The time comes to finish the basement

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

~Ecclesiastes 3:1
The basement in all its “before” glory (and grime).

Wack to burk.

When we purchased the old Methodist church to turn into our home, the basement was scary.

Most unfinished basements stoke trepidation in those who visit, but this one had the added horrors of ongoing water problems and asbestos floor tiles. The only things it had going for it were that it had the building’s operational toilet, itself a tribute to the unclean, and the potential for a high ceiling. During demolition, we removed the moldy suspended ceiling and the antique tin ceiling above it, leaving us with at least nine feet of clearance in most areas and lots of sunny windows, impressive for a basement.

The basement bathroom was practically spa-like.

During demolition back in early 2018, we also removed the kitchen cabinets and pass-through and created a new doorway to the bathroom, though we still don’t have an actual door. Meanwhile, the furnace room got an impressive makeover. We had big plans back then for the basement.

The basement served as a staging area during renovation upstairs.

As we renovated the main floor and second story, the basement served us well, providing a place to paint, hammer, assemble and store stuff (mainly tools). As the renovation dragged on, our enthusiasm for tackling the basement waned. When we held an open house for the community to show off our work upstairs, the basement was mostly off limits.

But the Summer of 2021 holds promise for ye olde basement of the Methodist church. We have energy! Enthusiasm! Ideas! By gosh and by golly, we’re gonna finish the basement this summer!

The basement as a clean slate.

Here’s how it looks right now. The kitchen–gone. The paneling–gone. The suspended ceiling is long gone. Plumbing and shiny new duct work has been run throughout. (The photo does not show all the Christmas decorations I have stashed down there, which my husband will soon discover and about which he will probably raise his voice. Dagnabit, Monica! Why is all this stuff down here?! You have 10 minutes to get this stuff out of my way and back in the attic. Only he won’t say “dagnabit” or “stuff.”)

We plan to create a mother-in-law’s apartment down there with its own egress plus a few extra bedrooms for our guests. And we have every intention of doing it on the cheap, incorporating our design principle of “recycle, reuse, repurpose whenever possible.” We already have a massive set of second-hand kitchen cabinets and a lot doors, leftover from the reno upstairs. Plus a toilet! Don’t forget the toilet!

That plumbing and shiny ductwork present the biggest challenge. How do we cover it up without sacrificing headroom? I can’t tell you how many YouTube videos and HGTV shows my husband has unearthed in the past 18 months to help us solve this problem. We could just paint everything on the ceiling black (or white), but that approach doesn’t give us any sound-proofing between floors. Like I mentioned, we have ideas, and you’re certain to hear more about this dilemma in future installments.

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A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew.

~Ecclesiastes 3:6b-7a

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Catch up on what we’ve accomplished so far in our church conversation. Based in part on this blog, Church Sweet Home: A Renovation to Warm the Soul is the true story of how my husband I transformed a 126-year-old Methodist church into our dream home. It came out in 2020.

Find it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Look around: church conversions are everywhere

Our little Church Sweet Home is just another in a long line of church conversions. Churches across America (and the world) are losing membership and going on the market, so the opportunities to renovate an old church into a new home abound.

As I admit in my memoir about our church renovation project, Pinterest inspired me:

A quick look through the Pinterest website reveals some spectacular transformations, the sort of metamorphosis that inspired me. But you’ll also find some horrors of awkwardly chopped-up spaces, dark rooms, strange window configurations and thoughtless appropriation of church symbols—like an altar reused as a bar. Ugh.

Search “converted churches” or “church conversions” and you’ll find enough transformative pins to distract you for hours.

Google, of course, will serve up a heaping platter of converted churches, too:

Want a church of your own to turn into your home or one already transformed? Check out realtor.com (someone there has a lot of fun with the headlines):

  • Truly divine! Your personal sanctuary awaits at this Indiana church
  • We pray a buyer finally makes an offer on this former Wisconsin church
  • Bow your heads: Awesome church-to-home conversion for sale in Pennsylvania
  • Hallelujah! Divine townhouse in converted church in Washington, D.C.
  • Strike gold with a converted church and miniature mining town in Eureka, UT
  • This colorful $1.6M converted church could start your Airbnb empire

Tyler still frequents these real estate listings. Quite often, he’ll often show me a run-down church in the middle of nowhere and ask, “Wanna do it again?”

