modern Greek, and then I’m supposed to do some Latin reading with one of my professors. I’m also reading St. Athanasius’ Greek life of St. Anthony.

It’s not really any more work than last semester was, to be truthful, but I’m just getting into the rhythm of it this week, so I’m feeling a little more behind than I’d like. I’ll live, and not every eye will weep for me.

So, Andrew Gould visited All Saints the weekend of 15-17 January. All Saints’ building effort has effectively been dead in the water for ten years; the “temporary” building in which we presently worship is a shoebox (the left wing of the pictured concept painting), and it was deemed reasonable to build an ultra-utilitarian, multipurpose space first based on the logic that “people come for church but stay for the other things a church does” — plus, at the time (2001) they figured they’d be in there for less than five years. Well, when I arrived in 2003, Fr. Athanasius pointed at that painting and said, “That’s ten years away.” In 2005, it was still ten years away, and the parish council started toying with the idea of hiring a different designer, since it just seemed like there was no motivation on anybody’s part to build the original idea. We talked to Christ Kamages in 2006, but Fr. Athanasius announced his retirement shortly thereafter, and a number of people felt it would be unwise to jump into a capital campaign and building project under such circumstances. Ironically, Fr. Athanasius explicitly warned us against delaying, telling us at his last parish council meeting, “We walk by faith and not by sight, and I want you to go ahead with this,” but any conviction he intended to leave us with vanished as soon we had to start paying a fulltime priest with a family for whom this was how they put food on their table, as opposed to a retiree who didn’t need the money.

In 2007, Fr. Peter tried to figure out what we might be able to do to expand our facilities in small steps, and in returning to the original concept, he tried to push the idea of building the narthex and southernmost wing of the complex. The extension could be built to be an intentional worship space with provision for acoustics and so on, and would allow us more room to grow — we’d be facing south rather than east, but we would make do. The estimate came in at a half million dollars, which seemed to constitute a reasonable step in the right direction.

We raised, I think, all of $35,000. Maybe. “Pretty good for a church full of working people,” our treasurer told us, but it was clear that nobody in the community felt inspired to try to make sure it happened. Certain people who had originally said, “Let us know when you’re ready for us to write checks,” now were making excuses as to why they couldn’t — excuses like “Well, Dad’s old Episcopal church is building a new wing and we had to give to that…” I wish I were kidding. Worse, at least two large parishes outside of Bloomington were running capital campaigns and got to some of these people before we were ready. We were back to square one.

The situation didn’t improve any; we got to a point where the choir had to be relocated so that we took up half of the space we used to have, and eventually we were trying to figure out how we could configure the building so that the partition wall separating the virtual nave from the virtual fellowship hall could just be left open. We were (and are, make no mistake) in that horrible catch-22 where you need to build in order to grow, but you have to grow in order to build (and it is not an economic option to relieve the pressure by planting a mission). You will either figure out a way to build, or the problem will be self-correcting because you will die.

Enter Andrew.

Andrew’s work on Holy Ascension first came to my attention around Pascha of 2008, and I talked about him a bit here. I contacted him last spring in order to find out what it would take to get him out here when we started talking about how to get rid of the partition wall, and a number of us then made a concerted effort to convince the parish council that we should bring him to Bloomington to see what he would have to say. Long story short (too late!), we finally went ahead and booked Andrew in September, and the weekend of 15-17 January was the first time we could get the church’s calendar to sync with his.

When Andrew arrived a couple of Fridays ago, the first thing we did when we got him to the church was walk him around the property. He got to see a very representative sample of our 24 acres, and when we finally finished the tour, he asked a question which changed the game as we had known it up to this point.

“Why don’t we build on the hill by the corner?”

Keep in mind this is a question that has been asked before. The hill in question is the highest and most visible spot on our property from the road, and it’s a no-brainer to wonder why that wasn’t the plan from the get-go.

The answer has always been, and thus was dutifully trotted out on this occasion, “Because that’s where the septic field is.” This has effectively always ended that line of inquiry.

Except that Andrew didn’t go down without a fight. “Show me,” he said. “Where is your septic field exactly?”

We showed him. We showed him exactly where it was marked off as being. And his answer was, “This is a non-issue. We can build right up to this point, and this is exactly where and how the church you want can fit here.” He paced it out for us. “You’ve already got a boxy utilitarian building over there,” he told us. “On the 24 beautiful acres you have, why do you want to surround your temple with cars and asphalt when you can put it someplace where people can really use it to transition into a different world and engage your land?”

We spent the next couple of days talking about it. Miraculously, we didn’t spent two days arguing about it. The conversation wasn’t, “Well, why don’t we see what might be less expensive?” Rather, the conversation was, “How do we make this happen?”

