Third in a Series of Articles

Feb 26, 2020

This is the third in a series of articles to update and inform the congregation of the renovation project for St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church.

The seating of the congregation must always foster active participation.  While there are no universal norms of how that seating is arranged, a few principals guide our way:

  1. Everyone should be able to see and hear clearly.  Lighting, distance from the altar, quality sound systems in conjunction with measured acoustics – all of these factors must be considered in the design of a church.
  2. Anything that impedes participation must be avoided. Participants should be able to see and experience the presence of others who have gathered in worship:  the priest and other ministers who are at the ambo, the chair and the altar, as well as each other.
  3. While the Eucharist is the primary celebration in the church, other sacramental celebrations must also be taken into consideration so that the congregation can participate fully.
  4. The building must support the music and song of the entire worshiping assembly. 

With those basic requirements, we began to seriously critique our current space.  The balcony was built as an alternative to changing the footprint of the church in the 1970’s.  However, it does not foster the gathering of the assembly.  It rather divides the congregation. 

  • People below cannot see or hear the people above them
  • The people under the balcony have a ceiling that rests a few feet above their heads and cannot interact with those above them.
  • The design destroys the natural acoustics of the building.
  • It remains inaccessible to many of our congregation and visitors who cannot negotiate that many steps.

In the renovation plan the balcony will be removed. The entire congregation will be on one level and will be accessible to all.   The congregation will continue to be seated in a fan-shaped pattern of pews around the altar as we have become accustomed to.  New pews will be purchased to accommodate the new design.  The old pews will be sold to recoup some of the cost.  Care has been taken to eliminate as many visual obstructions as possible, although some pillars that the structure depends upon must remain.  Along with the pews we will have flexible seating (chairs) throughout the church with space provided to accommodate “overflow” crowds at holidays and special occasions.

With the new design and reorientation of the church we are able to increase seating.  This is important because the diocese requires that a priest should not have to celebrate more than three weekend liturgies not including funerals, weddings and other special liturgies. 

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