I would do it again! For the right place and the right price, yes, I would.

# # #

I tell the story of how we converted a 126-year-old Methodist church into our home in Church Sweet Home: A Renovation to Warm the Soul.

To get your hands on Church Sweet Home: A Renovation to Warm the Soul, the paperback is $12.49 on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Prefer an ebook? You’re in luck. The ebook is $4.49 and available at Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Kobo.

Hope is a gift

I’d had been wanting to attend an outdoor church service all summer, and I got the chance this morning when a couple of nearby congregations celebrated at a park overlooking a lake.

To enjoy the fellowship of a church service at all in this COVID-19 world was a treat, but to absorb it in the grandeur of a lake setting was even better.

One of the Bible readings at Church on the Lake this morning was the same one as read at my 104-year-old grandmother’s funeral last year.

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

~ Philippians 1:21-24

One of the legacies of my grandmother’s long life is that she had faith. The reading reminded me of her and of the church sign I had displayed for a time this summer, inspired by our current events of calamity. I hoped that people fearing death by virus (or the end of democracy by election) might appreciate a reminder of hopefulness.

Hope illuminates even the darkest of days with glimmers of possibility.

~Author Kathy Carlton Willis

Country thunder

Nothing grows sign

A friend who visited recently suggested I might use “storm” as the inspiration for my next church sign message, and I obliged with this. Whether we’re experiencing thunderstorms or not, we’re all experiencing the storm of COVID-19. Many terrible things have come about because of the pandemic, there’s no doubt, but some rainbows have made a showing, too.

Just today, I heard a story on NPR about a guy who build a treehouse with his three kids with all the extra time on the family’s hands. Instead of a packed sports schedule, they have a treehouse now! And the experience of making it.

I’m trying to find the silver lining in this strange world, and maybe you can, too.

# # #

Today’s headline is a not-so-veiled reference to a huge country music concert event that occurs every July—but not this one—just a few miles northwest of our old church.

Declaration of July Fourth

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

~ Declaration of Independence
July 4, 1776

Fourth of July Church Sign 2020

I almost ran out of A’s and Ns for this Fourth of July message on my church sign, but the period after the S in President Truman’s name was probably not necessary. His middle name was simply S, which his parents chose to pay homage to honor and please his grandfathers, named Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young.

Truman might be better known for declaring where the buck stops, but this wordier message is a good one, too.

Passersby can choose to apply whatever subtext they want. “Be brave and go back to work” or “Do the job at hand of wearing a mask in public” or both. I hate how everything nowadays has political implications, forces us to choose sides and cultivates suspicion of one’s motives. Can’t we all just get along?

I love America. I love our messy system of government, I love peaceful public protest, and I love Mount Rushmore, too. It’s an majestic work of art, even if you don’t think much of the men whose faces are depicted there or you believe it’s built on stolen land. We’re still forming a more perfect Union, folks, not to mention establishing justice and ensuring domestic tranquility. The work of we the people will never be done.

Tonight, Tyler and I are going to ring our church bell at sunset and watch the full moon rise over the treetops, and I’m going to celebrate the freedoms wrought, however imperfect, by the men who signed the Declaration of Independence 244 years ago. I hope you find blessings of liberty, too, however you observe today. Happy Independence Day!

Take a deep breath in

As I’m sure you’re aware (because your calendar is bare and those obscure holidays in tiny type are more easily read these days), we observed the Summer Solstice on Saturday. Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year when we have the most daylight.

I celebrated with a colorfully flamboyant dress and a crown of fresh daisies. Oh, and a new message on the church sign.

summer solstice church sign
You can get away with more when you live in a church. People already think you’re a little crazy.

I found this verse on the internet, so I can’t claim it as my own, but it rose to the surface when I googled “quote about breath as soul.” A yogi recently suggested our souls may actually be our breaths. Yogis are quite obsessed with breath. It got me thinking about a body without breath (as in, one lying in a coffin). Funeral goers often remark that the dead no longer looks like themselves. Well, the soul is gone, the faithful think. But the breath is gone, too.

If my soul is my breath, I value my breath more. This boring function of breathing that occurs 20,000 times a day suddenly becomes more sacred, doesn’t it? And if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our breath is important. We get home, toss away the face mask and take a deep breath. A deep, soulful breath.

Feel the sun on your soul, friends. Each day now in the Northern Hemisphere, we will lose precious minutes of sunlight, so relish in the sunshine.

3 glorious things about living in a church

Earlier this week, I complained (a little) about a few minor irritants of living in a church. Today, we turn that frown upside down as I regal you with the glorious parts of living in a church.

Turning a church into a residence isn’t for everyone, but it suits me fine. Our home is a sacred space from steeple to church basement, and I find it a pleasant oasis of peace. Here are three reasons why.

goad sign
Not a road sign, a goad sign.

No. 1: The church sign is a platform for speaking truth (or telling jokes).

Not very many residences have a way to make announcements to the public, but my house does. I still love my church sign for writing encouraging or cryptic messages of my choosing for passers-by. Last year, my son-in-law goaded me into posting a funny, fake Bible verse on the sign. Well, it’s my sign. I can write whatever I want! So I did! Well, I try to keep it clean in respect for the elementary school children who spend recess on the playground across the street, but the sign is a fun, creative outlet for me.

No. 2: Music of all sorts sounds great in here.

Our great room, once the church sanctuary, was designed for sound. I can only imagine the choirs and parishioners singing along to a piano or organ. Or a soloist, standing in the front, mezmerizing the crowd. The acoustics are amazing. Tyler’s sound system makes the most of it. The Rolling Stones sound like they’re singing live, but instrumental music? Even better. The whole symphony makes a full-throated appearance when we play Handel. Someday, I think it would grand to have a band play on our balcony.

No. 3: The bell! Of course, the bell!

You knew the church bell would be on this list, didn’t you? I love ringing our bell for visitors or special days or just on Sundays. Lately, I’ve taken to ringing the bell for a minute at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings. Because I can. And a bell brings a smile to people’s faces. No other home in town can boast of such a unique talent. As far as I know, the bell was erected when the church was built in 1891, making it an historic element of this village. When I go for a walk, I admire my bell as I reapproach the church. It’s tall and distinctive, and I love it.

Serenity is peace amid the storm

church sign acceptance and letting go

Ye olde church sign offers a play on the Serenity Prayer, and if the world could use more of anything in these imperfect times, it’s serenity.

An acquaintance mentioned to my husband how much she loves the messages I put on our sign. Music to my ears! Between the sign and the belfry, there’s no mistaking our house was once a church, but I’m OK with that. It was once a church, so of course it looks like one. I accept what is on that front. But it’s nice to hear when someone finds inspiration in my work as evidenced by the sign.

If I struggle, I struggle with letting go of what was. Especially is what was offered familiarity and comfortableness and sometimes even joy. And now it’s gone. What was was easier. Now is harder.

I want to have faith in what will be. “I believe! Help my unbelief!” Having faith is a mantra I can get behind. Faith in what will be is hope in the future, and I want to be hopeful.

That little pink flower from the church sign that made its way into the frame of my picture⁠—that’s faith. A tiny bit of evidence that color and beauty and life exist inside the box.

 

 

 

Free to be you and me

Memorial Day Church Sign 2020

It’s Memorial Day. You have the freedom to observe it with solemnity or celebrate it with joy (and barbecue sauce). However you spend it, please do it in accordance with the health guidelines of your locality and treat the essential workers you encounter with respect.

By the way, if you live in the vicinity, open your ears at 9 a.m. I am ringing the church bell this morning in observance of the holiday.

A very present help in trouble

Be still

A friend gave me this word art, and I knew immediately I wanted to display inside the belfry room of our chome.

The belfry room remains halfway between unrestored and finished. I actually ran out of primer when painting the walls, which is evident in the picture.

I appreciate the symbolism of this message, displayed in my unfinished space in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. All of life right now is in the space between before and after. God is here, too, if only we can stand still long enough to know it.