Andrew talked about a lot of things. He talked, for example, about how you have to build for the liturgy. I had asked John Boyer if there was anything I should be prepared to talk about from the choir’s perspective in the design process; acoustics, of course, were the concern at the top of John’s list. Besides that, however, he also a big narthex, an apse that functioned as a resonating chamber, and the choirs placed in transepts. Andrew, as it happened, brought up virtually all of those things unprompted as practical “must-haves” that aren’t negotiable. (And the one thing he didn’t present as such, transepts, once I told him what we’re trying to do, he said, “Yes, of course, you’ll want transepts.”) Acoustics, in fact, were the very first thing that he mentioned to me as one of the design features he won’t not do.

Andrew talked about money. To build what he would design for the number of people we’re talking about (200 on Sundays, 300 on feast days), we’re looking at ~$2 million. His fees will be 6-8% of that, including construction documents. Plus, we have ~$220,000 on our existing mortgage that we have to retire. So, at the end of the day, $2.5 million is what we’re looking at, soup to nuts. (This prompted the question — what was the estimate on the original concept? $2 million for the temple and the south wing, was the answer, and that was in 1999 dollars. So, we’re not out of our original range by any stretch of the imagination.)

One of the ideas that came up while talking about money was trying to establish an alumni network for Orthodox Christians who have come through Indiana University. Surely there have to be hundreds out there who were in Bloomington when there was no church at all — hence Orthodox Hoosiers; I am slowly but surely getting this running, but I’m a one-man army on this front. If you’d like to help in any way, administratively or financially, please get in touch with me (rrbarret [AT] indiana.edu); there is no support from All Saints behind this effort except for the moral kind, and if perhaps there were 20-30 interested parties willing to pool ~$1,000 of startup costs for charter membership benefits to be determined later, that’d be immensely helpful.

Most importantly, however, Andrew told us why we need to build a beautiful church. This alone was a game-changer, and how. To have somebody who knew what he was talking about, and who is clearly a faithful Orthodox Christian, tell us with humility yet authority that in our current building we appear to be God’s people in exile — well, the terms of the conversation are permanently different now, because everybody who heard Andrew’s answer understands that the point is not to build four walls and a roof, but rather to write an icon of the heavenly city. A gentleman who had just been through a $1.7 million building campaign at his own parish to build something, well, not quite as nice, shook his head and said, “If only we’d heard that before.”

Andrew was kind enough to leave us with a concept sketch:

What you see is the view of the building from the southwest, somewhat in the air. The corner of building on the right is our existing building, surrounded by the parking lot. The church has a basement level which would function as the parish hall once finished; the temple itself would be level with the existing parking lot, and the covered bridge (a clever nod to famous Indiana landmarks) would extend from the parking lot to the narthex, over the valley that runs between the parking lot and the hill (plus you can also see the stairs leading up to the entryway on the north side of the narthex,). There would, of course, be whatever handicapped parking spaces are necessary, plus an elevator from the basement level to the narthex, but Andrew’s idea is that for the 99% of the parish that is able-bodied, the 200 feet from the parking lot to the church, however you choose to walk it, will function as a transition from the busy world into the Kingdom. “The temple will be 100 feet long to begin with,” he said, “so you’re walking 200 feet to and from Communion anyway. We walk that in the Target parking lot without even thinking about it. The church building shouldn’t be the place where we emphasize suburban ideas of convenience.”

Andrew’s other idea was to use a slab of limestone from our property (it used to be a working quarry) as our permanent altar. As I’ve told a couple of people, then we could tell C. S. Lewis fans that we have the real Stone Table.

Will we build it? It sure seems possible. Nothing has been decided formally (and I should emphasize that, lest I come across like I’m speaking out of school), and it will still be another week or so before the parish council can meet about how to move forward, but Andrew definitely got a lot of people excited. I think we should challenge ourselves to break ground within two years. I think we can build the city on the hill if we make it a priority to do so as a community.

The thing is, Fr. Peter is reasonably certain that we’re not going to be able to get a mortgage for more than half a million dollars. This means we’re going to have to come up with $2 million in cash, somehow. In the short term, we’re going to have to raise around $250k — ~$220,000 to retire the existing mortage, and somewhere around $21,000 to engage Andrew to formally get the design to the level of detail where he can produce the pretty watercolors that get people to write checks. That’s nothing when you’re talking about building a permanent church, but when you’re telling that to a lot of working-class Hoosiers, you realize just how much of an asset the imperial treasury actually was back in the day.

(Did I mention that I’m working on an Orthodox IU Alumni Network?)

