Put a little church in your summer

As much as I appreciate living in a former church, and I do marvel at the wonder of it almost every day, I’m aware that a congregation had to fail to make this space available.

The membership of the old Methodist church that became our home dwindled to the point of not being able to support a pastor, let alone keeping up with maintenance and repairs. As you might recall, no one dared ring the bell toward the end for fear of causing a catastrophy.

The United Church of Christ around the corner.

So when the pastor resigned at the church nearby (the one we belong to, not the one we live in) and we were asked to help find a new one, Tyler and I agreed. We were determined to do what we could to prevent what happened to the Methodists here happen again at the United Church of Christ around the corner. So I helped write the job posting for a new pastor, and Tyler agreed to head the search committee.

After months of interviews (all conducted virtually or very carefully in the midst of a pandemic), Tyler’s team found a keeper. Praise be to God!

The new pastor accepted the call and begins her work on Sunday. The church around the corner will resume worshiping at 9 a.m. every Sunday as it did prior to the world falling to pieces amid COVID-19.

The service Sunday on Independence Day will be resplendent with fellowship, prayer and patriotic hymns. Word on the street is that the organist is pulling out all the stops, an apropos cliché since the phrase refers to an organ’s stop knobs used to regulate the instrument’s sound. God bless America!

As a reader of this blog about transformation and sanctuary and converting an old church into a home, you might find the kind of community and sanctuary you crave after this long, dark nightmare wrought by the novel coronavirus at this little church around the corner. Please consider this an invitation to worship with us. And here’s wishing you a happy Fourth of July in which you contemplate the blessings of freedom and liberty!

Find meaning where you look for it

We’ve got a throw-back church sign today, drawn from one of last summer’s thoughtful messages. This one makes me smile because some people can’t their heads around the use of “her” as a pronoun for God. On the other hand, some people can’t get their heads around the use of “him” as a pronoun for God.

Maybe your God is male. I have no problem with that. But my God doesn’t have genitalia, so I guess that means I land in the “they” camp (despite the grammatical agreement issues that causes). He is male, She is female, they are both, they are neither. If I refer to God as “She” once in a while, well, that’s just a reminder that I don’t really know. I’m not omniscient. Which is sort of the point of this message: faith is trusting even when you don’t know what the heck is going on.

I also don’t really know much about the meaning of geraniums, which my husband thoughtfully planted in the church sign stand, except they are a pretty-in-pink reminder of the promise of things to come on a gray winter day. A quick Google search reveals geraniums mean pretty much anything. Friendship? Sure. Ingenuity? Yes. Stupidity or folly. Yup, that, too.

I trust that you will apply whatever meaning you need today.

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.

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.




TV news story shows polish of Church Sweet Home

The story Pauleen Le at CBS 58 worked up about Church Sweet Home casts a flattering light on our renovation project in a way my amateur photography on this blog or the black-and-white shots in my memoir never could.

video screen shot
A screen grab of the video.

To see Le’s Sunday Morning show story, click here. It’s worth five-and-a-half minutes of your time just to hear the church bell and creak of the door into the sanctuary. If you’re a regular reader who hasn’t had the opportunity to visit this little Methodist Mecca/Phoenix from the ashes in person, this video will satisfy your curiosity. The drone shots gave us a look even we have never seen of our house!

At one point in the video, I say “And we did it!” In a story about us and our house, that’s absolutely correct, but I feel compelled to credit here the workers and skilled craftsmen who helped us: St. Johnny, You-Can-Call-Me-Al, Reroofer, the Michelangelo drywallers, Glimfeather the plumber, Low Talker the painter, the spiral stairway proprietress, the electrician, the Lighting Savant, the expert at the glass store, our friend at Home Depot who rented us a floor sander twenty times, the guys who poured the driveway, the man who operated the crane that dropped the rafters for the Garage Mahal, several relatives who helped us in various ways, and many others. We did it, but we didn’t do it by ourselves.

Check it out, and let Pauleen Le know if you like her story. Thanks to her and her team, too.



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.

A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it

Our story so far: A team of men shored up the pilings of the belfry on the old Methodist church we had converted into a residence.

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Reroofer now went to work in what he specialized—finishing the flat roof beneath the bell. He performed this work once already, back in the autumn, but all that had been pulled apart to repair the pilings. He spent a solid week traipsing up the ladder with various construction materials—plywood, aluminum, waterproof sheeting and more—to do whatever a good and proper roofer does. He dodged a recalcitrant squirrel who’d taken possession of the nook above the bell and insisted Reroofer was trespassing. For the most part, Reroofer simply ignored the squirrel’s chattering, but he made a note to himself and to us that the roof above the bell would have to be filled in to deter squatters.

Reroofer also attached the rope to the wheel of the bell so one did not have to stand on the roof to ring it. The day he did this, a pair of my friends paid me a visit so I celebrated by inviting them to ring it with me. They demurred. “You really ought to be the one to ring it the first time,” one said.

I yanked on the rope once, and I could feel that it wasn’t hard enough to get the clapper to make contact. I was too timid.

“Do it again!” they said.

I pulled again, this time with gusto, and the bell rang out. My eyes grew as wide as my grin, to the delight of my friends.

Later that day, Tyler climbed the steps to the second floor with a single intention: To ring the bell himself. He was not so timid as I had been. He pulled the rope and rang the bell three or four times, satisfied with all the work that got him to this reward.

bell front door
Here’s a shot of our belfry after sheathing the pilings and after Reroofer finished the flat roof beneath the bell. You can also see our front door with the new lighting and street number.

Church bells, of course, are not usually rung just for fun. In the strictest sense, the primary purpose of ringing a church bell is to call parishioners to services. “In a broader sense the bells produce a pure musical sound that stirs the hearts of all who hear them,” according to an FAQ I found on the internet about ringing bells. “The uplifting sound transcends any artificial boundaries of sect or religion. Most of us love to hear them whatever our beliefs—because they stir something deep, perhaps something deeply spiritual, in all of us. And we are grateful and want to continue the tradition.”

Since it was the sort of signal that could be heard across town, I felt as though I ought to develop some sort of guidelines for ringing our bell. Traditionally, bell ringing was used to announce or signal special events such a weekly services, according to the FAQ. They were also used as flood or fire warnings, messages to douse fires for the evening, warn that the town water supply had been polluted (perhaps by a drowned animal), or to signal the harvest or new year. Bells also were used to announce times of great joy, such as weddings, or to express sorrow, such as at funerals. I thought perhaps we could get away with ringing the bell in welcome to visitors (so we could show it off, of course), for family birthdays (though I wasn’t sure I trusted ringing it once for every year—I had a 103-year-old grandmother after all) and for new year’s (because that could be expected).

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Today’s headline is a partial quote from Tony award-winning songwriter Oscar Hammerstein, who said, “A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it. A song’s not a song ’til you sing it. Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay. Love isn’t love ’til you give it away!”

Tomorrow: Chapter 41 wraps up with future plans for the belfry. Read about them here.