Structural Concerns

Wednesday structural engineers were visiting the undercroft of St Paul’s looking at 120 year old beams and joists with an eye to making certain that when we install the pipe organ above the flooring structure would have the strength and resilience to hold it for many, many years without incident.

There is here,  as in so much of life, “good news and bad news”. The builders of the church, craftsmen from the Howard shipyard over-built the church. The floor joists are on 12 inch centers rather than 16 or 18 inches which is most common. This means the original structure would be more than adequate. BUT… and there is always a but.. Some of the joists and the beam have been compromised by long deceased termites and the crack and fissures of age.

Before we add the pipe organ which will be visible and a great addition to the church we need to attend to the structure that is invisible and will only be seen by those who visit what at St Paul’s is called the “guts” of the church basement.

In my career I have never been very patient with adminstrative “structure” – always wanting only the bare minimum and often chafing under the ponderous layers of structure the church seems to have accumulated over the years.  Slowly (perhaps too slowly) I have achieved an appreciation of the need for support structures.

What a parable we have being lived out in wood and metal. We see the importance of making certain there is structural integrity and support before proceeding in a new direction and placing additional expectation, stress and pressure on the entity.  How often in my career have I gone ahead to push a group to add one more thing to the life of the church because it was a good cause or I felt it would improve the life of the congregation? And how many times has this added stress, and not life, to the group because we did not have the supporting structure in place carry the additional load?

No matter how good a cause or an idea if you do not have the structure (the interested people, sufficient man-hours, basic financial resource or emotion resources, or buy-in) it will not be life-giving but will stress the organization. Too much stress and things begin to bend and to break.

Just as we do not want an organ to suddenly end up in the basement so we do not want to have people leaving because too much has been expected, and there has been insufficient resources, support and structure to help them successfully and joyfully fulfill the duties and expectations.

Our project will take a bit longer to finish because we need to strengthen the members that support the floor on which everything rests and depends. I must now remember in everything we do, in this and every other congregation, one major responsibility we have as brothers and sisters in Christ is to make sure that we have enough structure in place to resource the congregation’s members on which the expectation and “burden” of ministry rests and depends.  It may take longer but it means we are building a solid foundation for life-giving ministry both for those who receive and for those who are offering the project, program or resource. Taking a little longer is well worth it if you wish to build for the ages – not just today.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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1 Response to Structural Concerns

  1. John Sims says:

    There is a corollary to this, I think: sometimes it is necessary to “lay down” (as the Quakers say) some aspect of a church’s ministry when the resources required exceed what is available. I have seen this several times: the insistence that “we can’t just give up” when giving up will benefit the community and allow them to be more effective in the ministries that remain.

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