By the way, I would absolutely, unhesitatingly, and without qualification recommend Andrew Gould to any church going through this process. He has a terrific eye, a wonderful sense of how architecture interacts with the landscape, and a frightening amount of knowledge when it comes to talking about the tradition of Orthodox Christian church buildings. Andrew is also very affable and easygoing, there isn’t a hint of arrogance about him, and he’s a great guy with whom to have a beer as well. All of us had a great time getting to know him, and we really hope to see him again soon.

What Andrew is not, just so we’re clear, is cheap and obedient — and I rank these negatives in the “plus” column, no question about it. Now, he doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, but neither does he say, “You’re a church, so I’ll charge you next to nothing.” He’s very up front about saying that he charges market price for what he does, and that this is his living, not how he fulfills charitable obligations. It cost $2,000 plus his travel to bring him out for the weekend to do this kind of consultation; as noted, the next stage will be $18-21k. The construction documents will be another chunk of change. This is not unreasonable; it’s just that that’s actually what these things cost. Our old design was done for “the discount” — and, well, as my father likes to say, the most cost effective way of doing anything is to do it right the first time, and sometimes free is too expensive. So, as far as I’m concerned, This is a Good Thing.

(By the way, because I’m clumsy, I accidentally spilled coffee all over the original watercolor of the old design during the course of this weekend, utterly ruining it. I swear to God it was absolutely an accident, but I was asked by somebody later, “Was that a Freudian spill?”)

As far as “obedience” goes — what I mean by that is, Andrew is not going to design whatever you want no matter what. He wants to design things that look like they belong where they are, but what he puts his name on has to be rooted somehow in Orthodox architectural tradition; if that isn’t what you want, call somebody else. Somebody challenged him on some points related to that over the course of the weekend; “I don’t come to church for the beauty, I come for the participation,” this person told him, more or less telling him that they felt like certain structural insistences on his part seemed unnecessary and foreign (at best) to what they were used to in churches. Andrew didn’t back down, and simply continued to explain with patience, humility, and his encyclopedic knowledge. This person was eventually won over — but the point is, don’t expect him to chuck centuries of tradition because you don’t like it. His churches are bigger than you, and bigger than him. Again, as I see it, This is a Good Thing.

This is already over 2,700 words, so I think I’m going to split this post in two. Thus endeth part the first; part the second, in which All Saints goes to Parents’ Weekend of Byz Chant Boot Camp, will be coming soon.

Andrew Gould on why we need beautiful churches (updated with transcription)

I will have more to say about the context in which Andrew told us this when I have more time, but for the moment I will say only that this is the best answer to the question I have ever heard, and I’m really glad that I was recording his presentation for other reasons.

Update, 19 January 2010, 10:36am: Lucas Christensen was good enough to transcribe this (that’s my godson!). Here we go:

Q: Would you mind telling us a little bit of your philosophy on why we need beautiful churches?

A: The question of ‘why this sort of architecture?’ really brings me back to why I started becoming interested in Orthodoxy. I had previously been Anglican and I was interested in designing Anglican churches in gothic style; when I was in college, I studied gothic architecture quite intensively. But as I started to learn about Orthodoxy and Byzantine churches, I was really impressed by the degree to which architecture, iconography, music and liturgy are integrated in Orthodoxy, as one common vision. The way the liturgical movements connect to the different spaces of the building, and then the way the liturgical movements address the different icons, the way in which the icons are painted on the particular surfaces of the buildings in the proper order where they go, and then the way the hymnography refers to all of these saints and to liturgical actions. All of these things work together as an icon of the Kingdom of God in its entirety. Panel icons of saints are not the whole story. They represent the saints, the angels, Christ—but the Kingdom of God is a lot more than that.

If you read the end of the Book of Revelation it describes the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the City of New Jerusalem: it has foundations made of precious stones; it has columns and arches and beautiful pavements; it has domes—all of this is described. And it has ever been the practice of the Orthodox Church to understand church architecture as iconographic. That it, along with the icons and saints, makes for the full representation of the Kingdom of God, and then that must be filled with liturgy, music, incense, to represent we who make up the Kingdom of God along with the saints and angels worshipping God therein. So if you don’t have that, if you have a room like this {indicates a nave in a temporary office-space – ed.} with icons hanging on the wall, you’ve only got half of the picture. To me, honestly, seeing this situation of a mission church without a church, looks like the Kingdom of God in exile. We have worship, and we have music, we have saints, but where is New Jerusalem? Where is the City?

