Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Better Way to Involve Parishioners in Physical Plant Changes

God indeed works in mysterious ways. Two days ago, a plan for a new capital campaign was announced at St. Paul’s. (See “Scaled-back Capital Campaign.”) Today, I added links to all posts to allow visitors to print posts or create PDF files of them. In writing about the new blog feature, I mentioned that I had occasionally produced a PDF version of a post manually, and, searching for an instance where I had done this, I came upon my post from January 17, 2011, “Managing Change in a House of Worship.” As part of “Managing Change,” I wrote about how I thought we could make better decisions about changes affecting our physical plant. My suggestions are particularly relevant now, as we embark on raising funds for many physical changes. Rather than write a new post, I thought it would be helpful simply to reprint what I wrote back in January. Below is the section of “Managing Change” that I called “A Suggestion.”
I have long thought that no significant changes to the physical plant of St. Paul’s without the approval of a person or committee responsible for the overall appearance and integrity of the chuch property should be undertaken. Ideally, one might like to see a committee headed by a parishioner who is an architect and whose members might include a representative of the Vestry, a member of the clergy, and a select group of parishioners. The goals of forming such a committee are twofold: to assure that changes benefit the parish globally, rather than simply filling a local need that could conflict with other needs; and that parishioners feel that their concerns are considered and that they will not encounter unpleasant surprises.

Hundreds of members move through St. Paul’s every week, and, collectively, they are aware of many small details of which any one person might be oblivious. Ideally, changes to the building should take advantage of our collective knowledge of how the church functions and where it is deficient.

Recently, renovations, some small, some not so small, were made to the restrooms at St. Paul’s. All the changes represented improvements, but I’m not so sure they represented optimal improvements. Consider the men’s restroom nearest the choir room. Choir members have long been frustrated by the lack of a place to put their hymnals and folders while using the restroom before the service. The updated restroom now has a vanity that offers some flat surface on which objects can be placed, but an added shelf would have been much appreciated. Of course, no one in the choir knew that changes were going to be made, so they had no opportunity to express their need for a shelf. Why could not a facilities committee have posted a notice outside the restroom soliciting ideas and concerns for a renovated restroom? Not only would this have resulted in a renovation that better filled the needs of the parish, but it would have made the users of the restroom feel better about their church and more cared for.

St. Paul’s used to have a Property Commission, which, although it did not really function like the facilities committee I have suggested, at least was a group of people thinking about the physical plant. Certainly a Property Committee could oversee all physical changes to the church. My understanding is that now, however, the junior warden and assistant junior warden function largely on their own and are concerned mostly with fixing things that are broken.

St. Paul’s has a history of some renovations being financed privately. This has sometimes led to complaints that the tastes of the donor, not the needs of the church, determine what is actually done. Such objections would be minimized if all changes had to be approved by a facilities committee. Moreover, the committee could build a list of desired changes and their priorities. It could even make the list public and subject to discussion. When someone wants to make a major donation to the church for physical improvements, we could pull out the list and say, “These are our needs. What can you help with?” Similarly, when we are considering a capital campaign, we should have a list of possible projects available without having to do additional analysis. At least we would have a starting point, even though a capital campaign might support more ambitious plans not on our incremental improvement list.

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