Sunday, July 24, 2011

Church Lights, Again

Last week, I complained that some of the lights were out in one of the lanterns over the altar, the apparent result of a wiring problem. (See “Safety Last.”) I happened to see Vladimir before church this morning, so I asked him if the lantern had been fixed. His answer was no, the rector and the junior warden—he may have mentioned others as well—said there was no money for a repair. Moreover, the offending lantern was now completely non-functional.

When the choir went into the church to practice before the 10:30 service, Doug Starr told the choir that the lights had been turned down to reduce the heat buildup in the room. (Even so, it was hot.) Indeed, the lighting intensity had been reduced throughout the church. The two altar lanterns were off, presumably because one of them likely presented a fire hazard. Moreover, three spotlights were not functioning. One wonders if we will continue to turn off fixtures and not replace burned out lamps until the church is completely dark or the building burns down, whichever comes first.

The lanterns over the altar are of the same design as those in the chancel. They are, I believe, the lanterns installed when the church was first built. As I noted in “Safety Last,” a short occurred not so long ago in one of the chancel lanterns, which had to be rewired. The conical cap on these particular lanterns holds in heat and tends to melt the insulation of the wiring, creating a short. I am glad to see that my advice of last week was implemented—the lantern has been turned off. (The two altar lanterns are on the same circuit, so both are either energized or not.) There is nothing to stop someone from turning them on again, however.

In the short term, even if St. Paul’s has to borrow the money, we should hire an electrician to investigate what is wrong with the lantern. I suspect that heat has again melted insulation and caused a short. The problem could be elsewhere in the lighting control circuitry, however, so we do not actually know what the dangers are or whether keeping the two lanterns off provides safety against fire.

In the longer term, both for safety and aesthetic reasons, all six “witch’s hat” lanterns should be taken down. The two in the sanctuary should not be replaced, as they are so much visual clutter. (Lighting in the sanctuary needs to be completely reconsidered, as it has not been since the exposed organ pipes were added to the church.) The remaining four lanterns should be replaced with lanterns duplicating the other lanterns in the church. These will, no doubt, need to be custom made, but the safety and aesthetic benefits will justify the expense.

Why are such improvements not in the capital campaign? More significantly, do we trust the people currently responsible for church maintenance to spend money collected by the capital campaign wisely?

As long as I’m writing about lighting, let me offer some additional concerns. A number of the spotlights mounted on or near the roof trusses are badly aimed. This results, for example, in some choir members having a hard time reading their music for lack of light. The problem is that the fixtures are hard to aim, may not hold their position after being aimed, and present serious difficulties when lamps have to be changed. I have no idea as to the best way to change lamps. Perhaps we need catwalks like those installed in theaters. The solution to aiming spotlights, however, is to get motorized fixtures such as those used for rock shows that can be remotely aimed. Why has no one considered this? Why aren’t such fixtures part of the capital campaign?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Safety Last

For about a month, I have noticed that the down light on one of the lanterns at the crossing was not functioning. Today, I saw that one of the bulbs in the body of the same lantern was not working either. This fixture is especially important, as it is one of two that illuminate the altar, where the most important action of a Eucharist service takes place. How long, I had been thinking, was it going to take to change a couple of light bulbs?

Before church this morning, I happened to see Vladimir in the kitchen. He is usually the person to see to take care of minor maintenance issues, so I approached him and explained the problem, assuming that he was unaware of it. My assumption was wrong. What he told me took a little time to sink in, partly because what he was saying was hard to believe, though, admittedly, Vlad’s Russian accent didn’t help.

Here is Vlad’s story: He knew about the down light and had determined that the problem was not that the bulb was burned out or that no replacement was at hand. Instead, there apparently was a wiring problem. At this point, I asked if we had calledSafety First—Not! an electrician. He explained that he had brought this to the attention of the junior warden, Carol Delfino, and Carol was looking for a source of funds to pay an electrician. I failed to ask how long this search had been ongoing.

At this point, I was livid. Were we going to risk burning down the building because we could not afford to engage an electrician? (A few years ago, a lantern in the chancel sparked in the middle of a service and went dark. It had to be rewired, and we were told that the fault was a fire hazard.) Has anyone considered turning off the altar lanterns until we identify the source of the problem? Have we inaugurated a moratorium on maintenance in order to expand the punch list for the capital campaign? Is this worth risking a fire? Perhaps the money contributed to the Salary Restoration Fund should have been given instead to the Property Fund.

I no longer feel safe in the church.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Guiding Principles

The brochure for the new capital campaign includes a section called “Guiding Principles.” There are three:
  • Pay for projects as contributions are received - no bridge loan
  • Keep all costs as low as possible
  • Keep Annual Stewardship as first priority - give to capital campaign only if you can increase or maintain your annual giving pledge
One can hardly quibble with the third principle—running a capital campaign does not make routine expenses disappear. The church still needs to pay utilities, meet the payroll, buy office supplies, and so forth. Moreover, much of the capital campaign is really not targeted at funding capital expenses, but at deferred maintenance, which should be funded from annual pledges. Perhaps people should increase their pledges before considering contributing to the capital campaign.

Keeping costs as low as possible sounds like a good idea at first. On reflection, however, it is worrisome. Not everyone will agree with me on this point, but I believe that, over the years, St. Paul’s has given parishioners no reason to worry that the church is a lavish spender. Some may see the Schantz organ as an extravagance, but, in reality, we bought a very fine instrument at a very attractive price. On the other hand, the recent repair of the Mayfair Drive entrance to the narthex would have benefited from spending more on limestone steps, rather than on concrete ones that are a poor match for the building exterior. In fact, the project was delayed for months because it was entrusted to the lowest bidder. The bid apparently was too low. If St. Paul’s is here for the long haul, I would be more comfortable with a commitment to durable materials and high-quality workmanship than one to low cost.

Finally, the pay-as-you-go pledge may seem prudent in these tough economic times, but there are two drawbacks to the idea. First, it suggests a lack of confidence in the church’s future. This is particularly ironic in our 175th anniversary year. The other problem, however, is that it means that necessary repairs will be spread out over a long period. The effect could be that (1) the building is seen to be in a constant state of renovation or that (2) the effect of the capital campaign is difficult to perceive, a situation that could make fulfilling one’s pledge seem less compelling. The church has very little debt, and, what it has, has been lent at a very attractive rate. We should be less timid about making commitments to maintaining our physical plant. If we need short-term loans to get work done in a timely manner—particularly in the case of urgent repairs—we should negotiate them. Tying our hands with a pay-as-you-go pledge is foolish window-dressing.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sangria & Sliders

Sangria and Sliders graphicI attended the Sangria & Sliders event at St. Paul’s this afternoon. It being very hot, the event was held in the lounge, rather than in the lounge and outdoors. That was probably just as well. Other items were available, but the main food provided included dinner-roll-sized hamburgers, sandwiches of pulled-pork or chicken salad, and, of course sangria. Millie Ryan and her husband Gary were responsible for the food, which was very good.

The event was part of the capital campaign, supposedly an opportunity to hear about the campaign and to comment on it. Apparently other gatherings have been held with select parishioners. I was not selected. My guess is that thisCover of brochure event was designed for people like me who were not invited to private meetings but still might be interested in what is being planned. (No one has explained this, so I may be completely wrong.)

A tri-fold brochure was distributed, whose cover can be seen at the left. The entire brochure can be seen here. The brochure doesn’t offer much more than parishioners have been told so far, but Lou’s presentation did give more details.

The official kickoff event for the capital campaign will be October 15, though some people will be solicited for big contributions before then. The celebration for the completion of the campaign will be December 4. Pledges will be sought in parallel with the annual stewardship campaign, though Lou said that the stewardship campaign comes first—no one should reduce a pledge to the stewardship campaign to contribute to the capital campaign. Pledges to the capital campaign will generally be fulfilled over a three-year period.