That’s why you need beautiful architecture. And that’s why the architecture needs to be honest, and solid and sincere. We don’t want to have a stage set, we don’t want to have a building that superficially looks like an Orthodox church, because that’s a stage set, that’s sort of what Baroque architecture is. That’s sort of trying to use plaster and ornament to give a theatrical impression of the Beatific Vision. But Orthodoxy’s not about that, Orthodoxy’s about building something absolutely solid, and permanent and honest that conveys the real ethos of the eternal Kingdom of God.

Newsflash from New Liturgical Movement: “Chant and polyphony call for a live space with a natural acoustic”

Jeffrey Tucker at The New Liturgical Movement briefly talks about issues related to amplification and acoustics within a nave. It’s a few days old now, and the points are reasonably obvious, but nonetheless worth making. This section in particular, uh, resonates with me:

The liturgical choir, however, is there to assist the ritual and be part of a sound framework that is broad and inclusive of the entire space — to be part of something larger than the sound it is making.  […] Chant and polyphony call for a live space with a natural acoustic, and… [thus] I’m not sure that it is really possible to talk about acoustics without dealing with the style issue. How a parish deals with the issue of [acoustics] can be very revealing as to what the designers and decision makers regard as the modal music of parish life.

This is an issue with which the people who sing at my parish are currently struggling (including the priest); it is a building which was built in 2001 as a temporary space, intended in the long term to be the education wing of a larger complex which was intended to include a bigger Byzantine-ish temple with, likely, a reasonable acoustic. Because the nave was going to be classroom space eventually, it was built as acoustically dead as they could possibly manage. Low ceiling, ceiling tiles, carpet. The room actually sucks sound out of you before you ever have a chance to phonate — and that’s a feature, not a bug, according to the people who helped plan the current space. They figured the bigger complex was just a few years down the road, so it wouldn’t really be that big of a deal.

Well, already in 2003, they were realizing it was probably going to take another ten years before they would be able to build the church on which they had counted; now, eight years after the current building opened its doors, we’re looking at likely ten years before we’ll be able to knock down a couple of walls to expand what we have, let alone build another building. What we have is what we have, and that is not likely to change any time soon.

As a result, the conversation has shifted to how we can make the most of our “temporary” space that hasn’t actually turned out to be temporary. This effort was begun in earnest this last January, and a good amount has been accomplished since those pictures were taken. Still, a coat of paint isn’t going to fix the acoustics, and our focus is turning to what we can do about the acoustics. For me, it’s not an abstract question; it’s like singing into a wet towel, and I’ve been doing it for six years now. It takes a toll.

Truth is, there’s little we can do. The support beams in the structure above the ceiling tiles are horizontal; we’d get maybe eight inches if we took them out. This means we can replace the carpet with something less absorptive, like beauty bark, and/or replace the ceiling tiles with something a little less absorptive. The trouble is the next question which gets asked: how do we justify spending the money to do any of that when this building is intended to be something else in the long run, and spending the money now would simply set us back farther from being able to build the next phase?

I bring all of this up for two reasons. First of all, if there’s anybody who reads this who has solved a similar problem or has ideas regarding how this problem could be solved, I’m all ears, baby.

Secondly, I think this comes back to Mr. Tucker’s point: how those involved with decision-making at a parish deal with acoustics says a lot about what they think is important with respect to music. To that end — let’s be real, guys, we’ve got a 90% sung Liturgy. If it can’t be heard past the third row when the choir is screaming themselves hoarse, that’s a problem. I entreat anybody reading this who is ever involved either with mission planting or the building of a new church building — plan for the acoustics. Plan for the choir. Plan for the vocal health and longevity of the people who sing. Put a mission in a space that is reasonably live — nonstandard acoustics will hurt you, not help you. Involve the cantor/choir director in the design of a new building — they will be able to tell you what they need, and at a minimum, a vaulted ceiling with a floor that isn’t one giant sound absorber should be treated as a reasonable starting point. In general, please don’t deliberately hobble your singers and then say, down the road, when asked about it, “Sorry, we actually intended it that way.” Your clergy will thank you, too, particularly during Holy Week.

These things, truly, are not “nice to haves”. They are “need to haves”. It’s not a snobby musician thing; it’s the fact that if we get callouses on those two little flaps of flesh in our vocal tract, we’re done.

Churches are the last venue where one is at all likely to hear live, unamplified music anymore on a regular basis; we aren’t going to hear it at home, we aren’t going to hear it at school, and heck, a lot of the time we aren’t even going to hear it in an opera house anymore — and even in a lot of churches you’ll find amplification out the wazoo. Our ears have become accustomed to the nonstandard room as being the standard, and then just being able to turn up the volume if we can’t hear something. I cringe every time I see somebody chanting into a microphone; somebody has missed the point in that instance, and it’s either the person insisting on using the microphone or the person who has insisted that the cantor needs a microphone.

