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Building process balances with parish's overall ministry

As Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church progresses with phase two of a three-phase building program, its pastor, the Rev. Jim Kuhns, reminds parishioners of the importance of balancing building construction with the parish’s overall ministry.

He hopes rebuilding the upper floor of the two-story parish hall will create a sanctuary that will be “a living reminder of the faith of the believers who build it.”

Part of the balance is to recognize and express the varying understandings of a church’s purpose.

Our Lady of Fatima
Our Lady of Fatima under construction.

For some, he said, it’s about experiencing “the penetrating presence of the Almighty.”  Others emphasize gathering “with sisters and brothers in faith to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus in song and sacramental symbol.”  For still others, a church is “a monument in stone, glass and wood to a tradition stretching from ancient days to the present,” Father Jim observed.  “It is also the home of the family of Jesus Christ, the home of God’s people.”

More is at stake than a building, which is the surface of church life, he said.

“We need to build ourselves anew as well,” he explained.  “We are the church, and this building will be our home, the altar will be our family table and the baptismal pool our place of new birth.  Not to live the will of God proclaimed by altar, pool and shrines means that all we are doing is interior decorating.

“Building a new church makes a claim on us to become what this building says we are—a people who know that God’s reign is upon us.  We are to become the living stones God means us to be,” he said.

Part of that process comes with the “people part” of a building project, the decision-making as a community of faith. 

More than 100 parishioners volunteered to be on the building committee.
“We used the design process as an educational tool for the congregation,” Father Jim said.

The design came out of a facilities assessment in 1997 and included making the building accessible.  The lower level, a daylight basement, has been the fellowship hall.  The upper level, which was to have become a gym, has been used for worship services.   The parish decided to tear down the upper floor and preserve the basement as the parish hall.  The teardown began March 1 and by December they expect to worship in the new building.
Parishioners hope the building will communicate welcome.  

There will be a new altar and stained glass, but much of the old art will also be incorporated—the crucifix, candle holders, Stations of the Cross and a Madonna and Child.

“The building must embody the various meanings of what we do in this space—celebrating the dying and rising of Jesus, the baptism of children and adults, the Sunday Mass, weddings, funerals and reconciliation—touching God together and being touched by God,” Father Jim said.

A church is where memories and moments of grace are respected, loved and increased.  A church must protect our communication with the Lord, and feel holy, both inside and out.  It must also embrace our celebration, conversation and common faith, feeling familiar—as in family—as well as holy,” he continued.

The building committee volunteers divided the work into sections—exterior, worship space, sacramental space, altar area, hospitality area, gathering spaces and restrooms.

Each joined a sub-committee to address one issue, so people have gained competence in particular areas.  Each group sends a representative to the Design Task Force responsible for the overall plan.

Each team read the same book on contemporary church and meaning, visited various church sites and recorded likes, dislikes and rationales.

Eighty of the original volunteers continued with the process and helped prepare 40 pages for the architect.  Most of the suggestions on design have been incorporated.

Thus, parishioners have learned to work together as a family and community of faith and as a team, respecting each other’s gifts.

Father Jim personally finds it’s easy to be swallowed up by the building and lose sight of other ministries.  He has spent two hours a day on-site, making him less available for one-to-one ministry as a priest. 

He has encouraged the congregation to keep up with their mission involvements—preparing and serving Crosswalk meals; delivering Meals on Wheels; carrying on the parish’s Companions in Care to the sick, homebound and widowed; encouraging junior and senior high youth to be involved in outreach through yard care and the annual mission to build houses and churches in Mexico; continuing the neighborhood outreach ministry to feed, clothe, shelter and provide medicines in emergencies; partnering with Beautiful Savior Lutheran to take their turns with the Interfaith Hospitality Network, and building, supporting and visiting schools in the Guatemalan highlands.

Along with that, the parish continues its commitments to educate “from womb to tomb,” to offer sacramental ministry, to visit people in nursing homes and to do spiritual and pastoral care for the 700 families in the parish. 

In addition, Our Lady of Fatima provides space and education for 170 of the 400 All Saints School students—preschoolers and fifth to eighth graders—in a school on its site. St. Peter’s has classrooms for the others in this two-church campus.

Phase one of the building plan was to redo the heating and ventilation systems in 2001.  Phase three is to replace wiring, plumbing and windows for the school.

“The building sums up our ministry, so we must continue to be engaged in ministry among ourselves and to the community and world. Otherwise, the building would be a meaningless shell,” Father Jim said.

For information, call 747-7213.

By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - Copyright © September 2004