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Posts Tagged 'things for the choir director to think about in a new church building'

“Always start out with a few good jokes” — a choir director’s initial and parting thoughts

I had my last rehearsal with the All Saints choir last night, and I gave a little bit of a farewell speech. I found some prepared notes from my very first rehearsal with the All Saints choir seven and a half years ago, and they still seemed relevant, if clearly pre-dating some things that I’ve learned in the intervening time. I prefaced all of this by mentioning that my favorite quote from my teaching evaluations this fall was, “Needs dumbed down”, which I find wonderful on several levels. Anyway, I didn’t read all of this last night, just some select chunks, but here’s the whole thing:

2 July 2005, All Saints Choir Rehearsal #1

Always start out with a few good jokes:

Music vocabulary—

Bar line: A gathering of people, usually among which may be found a church musician or two (usually Episcopalians).

Tenors: Most choirs have either a) none, or b) too many. When wholly absent they leave an aching void. When too numerous, they fill the void without removing the ache. Tenors rarely sing words and often produce regional sensations rather than actual notes. During the mating season, they draw attention to themselves by sustaining high notes while the rest of the choir has gone on with the phrase.

Seen in a church bulletin: “At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be ‘What is hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice.

The Scriptures on singing in worship

Romans 15:9—And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.

1 Cor 14:15—What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

Ephesians 5:19—Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord

Colossians 3:16—Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

Hebrews 2:12–Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.

James 5:13—Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

The Church Fathers on singing in worship

“Let us consider the entire multitude of angels, how standing by you they minister to his will. For the Scripture says: ‘Ten thousand stood by him and a thousand ministered to him and cried out, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Sabaoth, the whole creation is full of his glory.’ (Isaiah 6:3) Let us, therefore, gathered together in concord by conscience, cry out earnestly to Him as if with one voice, so that we might come to share in his great and glorious promises.” (St. Clement of Rome (c. 96 A.D.), First Epistle to the Corinthians, italics mine)

“…you make up a chorus, so that joined together in harmony, and having received the godly strain in unison, you might sing in one voice through Christ to the Father, so that He might hear you and recognize you through your good deeds as members of His Son…” (St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 100 A.D.), Epistle to the Ephesians, italics mine)

“We want to strive so that we, the many, may be brought together into one love, according to the union of the essential unity. As we do good may be similarly pursue unity….The union of many, which the divine harmony has called forth out of a medley of sounds and division, becomes one symphony, following the one leader of the choir and teacher, the Word, resting in that same truth and crying out, ‘Abba, Father.’” (St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 200 A.D.), Protrepticus)

A modern Christian writer on singing in worship:

All quotes from Why Catholics can’t sing by Thomas Day.

“[T]he sung ritual [is] a symbol of a burning faith […] The [sung] liturgy in any language [is] the symbol of faith so intense and filled with joy that it [has] to burst forth in almost continuous song.”

The Great Unwritten Law of Church Music: “[M]usic for the church must not clash with the liturgical function; it must take its place in the objective liturgical setting and not seem like an intrusion. [It] must display a degree of quality and craftsmanship which will be agreeable to a prince and peasant, male and female, young and old. Everyone who […] hears the music must sense a group endeavor, a group prayer: maybe something performed by the assembly or by a choir acting in the name of the assembly […] that seems to sum up the highest religious aspirations of a whole people. [T]he icon painters [pray] and [fast] as they [struggle] to put the holy images into the exacting forms prescribed by tradition. You must try to do something similar.”

Music in the Church is best when it “(1) expresses the noblest aspirations of the communal, cultural, tribal consciousness and (2) seems to submit to the higher purposes of the rite itself.”

So, what does this mean for us?

As an Orthodox choir, our job is not to sing one or two “anthems” or “offertories” at specific points in the service as in a Protestant church. Our job is to help the congregation sing the entire service. With a 90% sung liturgy lasting close to an hour and a half, that’s no small feat. We sing liturgical music, which means we sing the music that comes out of the work of the people (the literal meaning of “liturgy”) [NOTE, 21 Dec 2012: this is the main spot where obviously my thinking has changed, and I would find a different way of putting this today]. That means, simply put, our worship is work. Given our leadership role in the work, our job is not to be individuals who just happen to stand in a different place in the nave from everybody else; our job is to lead the rest of the congregation into the ideal of “one voice” in worship. By definition, to do this takes time, effort, and commitment to taking that leadership role seriously.

