Print Story Kind of a Drag
By Christopher Robin was Murdered (Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 06:18:12 AM EST) (all tags)
Content warning. Drinks. Building committee. Big problems, small budgets.

Content Warning

    First, a disclaimer. This one is about church. Not theology, really, but literally about a building that's a church. Some on this site have stated their extreme distaste for the concept of religion, even going so far as to claim that any religious thoughts are, by definition, inimical to "proper thinking." Personally, I feel the phrase "proper thinking" is just another gas chamber phrase, with the same murderous self-assurance and sociopathic lack of empathy the one find in phrases like "holy crusade" or "collateral damage." However, that is just my opinion and I believe it's only fair to warn people who may feel strongly that touching any remnant of faith will, like touching pitch, stain them permanently. If you are such a person, do yourself a favor and skip over this entry.

Brooklyn, Drinks

    Had drinks with the Reverend of my church. Long Tan on 5th. About 7:00ish. He prefers Jever's pilsner. I stuck with my regular Jack on the rocks.

    Our church is slowly falling apart and he wants me on the building committee. He knows that, for reasons to long to enter into here, I'm completely in love with the old gray dame and, on several occasions, have offered to take on absurdly large tasks on my own, given the financial straights currently experienced by the church. After listening to me wax poetic about the church, and discuss how much I would love to help take care of her, he invited me out to discuss the actual condition of the old girl and see if, after learning just what I would be up against, I was still gung-ho.

    The bad news was pretty dire. First, we've got a multi-million steeple re-straightening that needs to be done. And done soon. The steeple of the church, for several decades the tallest structure in Brooklyn and still, I believe, the tallest steeple in Brooklyn, is an odd structure in that it was build without any internal support structure. It is simply a series of cleverly interlocked stones, stretching several stories without a wood or metal internal skeleton. Why the builders did not build any internal supports is unclear. The current theory is that the timbers meant for the church steeple were stolen by members of the congregation on the short transit from the Gowanus Canal to the church. On learning that church members would rather use the wood to reinforce their homes instead of the church, the builders figured out a way to do without. This solution has worked for almost a century now, but existing condition reports suggest that the steeple is now showing water damage at several points. This damage is getting worse every year.

    The second major issue was the stained-glass windows. The church has several stained-glass windows, a handful of which are actually products of the Tiffany workshop, built under the direct supervision of Tiffany himself. In the 1950s, General Electric launched a massive marketing campaign aimed at getting churches throughout America to protect their stained-glass windows with sheets of lexan. The idea was an easy sell – trap your windows between clear panes of custom-fitted lexan and small kids won't be able to throw rocks through them. Unfortunately, given the long term results of early lexan installations, it would have been less damaging in the long run to replace the relatively minor damage of thrown rocks. The first problem is that the earliest versions of lexan cloud up after a decade or so. The problem doesn't effect modern lexan, but older installations suffer. This wouldn't be such a problem – you could just remove the protective lexan sheets and replace them with new ones – if it wasn't for the second unfortunate thing about lexan. Stained-glass windows need to "breathe." When they get wet, the lead that holds the stained-glass fragments in place begins to slowly turn into something not unlike battery acid. The process is slowed considerably when the window can breathe and any moisture in the lead is allowed to dry out. Lexan, as many churches found out, traps in moisture. The protective measure actually speeds up the systematic destruction of the window. In many churches, the leading is completely rotted away and the only thing hold the window in place is lexan. We don't know just how bad off the windows in the church are. Without removing the lexan, you can't really tell, and removing the lexan carefully, so that it might not destroy the windows entirely in the event that the leading is gone, is in and of itself a major undertaking. Another million or so.

    The third bit of big bad news had to do with budgets. In essence, we don't have one. There's petty cash, but nothing near the amount we'd need just to accomplish those two major tasks.

    We discussed other, smaller and less critical issues. Right now the church it too dark. Earlier, the Rev had called in a light designer he knows who normally works on Broadway shows, movies, and museum installations. She gave us some solutions, but we've not had the time or inclination to implement any of her suggestions. We also need to repaint and re-lacquer the main sanctuary, re-do the roof, the list goes on.

    I'm still gung-ho, though I'm no longer blissfully unaware of the Quixotic nature to the task. (This is typical of me. I'll leap into no win situations full of good intentions and the persistence God reserves for those beast to dumb to know when their beat, but tell me I can make money doing it or that the chances are stacked in my favor and I'll immediately lose interest.) We set up an appointment for later in the week so I can spend some time with the building records and the current condition reports.

    After discussing the building, we shot the shit about, of all things, Franklin Roosevelt. We broke up the session around 9:30.

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Kind of a Drag | 18 comments (18 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
I am less worried about the clear plastic in my by georgeha (2.00 / 0) #1 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 06:34:41 AM EST
driveway now.

We live in a classic four square, built about 1920. We have a four stained glass windows, with the biggest being about 8 feet wide, which has a stained glass still life of a fruit bowl in it (a visiting junkie thought he could get a few grand for it). This used to have a piece of clear plastic over it on the outside, and it fell out over the winter, into the driveway. I am now slower to put it back on.

