A New Church for Holy Trinity Episcopal: The Rector's Perspective
June 16, 2009
When I came to Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina in February 2001, I knew that some parishioners wanted to build a new church building to replace the 1951 edifice that was originally meant to be temporary. I quickly learned that another group loved the old building and could not imagine life without it. Welcome to the Episcopal Church!
The old building seated slightly fewer than 200. As a result, the building had limited the growth of the parish, which had remained at approximately 600 for more than 30 years. Large weddings and funerals were difficult at best. On Christmas Eve and Easter morning, late arriving visitors would sometimes leave rather than be seated in front of a large screen TV in the parish hall for a closed circuit version of the Eucharist.
After about six months, I asked the Vestry to form a long-range planning committee. Thus began a five-year adventure that involved determining that a new church building was needed, choosing an architect and then a general contractor, winning the great majority of the congregation over to the idea, designing the building, fundraising, grieving the loss of the old building before razing it, holding services in the parish hall for more than a year while construction progressed, dealing with issues associated with construction, and, finally, moving in.
The long range planning committee met monthly for about one year and concluded that a new church was necessary and that other facilities also needed to be expanded. A building committee, ably chaired by Tom Holt, came next. That committee interviewed several architects before hiring Heimsath Associates to produce a master plan for our campus. It then concluded that a new church was the first priority of four needed expansions on the campus. The others, still to be built, are enlarging the education wing, moving the parish offices to the far wing of the main building complex, and converting the old rectory that now contains the offices to a youth building.
For me, the chance to help design a church building incorporating the best liturgical ideas from The Book of Common Prayer was both thrilling and daunting. Of course, many parishioners had a great deal of input into the design. We began with several points of agreement. We wanted the new building to look like it had always been here. We wanted it to remind parishioners of the old church in subtle ways, but above all we wanted it to be flexible space that could be reconfigured for different church seasons and for events other than religious services. We did not think it good stewardship to spend several million dollars on a space that would be used only for two hours on Sundays and for an occasion weekday service.
During the design process, we had several occasions for debate. From the beginning, I was firm in my desire that we use chairs instead of pews. Some of the building committee agreed from the beginning. After I explained the advantages of chairs, the rest were on board. Some of our parishioners, however, were less than enthusiastic. To many of them, church meant pews. Rumors from the least supportive members of the congregation were that the new building would look like a community center and that we would all be seated on folding chairs. Prayer helped us through that conflict, as did the production of sample chairs. The decision to incorporate a labyrinth into the floor of the nave finally decided the issue. Obviously, the labyrinth would be useless if pews were anchored to it.
While I would love to take some credit for George Hoelzeman’s inspiring door panels, that idea belonged to Ben Heimsath. I did appreciate the opportunity to work as a member of a small committee that offered suggested subjects for the panels, all reflecting Trinitarian themes. George is that rare artistic genius who is a joy to work with. To my mind, the door panels are the glory of the building.
I will take some credit for the font and pool, the only stationary objects in the building. The idea was to create living water and to underscore the importance of baptism as the sacrament of entrance into the Church by placing the font and pool at the entrance. One comes into the Church by baptism.
We moved into the new building on the 3rd Sunday of Advent 2006. Christmas was a glorious celebration of the Incarnation, as we celebrated both the birth of the Savior and the birth of a new chapter in the history of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
Rev. Ray Brown serves as Rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, North Carolina, USA.