It also takes the choir functioning as a community within the community. From one perspective, the expectation is quite high: we’ve gotten up early so our voices haven’t completely woken up yet, and if we’re receiving the Eucharist we haven’t been able to do the normal things that help get the throat and vocal cords going the way they need to—drink water, coffee, tea, eat something, and so on—but we still have nearly an hour and a half worth of singing to do, more if we’re singing in the Matins service. The only way we can do that well, not to mention healthfully, is to support each other, personally and vocally, so that no one person in any section is carrying everybody else for the entire Divine Liturgy. What it takes is simply time, effort, and commitment from all who are willing to give it. It’s that difficult and that easy.

To that end: In consultation with Fr. Athanasius, while I am directing the choir, we will take the following steps:

1) Incorporate the choir into Saturday evening Vespers for the four-part portions of the service, and rehearse either before or after Vespers. We will try rehearsing after Vespers for the time being; we might very possibly try it before Vespers if it is found that this works better all around. I have deliberately scheduled the rehearsal around an already existing service, and I will never take up more than an hour of your time at any given rehearsal. Ideally, there will be rehearsals where my agenda for the evening will take up less time than that, and we will only continue through to the end of the hour if there is something that the group wishes to work on. These rehearsals will consist of a combination of vocal warm-ups, sight-singing warm-ups, announcements, polishing music we already know and learning new music. The balance of these various components will vary from week to week, based on the service requirements for that week and coming weeks.

2) Warm up as a group either at 9:35am on Sunday morning or after the Matins Gospel, whichever comes first. Starting Sunday, 17 July 2005 (that’s two weeks from now), this will be the skeletal minimum with respect to my expectation of you if you intend to sing that morning. If you cannot make a Saturday evening rehearsal at this time, then I absolutely need you to warm up with the group Sunday morning. For those of you who sing in the Matins service, we will devise a regular rotation so that one week you may finish out Matins, the next week you will warm up with the choir, and so on.

3) Gradually phase out the use of soloists for verses and replace them with unison chanting. We will talk about this more as we go, but for Psalm verses and whatnot, I would like to see an alternating “left choir/right choir” approach, where perhaps the women sing one verse, the men sing the next verse, etc. We will experiment with this over time to see how it best works with this group. The vocal and acoustic circumstances are simply not ideal for solo voices, and where it is practical to use an ensemble, we will.

I will also do the following:

1) Put out a calendar outlining rehearsals and services coming up a month out (perhaps two months out, if I find that it’s necessary). If you know you won’t be at a rehearsal or a service, please sign out on the calendar. Additionally, if you plan to attend a service or a rehearsal, should something happen at the last minute preventing your attendance please call me or e-mail me as soon as you possibly can so that I know what to expect for that rehearsal or service. I offer you all the same courtesy—if something happens to me, I will let you all know as soon as I possibly can.

2) Make myself available for work outside of regularly scheduled rehearsals and services. For example—if you need help with something musically, want extra sight-singing practice, if the tenor section needs extra help and wants a section rehearsal, if you need to talk to me about something privately, or if you just want to chat, please give me a call or send me an e-mail and we will find time to do so.

3) Make rehearsals as fun as I possibly can. I want you all to want to come to rehearsal, not feel like you have to come, which in my experience will only ensure that you want to come even less. I want our rehearsals to be a friendly, positive working environment, because I think we’ll all get more done that way.

My final point for now is this: a no is as good as a yes, as far as I’m concerned. If, after hearing all of this, you are thinking to yourself, “He’s going to have to count me out,” that’s fine. I’m not mad at you, and neither is anybody else. What I ask, however, is that you not make a snap judgment now. I ask that you give it some time to see how it will work—perhaps you’ll surprise yourself.

I believe this is a group who is capable of a lot. If we can commit to putting in the time and the effort, and remember that this is not about us but about the glorification of God, I believe we will be able to accomplish a lot.