My paternal grannie was a big fan of the New Deal, so much so that my dad's middle name is Delano.

Window and FDR by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #3 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 06:44:25 AM EST
I think you can permanently back-burner putting the plastic cover back on. Though, unless the window is complete sealed in, like the church windows are, it probably didn't hurt the window much. Still, if you're looking for an excuse to take it off you to-do list, now you've got one.

The Rev's mother was a huge FDR supporter, though his grandfather was a Communist and thought FDR was a tool of corporate interest. The Rev himself ranks FDR as his personal fave. 

[ Parent ]
building campaigns by sasquatchan (2.00 / 0) #2 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 06:37:43 AM EST
for churches are never easy. Such capital campaigns seem to happen regularly, but are hard to conduct. I've been to a few "mortgage burning" Sundays when the loan was paid off, but there's always more of a need (new stuff or fix the stuff that's there).

Funding by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #6 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 06:54:58 AM EST
Part of the problem with this particular church is that, after 5 years of burning through funding for studies and prep, the church members were sort of burnt out on upkeep costs.

A former Treasurer for the church submitted a bold proposal for spending that got everything done and paid for in five years, but his plan started cutting into the endowment of the church and made the other elders and lay leaders gunshy about building costs. That Treasurer is out and the new financial administration is focused heavily on programming and congregation building - the building budget is virtually nil.

So now, we're in the unfortunate position of knowing exactly how bad things are, but having neither the political will or financial wherewithal to get it done.

I sympathize with the current leadership - a congregation without sanctuary is still a church, a sanctuary without a congregation is just an empty building.

Guess we do what we can until the congregation comes back around.

[ Parent ]
that can be a problem by lm (2.00 / 0) #9 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 07:08:47 AM EST
A few people in our parish balked at the price of some repairs that our building needs until they were informed of how much it would cost to start from scratch somewhere else. A 400k price tag just to start a new building makes a 20-30k overhaul look much better. Unfortunately, in your congregation's situation, it looks like the cost of repairs might be pretty close to starting all over.

I concur with MNS. Look for historical preservation monies. Also consider a direct mail campaign that targets everyone who has ever attended a Church service in that building on the outside chance that some kid that grew up admiring the steeple ended up cashing in on his or her dot com stock options before the bubble burst and, if informed of the steeple's plight, is willing to save the day.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Starting Over by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #10 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 07:26:01 AM EST
Depending on where we went, it would probably be cheaper to start over. However, the building carries with it a importance that goes even beyond the historical significance.

The short version is this - our congregation is considerably more liberal than most of our sister churches. In all likelihood, these sister churches would take some sort of action against us (most notably for extending full ministry to gays and lesbians) except doing so would certainly break-up this congregation. If the congregation left, this historic, but costly building would become their responsibility. Since it is represents the "mother church" of the NYC sister churches, they couldn't just get rid of it. However, even combined, the sister churches, mostly poorer churches in lower income communities, could not spare the money to keep her up.

This is the weird blessing of the old girl; she's such a handful, but she protects us from the wrath of our less liberal brothers and sister.

I don't know if we could start over. Financially, it would be easier. But we'd probably lose the Rev and face serious sanctions if we tried.

Thanks for the idea about the mailing campaign - I don't know if it has been tried before, but I'll look into it.

[ Parent ]
If you do pursue the mailing campaign by lm (4.00 / 1) #11 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 07:37:10 AM EST
Don't forget to put up a web site with a donation box. Probably just a historically oriented web page with a donation link could pull in at least a few thousand every year. If you put out a monthly or bi-monthly email newsletter, you'll pull in even more. It generally takes eight or nine points of contact before most strangers will trust a web page enough to hand over money. The point is to make education on the circumstances easy to find and widely available. People like to give money. It makes them all warm and fuzzy inside.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Also think about the PBS/NPR method of fundraising by ad hoc (4.00 / 1) #12 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 08:04:29 AM EST
Make a glossy coffee table book of the windows that you can sell for a donation of $300. Or a $150 donation gets you a copy of LoA's Great Sermons. Things like that.
Close friendships and a private room can offer most of the things love does.
[ Parent ]
every once in a while by lm (4.00 / 1) #7 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 07:01:57 AM EST
A congregation will have a resident millionaire who seeds a capital fund with a few hundred thousand dollars or more, but that's pretty rare. Rarity aside, nine times out of ten if a congregation is building a new building, this is where a good chunk of the money comes from.

The problem our congregation faces right now is, despite having cash (twenty to thirty k) on hand to do repairs that need to be done, the repairs require outside work on a side of the building that abutts a neighbor's yard with six inches to spare. This would not be so bad if (a) we had an easement or (b) the owners of the property next door didn't categorically deny permission for work crews to use their yard.

If it's not one thing, it's another.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Out of curiosity, how old is the church? by MohammedNiyalSayeed (4.00 / 1) #4 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 06:45:04 AM EST

Would it possibly be a potential recipient of historical restoration monies?

