Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fulfilling the Vision, Part 4

My third post on Fulfilling the Vision is here. My fifth post is here.
I am intrigued by the proposal to reconfigure the area in front of the church to provide handicapped access. Recall that the scheme would re-grade the pavement in front of the church, effectively providing a ramp from the Washington Road sidewalk to the floor level of the nave. Steps would need to be built to connect to the walkway between Mayfair Drive and the entrance to the narthex facing Mayfair. (The plan is probably better than the plan I put forward for handicapped accessibility in “Do We Really Want to Repair the Steps?”) The proposal is shown in the plan view presented at the Adult Forum last Sunday (click on the figure for a larger view):

Proposed rework of front grounds

I am reluctant to give my full support to this project without seeing an elevation illustrating how the front of St. Paul’s would look from Washington Road, but the idea seems very promising. Adding handicapped access to the front of a building often results in an architectural disaster—witness the Christian Science church down the street—and the proposal for St. Paul’s is clearly designed to avoid such a result.

I stopped by the church the other day to get a better sense of how the grounds would look and function if the proposed changes were made. I was struck by several observations. First, the concrete in front of the church is cracked and uneven. Replacing it would not be a bad idea under any circumstances. Second, the paved area in front of the church is smaller than I had imagined. I think of this area as a place where we bless palms, potentially gather for the Easter Vigil, and sometimes bless animals. In fact, however, for these activities, many people find themselves on the grass. Standing in front of the church, I was also struck by the fact that our sign, what I assume is the pinkish rectangle in the figure above, apparently does not figure in Fulfilling the Vision, in spite of its deficiencies. (See “Welcome (If You’re Going South),” which discusses our sign and has a good picture of the grounds in front of St. Paul’s.)

As long as we’re redesigning the area in front of the church, we might as well consider related improvements, so I would like to suggest these additions to the project:
  1. Add more paved area. There is ample room between the existing paving and the trees on either side of it. Some of the grass on the building side of the sign can also be paved over. These additions would provide a larger and more comfortable gathering area in front of the church.
  2. Consider adding one or more flat areas on each side of the paving immediately outside the door. (I might call these steplets, as they are like steps but have but a slight rise, given the slope of the pavement.) A classic view of American churchgoing has the preacher standing on the steps of the church greeting departing worshipers. My steplets would suggest the steps that had been replaced, while providing a safe horizontal surface for the preacher to stand on for an extended period.
  3. On the expanded plaza in front of the church, consider adding a piece of bronze sculpture. There are two reasons for suggesting this. First, it would provide a point of interest in an otherwise featureless expanse of paving. Second, it would add a spirit-affirming component to what otherwise is a completely utilitarian group of projects to be funded as Fulfilling the Vision.
I’d like to say a few more words about item (3), prefaced by the caveat that I am not a visual artist. Any piece of sculpture should relate either to St. Paul himself or to the church. Three possibilities come to mind. We could have a statue of St. Paul, though, without some elements that keep it from looking like an icon to be venerated, it might seem too Roman Catholic. Second, we could commission a sculpture that incorporates the St. Paul’s dove and arch. This seems more promising. First Lutheran Church sculptureMy favorite idea, however, is to have a sculpture made that reflects on the words of our patron, something not homophobic or misogynist. My nomination for a point of departure is Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. [NRSV]”

My idea for a piece of sculpture outside the door of St. Paul’s comes from a piece of art along the Grant Street sidewalk in front of First Lutheran Church. I don’t recall either the name or significance of the sculpture—see picture at right—but I do remember this bit of outdoor artwork as being arresting. Something of similar quality might be even more arresting at St. Paul’s, where it could be viewed from all sides.

Update, 6/30/2010: I ran into another passage from St. Paul that could be inspiration of a piece of sculpture, Romans 12:4–5: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. [NRSV]”

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