Okay, I’m done talking now. Let’s sing.

I also mentioned some passages from +BASIL’s essay, “The Ministry of Church Singers”. I think parts of this have to be contextualized as a bishop being pastoral and pious, but there are nonetheless some things he says unequivocally:

There are few ministries of the Church that require the devotion and the dedication that church singing does. You who lead the singing as well as you who follow the leader are precious gifts to your parishes. You are as important to the parish as is the holy table itself. As there can be no liturgy without the holy table, there can be no liturgy without you. This is not to compliment you or increase your pride, but rather to put a little fear and awe in you, so you know what your responsibilities are. Church singing is not a hobby. Being a choir director is not something one does for personal fulfillment. It is first and foremost a duty, a duty of those to whom God has given musical talents. It is sinful, in my opinion, for someone not to sing who has been given the gift to sing. Sinful! You join the angels, and do that which the angels do perpetually. That’s not an interest, avocation, or a hobby; it is a duty. Angels were created to serve and to praise, and you have been given voices for that same purpose.

[…] It’s a holiness. It’s not your ministry. It’s a ministry that belongs to the Church, and you respond to the call as well as recognize that the gift which you specifically fulfill in the church was, traditionally, and in some sense still is, an ordained ministry. The choir was not some club that existed in Church for those with some particular musical talent. To be a church singer was an ordained office within the Church. Canon 15, from the Council of Nicea, the Council of the 4th century, makes its point clear that only canonical singers should be appointed for that kind of ministry in the Church. That means “one set apart” for that particular ministry. Today we might call them Readers. While I’m not saying that every choir member must be a tonsured Reader, I do say that if we fulfill at least the spirit, if not the law of the Canon, that each choir member ought to see his/her participation in the choir as seriously as the ordained clergy take their ministry. I don’t know any priest who thinks that he can say on some Sunday, “I don’t want to serve because I want to sit with my wife,” or, “I don’t feel like serving today,” or, “I’m angry, one of the altar boys offended me, so I don’t want to serve this morning.”

[…] We jump in and we jump out. Some of us jump in on time and some of us jump in a little bit late. In my opinion, being in church for that first “Amen” is a sign, an indication of one’s humility. And where humility is, indeed, a virtue, its opposite is a sin. The sin is not disturbing other people. The other people in the church are not the object of our worship. It is rude, but not necessarily sinful, to disturb other people. But it is sinful to be presumptuous and prideful that one can jump in and sing with thousands of archangels and ten-thousands of angels at one’s own whim. “This Sunday I feel like singing, and next Sunday I won’t sing. I want to sit with my wife.” Leave that Hallmark—card kind of sentimentality for restaurants, concerts, and cinemas. You sing with angels, that’s secondary to sitting with any husband or wife or children. We stand before the throne of God, and when we realize that, every other consideration, all of our own personal likes and dislikes, become secondary. I’m giving my opinion now, and hopefully it humbles all of us. It’s a humiliation, that in its end, should be something that elevates us, that exalts us, something that gives us wing.

[…] You and your choir need be as aesthetically perfect as you are able. God not only expects, but He accepts only our best.

As I said to the choir last night, I’m a convert, not a cradle, and every convert brings with them some baggage from their previous experience. My background is one that places a high value on liturgical beauty and music, and that value is practical, not just theoretical. Church music is a profession. It is not unheard-of for church musicians in my former communion to have terminal degrees and to have half-time, if not full-time, salaries. While I have always known that such a set of circumstances would never even come close to being reality at All Saints, I have always tried to fulfill the musical function at All Saints as though those were the expectations of me — and I should stress the “of me” part, because certainly the point was never to turn the All Saints choir into an opera chorus. Rather, the point was that, if I was excited about what I did and took it seriously in the way +BASIL describes, hopefully everybody else would catch the spark, too, and get excited about it along with me. It was an experiment to see if one could build a fully-functioning music ministry at the only Orthodox parish in a town that was home to a Big Ten university and one of the best schools of music in the country. I’m happy that the experiment has borne fruit, even if it won’t specifically be attached to the parish anymore. All told, this (as well as the ongoing annotation and discussion of it here) represents a pretty good snapshot of my thinking of how the effort worked, and how I would approach such a project if I were to start afresh now.

