The pandemic affirmed what has always been true, that worship is an essential service, whether online or in-person. Since we have multiple worship services at the Newton Campus, we want to create conducive environments for worship that are optimal for the realities we are living in, but adaptable for future use cases. The main sanctuary is the largest space that we have across all our campuses. It’s a beautiful and sacred space that has served our church well, but there are some much needed improvements necessary to create a worshipful and welcoming space for our community and future generations. In order to improve the stage presence for in-person worship and live streaming, we are updating our lighting system. To create a more warm and welcoming atmosphere, we are installing new carpet as well as repairing and repainting our ceiling and walls. We are upgrading our seating to movable chairs, which allows for the sanctuary to be used in different ways beyond worship services including conferences, seminars, panel discussions, concerts, VBS, and other arrangements in the future. There are also “under-the-hood” updates including relocating our air ducts from the floors to the walls as well as preparation for additional HVAC upgrades in the future. We believe these updates and changes will help our ministries flourish and be a greater blessing to those around us.
Creating a new worship and assembly space
During the pandemic, one of our community partners, the Auburndale Community Nursery School (ACNS), closed after 30+ years on our campus. Although we are saddened that ACNS had to close its doors, the sudden availability of over 2000 combined square feet poses unique opportunities to reimagine the way we use our spaces. After much deliberation, we decided that the space would be best used as an assembly room for various use cases including congregational worship, children’s ministry, and other programming. One glaring need for both campuses is a venue to perform a key function of our church. Since we handed over 249 to the city and because of the pandemic, we have not been able to conduct baptisms by immersion. Since this new space can accommodate up to 150 seats, we plan to install a new baptistry so we can celebrate God’s saving work in people’s lives. In order to make this space conducive for worship and other gatherings, we also plan to lower the stage, install new lighting, AV, and update the electrical work. The room adjacent to the chapel will be converted into a multipurpose room for small classes, prayer meetings, and other gatherings. By relocating one of our congregations to a new “worship space”, it will not only benefit one congregation, but all the congregations with better spacing and flow. This change allows for each congregation to have “fellowship” space on the same floor. This also frees up the fellowship hall for other use cases better suited for hospitality and community use such as after school space for teens, blood drives, and seminars for the community. Although ACNS had to close its doors, it has opened new doors and possibilities for us to be more intentional and purposeful with all our spaces so that we can best serve the needs of our ministries and community.
Lastly, the kitchen is arguably the most important space besides the sanctuary, especially in a Chinese Heritage Church! Many of our past signature events and outreach initiatives involved meals! Over the years, the kitchen has fallen into serious disrepair and is in tremendous need of upgrades not only for safety reasons but also to meet the needs of multi-congregational use. Our plans include installing a much needed exhaust hood, replacing old and outdated appliances, installing new floors, and adding new storage solutions for our supplies. This renovation not only ensures that our kitchen is safe and up to code, but is also designed for multi-congregational use, which increases our capacity for welcome and hospitality. These are our priorities for this project! It’s exciting to see what could be, and we continue to ask for your prayers and support as we see this project through. We thank you for your continued patience in advance as we continue on this journey together.
The Newton Renovation team did consult with staff, focus groups, BOD, and BOE for their input and feedback. Although there were similar questions and concerns raised during the annual meeting, there was enough positive feedback where we moved ahead. We acknowledge in retrospect that we should have been more communicative regarding the process and communicated decisions that were made along the way. Moving forward, we will provide frequent updates especially since we are ready to get started.
Why does it cost so much?
There are several reasons for this. As the renovation team formed and considered the needs of the church long term, the scope of the project increased which was not included in the original estimate. In addition, we discovered issues that needed addressing such as an outdated electrical system on the lower floor that needed upgrades to meet code. Since our building is a historical landmark, we needed special solutions to address some of our design challenges which added to the cost of the scope. Over time, we will need to address other parts of the building that are not up to code. In the end, due to the pandemic, the costs of materials and supply chain issues have not only caused delays, but the overall costs have risen significantly. Although we don’t know what the future holds, we anticipate that the prices will continue to rise.
Can we keep the pews?
Won’t the removal of the pews ruin the sacredness of the sanctuary? We already have multifunction spaces in our church. Why do we need to make another one?
Our guiding principle that informed much of our decision-making was that this renovation project was not just for ourselves, but for our community and future generations. We want this renovation to be a “greater blessing” to our community for years to come. With this in mind, the renovation committee believed that it was possible to both preserve the sacredness of the space while designing it with the future congregants and generations in mind. The COVID-19 pandemic has also informed our thinking as we considered how we could be effective in connecting with people in-person as well as online. Removing the pews and replacing them with new movable chairs was not an easy decision to make. But the more we considered the many possibilities for ministry and outreach that could be opened up as a result of changing the pews to movable chairs the more we were in favor of this direction. In addition, movable chairs allow for flexibility especially as our congregations shift and change in size. Currently, the pews can accommodate over 400 persons. The congregations that worship in the sanctuary before the pandemic ranged from 80 to 150 persons. To counteract the empty feeling of the sanctuary, especially as we emerge from the pandemic, removing chairs can help create a greater sense of community. Church consultants often cite the 40-80 principle. It is not ideal to dip below 40 percent or exceed 80 percent of a room’s capacity. With movable chairs, it allows for adjustments so that the sanctuary doesn’t seem too empty. At the same time, it gives us flexibility when we need to accommodate more people without feeling cramped. Regarding maintaining the sacredness of the sanctuary, we are working with an architect who has the experience and a track record of renovating sacred spaces in the Greater Boston area. We have confidence that the changes made will be both worshipful and welcoming to many generations to come. Regarding the concern of whether more multifunction space was necessary, the sanctuary will be primarily used as a place for congregational worship. Secondarily, it will be an assembly space for other forms of gathering that the staff deems as appropriate for that space and consistent with the sanctuary’s purpose. Since the Newton Campus was not originally designed for three distinct congregations, we have to be creative and flexible with our spaces as our ministries evolve and develop over time.
What will happen to the pews? Have you explored selling them, giving away, and refurbishing them?
We have considered many avenues. We have reached out to organizations and churches, furniture refurbishment companies, and shipping them overseas. As of now, only NewCommunity Inc. located in Newton Highlands as well as Newton Community Pride have agreed to take the shorter pews. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to find takers for the longer pews. We have arranged our general contractor to remove and dispose of the ones we could not give away.
Work on the sanctuary began this past week! Newton Community Pride, a non-profit in the city for the arts, received 15 of our pews. We are holding another set of pews for NewCommunity Inc, a local Newton non-profit. The general contractor removed the rest of the pews. Permits have been submitted for the new assembly space. Please pray for God’s favor and for a quick response.
The chairs arrived! We had almost 20 volunteers come in and out throughout Friday and unloaded and moved over 500 chairs from a semi truck into the church. On Saturday, an additional 12 people came to redistribute the chairs into the fellowship hall and MFR. Special thanks for all the volunteers for their hard work and dedication!
In mid-March, there will be construction work done in the lower level chapel as well as electrical work and painting in the sanctuary. Please pray for the safety and well-being of all the contractors. Pray that the renovation will go smoothly and for the work to be done in a timely manner.
The baptismal pool has been delivered and is being installed. The floor has been raised in the new chapel and electrical work is being installed. The painting continues in the sanctuary as well as installation of electrical work. For pictures of the renovations, please go here.