From Stable to Chapel
When the Church was discerning whether to purchase the property behind the main parking lot, little attention was given to the small building behind the larger Carriage House. The back building was a dated, one-story converted stable, originally used to quarter horses. It was easy to overlook.
Initial plans were to perform a superficial renovation on the building in order to provide temporary added space for our ministries. Talk of converting the building into a chapel seemed beyond our scope, since size and limited funds meant it would be too small and temporary to meet future needs. However, a Church family moved by conversations and a longing to offer a quiet place for prayer and reflection, offered to provide funds in order that it could be renovated into a chapel that would serve the community.
The donation was gratefully accepted and plans moved ahead to transform the building. There was a desire to make the chapel more than just a gathering place on Sunday mornings. It was to also include:
- handicap accessibility
- small soundproof meeting rooms
- cushioned chairs instead of pews for flexibility
- audiovisual equipment
- a small kitchen facility
- window seats with storage
- an entrance to accommodate a stretcher or casket
In time, it was realized that the financial gift was not the greatest gift to be received. God would reveal where funds are limited; He is not. A community was brought together to build something beyond what was originally imagined.
People with certain and varied gifts began to rise up and participate in this bonding experience. For some, the task was to discern how the Chapel should be laid out and equipped; others had a vision of what the outside would look like. Those with a gift for engineering began the structural design.
Challenges such as heating systems, audio visual capabilities and the design of handicap facilities were resolved with perseverance and input from many. Some problems seemed to get answers as quickly as presented. A problem of running short of a piece of molding was solved by someone noticing an odd piece in the scrap bin that fit the gap to the inch. Miracles?… perhaps. The community began to have an expectation and a confidence that answers would be provided, even when they were uncertain what that would look like. They recognized that it was more than their cleverness. God was responsible; it became a very humbling and grace filling time. Conversations changed, and an outward recognition that God was present was spoken openly.
The spirit within the community was infectious. A landscaper in the congregation dug the foundation for the expanded front wall; a local plumber installed pipes; a neighborhood rental store provided free use of heavy tools; a waterproofing company donated high tech vapor barrier material; and a local electrician donated all the electrical supplies at cost and a discount on his labor; and town authorities were very supportive. Things were falling to place. The phrase, “We love working on a church,” became the mind set.
Congregation members who could design, manage, purchase, communicate, track finances, demolish, dig, work with concrete, frame with wood, insulate, sheetrock, mud, design, fabricate and install wood trim, choose décor, tile, and paint came forward with enthusiasm. The work was getting done.
When a portion of the work was planned for outside expertise, the opportunity to learn new skills and cooperation were presented. For example, when considering bids to install the four-layer stipple-surfaced cement stucco on the new front wall of the Chapel, the cost was beyond budget. A stucco manufacturer was consulted for advice. The owners identified themselves as believers and offered to make the trip to teach the crew how to mix and apply the stucco. The results looked professional, cost less than 1/10 of the contractor’s estimates.
It was planned to have professionals install the twelve foot Chapel ceiling. Once again, bids were excessive. However, it was learned that a sheetrock lift could be rented for $30 a day. The job was performed on a Saturday morning with a handful of volunteers from the congregation.
Leaders remained passionate and engaged throughout the project and built enthusiasm in preparation for pivotal facets of the construction process. Examples included, digging the foundation for the new front wall of the Chapel, building the concrete forms, and pouring the concrete. This took many hands; work teams needed direction and encouragement.
Another pivotal point in the project was framing the new front wall and roof extension of the Chapel and removing the original wall and replacing it with a 45 ft long beam on four columns. All these operations (demolition, beam installation, new wall framing and roof extension) were scheduled to take place simultaneously. It was critical to have the right number of volunteers available to accomplish the work in the tight timeframe.
Sharing meals together became an important ingredient in building a sense of community. Lunch time offered rest, a time for sharing stories, celebrating what had been accomplished and helped to speak into the work yet to be done. This was made possible by an energetic and resourceful group of volunteers who enjoyed cooking and hospitality and made each volunteer event a feast.
Sunday morning, December 9, 2007, the doors of the chapel were opened for the dedication. The congregation was amazed at the beauty and serenity of the space. It was hard to believe that just hour’s earlier, final details of window washing, paint touch ups, final carpentry items and cleaning were in progress.
Today, Jesse Lee’s Chapel provides:
- Stephen Ministry: training; semi-monthly group meetings with continuing education; confidential 1:1 meetings with care receivers
- Prayer and Healing: training, weekly group meetings with continuing education; confidential individual prayer ministry; weekly mid-day drop in prayer; monthly soaking prayer
- Communion service every Sunday and Thursday
- Prayer vigil: Maundy Thursday into Good Friday
- Meeting space for Bible Study and Church Council
- For presentations open to the public hosted by various Jesse Lee ministries
New Handicap Bathroom
While we were finishing up creating the new parsonage above the Carriage House, and before beginning renovations of the second parsonage, the Trustees asked us if we would look at the bathrooms in the main Church building across from the Sanctuary. The bathrooms dated to the Church construction back in 1967 and were without any facility for handicap persons. The desire was to create a handicap accessible option.
We knew this was a tough assignment. Handicap bathroom options there had been studied before by others. The best suggestion to date cost in the $80,000 range and was substantially invasive to surrounding spaces.
We agreed to have a look, but did not promise to stumble on some overlooked silver bullet. So, we brought our design process to bear on the puzzle with each of us praying to be blessed with a piece of the solution. We went through much iteration and finally came up with a good plan which met nearly all of the guidelines for accessible bathrooms.
Novel “puzzle pieces” which bubbled up in our deliberations that allowed us to succeed included: Designing the new bathroom as a handicap stall rather than a whole bathroom (a stall need only be 5 ft square), installing a wall mounted toilet instead of a conventional floor toilet (which allowed one of the 5 ft dimensions to be reduced to 56”, and inventing and constructing a strategically located one inch thick veneered plywood wall (in place of a 6 inch masonry wall).
The compromise we had to make was sneaking in a little handicap compliant sink into the stall which makes rear entry necessary for maneuverability by wheelchairs. With this plan we were able to end up with a ladies room, a men’s room, a janitor’s closet AND a handicap bathroom in the same space where before there had only been the first three. Most of the space was taken from the men’s room which did lose one stall in the process.
We gave the ladies and men’s rooms major facelifts in the process including new fixtures, tile trim and paint. All this we were able to achieve on schedule for under $25,000 with out ever being with out an operable bathroom for either sex. It was our volunteer work force and Spirit driven process that made this possible.
People with accessibility issues are jubilant. We love working on a Church!