Δόξα τῷ Θεῷ πάντων ἔνεκεν. As always, we’ll see what happens next. I thank All Saints, Fr. Peter, and those who sang with me for the chance to serve over the years, I hope that I was able to communicate some small element of what I love about our Church’s music despite all of my own faults and foibles, and I wish all of them, as well as whomever my successor will be, many blessings. Again, I crave your prayers for myself and my family as we make this transition.

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Notes from the psalterion

I have been the choir director and cantor at All Saints since the summer of 2005. I sang there for two years before that, and I had been a professional church singer in Anglican circles for several years before that (in fact, an Episcopal church was the very first place that ever paid me to sing). As an Orthodox church musician, I’ve tried on several fronts to contribute to the conversation about our liturgical music; if you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you’ll be familiar with some of the ways I’ve tried to contribute, so I won’t recap all of that here.
Lately, I’ve had a number of discussions with people about what the operating principles should be for music in our churches. What is the function of the cantor/choir director? How should they conceive of doing their jobs? How should the quality of their work be measured? In the spirit of my recent post about principles regarding church buildings, I wanted to try to list some of my conclusions. There will be some definite overlap with the principles about building; in a way, the person who sings in church interacts with the building in a manner that others do not, so perhaps this should not be surprising. Some of this I also talk about here,
  • Principle #0: The act that you are performing as a singer in church is the sung worship of God according to the practice and tradition of Orthodox Christianity. One may fairly insist that this is something different than a concert; one may also fairly insist that this is also something different than a campfire singalong, an exercise in nostalgia, the affirmation of somebody’s childhood, or the salving of one’s insecurities. At any rate, understood this way, singing in church is at once a privilege, a craft, and a discipline.
  • Principle #1: As the object of this sung worship is God, it is to be performed as prayerfully, skillfully, and within the parameters of the traditions governing the chosen style of music as the singer is capable of doing.
    • Principle #1a: This assumes that “performance” and “worship”, properly understood, do not constitute a dichotomy but parts of the same whole.
  • Principle #2: The easiest way to establish a tradition of good singing in a parish is to do it right from the start.
    • Principle #2a: At the very least, “doing it right from the start” means identifying and cultivating and talent (assuming you don’t have somebody from the get-go who knows what they’re doing), and providing the person who has that talent with the necessary resources to continue to improve.
    • Principle #2b: It will be far more practical in the long run to pick one musical idiom that you can do well than to try to do several and do them all at varying levels of mediocrity. 19th century Russian polyphony and Byzantine chant were never intended to coexist in the same service, and they require two entirely different musical skill sets.
      • Principle #2b.1: When picking this musical idiom, fight your weight. If you have a choir of five or six people and are meeting in borrowed office space, big Russian polyphony probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.
    • Principle #2c: “Doing it right from the start” requires the will to do so from more parties than just the cantor or choir director.
  • Principle #3: Musicians are your friends. They are the ones trained to think about how musical matters need to be addressed, much as how an iconographer is the one trained to know how something is supposed to work with an icon or  an architect is the one trained to know how to design a building. If they hear something you can’t, that’s a good thing; that means that they’re doing their job.
    • Principle #3a: The best musicians will also be able to teach the non-musician how to do it properly. Let them.
    • Principle #3b: In the same way that you would expect to pay an iconographer or an architect, expect to pay your cantor/choir director. The worker is worthy of his wages. If this is simply not an option, then there needs to be some way that the value of the cantor’s job is expressed.
  • Principle #4: The amount of singing in our services, to say nothing of the number of “moving parts”, as it were, in any given service, means that rehearsal should be considered a non-negotiable point. If you wish to be among those singing in the choir, it is your responsibility to come to rehearsal. This is the “discipline” part of the equation.
    • Principle #4a: Along these lines, always be mindful of improvement; don’t be satisfied with maintenance. If we truly have God as the object of our worship, then there is no “good enough” as such.
    • Principle #4b: If you are fortunate enough to have a choir of people that can read music in multiple notation systems and four different languages more or less perfectly the first time, then you might be able to reconsider the need for rehearsal.
  • Principle #5: Another non-negotiable point needs to be provision of physical resources for the singers. At bare minimum, these should include proper acoustics, an intentional space for the choir, necessary liturgical furniture, and necessary liturgical books. Acoustics and space cannot be afterthoughts; a cantor who has to make up for a dead room will not be able to do so indefinitely — it really constitutes a physical danger to the voice, and I cannot stress that enough. In terms of space, people (and music stands) still take up space no matter how small your building is, and you must plan properly for that. There are traditional places for singers to stand, and generally those places work very well if planned for.
  • Principle #6: The various systems of modes and special melodies (and yes, even notation), as impossibly complex as they may initially seem, are actually there to help organize and simplify the cantor’s job. The better you learn them, the less stressful of a time you will have in the long run.
  • Principle #7: Good liturgy and good music aid each other. Good settings will do a good job of cooperating with the liturgical action that they accompany; clergy that are celebrating properly will also help good settings fit in naturally with the liturgical action. In other words, a good Cherubic Hymn will be long enough to cover what’s happening at the altar while it’s being sung, and a priest will find that a properly-set Cherubic Hymn means that he doesn’t have to rush through everything in preparation for the Great Entrance.