For further reading, I suggest Thomas Day’s Why Catholics Can’t Sing. I also published an article a few years ago in The Journal of Singing on this topic — maybe I’ll repost the text here.

The golden rule, reality and other musings: or, happy first day of Great Lent

You know, there’s a particular reality that’s a bit hard to face when it comes to organizations. Not just churches (but churches are definitely included) — really, any organization. What I’m talking about is, of course, the Golden Rule.

“Of course,” you’re thinking. “Do unto others as…”

Nope, sorry, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is this: He who has the gold makes the rules.

This is more or less true everywhere. Government, non-profits, business, so on and so forth. There’s a very simple reason for it: unless the people able to write big checks have an interest in staying in the game, they won’t. Probably most of us would like to think that if we had lots of money, we’d behave differently, but the fact of the matter is that the more you have to protect, the more you will act to protect it — that is, the more you will act in what you see as your own best interests, and you will define what your best interests are in terms of what you have to lose.

Take charitable foundations. Do you think those exist for any other reason than it is in the best economic interests of the people funding them to do so? These entities exist because what it costs to fund them is less expensive than paying taxes on the same money. Show me somebody who gives away lots and lots of money without setting up a foundation or a charitable trust, meaning that they don’t care what the tax implications are, and I’ll show you somebody who is being truly selfless with their money. That’s not to belittle those who set up these organs of charity with truly the best of intentions, not in the slightest; this interaction of tax laws, wealth, and charity functions as intended, and in our society there’s probably no other way it could work. I’m just saying that it is probably naive, at best, to think that there isn’t anything in it for the person writing the checks.

As I said at the start of this rambling monstrosity, of course this applies to churches. At Overlake Christian Church, which is where I spent the plurality of my childhood churchgoing, the folks who wrote the biggest checks were the ones who got facetime with Pastor Bob Moorehead. That was evident even to an eight year old. And, really, why would it be any different in a church of 6,000 people (huge by 1985 standards) which had a mammoth building to maintain and which had designs on building an even larger structure?

At the church where my wife and I were married, it played out a little differently, but it was still the same story. The service schedule was structured around giving pride of place to the “Contemporary Praise Music” Eucharist — why? Because that was the service that had the greatest attendance of young, wealthy families. The choir and organ Eucharist had several older wealthy people, but the Microsoft families were able to outbid them (this was the late ’90s and early Aughts, after all).

You have to keep the people paying the bills in the game. They have to get value for their money, and there has to be an additional benefit proportional to the additional giving. How can it be any other way?

In the same way, I tend to see the perceived discomfort between so-called “ethnic” or “cradle” Orthodox and converts, if it actually exists at all, as being primarily an economic issue. Pews? Organs? Byzantine chant? Liturgical language? Even, yes, how episcopal authority gets defined and exercised? These are all issues subject to how the bills get paid. This isn’t something many of us who came to Orthodox Christianity for convictions of faith want to hear, but I think it’s probably the case.

Let’s take a hypothetical Orthodox priest from a country we’ll call Dolaria. He’s got a parish of three-quarters ethnic Dolarians, the richest five of whom give approximately 95% of the parish’s annual budget. The other quarter is mostly converts and maybe people from other ethnic backgrounds for whom a parish from “their own” church is too far away; maybe this group gives more consistently and regularly than the previous group, and maybe not. One way or the other, all told, this quarter of the parish makeup gives about 15% of the annual budget. On a given Sunday, the church might be three-quarters full and attendance might be split 50-50 between converts and ethnic Dolarians. Despite a fulltime priest, the parish only serves Orthos and Divine Liturgy on Sunday during a normal week. The metropolitan area in which this predominantly Dolarian community finds itself has a number of other parishes which tend to be heavier on converts, but the Dolarian parish’s annual budget is bigger than all of the rest of them combined.

Perhaps this hypothetical priest doesn’t participate much in pan-Orthodox events when they occur. Maybe a convert priest presses him about this, and also rags on him a bit for building a brand new church, an exemplar of traditional Dolarian Orthodox church architecture — except that it has pews and an organ. We can hypothesize that the Dolarian priest replies, “You know, you converts can play happy-clappy pan-Orthodox unity all you want, but the reality is that I’ve got a big church of Dolarians that takes up all my time, and the people who pay me to do that are Dolarians. When you converts actually match or outnumber us in giving and in attendance, then we’ll talk. A convert who comes to every service but gives $1,000 a year doesn’t help keep the doors open and the lights on in the way that a Dolarian who comes maybe once a month but gives $500,000 a year does. If ten people are writing me checks for $1 million apiece towards a $15 million church, and they want pews and an organ, they’re going to get it. If a hundred people are writing me $100 checks towards that church, and they want an open floor with no organ, I’m sorry, but they’re in the wrong demographic across the board for me to be willing to die on that hill.”

