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Move the Furniture

The church I attend celebrated its fortieth anniversary a couple of years ago. The pulpit furniture—lectern, baptismal font, and Lord’s Supper table—had been there from the beginning. During those forty years, the building’s interior had been updated but the furniture had not. It was time for something new.

Uncharacteristically, when I was asked to get involved, I hesitated. I knew this would be a tough assignment. After all, the original furniture had been constructed by a current member of the church. The rest of us too had an emotional attachment to these pieces. Even though they were as beat-up and worn as an old country kitchen table, to our congregation they represented a thousand happy and meaningful moments.

I hesitated, that is, until I heard that Plexiglas was being considered. Plastic might fit very well in some churches, but not ours. So I agreed to give it a shot.

What We Learned

After two-and-a half years of work and hand-wringing, the design and final execution of the new furniture is complete and our congregation is enjoying the new pulpit furniture (the new communion ware, however, still isn’t anywhere near finished).

The style of the new pieces fits well with the other architectural details of the church, and their coloration—black granite tops and dark-stained wood—provides enough contrast to set them apart from the other elements. The open design of the pieces accomplished the sense of transparency that Plexiglas would have. My favorite part, though, is the glass bowl of the font. It allows for the water to be visible to all, including the smallest child. The water glitters brightly during use.

Here’s what we learned en route about the process of designing and commissioning new pulpit furniture:

  • Although you’ll have to deal with some unusual suggestions, showing the designs to lots of people is an important step in helping the congregation get used to the idea of something new.
  • Donors’ opinions do count, but not at the exclusion of other people’s ideas.
  • The money part of larger projects like this is always tricky—especially when some of the work will be donated. Establish a budget early on and unapologetically communicate the real cost to the congregation. Only then adjust for gifts-in-kind. It’s important to all involved to understand what is required.
  • Trust the ideas and suggestions of the people who work with the materials. Many of the best ideas came from them.
  • Finding the correct scale is really important. Even a rough cardboard model can be helpful to make sure that you are building large enough. Large spaces are particularly tough to judge.
  • Don’t breathe a word to anyone about what the scheduled completion date might be!

When all was said and done, I wanted to start over. Not because I disliked the final result, but because, as difficult as this project sometimes seemed, there was something oddly satisfying about the work. But that’s a feeling I’m only starting to get used to!

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For additional material from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, click here.