The history of our buildings at St. Dunstan’s
The history of St. Dunstan’s Church in Madison, WI begins in 1956 when a group of dedicated Episcopalians started to meet weekly at the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant in Shorewood Hills, to plan the creation of a new Christian community on the west side of Madison. With the support of the the Bishop at that time, the Rt. Rev. Donald H.V. Hallock, the group called a priest – Father Robert S. Childs, then living in Michigan – and advertised in the newspapers to gather new members. The name St. Dunstan’s was chosen by a vote of the new congregation, and the first Eucharist was held in the Coca-Cola plant on the Feast of St. Dunstan, May 18, 1957.
The property that became our grounds, complete with the 19th-century farmhouse known as the Rectory, was already owned by the Diocese of Milwaukee. The farmhouse had belonged to the Heim family, as the homestead for a farm that covered much of this part of
Middleton and west Madison 150 years ago. In the spring of 1957, the new congregation began work on a church building – what is
now called the Parish Center, which sits at the end of the parking lot.
The building was built largely by the members of the parish, on what
was probably once the site of a barn. The upstairs consists of one
large room, with lovely wood floors and ceiling, while the ground
floor has three classrooms and a small kitchen. In September of
1958, Father Childs celebrated the first Eucharist in the Parish
Center, and it was consecrated that December.
Within a few years the young congregation was thriving enough to need a larger church building, so the plan for the current church was begun. The groundbreaking was in August of 1963, and the cornerstone was laid in 1964. At that time the nave was a free- standing building. There was a nursery and vesting room downstairs, but most fellowship gatherings, Sunday school, etc., took place in the Parish Center. That arrangement was sustained for three decades – despite the need to walk down the hill and across the parking lot in all sorts of weather!
Early in the 1990s, a substantial gift allowed the congregation to consider building an addition to the church to house offices, fellowship and classroom spaces. The “Growing to Serve” capital campaign within the parish raised close to $300,000, to add to the original gift. The addition was completed and dedicated in 1995. The architectural firm Wenzler Architects designed a building that echoed the dramatic roof lines of the original 1964 nave; it is striking from outside, and feels spacious and light inside. Most of the common-use spaces are on the main floor, a significant advantage for both handicapped accessibility and general usability. It is a beautiful building, and the congregation has come to love it.
However, almost as soon as the building was completed, the congregation began to find that some spaces were inadequate to their needs. The relatively small kitchen and limited Sunday school space were two of the most common complaints – and we are still wrestling with those constraints, twenty years later. For some years, the old Parish Center was used as overflow space for youth group and parish fellowship events. (It also hosted a nursery school and a small Orthodox church, at times.) However, during a season of budget difficulties in the late 2000s, the parish leadership decided to shut down the Parish Center temporarily in order to reduce utility and maintenance costs. That building was refurbished and re-opened in 2012, and is now rented to our neighbor church, Foundry414.
Why Consider a Capital Campaign Now?
The parish discernment process which we are beginning is a process of exploring together what are the most urgent needs and/or exciting possibilities for our buildings and grounds – ranging from necessary repairs and updates, to remodels or expansions to meet the needs of a lively and changing church. We don’t know yet which of those needs and possibilities will become the focus of a capital fundraising campaign, if indeed we go down that road. However, we can point to the issues that have led our parish leaders to consider a capital campaign in this season of St. Dunstan’s life.
On the one hand, some things are simply worn out and need updating. The parking lot needs repaving, not just patching. The chairs and floor in the church are shabby. The kitchen is showing wear, and needs new appliances. The carpeting is stained, worn, and even torn in places. The bell so beautifully mounted above our nave can’t be rung, because its controller is broken. Our small electronic organ literally runs on vacuum tubes. None of these are necessarily huge projects, and they may not be the most exciting parts of the campaign, as it eventually takes shape. But those things that need something more than a routine fix have been piling up towards a critical mass, and they are telling us that it’s time to give our facilities some attention.
On the other hand, there are ways in which the life of our parish – fellowship, formation, and worship – just isn’t served that well by certain aspects of the building as it is. Our classrooms are small and oddly-shaped; to take just one example, our growing Middle High youth group is almost literally bursting at the seams in their tiny room, and there’s no easy way to give them more space. The Gathering Area is a tight fit for our coffee hour, with no room for seated conversation. Lack of storage space means that usable spaces are constantly being encroached on by ad-hoc storage arrangements. Our Altar Guild struggles to work with our tiny, cramped sacristy. Despite our beautiful grounds, we lack an accessible and useful space for outdoor worship.
In terms of the parish community, St. Dunstan’s is healthy and ready for a challenge. Our finances are stable and our leadership is strong and committed. We have both new members and long-time members who care about this church and its mission, and are ready to be part of imagining and investing in its future.
We don’t have a vision yet for how we might address some of the needs and challenges of our buildings, nor a sense of what kinds of projects and changes are within our capacity right now. But this season of discernment is a time to name the issues – and dream together about improvements and possibilities.