A Time to Build, Part I in a Series

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king (David) said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.” 2 Samuel 7.1-3

(Jesus said )“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’” Luke 14.28-30

The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Genesis 12.1-4a (Sunday’s First Lesson)

As much as I try to do the opposite, I simply can’t preach or write with an economy of words. I just can’t. My original plan was to write an essay laying the vision for a possible capital campaign but I quickly realized it would be too long for the attention and patience of most readers. Therefore I am going to break the essay into smaller portions so they will be easier and more pleasant to digest.

I believe we need to build at St Timothy’s and I believe the time has come. For two years, the Vestry has commissioned a body to explore a possible building and capital campaign, with the primary focus to build upon our existing nave and sanctuary addressing both practical and aesthetic concerns. I’ll introduce those issues in future essays. Before I recount the details of the discussions and process over the past two years, I want to address what might be rising up in your gut and what I know has risen in mine: anxiety.

I’ve placed the above scriptures in this order because it represents the order in which they convict, terrify, and challenge me. The first lesson is of King David’s realization and conviction that he has given more consideration to his own house than the house of the Lord. The second lesson is from one of Jesus’s parables where he warns about following him without first examining what this means. Finally, we have the lesson from Genesis that we will read this Sunday of Abram’s call to follow God to a new place. In my own mind, the call to create for Our Lord a Sanctuary, a Temple, that not only honors his Name and Presence but also draws people from all over and with varying degrees of faith or no faith at all, and brings them to their knees, is the same for us as it was for King David. Then there are the realities of doing this. The practicalities of building the Temple were not secondary concerns. Chapter after chapter in the Old Testament deals with those very details. Counting the cost, as Jesus advises, is a real and present issue. But through it all, we are reminded of the call of Abram, to go where the Lord is leading even if or especially if that destination is of yet unknown. That trust was called righteousness.

Throughout these essays, I’ll mention all three lessons from scripture, but for today, I want to acknowledge the cost before building a “tower.”

I completely understand that any discussion regarding a building campaign, especially one that addresses an existing building and not a new one, naturally brings forth emotions. Some of these emotions are of excitement and enthusiasm and others of anxiety and anger. Change, of any sort, is hard. No argument here. Despite the difficulty, we must remember what Evelyn Waugh wrote in Brideshead Revisted, “Change is the only evidence of life.”

I write “we need to build at St Timothy’s and I believe the time has come” knowing full well that this will bring anxiety to some. I think it’s important to own our anxieties and that in owning them we are able to take responsibility for them and discover from whence they came.

I am anxious about failing. As soon as the current church was completed in 2000, the average attendance dropped every single year for seven years (a total drop of 31%).

I am anxious about conflict. Decisions will be made that will not please everyone. We know that to be a fact of life but it doesn’t soften the blow when we are the ones who do not the like the decision.

I am anxious about raising money. Growing up in proud blue collar family who went through bankruptcy, I do not enjoy asking anyone for money (that is something I will have to get over!).

I’m sure some of you might be anxious at the prospect of a building project. What will change? How much will it cost? How will the church feel? Will it be too catholic? Will it not be catholic enough? Is it a waste? What will be next?

I hear you. I, too, have memories here, including the baptism of two of my children and my nephew. No campaign can take away these faithful memories and no campaign should be a threat to them. Rather, our campaign will seek to bring amplification and not anxiety to what we hold dear. The holiness of beauty will give expression to the beauty of holiness. Our discernment forward will ensure that St Timothy’s is not simply a point in someone’s past, but the promise of pilgrimage for all those who are seeking the good, the true, and the beautiful, for all those seeking the saving love of Our Lord Jesus.

If we amplify adoration, we will not fail.
If we amplify communion, we will move beyond conflict.
If we amplify the transformation of the person, we’ll never have to worry about the purse.

I may be a little anxious, but I am not afraid.

This morning I talked to Tony Hamby in the office. He was telling me stories, which he loves to do and is good at it, about Wilson Carter grading near Drake Hall and other stories of how parishioners built the chapel. For Tony, the building of the chapel was an extraordinarily formative experience for him. I’m sure our forebears had plenty of anxieties of their own when they laid the foundations of this parish. Hearing folks like Tony share these memories some 60 years later made it very plain that owning those anxieties, pushing through them, and having a hand in creating and building this church was absolutely worth it. 

I trust the same will be for us and a new generation will have the joy and privilege of telling stories about building the latest phase in the life of this blessed parish.