The mailbox has been overflowing with good stuff lately. The latest gem comes from Sara Da Silva and concerns the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, the former St. Stephen. I've applauded the parish's passion but not their architectural stewardship. So severe were the interior renovations (or desecrations, if you prefer) that I've criticized them at every opportunity.
Finally, someone provides a little insight. From Ms. Da Silva:
Hello there, I came across your site today about the Universal Church building Broad and Butler. (very nice by the way)
I enjoyed reading your critics.
I have been a member in the Church all my life therefore, I know the reason behind why they did what they did with the building.
I live in NYC but I had a chance to visit the Philly church a few years back when it was in it original state it was beautiful I must agree with you. However, most of the member that visit the church are from Latin decent and they are mostly devoted Catholics. Therefore, they did not want whom ever visit the church to think that they are just another Catholic church the Universal Church is Pentecostal and their theory of preaching the gospel differs from the Catholics. They wanted to divert from the medieval spectrum the building brought. Since the inside was pretty dark before, and the light bill too keep that building well lighten was far too high. Since we have services 4 times a day, and we are open 7 days week.
Another reason, is that the building was in a very bad state when The Universal Church bought it, there were many broken pipes, and many parts of the church specially the ceiling was costing the church too much money to maintain, and since it was a high ceiling before the old boiler used to break down constantly during winter in order to keep that gigantic building warm. Therefore, they decided to go with a more efficient and new age structure and we came up with the low ceiling that are very easy and simple to maintain rather than the high ceilings.
We did all of that to the building for our members, because they are the ones that keep the doors of the church open to all who needs help.
I would like to thank you on your critique it was useful and you kept an open mind. I am not defending my church in no way, but since you asked the reason I thought it was a good way to keep informed.
Methinks Ms. Da Silva gives me too much credit for niceness, but she took the time to write a detailed note and compliment us, so it's much appreciated.
As to the substance of her letter:
The energy and heating excuses are just that: excuses. St. Stephen has a lower church (or at least had, at one time), so hold masses down there until the weather improves, then open the windows and move upstairs in warmer and lighter weather. A lot of churches have tried to use this same excuse (most notably Nativity BVM), but it never holds water.
The ecclesiastical reasons, however, do hold some water, and that strikes me as being the real reason for the redesign. A building should suit your pastoral needs, and if it doesn't, then you need to do something about it. We've spent a lot of time assuming that what worked for St. Stephen should work any and all future owners. It didn't occur to us that it might not be the case, and as far as excuses go, this is a pretty good one.
Of course, it's still painful that they had to take their hatchet to a building as timeless as St. Stephen, but I suppose we can't expect the Universal Church to do what the Archdiocese should have done in the first place. And in the end, I now get the church's reasoning. I don't fully accept it, mind you, and it won't change my opinion on the place, but at least I understand some of the method behind the madness.