St. Francis of Assisi members right at ‘Home’ in new worship space

Fairfield Glade parish hosts Bishop Stika for blessing of renovated sanctuary and consecration

By Dan McWilliams

St. Francis of Assisi-Fairfield Glade parishioners looked around at their 1991-built worship space and said, “It’s time for a change.”

Bishop Richard F. Stika on May 8 consecrated the new altar, ambo, and tabernacle at St. Francis, part of phase 1 of an ambitious renovation and expansion plan that also includes newly refurbished pews and altar furniture.

Roland Wicker, chairman of the Home Campaign renovation committee at the parish, described the process that culminated in the bishop’s visit.

“We started out with our Home Campaign last April and finished up in June,” he said. “Our Home Campaign really was focused around three areas: the renovation of our church, the addition to our social hall, and the renovation of our office space. From that we developed a committee of 13 members from different entities in the church and the parish, and we determined that we needed to do a complete renovation of our worship and sanctuary spaces.”

That led to meetings with different suppliers.

St. Francis parishioner Habtamu Eshleman, 8, tries on the bishop’s mitre and zucchetto as he holds the bishop’s crosier.

“We had a group from our worship-and-liturgy ladies who were decorator-type experts,” Mr. Wicker said. “We got our colors and went to a few of the flooring places. We visited other churches and came up with a scheme for our parishioners to vote on. We didn’t want to just go ahead and make a decision, as big as this was, so we put together a package. And over a couple of weekends we had our parishioners vote on the colors, the furniture for the altar, different things we wanted to do on statuary.

“With that we pulled together the plan, and then we started to implement it. We sent out bids, received those back from suppliers. Our original pew manufacturer came in and completely took out every pew from the sanctuary, took it back to North Carolina, had it re-stained and re-upholstered. They’re different colors. Everybody seems really pleased with that.”

A nearby church inspired another aspect of the renovation.

“We decided to go, based on a church we had seen in Cookeville, with a flooring scheme with tile, wood, and carpet, which has turned out very nicely for us,” Mr. Wicker said. “[Previously it was] all carpet, which was like 25 years old. It needed to be taken up and replaced.”

The altar furniture was the next focus.

“And then we determined that we would like to completely replace our altar furniture,” Mr. Wicker said. “So we found a company that could build an altar, build an ambo, build a cantor stand and a tabernacle stand—candle stands we had built, and we have a new Advent wreath stand that we’ll use this coming Advent.

“[The bishop and priest’s chairs] are not new, but they are completely refinished and restyled somewhat. The bases are different, but they are darker in stain, and they have new fabric. That was one of the items that we determined that the people liked, was the two different themes with the chairs upon the altar and some of our server chairs and our kneelers and then what was in the sanctuary with the pews.”

St. Francis parishioners had to leave their worship space for eight weeks during Lent and Easter, meeting for Mass in Father Sheehan Hall.

“It really worked out wonderfully,” Mr. Wicker said. “We had enough room for everybody. It was sometimes filled to capacity, but it worked out really well. We did our Stations of the Cross in there. We did our Holy Saturday evening services, and our Easter Sunday services were held in there. This [May 8] is basically the second weekend we’ve been in the church.”

Father Sheehan Hall is the focus of phase 2 of the plans.

“We’re expanding the building; we’re doubling its size,” Mr. Wicker said. “We’re looking at that as an opportunity. We need to go to our finance council again. It all depends on incoming funds from the Home Campaign and what we’ve raised. We had a small building fund prior to the Home Campaign, and we’re going to use some of that. We’re probably a year to a year and a half out on actual construction, but we’ll start doing some pre-work prior to that. We already have an architect’s rendering and a budget estimate for the building.”

The parish-hall expansion is needed, Mr. Wicker said.

Father Albert Sescon, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Fairfield Glade, speaks to his parishioners during Mass on May 8.

“We’re really limited on meeting space, gathering large groups from the parish,” he said. “Typically on certain events we have to limit it to different numbers of people. With expansion we could open it up to the whole parish. Our meeting-room space is limited. We have storage issues. We’re storing different things in the janitor’s room that really shouldn’t be in the janitor’s room just because we’re lacking space for it. [The expansion will add] classroom space, storage space, and meeting rooms.”

Phase 3 of the parish’s plan is renovation of the current office space, Mr. Wicker noted.

“It, too, is dated, needs some painting upgrading, some flooring upgrading, a new heating and ventilating system, and just a general updating,” he said. “We plan on working that into the project, too.”

The phase 1 renovations in the sanctuary and nave were paid for by the Home Campaign, money set aside for the building campaign, and money from a donated home that was sold to benefit the building fund.

“Our budget was $225,000, and we came about $3,000 under that,” Mr. Wicker said.

Mr. Wicker enjoyed seeing the bishop’s visit.

“Sometimes it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, and it probably won’t happen again, that I get to see a bishop come in and dedicate an altar and a tabernacle and an ambo,” he said. “That’s one of the things you don’t get to see very often.”

The new tabernacle at St. Francis fulfills a request Bishop Stika has made of diocesan parishes.

“What I’ve asked all the parishes in the diocese is once again to return the tabernacles to the center of the church, to the place where Jesus is present both actively and passively,” he said.

Bishop Stika added that “I just want to commend you for allowing me to bless this [altar], no longer which is wood but now that it has been consecrated it is now the presence of Jesus Christ in this church. That tabernacle will house the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This ambo will be a place where the Word of God is proclaimed.”

The bishop said he enjoys his trips to the Fairfield Glade parish.

“I always like coming here because it’s a parish filled with great spirit,” he said. “The people, a lot of them are retired, so they have a little bit of extra time, but in terms of parish activities, ongoing formation, Bible study—they’re very involved. And they also have a great charitable outreach here to other parts of the diocese.” ■

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