Say ‘Baptist Church’ to Reverend Dan Schumacher and ‘simple, square white building’ would come to mind – until he arrived in Colorado Springs seven years ago to become senior pastor of America’s historic First Baptist Church .
The grand red-brick building opened in 1890 on Kiowa and Weber streets, where Victorian Revival and Romanesque architecture, complete with dramatic arched windows and doorways, turrets and a 110-foot steeple, seem as glorious as any sacred religious work of art.
But the old adage about old buildings is often correct, says Schumacher.
“The blessing is that there is no mortgage,” he says. “The curse is you have so much maintenance, it’s like having a mortgage.”
Last month, the Air Force Academy announced that the discovery of asbestos would force the Cadet Chapel — Colorado’s most-visited man-made tourist attraction and an iconic campus structure north of Colorado Springs — to remain closed for renovations. massive until early 2027. .
That’s more than three years longer than planned for what’s called the nation’s most complex modernist preservation project, which began in 2019.
The mitigation works will add $60 million to the original estimate of $158 million, officials said.
Three pastors involved in renovations to the downtown churches they lead, First Baptist, First Presbyterian and St. Mary’s Cathedral, weren’t surprised to hear the news.
The churches are among eight congregations to which city founder General William Jackson Palmer granted land in 1872 to encourage them to establish permanent places of worship in his fledgling city. First Baptist is the only one of the eight that still occupies the original given plot.
“The thing about old buildings is you never know what you’re going to find,” Schumacher said, pointing to where hidden doors on wheels are tucked into the walls of his church, which, years ago, was closing the back half of the 300-seat sanctuary for Sunday School.
Schumacher became a quick study after a renovation of the majestic First Baptist stained glass windows, which had warped under years of fluctuating temperatures and needed expert rehabilitation.
Hidden doors will need to be considered as First Baptist, which has around 115 in-person worshipers, tackles its next project: an audio and visual system overhaul this summer to mark the 150th anniversary of its founding.
“COVID has forced us to move forward,” Schumacher said, acknowledging that the trend toward top-notch virtual church services is behind the $100,000 project.
Although the shrine was designed to naturally amplify the human voice, video and audio for online live streaming would benefit from technological changes to bring acoustics into the 21st century, the pastor said.
“The audio system has been combined, and we need to switch from analog to digital, which will improve both the live and online experience,” he said.
In addition to bridging the old and the new, refreshing a church sanctuary also becomes a dance between the physical and spiritual worlds, local pastors say.
“You try to preserve a certain aesthetic and the things that make us feel theologically grounded while trying to modernize,” Schumacher said.
Intentional early design elements of First Baptist – the cross-shaped interior worship space, vaulted ceilings meant to draw attention skyward, and masons placing all but one brick horizontally in the arched main entrance, the vertical brick carrying the message that only God builds perfect arches – had significance for ancestors that continues to be important today, he said.
But difficulties abound when upgrading older churches. To install new audio, First Baptist leaders figure out how to run an elevator through the immovable brick entrance to remove and replace a cluster of speakers hanging from the high ceiling.
First Presbyterian Church
A block away, First Presbyterian Church at Bijou and Weber streets faced similar challenges during its first major renovation since April 1959.
Contemporating the sanctuary has been a combination of honoring the past with an eye to the future, said the Reverend Timothy McConnell, senior pastor.
“Each square inch has its own share of reverence and sacredness,” he said. “It’s full of memories of our congregation that have their own value, and we want to honor those memories as we move forward into our next chapter of ministry.”
An old Gothic stone church was razed to the site in 1958 and the current building opened in 1959. Several additions have also been completed.
Work on the sanctuary and narthex began last August, and improvements began over Easter, with crews putting the finishing touches now.
The hardest part was keeping construction at a steady pace while continuing to use the sanctuary for worship services, McConnell said.
Massive scaffolding that rose to the ceiling sat front and center of the altar, while an advanced sound system and new LED lighting came in, and everything got a fresh coat of paint.
“We have eight chandeliers that repelled 300 degrees of heat,” McConnell said, anticipating energy savings from the switchover.
