For part 1 of this story, please click here.
I remember thinking, what in the world have we done? We were the proud owners of our very own…nightclub. Sure, it had once been a church, but almost 90 years had passed since God’s praises had been sung in this building. Looking at it, I was reminded of those pictures you see on the Internet of famous people who had once been quite stunning, but years of drug abuse had taken a toll and left them a shell of their former selves. Could we recapture that beauty? Could we transform this building back into a church? We knew we had a long road ahead of us.
It was July 26, 2011. Our lease was quickly coming to an end on our previous space, and we needed to be ready to worship in this new building in 2 weeks. The task seemed impossible. We decided to pick one room and start there. We decided on the large room at the front of the building. It would eventually be our parish hall, but for now it would be everything. In two weeks we tore out the bar, stripped down the walls and re-plastered them, replaced the floor, and painted the ceiling. Two weeks after signing the papers to redeem our old building we held the first church service there since 1925. We marched around the block, reclaiming it for the Lord, and then marched right into our one usable room. The place was packed with folding chairs and our sound system was the epitome of jury-rigged. But it was beautiful, because it was ours.
During the next six months I rarely wore a suit. I’m not sure when we had time to write sermons or prepare classes because it seemed like every day was spent tearing out old bars, washing walls, and hanging drywall. My favorite memory from early on was taking down the huge “Syn” sign from the roof. It had been perched on the top of a huge steel base and bolted to the peak of the roof. It must have weighed close to 1000 pounds. Unbolting it was easy, but how would we get it down? We came up with a plan that was part genius and part ridiculous (perhaps more the latter than the former). Our sexton drove his Jeep up onto the sidewalk on one side of the building and my boss drove his up on to the sidewalk on the other side. We attached the winch from my boss’s jeep to one end of the steel sign and a tow cable from the sexton’s Jeep to the other side. As the sexton drove forward and pulled the sign down, we let out the winch slowly so that it didn’t go crashing through the room. Except for some gutter damage it worked like a charm!
There was a somewhat large space in the building that had been added on in the 1950s to serve as a larger dining area. Since this was the largest room in the building we decided that it would eventually be our worship space. As summer turned into winter we decided that it would be great if we could start using that space by Christmas. So we came up with the ambitious goal to have our first service in that space on 4 Advent. Unfortunately, it was not quite ready for prime time by then. We used some old platforms from our previous building that really didn’t work in the new space. The walls had been stripped down to the original stone and brick and were crumbling, and the floor was a disaster. It was hardwood, but it was tough to tell because of the years of chewing gum on it. After that first Sunday in the room, we realized that this was not going to pass muster for Christmas Eve. So the week before Christmas we got to work. While my boss built a new altar platform from scratch, another priest and I refinished the entire floor. Did I mention it snowed all week as well? I’m not sure I ever went home that week, but by Christmas Eve it was like we were in a different room.
Over the next couple of years we spent countless hours restoring the space. We gutted the basement and turned it into a beautiful space for our children’s ministry. We took out the folding chairs and added pews, we replaced our portable altar with a beautiful new permanent altar and reredos, and we remodeled the sacristy. After two years being in a cubicle we built clergy offices in the back of the kitchen and even redid the kitchen itself. We even created a beautiful courtyard and garden. It seemed like there was always another project on the horizon, and with each completed task the building became more and more beautiful. The work continues even today. I was talking with the Rector a couple of weeks ago and he told me that they put in a new floor in one room and completely redid the AV system for the building. I’m sure they will never run out of things to do.
As followers of Christ, we all go through a similar process of sanctification. We are saved by grace through faith. We cannot earn our salvation by being good or holy. The change in our lives is not a pre-requisite of grace, but rather a fruit of it. Through our sanctification we become more and more like Christ every day. Often when we first come to Christ, the work is pretty major. Just as we gutted our building in order to start over, sometimes the Lord needs to tear out the old in us before building the new. Old habits must be broken, lifestyles need to change. Over time the work becomes less dramatic, but it continues nevertheless. There are always projects to be done, some bigger, some smaller. As Christians, we are always working towards becoming more Christlike. Sometimes we make progress, and other times we may take a step backward. But we rest in the fact that our ownership is secured. Christ has bought us with his blood on the cross. We don’t have to earn it. It can’t be taken away from us. And so we push on towards Christ, knowing that our full sanctification will never fully come to us on this side of God’s kingdom.
The Rev. Eric Zolner
Father Eric is a 3rd generation Anglican and the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO.