SPOTLIGHT: Pulling Out the Pews

SPOTLIGHT: Pulling Out the Pews

West Concord church makes major building changes to care for the earth and serve all ages and abilities

Editor’s Note:  When folks at West Concord Union Church offered their pews and other sanctuary furniture on the Massachusetts Conference classifieds site (MAC’s LIST), we wondered why.  Here’s the answer from the church’s pastor, the Rev. Hannah C Brown.

Back in 2014, the folks at West Concord Union Church (WCUC) realized that the upcoming capital needs of our meeting house exceeded what we could afford in our yearly budget. Led by the Massachusett’s Conference’s focus on the environment as well as members’ personal concerns about sustainability, the church also wondered about how to improve their environmental impact. This prompted leaders to ask big questions: Do we want to own a building? Do we want to own this one?  How could a building better support our current and future ministry? In other words, what would we and our gathering spaces be like if God and God’s calling were our cornerstone?
This is what came to mind:

“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord,  in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." [Ephesians 2:19-22]

West Concord Church Makes Major Building Changes to care for the earth and serve all ages & abilities

Over the next two years, we moved from brainstorming around these questions to a proposal for a major capital campaign.  The proposal had three main components: addressing basic infrastructure needs, cutting down on our environmental impact, and transforming the building into a more accessible and flexible space. The project list was large, including a new main entryway, a shift from pews to chairs in the sanctuary, a new roof with solar panels, and a repainted exterior. 

​The process of deciding on our final project was difficult. At several points, we needed to re-evaluate our priorities and work on cutting down our costs. Many folks worried about whether we could afford this project. We also had differing opinions about which parts of it were most important. Along the way we received guidance from Associate Conference Minister Wendy Vander Hart who connected us with the “Walking in the Way of Peace" program. This program supported us in deepening our communication skills and offered new techniques to increase community dialogue.​

Construction on our project began in the spring of 2017 and was completed during the winter of 2018. We are just beginning to discover how the renovation will impact our community, but among the benefits we notice so far are:
  • Greater capacity to live into our calling to be a church for all ages and abilities, with room for children's activity stations in worship and a fully accessible main entryway and sanctuary
  • New uses of our more flexible sanctuary space, including labyrinth walks, a theater performance, and a variety of worship set-ups
  • Better environmental stewardship due to new windows, new doors, and solar panels
  • Deeper understanding of our building as a tool for ministry and community service
  • Increased sense of what is possible when we work together 
You can click here for a small gallery of photos of the renovation.

“I am thrilled to be able to recommend to the numerous churches who have asked me over the years – have any of our churches removed their pews?  Do you know someone we can talk to?” said Vander Hart, “Now I can say,’ why yes, I do. West Concord would love to tell you their story!”

Note 1: WCUC is hoping to inspire and is willing to help other churches who are considering renovation for accessibility, environmental impact, and/or flexibility (taking out pews, etc.). Folks from other churches are invited to attend their Community Open House next month (details below) and, in addition to enjoying the festivities, to take a tour and ask questions. Of course all are welcome to visit worship anytime, Sundays at 9:45, or contact the office with questions.  Says Rev. Hannah: “This was the work of many years and we have learned so much!”
Note 2: WCUC’s pews and most of the sanctuary furniture found a new home at Strong Tower Pentecostal Church of Stoughton.
Event Details:
Community Open House
September 29, 2018
1:00 - 4:00 PM
Festivities include: crafts, sing-alongs, and folk dancing
West Concord Union Church
1317 Main Street
Concord, MA 01742
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