In the question-and-answer period, air conditioning the church again proved controversial. I asked if the job could really be done for $200,000 and was told yes, that cool air would be piped up through the floor. Some people argued that air conditioning is not needed. Lou, however, said that he thought air conditioning was the most important part of the campaign, that younger people expect a church to be air conditioned. Having church attendance go down in the summer is not a good thing, he added. I’m not sure that air conditioning will keep up attendance in the summer—people do go on vacation—but, basically, I think Lou is right.

I said that parishioners should be given a list of what the $250,000 Property Maintenance Fund was intended to finance. Lou tried to duck this one, saying that unforeseen maintenance needs could not be predicted. I argued that much of what is in the campaign is deferred maintenance that should be funded in our annual budget. I asked when we will begin doing that, and was told that we simply have not had the money in recent years, but we will try to budget adequately for maintenance sometime in the future. What I didn’t say is that if we haven’t had sufficient funds to maintain our physical plant, we should have found the money elsewhere in the budget. If I’m not mistaken, St. Paul’s has a smaller congregation and a larger staff than it has ever had in the nearly quarter century I’ve been at St. Paul’s.

Several comments were made about the $50,000 overhead of the campaign. Lisa Brown said she has been impressed with the woman from the Episcopal Church Foundation who has been working with the church. (ECF gets $30,000 for its assistance.) $6,000 is allocated to “miscellaneous expenses,” including postage and celebrations. Also included in the overhead is $14,000 for the feasibility study done last year. This is confusing to me, as that money was taken out of the Property Fund. If this money is being put back in the property fund, it is funding another $14,000 in maintenance. This needs to be clarified.

I want to mention a couple of specific projects. Lou, for the first time in my memory, suggested that an automatic door opener would be installed on the handicapped restroom. I first identified a problem with the handicapped restroom door more than a year ago. I hope we do put an automatic door opener on the facility, but I would like to see this commitment in black and white.

Finally, I asked about the plan to achieve handicapped access in the front of the church by eliminating the front steps. I said that parishioners need to see an elevation of what this will look like before we approve the plan. I also suggested that the diocese needs to approve the changes, according to Canon XXXI, Section 2:
It shall be the duty of every Parish of the Diocese to lay before this Commission [on Church Architecture] the preliminary sketches of any new Church, Chapel, parish house or rectory, or of proposed changes of importance in any such existent buildings, and no such work of erection or changes shall be undertaken until the plans shall have received the approval of the Commission. The counsel and advice of the Commission shall be given in writing to the parish requesting the same within one calendar month after the receipt of the plans by the said Commission.
Curiously, Lou, who serves with me on the Committee on Constitution and Canons, did not seem aware of this provision.

Monday, July 4, 2011


How many people at St. Paul’s know that the choir includes a radio personality who is an expert on music of the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s (and, perhaps, even the ’50s)? Long-time parishioner and member of the choir’s bass section Mike Plaskett is co-host of Rhythm Sweet & Hot (RS&H) on WDUQ-FM. He and Dale Abraham play music on the radio “that you won’t hear anywhere else.” It was not immediately clear that RS&H would survive the recent ownership change of 90.5 FM, but the show has been picked up and slotted into the 6–8 PM time period on Saturday nights.

Those of you who have attended Mike’s Episcopal Café over the years, even if you didn’t know about RS&H, have surely suspected that Mike has a special affinity for the popular music of days gone by.

I haven’t written about Mike before, as I didn’t think I could do him or RS&H justice, but I just read an essay about the show on a Post-Gazette blog (“‘WDUQ’s Rhythm, Sweet & Hot’ Lives! An Appreciation” by Rich Kienzle). Read Kienzle’s piece and tune in to 90.5 FM on Saturday night.