It’s felt a little like living on a movie set this week.
Pauleen Le of CBS 58 in Milwaukee stopped by this week to interview Tyler and me about converting the church into a home and about my book about the process. Kyle, the cameraman, brought along lights and cameras, and we provided the action, which mostly involved chatting on the couch but we also showed them around the chome and pointed out all our favorite parts. We had a lot of fun.
Another afternoon, Dan stopped by and took some photos of the exterior of the church with a drone.
If you’re a neighbor and you wondered why we were ringing the bell like we just bought it, that’s why. We were showing off. For all the times I’ve written about our church bell with all kinds of flowery description on this blog, viewers may get to hear it for a change.
The story is scheduled to air during the 7 o’clock telecast of the CBS 58 Sunday Morning show (5/31) and again during the 9 o’clock rebroadcast on WMLW-TV. Tune in and see our star turn!
When I created this blog almost two and half years ago, “Church Sweet Home” came to me immediately as a clever name that encapsulated our goals for the old church we’d purchased to turn into our home. We hoped to turn a church into our home, sweet home.
The tagline required a bit more rumination: a blog about transformation and sanctuary.
The transformation was obvious. I told the story of how we turned a 126-year-old religious structure into a cozy home. I chose the word “sanctuary” for its double meaning: the sanctuary of a church, where congregants worship, is considered sacred. And sanctuary means “a place of refuge or safety.”
Sanctuary seems all the more appropriate in a world riddled with COVID-19 where home truly is a place of safety.
“Home” always evokes warm, fuzzy feelings, wherever home might be. No wonder, home, sweet home is a saying. We’re always looking for home, making a home, just being ourselves at home, reminiscing about home or trying to go back home. Home represented love, comfort and security long before lethal viruses floated through bandana face masks sending us to the hospital to die horrible, lonely deaths.
But especially in a world where simply going out for groceries feels like you’re taking your life into your hands, home is a potent balm for fear. Home is the only place in the world where you can relax. And breathe. Literally, it’s safe to fill our lungs with the air at home. It might not even be safe to breathe out there.
The mission statement we used when reconstructing the old church stated, “We strive to create a comfortable sanctuary in the modern world, built solidly and maintained orderly.” That is, we wanted to make “a comfortable place of refuge.”
The colors and textures I used to decorate the interior expressively fulfilled this purpose. I avoided reds, oranges and yellows because warm colors bring to mind excitement and caution. Very few pieces of furniture in the church could be described as “modern,” because sleek and angular are anything but comfortable. Instead, you can find a lot of creams and grays in our home, and we have furry carpets, cozy throws and soft pillows everywhere.
But more than the physical, I also try to practice peace at home (whether I’m in a former church or not). My husband will tell you I fail to do this often (I never raise my voice!), but peace is always the goal in any case. Home should be an oasis, a shelter in the storm; it has to be in order to be a “sanctuary.”
During demolition, we unearthed a little quilted banner tucked in amongst the Christmas decorations. It said simply, “Peace” with an appliqued bell. It had a bell! I loved it then because it highlighted a unique feature of our structure, the belfry (and it was made by a former parishioner, so it was special). But it also reinforced the theme I wanted to convey with the church: it should be a place of peace.
During the past several weeks of self- and government-imposed isolation, I have found a lot of peace. But I’m an introvert who has worked at home for years and enjoys creating worlds in front of my computer. I can only imagine how chaotic it is at home for families who are crawling the walls, trying to work and learn together in a claustrophobic space. Or how insecure home feels when the cupboards are bare. Or how lonely home is when all you’ve got is yourself, a bunch of frozen dinners for one and a Netflix queue. For some, a home, even a warm and fuzzy one, has become a prison, even if it is a refuge from infection.
I’m praying for those folks. I’m praying home can be all the warm and fuzzy things the word represents, a sacred place of refuge.
Our story so far: People in town are talking about our project, to turn a 126-year-old Methodist church into our home.
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News of our project reached the ears of an alert reporter at a nearby weekly newspaper, and he arranged a visit to our work site, where the interior of the church was mostly demolished.
He arrived one cold, bright morning, and we dodged the drywallers’ scaffolding in the sanctuary to show him around. I admired his wiry beard, and he mentioned he’d been in the church more than once covering church dinners and news of the local food bank, which operated out of our basement for a time.
“What do people in town think of your plans?” he asked me.
“Well, everyone who’s talked to us has told us how happy they are we are fixing it up,” I said. “But I think people who might be unhappy probably aren’t telling us about it. Why? Have you heard otherwise?”
“No, no, I just heard you had big plans to improve the place.”
It was odd being interviewed, and I found myself wondering how people felt when I interviewed them twenty-some years before when I was a newspaper reporter, but the interview was mostly painless, fun even. As with our other visitors, we regaled him with our plans until his eyes started darting around, looking for an exit. He took a few photos, and beat a hasty retreat—a weekly newspaper reporter is a busy person, I knew, and other news was surely calling to him.
When the story came out, Tyler was disappointed we hadn’t made the front page (I was a little relieved), but he purchased five copies of the newspaper to bring home. I was happy to see the reporter included nice comments from the former pastor and one of the planning commissioners who happened to live nearby.
The building needed a lot of expensive repairs, and the dwindling congregation could not afford them. “This is the best of all outcomes,” the former pastor told the newspaper reporter.
I derived great satisfaction from cutting the story out of the newspaper to mail to my grandmother, with whom I had been a pen pal for the better part of three decades. She was only a month shy of turning 103, and I found it apropos to share news with her about a century-old structure that was getting some love.
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Tomorrow: Chapter 15 opens with a mantra: Safety first. Read it here.