Shrine worship leader Jamal Sarikoki, who joined the team in November, spent several days wearing headphones while practicing on the organ.
“Logistical challenges” during services forced the 120-member choir to split up to perform around the scaffolding, he said.
The adjustments are now a fond memory, Sarikoki said.
The pews, which seat 750 people, had to be numbered, removed and replaced in order, to accommodate the curvature of the floor seating pattern, after carpenters turned the light stain into a dark stain, a McConnell said. For weeks, parishioners sat on folding chairs during services.
The old red cushions have been replaced with new beige seats to complement the interior brick walls, which are now off-white instead of pinkish-red. The cream-colored carpet also matches the design scheme.
A smaller portion of the floor is carpeted and the more exposed wood in the chancel provides better acoustics for the chancel, said Sarikoki, who introduced a different style of music to the congregation — a mix of gospel and classic Christian songs. .
“It makes a room livelier,” he said of the new sound system. “And our choir and orchestras don’t depend so much on miking.”
The altar staircase, the worship tables and chairs, the baptismal font and the large communion table with elaborate woodwork have also been redone, as well as the narthex where the faithful enter and leave.
No structural changes have been made, but the interior has a lighter, airier look and feel, McConnell said, with a color scheme that makes the stained glass windows more visible.
The upgrades worth nearly $2 million this year mark the 150th anniversary of the church’s founding and celebrate the great return to worship following the coronavirus pandemic, McConnell said.
In-person attendance is about 80% of pre-COVID, he said, at 1,400 on any given Sunday, with another 500 to 700 online.
The church has been broadcasting live in one form or another since 2010, leaders said, but new high-definition cameras are improving the experience.
“We grew up with the city and lifted it up,” McConnell said. “We are a five generation church and we wanted to renovate our worship space to prepare the church for the next generation.”
McConnell said many members told him that despite the changes, it still felt like their church.
St. Mary’s Cathedral
The majestic St. Mary’s Cathedral, whose golden spiers define the downtown skyline, is completing a $600,000 renovation of its sanctuary.
The project included reorganizing the entire altar: raising the floor, reducing the size to add more seats, and expanding widthwise by building two new doors on each side. The doors provide entrances and exits to the chancel as well as a decorative element that matches the ornate filigree of the altar.
The original tabernacle where the hosts are stored has also been rebuilt.
Shortening the altar area by about 12 feet allowed the church to create seating for an additional 180 people, bringing the total seating capacity to 550, said the Reverend David Price, rector of the cathedral of the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs.
The floor has been re-stained, the marble cleaned, and the paint around the altar is now white, instead of yellow, to match the stone sourced from Marble, Colorado. It’s the same marble that was used to build the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Price noted.
The project started in mid-August and was delayed for four months, waiting for white oak lumber to complete the new floor pattern, he said.
The altar was removed and the space was temporarily closed off while the painting and creation of the new doors was underway.
The project began when Price noticed last year that the steps of the old altar were cracking. The shrine underwent major renovations 20 years ago, but soon after, the Catholic Church changed its policy on the arrangement of altars.
The renovation did not meet new design standards,” Price said.
The choices were to fix the cracks in the stairs or upgrade the sanctuary to match Vatican specifications.
Part of the problem was that the 2002 documents called for the priest, pulpit, and altar to all be together, in the same area.
In the old configuration, the altar of St. Mary was centered, with the pulpit on one side, the bishop’s chair on the other side, and the priest seated on the lower level.
The altar has now been restored to its original configuration, as it was when the sanctuary was built in the late 1890s, Price said.
“Most people just had that exclamation of amazement at how beautiful it was,” the priest said.
With hundreds of new apartments being built downtown, First Baptist’s Schumacher said, for the first time in history, places of worship in the heart of the city are becoming residential churches.
Schumacher and other historic church pastors want to be prepared to attract potential new members to their flocks.
“You have to be prepared to make some adjustments and adaptations,” he said. “When we brought up this AV renovation, it was a unanimous vote to go ahead, knowing it would be a big expense, but knowing we needed it.”
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