You can build the most elegant fountain in the world, but eventually a winged rat will be using it as a drinking bowl.
The Church by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #8 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 07:05:00 AM EST
The current structure is only about 100 years old, though it is the fifth structure the congregation has built - the first was dedicated in 1666.

We are eligible for various state supported funds, but we're not quite sure just how much we want to depend on landmark money and the like. Partially because it is unreliable. The "sacred sites" fund is controlled by the governor, so you never know when that money will dry up. Also, we want to be able to make changes and alterations as the congregation needs. If we become a "landmark," we become a museum and lose a considerable amount of our autonomy.

[ Parent ]
That's an expensive prospect by ad hoc (4.00 / 1) #5 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 06:52:53 AM EST
There are several churches around here that have been working on fixing things up for years and years and years. So many, in fact, that there is probably a support group for such things.

ana's is one of them. Arlington Street Church is another, Old South is another, and Church of the Covenant as well and Trinity (all have Tiffany windows). Holy Trinity has been trying to raise enough money to rebuild their steeple since it blew down in the hurricane of 1938. Then their priest embezzled all the money.
Close friendships and a private room can offer most of the things love does.

Right. by ana (2.00 / 0) #13 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 08:23:29 AM EST
Church of the Advent in Boston is going through that. Hope to re-do the spire and the stained glass on the sunny side of the church this year, with other stuff to follow as years and funding become available.

The spire and various window casings have been dropping stones from high altitude for a while now, with the result that the East Portico was covered with scaffolding during our wedding last spring. Not for work purposes, but to provide a target for the stone-throwing gargoyles.

Can you introspect out loud? --CRwM

[ Parent ]
Sadly, Our Old Church is Gargoyle Free by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #14 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 11:46:22 AM EST
Guess they were considered a non-Calvinist affectation or something. We didn't even get a cross featured anywhere in building until 1954.

[ Parent ]
Not very serious suggestion by stark (2.00 / 0) #15 Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 11:26:15 PM EST
You could issue a press release to all the local newspapers / magazines mentioning that you might have to consider sueing General Electric as their misleading advice has cost your church dearly.

Obviously you wouldn't want to pursue this drastic strategy but you had no other choice.

Might get you a bit of free publicity, if nothing else.

I'm pretty much agnostic, but I still think that most church buildings are amazing structures, frequently beautiful, and well worth preserving. Of course I can understand the "church is the people" approach to funding as well.

U.S. Patent 5443036 concerns a device for encouraging a cat to exercise by chasing a light spot.

Agnostic by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #16 Thu Apr 06, 2006 at 02:57:17 AM EST
I was agnostic for most of my life. Even today, given all the unknowns that any person honest with themselves about their faith or atheism must admit to, I suspect that agnosticism is the only truly sane position on the issue.

It would be extremely satisfying to slam GE - but I don't think that's the style of our current leadership. I think the feeling is that GE was not deceitful so much as ignorant. In a more litigious community, that wouldn't stop anybody. But in this group, it takes a bit of anger out of the issue. Still, I wonder if we couldn't get GE to help out - as a good PR, goodwill effort.

[ Parent ]
order a miracle. by misslake (4.00 / 1) #17 Thu Apr 06, 2006 at 11:00:47 AM EST
when my church needed serious repairs, the treasurer and the chairs of the appropriate committees made a huge presentation in church. i think it was on easter sunday, one of those sundays when the barely-associated, casual, not too serious church goers actually all show up. they elaborately explained the financial plight, and sadly had to admit that they had no idea how we were going to manage to repair the roof, put in an elevator, repair the stone steps, buy new hymnals, or fix the sound system.
"it would take a miracle to get this all done and payed for without dipping into the capital or the session fund." the treasurer sighed.
one of the elders stood up, "why all the long faces? this is a church, for heaven's sake! if all we need is a miracle i say we have one. we'll set a date, write to all the local media, send letters to every member of the congregation, to every member of the the whole synod! we will have a miracle in a few weeks time, and then we'll get everyone together for tea and sandwiches after."
it was weird. and really great.
in a small town, a local church having a miracle on sunday was big news. the choirs sang, the organist pulled out all the stops on the organ, the place was packed, the plates were passed around and everyone gave as much as they could to the miracle fund. the women's associations had quilt raffles and made fancy sandwiches. there were yard sales, auctions, crafts, baking, and all the other church stuff. money came in from all over, and it worked.
so i would suggest, to simply have a miracle. 

Windows by Gedvondur (4.00 / 1) #18 Tue Apr 11, 2006 at 11:03:01 AM EST
That's terrible to hear about the church windows, regardless of Tiffany origin. 

Perhaps there are some funds to be had from the Tiffany company itself to help with repair of those frames that touch their company history.  Would be nice PR for them.

While I am not a religious man, I am a fan of old churches and I hope that you can find a way to fix them.  I would humbly suggest that projects that involved the structural integrity of the building (steeple and roof) get priority.  Paint and laquer are nice, but I think the proverbial Almighty would prefer the building intact first.  I also imagine the members would as well.

" isn't like I dug up her great-grandmother and fucked her in the eye socket." -clock

Kind of a Drag | 18 comments (18 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback