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:
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.
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.
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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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
It required fresh thinking to turn our church’s unique architectural features into functional elements of a private home.
Every church conversion is different. Here’s our translation, in alphabetical order:
Altar: a structure upon which offerings such as sacrifices and votive offerings are made for religious purposes. The altar in our church was removed when the congregation exited.
Altar piece: an altarpiece is a picture or relief representing a religious subject and suspended in a frame behind the altar. The altar piece on our church was a red velvet curtain, which we used as a furniture blanket and drop cloth before it met its end.
Altar rails: a set of railings, sometimes ornate and frequently of marble or wood, delimiting the chancel (the part of a church near the altar, reserved for the clergy and choir). I really wanted to repurpose this, but I lacked the creative thinking; we dumpstered our altar rail.
Bell tower: a tower which contains one or more bells. Our church’s bell, estimated to weigh 600 to 800 pounds, was returned to functional in the reno.
Bell turret: the ornamental feature above the bell chamber. This is the most distinctive exterior feature of our structure. We reroofed it and kept it intact.
Church kitchen: a place of welcome, where congregants join to share fellowship, celebrate joyful events, or sustain one another through moments of pain or suffering. The kitchen in the basement of the church was deconstructed. When we take up the basement remodel, we plan to install a new kitchen.
Corbel: a piece of stone jutting out of a wall to carry any superincumbent weight. We had wood corbels in the sanctuary of the church. We removed them, and they await inspiration for re-use.
Portal: a main entrance, on the church facade, sometimes highly ornamented. The original portal to our church, beneath the bell, was ornamented. When the entrance was moved in the 1940s, the dooryway was, shall we say, rather plain. We installed new doors and exterior lights, bringing back some of its glory.
Baptismal font: an article of church furniture or a fixture used for the baptism of children and adults. Like the altar, the baptism font was removed when the congregation exited.
Confessional: a cabinet-like unit in a church used for conducting confession. Catholic churches have confessionals. Methodist churches do not (thank goodness).
Pulpit: a small elevated platform from which a member of the clergy delivers a sermon. The pulpit was removed when the congregation exited.
Pews: a long bench with a back, placed in rows in the main part of some churches to seat the congregation. The pews were gone when we came along, but we brought one of our own, salvaged from a church in Belvidere, Illinois.
Sacristy: a room in a church where a priest prepares for a service, and where vestments and other things used in worship are kept. In our church, this was a closet, which was removed to install the back door.
Sanctuary: a sanctuary, in its original meaning, is a sacred place, such as a shrine. Also known as a haven, by extension the term has come to be used for any place of safety. The church’s sanctuary is now our great room, housing the kitchen, living room and dining room.
Spire: a spire is a tapering conical or pyramidal structure on the top of a building, often a skyscraper or a church tower. The original spire on our church was damaged or removed mid-century. But we found a new one at a flea market and installed it on top of the bell turret.
Stained glass: glass that has been colored by adding metallic salts during its manufacture; the colored glass is crafted into stained glass windows in which small pieces of glass are arranged to form patterns or pictures, held together (traditionally) by strips of lead and supported by a rigid frame. Our church had no stained-glass windows, only etched glass transoms, which we preserved.
Sunday School room: a room or rooms in a church where teachers tell Bible stories and help children do craft projects. We found the cutest little tables and chairs for Sunday School on the second level, which we donated to Habitat for Humanity’s Restore. An older, historical children’s chair was gifted to us by one of the congregants; I repainted it and it finds a home in the second-story playroom under the eaves.