Wondering Conversations: Priority Projects

In February and March of 2017, we held a series of Wondering Conversations, as well as an online survey, to gather input from the congregation as part of our parish discernment regarding a possible capital campaign. One of the questions we asked was, “What one project idea – of the many possibilities – jumps out at you as really necessary or exciting? Why does it matter?”Here is a report on what we heard from the congregation.

Summary Chart - Wondering Question 3
This chart summarizes how many times certain ideas were mentioned in the Wondering Conversation data.

Overall:  Responses to this question reflected our overall values:  The need to be welcoming to ALL (handicapped, transgender, elderly, children), and our love for our community and the time we spend together.  The overwhelming theme of this data was a need for SPACE, with functional and capacious indoor space, storage space, and accessible space being the top three issues.  Space, broadly defined, was mentioned 45 times! Many acknowledged that the space we have now needs to be repurposed or expanded. We have a good problem: our parish is growing quickly, and we need a building to fit present and future growth.

Functionality of our spaces:  The main floor of the church building has an awkward lay out, needs more space, and needs to be updated. Those working in real estate know that opinions are formed within 20 seconds of walking in.  Upon entry, people see the cramped gathering space, outdated decorations, torn chairs and unwelcoming gray cement floor of our nave, and may assume that the visible disrepair extends to deeper issues.

The constraints of the Gathering Area were mentioned more often than any other single issue, with people expressing concern that it’s too small, that there are bottlenecks that inhibit use of the space, and that it would be really nice to be able to sit together. The flow of people is problematic, with bottlenecks into both the kitchen and bathrooms, and the meeting room. The Gathering Area is small enough to constrain movement and conversation – one person commented, “If you can’t get to that new person across the room, you can’t welcome them”.  Changing the layout of our current space so that it flows better is key.  The biggest dream that people mentioned was for a more open gathering space, to accommodate all the times we come together to share food and fellowship – from after church to formal occasions like weddings and funerals. Right now, we have to set up occasional meals on tables in the back of the nave, and sometimes spread tables across three rooms, which is not conducive to mingling.  Room for tables/seated conversation as a regular feature would be wonderful too.

The downstairs space is seen as unwelcoming and cramped, and it is not accessible. Making this area more welcoming, and expanding and/or reorganizing it to meet our needs, are important goals. Indoor storage was a common issue mentioned as well – whether for art and project supplies, food and outreach donations, or vestment storage.

Accessibility: Accessibility issues – simply being able to get where you’re going easily and safely, and be comfortable while you’re there, regardless of mobility or other physical challenges –  were mentioned 41 times, overall. Some particular areas of concern are the front door, choir loft, parking, the lower level of the church, the bathrooms, and the grounds. We say we are welcoming; we want to be welcoming to ALL.

The main floor bathrooms – a particular focus of accessibility concerns – were mentioned ten times.  Someone mentioned that they avoided going to the bathroom at church.  The survey reflected a desire for gender neutral bathrooms, bathrooms that can accommodate a wheelchair or walker, and a changing table in the men’s room.

Kitchen:  The kitchen was a hot topic that came up in most conversations – nearly always with the comment that it’s too small (a “maximum two-butt kitchen”) and/or doesn’t serve our needs well. It does not encourage people to volunteer if they feel like they are in the way.  Better storage is also needed in the kitchen.

The Nave :  The nave (sanctuary or worship space) was also mentioned many times. The biggest topics in the nave (sanctuary or worship space) were the floors, the chairs, and a desire for kneelers of some sort. The choir loft was mentioned a few times as well, because the stairway is a challenge and the railing seems unsafe.

Parish center: The Parish Center is the building at the end of the parking lot, currently rented to another church, Foundry414. Given our need for space, many people wondered whether we should explore using this facility ourselves, with its additional meeting spaces and large open room. We would need to establish whether any of our current space needs could be reasonably accommodated there. If it were to be in regular use by our congregation, a covered walkway would improve access. One common idea was to make this building available for our youth group, as part of a general desire to make sure that group has what it needs to continue to thrive.

Grounds:  The inside of the church received the most attention – perhaps because the outdoors is already lovely, and we feel we have more work to do indoors! Our biggest asset is the 7 acres the church sits on.  Various hopes or ideas about the grounds were mentioned over 20 times times – mostly in the context of hopes and ideas about being more hands-on in both care for, and use of, the grounds. Ideas ranged from spiritual nurture, to growing food, to play! The main thing people mentioned was a desire to connect with the grounds more and use their potential. More accessible outdoor storage, for things like kids’ toys and garden tools, was mentioned several times as a need. Outdoor pathways would increase accessibility on the grounds, including to the labyrinth.

Outreach: The overwhelming consensus was to continue and expand our commitment to outreach. There were four mentions of investing in affordable housing – either creating apartments for housing the homeless on our grounds, or raising funds to help support housing initiatives in our community.

Conclusion:  We as a parish reflect our desire to be inclusive, welcoming, and helpful towards our entire community.  Some of the suggestions mentioned here reflect a need to repurpose spaces we already have, and use them better. Some of the hopes and concerns named here could be addressed by resources or programs already in place but that not everyone may be aware of. However, there are many situations where more is needed, and some remodeling is crucial to help make better use of what we have, as a matter of respect for God’s house, God’s people, and the gifts and mission that God has given us.

What was left off of this chart?  The following topics received only one or two mentions each: A columbarium; expand the parking lot; better vesting area; handicap accessible front door; security system with cameras; pipe organ; a van for youth group outings and to pick people up for church; ceiling fans in the nave; better signage; adjust the skylights to address heat/brightness in summer; better lighting throughout; use of a projector in worship; address ice hazards out front; “cry room” for children during worship; indoor labyrinth.

Data analysis by Michelle Windle with additions from Dick Bloomenkranz; edited by Miranda Hassett.

6205 University Ave., Madison WI