As I said, this has all come out of my experience as a church musician. As with the building principles, it’s a set of “core ideals” rather than a step-by-step guide — this doesn’t tell you when to schedule rehearsals or how to run them or what repertoire to choose and so on. These are all very, very important things, to be sure. This is, put simply, what I suggest as what the base assumptions should be.

So — thoughts? What am I leaving out? What do I have wrong?

Notes from the building committee

I have been a member of the All Saints building committee since the fall of 2005. I’ve been part of a lot of different conversations about how to move forward with building, I’ve been present for several discussions with multiple architects, and I’ve helped evaluate a lot of possibilities. What I haven’t been part of is any actual building — for one reason or another, it’s only now that we’re maybe, hopefully, really and truly this time within striking distance of actually being able to seriously move forward on the next step of designing and constructing All Saints’ permanent temple. I sincerely hope to have more to say about that in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, I got asked recently by a friend who is part of the building discussion at a mission in a different state how I might state the lessons that I think I’ve learned from the nearly seven years of being part of the project at All Saints. We had a lengthy conversation, and he asked if I could sum it up as a list of principles that he could circulate with his priest and building committee. This is what I came up with:
  • Principle #0: What you are building is a temple that has as its principal function the worship of God according to the practice and tradition of Orthodox Christianity. You are not building Sunday school classrooms that happen to have a room attached where services can happen if enough people show up.
  • Principle #1: The most cost-effective way to do anything is to do it right the first time.
    • Principle #1a: You can’t get a good deal on something you don’t want.
    • Principle #1b: So expect to pay for it. Be happy to pay for it, because if you don’t pay for it now, you will pay much more later for not paying for it now, and the worker is worthy of his wages.
  • Principle #2: Build in the midst of your people.
  • Principle #3: Site and design well from the get-go. That will make it easier to build in stages if you have to, not harder. See also principles #0-2.
    • Principle #3a: If you must build in stages, do not build as your first stage something that a majority, or even a plurality, will find comfortable to remain in indefinitely. Built into each stage must be the impetus to move on to the next stage.
  • Principle #4: Build something you want still standing there in 200 years. At minimum, plan to build the church where you want your grandchildren’s wedding to happen. If you follow principles #0-3, then this will be the natural result. If you don’t, it will be much harder to accomplish.
As I said, this has all come out of what I’ve seen go in to the planning process. I may have a totally different list once I’ve seen what happens when real hammers are swinging. It’s also obviously a list of “core ideals” rather than a step-by-step guide — this doesn’t tell you how to manage a capital campaign, for example, and it doesn’t tell you how to handle contracts and bidding so on. All very, very important things. This is, put simply, what I suggest as what the assumptions should be at the beginning of the project as the concrete things take shape.
For those of you who have been through building projects — do these jibe with your experience? What am I leaving out? What do I have wrong?

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.


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