When I arrived at the Paulist Novitiate in Oak Ridge, NJ, 31 years ago yesterday, maintaining and repairing buildings had to be among the farthest things from my mind. Obviously, I understood that buildings are essential to carrying out the Church’s mission, and that good stewardship of church property is inevitably part of the job of any priest who is fortunate enough to serve as a pastor of a parish. But, in the same way that a newly married couple starting a family understands that repairing and maintaining their home will be part of their family life but it is hardly their primary purpose or focus, so too I doubt that anyone becomes a priest primarily to take care of property. (Indeed – and this is something for which seminary formation should probably be faulted – there is almost no attention to any such matters at all as part of preparation for ordination).
Now that I am a pastor, however, the replacement of my parish church’s roof, which suffered storm damage in 2011, is one of my major pending projects. So last fall we decided to proceed with its replacement. A separate, but long pending concern has been the need to replace the ceiling under the roof inside the church. This too was discussed for much of last year. The general consensus was that we should replace the inside ceiling as soon as the new roof was in place. Because the replacement of the ceiling will significantly disrupt our use of the church, plans were made to begin and end that work this September to avoid adversely impacting parish activities during the major seasons of the liturgical year.
I had originally hoped the roof work would begin in June, but the delivery of the slate for the church’s roof has taken much longer than I had anticipated, with the result that the roof work has still not begun. Going ahead with the ceiling this September would mean at best doing both jobs simultaneously - or even more problematically completing the ceiling while the roof remained unfinished. So, I have decided to delay the inside ceiling replacement until June 2013.
This means that we will not be moving out of the church and into the parish hall for the month of September, after all. That would have required a major community effort - originally scheduled for Labor Day morning – that now need not be done. Of course, the ceiling work is just being postponed and will still have to be done eventually, and the same community effort will still be required when that time comes!
The Church does not float ethereally through the world. The Word of God became incarnate in the man Jesus, whose life and mission continue in the Church, which ministers to the world through its institutional presence in society. So the care and attention necessary to maintain and preserve our church building is also part of how we prepare ourselves for the Eucharist - for what St. Thomas Aquinas famously called “the sacrament that makes the Church.”