Karen Adams, Special to The Catholic Virginian
With a bright San Damiano cross hanging overhead, Bishop Barry C. Knestout dedicated the altar of the newly renovated Our Lady of Nazareth Church, Roanoke, on Sunday, June 17. The dedication included the traditional sprinkling of holy water, pouring of chrism (sacred oil) and burning of incense over the new wooden altar.
“Gathered around this one altar, we draw nearer to Christ, the living stone, in whom we become God’s holy temple,” Bishop Knestout said. “We are all called to be dwelling places of the Holy Spirit.”
The Mass for the Dedication of an Altar, the first one the bishop has celebrated in the Diocese of Richmond, is an ancient ceremony full of symbolism.
“With the water, the oil and the incense, we are reminded that there’s mystery here,” Msgr. Joe Lehman, pastor of Our Lady of Nazareth, said afterward. “It’s all bigger than us.”
Although the church retained its architectural footprint, foundation and walls, it looks vastly different. Besides the new walnut altar and altar furniture, the nave has a higher roof, a clerestory with large windows, light-colored tile, carpet and walls, an immersion baptismal font, new pews and kneelers and the San Damiano cross, which once stood along a side wall, hanging above the altar.
It also has a new heating and cooling system, improved sound and lots of natural light.
In addition, a covered, drop-off area, wheelchair-accessible walkway and new wooden doors lead into a redesigned narthex, with large windows that look out into a garden. A reconciliation room and sacristy were also built.
The project cost about $3 million, with funds raised through the Living Our Mission program and other donations. It began in May 2017 and was completed during Holy Week this year. The first Mass in the new sanctuary was cele- brated March 29, Holy Thursday. The project was designed by Hughes and Associates of Roanoke and built by R.L. Price Construction of Salem.
Tim Garrison, chair of the renovation committee, said serious discussions about improving the church, built in 1978, began in 2013 as the parish’s 100th anniversary was approaching the next year. The sanctuary was dim, with dark carpet and upholstery and little natural light, which made it difficult for some people to see well.
The heating and cooling system was loud and uneven, creating areas that were either too hot or too cold. And the sound system was irregular, making it hard to hear in some spots.
“Our purpose was to enhance the worship experience,” Garrison said. “If I can’t read the hymnal because it’s too dark, or I have to move around because I’m too hot or too cold, or I can’t hear, how can I participate? That’s not a good experience.”
For a church that serves about 1,400 families at four Masses per weekend, addressing these needs was essential. The committee first considered fixing one issue at a time, but decided on a renovation instead, to do it in a cost-effective way all at once instead of over several years. They surveyed parishioners and parish ministries to learn what was needed.
“It is the people of God who built this church,” said Msgr. Lehman, praising the cooperative spirit of the planners and the entire parish. “It was special to see various people who worked so hard on the committee participate in the Mass.”
But committee members said it was largely Msgr. Lehman’s leadership during a challenging time that made it all work so well.
“Father Joe really was a wonderful shepherd to us and made sure everyone was informed and involved,” Garrison noted.
Parishioners also participated by signing two large trusses that were later lifted into the clerestory during construction.
“Now, when you walk in there and see that height and those windows, you really feel like you’ve gone into the light,” Garrison said.
Bishop Knestout, who holds a degree in architecture, praised the bright “basilica style” sanctuary. He had visited the church during the renovation but had not yet seen it finished.
Deacon Paul Mahefky, director of real estate for the Diocese of Richmond, said the well-designed renovation is both beautiful and functional, as a church should be. “When you have a building and liturgy and people cooperating in this way, you can’t wait to go back,” he said.
After Mass, a reception followed in the fellowship hall, which had served as the temporary sanctuary during the renovation.
“The dedication says we are claiming this space for Christ, for all time,” Msgr. Lehman said. “This is our home, and this is his home.”