Karen Adams, Special to The Catholic Virginian

Next year, when parishioners look up into the new, light-filled clerestory high above the sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church, Roanoke, they will know that they, too, are up there in spirit as parish members were invited after each Mass the weekend of Aug. 19 and 20 to write their names on two 80-foot steel trusses before the supports were lifted to the roof the following week.

The signing was a way to build a sense of excitement and joy, especially during a time of inconvenience, when people are walking under scaffolding.

The signed trusses are part of the church’s new clerestory — roof, high walls, and windows — seen in the upper left of the building. (Photos/Karen Adams)

“We wanted to get people involved, to make a lasting mark on it, and to help them remember we are building this together,” said Fr. Joe Lehman, pastor of OLN.

The church is undergoing a $3 million renovation that began in June. It will include an energy-efficient HVAC system, easier handicapped access, a clearer view of the altar, better lighting, and a porte cochere – a covered, drive-through entry – near the front door. The clerestory, an additional high section of wall and roof with new windows, will bring in natural light. Construction is scheduled for completion early next year.

While the renovation committee sought and received input from the entire parish several years in advance, the signing of the trusses allowed everyone to have a “hands-on” experience in the construction.

“Those 80-foot trusses are part of a spectacular engineering feat,” said Tim Garrison, chairman of the committee. “And all those people who signed can point up at the roof and say, ‘My name is up there.’ It gives us a permanent relationship with our church.”

By the end of the weekend, more than a thousand colorful signatures covered the trusses, which were stretched out on a flatbed trailer in the parking lot. Parents held up toddlers and helped older children climb a wooden staircase to get closer. Grandparents signed the names of entire families. Longtime and new parishioners stood side by side to sign.

Besides writing their own names, some people wrote in memory of loved ones. Others expressed thanks for blessings in their lives. Many inscribed prayers for the future. Quite a few took photos of the event and sent them to friends and family members.

“We are building on a foundation of living stones,” Fr. Lehman said, referring to the church’s theme for its 100th anniversary in 2014. The image of “living stones” reflects OLN’s changing appearance and its work in the community, all part of a long tradition of people who have joined to praise God and meet others’ needs throughout the decades.

In the years ahead, when the next renovation comes along, parishioners will see the trusses and what’s written on them, Fr. Lehman said. The names will be a reminder to those people that they are also “standing on the shoulders” of those who came before them.

“When it’s finished, it will feel ethereal — and it will also remind us that our names are enclosed in it,” Fr. Lehman added. “All of us are lifted up.”