And you know what? While I wouldn’t like it or agree with it, I wouldn’t necessarily be unsympathetic to that point of view. Freedom of religion in a pluralistic, capitalist society where there is officially a separation between church and state effectively means that you get the religion for which you’re able to pay. To put it another way, if you want a church to be a particular way, you have to put your money where your faith is. We speak as Christians about “sacrificial giving,” but the reality is that the vast majority of people, particularly the wealthy, even Christians, and yes, even Orthodox Christians, are not going to give anything they can’t afford to lose. Ten middle-class converts who have bookshelves of the entire Popular Patristics line from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press are neither going to be able to match ten ethnic millionaire entrepeneurs who have no idea what the Council of Nicea decided and prefer to hear the Liturgy in <fill in name of language> because it makes them feel more <fill in name of ethnicity> even though that means they don’t even know what we actually sing in the Paschal troparion, nor are the middle-class converts going to bring in enough additional middle-class converts to outmatch the same.

We converts can say all we want that we just want to submit to the Tradition, that we should follow the Typikon, we want traditional music (but sung in English!), traditional architecture, have a fuller liturgical schedule, take out the pews and chairs, only have a tuning fork for instruments, have icons handwritten in Byzantine style with egg tempera and mineral pigments, and burn nothing but olive oil and beeswax with not an electric light to be found. I myself am firmly in that camp, believe me.

Economic realities interfere pretty fast with that picture, however. First of all, a priest costs money, or at least he does if you actually want him to be able to survive. Not paying a priest carries its own cost — if he works a secular job, that means he will have less time for his parish. Plus, if you really want a fuller liturgical schedule, and you have a priest with a family, you almost need two priests. That costs money, too.

Traditional music? It takes having people who know what they’re doing musically. Guess what? That will in all likelihood cost money.

Traditional architecture? Hoo boy, does that cost money.

Take out the pews and chairs? Since that will likely cause a chunk of your congregation to leave, that has a cost.

Longer services? You’ll probably lose people over this, too. Check.

Handwritten icons? Wait till you see the bill. Yes, that costs money. A lot of it.

Olive oil and beeswax? Inherently higher maintenance, which means it costs money.

To apply this to current events, if there is a perception among people who write checks with lots of zeros (at least, zeros to the left of the decimal point) that an organization is in the process of giving away the farm to people who write checks with far fewer zeroes, behave in a way which makes them uncomfortable, and frankly, whom they might perceive as having less of a vested interest in that organization than they do (because, let’s be honest, this is a group of people who already left something else to be part of this organization, so how do we know they won’t do it again?), they are going to pressure the leadership of that organization to start making different choices. And, eventually, the power of the pocketbook will be the deciding factor. The outcome will go to the highest bidder. He who has the gold makes the rules. Issues of canonicity, conciliarity, communion, doctrine, tradition, etc. simply do not have the force in our current system, the so-called “marketplace of ideas,” that being willing to write a check does. When the emperor was able to outbid everybody, that was one thing, but that’s not how we do things here and now.

Let me make something clear: this is in no way an indictment of the people who write the checks and expect, implicitly or explicitly, things to go their way — neither is it an indictment of the people to whom those checks are given and who then act accordingly. That is, for better or for worse, the way our culture works. Adjunct to that is the idea of choice — if you don’t like it, go someplace else or start your own. That Orthodox ecclesiology doesn’t exactly allow for that is an internal technical matter, not truly the concern of the culture at large.

Rather, I’m really talking to fellow converts. We need a reality check, folks. I include myself in that — I’m low-level support staff at a university and a part-time grad student, married to a full-time grad student. I can only do so much, and even that’s hard to do. The people whom I have brought to church with me are people in similar situations — students and working class folks who read a lot. It would take around sixty pledging units like us to be able to pay the priest’s compensation (which is already less than what he’s worth), and two hundred pledging units like us to be able to completely replace our parish’s budget. As it is, our parish has around eighty pledging units total. Yes, I’m there for virtually every service, but so what? That means I’m taking up more space and resources than that for which I am able to pay, more than likely. I’m a net loss for my parish, in other words, particularly since as the choir director and cantor I’m also one of the only paid staff. My potential as a net loss is further amplified by music having a status as a potential flashpoint of controversy. The most mild, reasonable, and practical of musical decisions made by a cantor/choir director — say, picking a setting of the Liturgy that the choir is actually able to sing — has the potential to be a reason for somebody to leave, and take their pledge with them. Trust me on this point.

