Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New Orleans: Church Restoration

I've mentioned in the past that one of my dreams is to restore an old church building(preferably one with fantastic windows) into a studio. Of course, I've also mentioned that I am a bit of a "realist" and understand that such a project would take a lot of blood, sweat and tears...not to mention a ton of cash and more patience and energy than I could find.

The next best thing? Restoring an old church...that is still a church!

Days 2-4 of our week in New Orleans found us at this beautiful church.
It is 122 years old and truly breathtaking.

It did, however, sustain damage during Katrina. The sanctuary didn't actually flood (to my knowledge) because it is high above ground. However, these large front doors blew open allowing the wind and rain to ruin the wall-to-wall carpeting. Also, a large portion of the steeple fell in and had to be reconstructed.

I'm sorry that it ruined their carpeting, but the original pine floors beneath were stunning!

Our main job was to scrape the paint off of the stained glass windows, tape the glass and put a coat of primer on the wood.

{Proof #1 that I was actually working & not taking pictures all day!}

Um....did I mention that there are over 200 panes in each lower half of the windows? And there were 16 windows in the sanctuary alone??

We also did some painting. Okay, quite a bit of painting.

{Proof #2 that I'm not a slacker}

Standing on your feet all day long in 90-degree weather with 90% humidity while staring at thousands of tiny colored windows and meticulously stripping off century-old paint can be exhausting work. A lot of the time, this fan was our only source of air--that and popping open a window (though we were fortunate to get a little bit of air con during the week).

I'll be honest: it was a little discouraging at times. We really hoped to be out and about, meeting new people.

Once, I took a photojournalism break, walking around the church with my camera, when I came across this Bible lying on the pulpit and opened to this page. You'll notice one of the headers on the left-hand side reads: "Do good to brothers." It was the gentle reminder that I needed. I had to lay aside my own expectations for the trip and focus on the fact that even scraping window panes was helping someone in need.

I had met with the pastor of the church earlier and he was trying his best to get the church ready by July. They had used all of the funds mending the steeple and were now relying on volunteer labor to finish the interior, meaning much of the responsibility fell into his lap. He was a bivocational pastor who was juggling a job, a ministry and (I assume) a family while trying to renovate the church building. That's a lot for one man to take on! This opened Bible reminded me that I may not be a world-changer, but if I can lighten the load of one person (in this case, the pastor), it could definitely change that person's world! I feel like that sums up a lot of what we did in NOLA--lightening people's burdens.

We persevered! And by the time we left the old church, we could actually see progress...and we were able to finish all those windows. Yippee!!!

Yeah, I think we made a pretty good team!


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful experience this must have been! Such a gorgeous church. It looks like even though it had been through some damage, some of its' true beauty was brought out through the restoration process. Love your photos and how you captured this special time...thank you for visiting my blog and for your sweet comment too. I always appreciate new visitors. :o)

Bethany said...

This is awesome. It's so nice to see the now, and know there is still work to be done. You were such a gift to these people!