We need to assume that we, as converts, will get the respect we can afford. Metropolitan PHILIP likes to point out the growth in the number of Antiochian parishes since he was became primate; what would be a better metric of growth, I think, would be an aggregate total of the annual budgets of all parishes, adjusted for inflation. I’m going to guess that that number would not suggest as optimistic a present reality as the number of parishes does.

I suspect that current events are, in one way or another, related to people in charge having to follow the money. I’m not sure it’s any one person; I think both New Jersey and Damascus have vested financial interests which need to be tended, which, again, canonicity or no canonicity, is the way things work in the here and now. The rent has to be paid, whether or not a bishop has been canonically enthroned as a diocesan bishop and not as an auxiliary. We proclaim ourselves to be the true Church; it does not follow that we are the perfect Church or a Church which, under current circumstances, can operate independently of financial concerns.

Does that change what anything looks like, for good or ill? No. However, does it change anything about the faith or how we are supposed to live it? No. Does it change Christ? It would be blasphemy to suggest that it did. What it does mean is that we must necessarily scale our expectations about what parish life is like to appropriate levels, and not to expect that people who are human are going to be anything other than human. Our deacons, priests and bishops (and cantors — especially cantors) are all working out their salvation with fear and trembling, too. It also means it is incumbent upon us to pray, to confess, to act and give according to our convictions, as much as we possibly can, and to understand that the way the world works, to say nothing of all the broken people in it, things are going to move slowly even if we do that.

I’m not thrilled about what I’m hearing about this decision from Antioch or the potential consequences; I love my bishop dearly and do not like seeing him demoted, not in the least. It’s actually rather shaken me to the core, simply because it seems to be a very large and significant action which is about nothing so much as power and money and which has nothing to do with the faith. But that’s exactly it — it has nothing to do with the faith. It does not impact who Christ is, or my need for communion with Him, one whit. As well, given that this is the very beginning of Lent, to rush to judgment and start separating the various figures into the “good guys” and the “bad guys” is very clearly a temptation which requires resistance. Avoiding Big Macs and nachos over the next few weeks isn’t all we have to do; we also have to avoid judging our brothers… and our priests, and our bishops… and especially our cantors who have to sing so many ginormously long services over this week alone to say nothing of Holy Week… and instead put in the effort to love them.

All Saints gets a facelift

Before:

And after, or at least in progress — this was as of this last Saturday evening:

All of my pictures can be found here. All of the lampadas and icons still needed to be hung as of Sunday, the moveable wall is going to be painted to fit this overall scheme, the flourescent lights are going to go away, and there is still some lettering yet to go on the walls — but we’re getting there.

Holy Trinity Church in Piraeus, Greece

Another place to add the list of places I want to go before I die… (Hat tip: Solomon, I Have Surpassed Thee)

Festival on Fairfax 2008

Something resembling a Greek or Middle Eastern festival is a staple of Orthodox parish life, it seems, and All Saints is no different — although we don’t call it a Greek or Middle Eastern festival, we just call it “The Festival on Fairfax” (Fairfax Road being where All Saints is located). Once a year, the community pulls together, throws open its doors to the world, and busts out the tsatsiki. Not to belabor a previously expressed point, but we legitimately have the best gyros in Bloomington, thanks to Johnny Ioannides (whose name I will continue to shout from the rooftops, since they’re just that good) — it’s just too bad it’s the only regularly scheduled day of the year they are publicly available.

Johnny Ioannides, the man who brings us the best gyros in Bloomington. Can we open this man a restaurant, please?

Johnny Ioannides, the man who brings us the best gyros in Bloomington. Can we open this man a restaurant, please?

(But it is not, emphatically not, a Greek festival. Or a Middle Eastern festival. Really. We also sell hot dogs. But no borscht.)

It’s always a good time, and in many respects, shows off the best sides of Bloomington’s little Orthodox church that could.

There are, truthfully, many things which differentiate what we do from the typical Greek festival. It’s not the mammoth fundraiser that many are; it’s not like Holy Trinity, where we charge admission in addition to food and merchandise, go all weekend and raise three quarters of the annual parish budget in the course of three days. Nope, we let you in free, we run one day only, and it pays for itself with a chunk left over but it’s hardly make-or-break for our day-to-day operations. More than one day, and we really hit a point of diminishing returns — particularly if we start having to pay staff rather than use volunteers. Getting bigger every year the way we do, we might have already hit this. Besides, Holy Trinity has the whole city of Indianapolis; we… uh, we don’t.

At any rate, the hope has been that eventually it would be more of a way of evangelizing, of being Christ to our community, rather than fundraising, but exactly how that will crystallize, precisely, remains to be seen. As with many things surrounding All Saints’ transition from being a small church community, only one or two steps removed from a mission, to being a mature parish, identity and defining characteristics are somewhat in flux for the moment. For one thing, much of Bloomington doesn’t even know (or care) we exist; in time, we hope to be more of a presence in the community. For the moment, the Festival on Fairfax is a fun way of at least holding an open house for our neighbors.

(Hey, there’s a thought. What about doing something that’s explicitly labeled and structured as an open house for the community?)

Anyway, here are some of the pictures I took throughout the day. Church tours are, of course, something we do, and there’s an information board we post relating the interior of an Orthodox church building to the interior of the Jewish temple. The big colorful image (blown up below) is, shall we say, a rather idealized digital model of a traditional Byzantine structure. I agree with my godson Lucas (who put the board together, and conducted the tours) that it would be nice if there were formal diocesan guidelines for building churches something along the lines of “come as close to this as you possibly can”; alas, much of Byzantine church architecture seems to assume the existence of an Emperor and his treasury, and the readiness of same to pay for things. Very tough for a smallish working class community to be able to come anywhere near this (as you can see from the acoustic tiles filling in for the dome).

The only Orthodox cemetery in Indiana

The only Orthodox cemetery in Indiana

On the other hand, we are making good use of the property we have (some 24 acres), and slowly but surely we are building something which we hope will still be there in a couple of centuries. For example, we’ve got the only Orthodox cemetery in the whole state (so far as we know, the next nearest is at Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan).

A hayride in the Grove

A hayride in the Grove

We’ve also got a large section of the property called the Grove which is intended to be a common area for public events once it’s finally done. It’s close to being done; flooding over the summer, as well as a few other issues, set us back a bit, but there’s a stage built, electricity wired, a pond dug, and other access points and landscaping are being worked on. Fish and a water pump will be added to the pond (both apparently in an attempt to help deal with mosquitoes), as well. Hopefully by next summer’s music festival it’ll be completely ready to go; I believe the plan is also to hold at least a good chunk of next year’s Festival down there. In the meantime, the hayrides conducted during the Festival go through there, at least.

The Big Tent

The Big Tent

The center of the action for this year’s Festival was the Big Tent — this was the eating area, it was where the music was performed (we never seem to quite pull of dancing, alas), and it was where the food was served.

The SmallTown Heroes

The SmallTown Heroes

I have to say, I enjoyed the SmallTown Heroes immensely — enough to buy their CD, which I’ve also really liked (enough to review here eventually, I think).

Fr. Athanasius Wilson, Fr. Peter Jon Gillquist’s predecessor, paid a visit to the Festival — always a joy to see him and Kh. Loretta. We don’t get to see him much anymore with his mission up in Greenwood. This community will always love him to pieces, and for very good reason. Without Fr. Athanasius, there would be no All Saints Orthodox Church right now, period. He was the right priest for the time, just as Fr. Peter is now (and hopefully will be for some time).

Fr. Athanasius Wilson and Fr. Peter Jon Gillquist

Fr. Athanasius Wilson and Fr. Peter Jon Gillquist

Besides tours of the nave, we also had the bake shop and silent auction inside the church. You want baklava? We’ve got baklava. Or, well, at least we did. You snooze, you lose. The parish bookstore was also open for business, and we had copies of Cappella Romana‘s The Divine Liturgy in English for sale and displayed prominently, natch.

Eric Leveque (left) trying to work off the freshman fifteen with Charles Coats

Eric Leveque (left) trying to work off the freshman fifteen with Charles Coats

Speaking of baklava, evidently a couple of folks ate a bit too much and found a novel way to try to work it off.

The Festival closed with Vespers. This is something for which we’re still figuring out the best approach — before last year, we just cancelled Saturday Vespers, but it occurred to us that it didn’t make any sense, if we wanted the Festival to be more about outreach and evangelism rather than fundraising, to not include a service. Reaction has been mixed — last year it worked very well, and this year… Well, the trouble is, many of the parishioners are still having to work the food booths and whatnot while Vespers is in progress, and there’s still very clearly Festival activity going on come 5pm, so there jisn’t really a compelling reason for people to go inside (particularly on a gorgeous day like last Saturday was), and there’s no large-scale movement of the parishioners to generate momentum, either. So, I’d say that this year, we had fewer people than we would have for a regular Saturday Vespers, with many of the people we’d normally see at that service being outside selling gyros, and almost none of the Festival visitors. Maybe one or two, if that.

And just like that, it’s six o’clock and it’s over until next year — 10 October 2009. Mark it on your calendar now. Best gyros in Bloomington, I tell you.


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