Past and Present Work in Harmony to Forge a Bright Future for First Presbyterian Church of Dallas
Joshua Taylor, who is Director of Worship and Music at First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, was still beaming in the aftermath of the celebration weekend to reopen their renovated sanctuary when he sat down for this interview.
“So many people came in and you just saw their faces as they walked in to take in this room,” he said. “So many people had the same type of reflection that we were coming home but at the same time, it was a new home.”
The church had celebrated the reopening of their 1912 sanctuary with a series of special events January 26 – 28. The weekend included a dinner to thank everyone who had been involved in the project, a BBQ meal with a concert, a special lecture, and of course, the first opportunity to worship in the newly restored sanctuary.
While the construction itself took just more than a year, the work on the sanctuary actually began in 2013.
“In May 2013, Joe Clifford, who was our senior pastor at the time, asked for a task force to envision what a renovated sanctuary would look like,” Joshua said. “I was the primary staff resource for various committees, such as the building committee, capital campaign committee, and the celebration committee. Basically, I was the staff in the middle of all of it. It’s been a wonderful blessing to be a part of it from the beginning plans to this grand celebration.”
A Grand History
The grand celebration was in keeping with the equally grand history of FPC Dallas. The sanctuary was built in 1912 and the first services were held in March 1913. Around 1940 an air conditioning system was installed and some church windows were removed to make the room airtight.
“Those windows are now back,” Joshua said, “and we restored the dome. The center grill in the dome had been plastered over for the early air conditioning system. In 1955, they renovated the chancel and added walls. In 1987, there was a paint renovation. We brought in a paint conservator for this project and found original paint and restored the sanctuary to the original paint scheme. We found detailed finishes that had been covered up,” he said.
The history of the church goes far beyond the history of the physical building. The life of the church is tied to the story of the City of Dallas.
“There is such a rich history of being an integral part of the Dallas community,” Joshua said. Our tag line is ‘A heart for the city’ and that heart has been lived out in many ways throughout our history. Our church helped to start Children’s Medical Center Dallas in the basement of the 1912 sanctuary building. We started Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services because someone presented a need to care for a child and that became an orphanage that blossomed into PCHS.
“Today it is our work with the homeless through The Stewpot, which also started in the basement of the church, just under the sanctuary, serving meals in the church’s dining room at the time. That has blossomed into the ministry of The Stewpot, which has been going strong for 40 years. The congregation was formed the day after the city was incorporated. The history of the church is linked to the history of Dallas. We’re proud of our downtown location and our continual presence in the life of the city.”
A Church for the Next Century
The church’s presence in the city grew physically over the years, with the addition of an activities building, chapel, parking garage and a welcome center in 2011. The sanctuary, however, had not been touched in 30 years. That began to change in the 21st century.
“The church had undergone a capital campaign to build our welcome center, to link our buildings together and harmonize some of the architecture,” Joshua said. “However, the sanctuary was excluded from that project. We felt the sanctuary needed its own intentional process. We began to envision things like what are the needs of worship in the new century? What do we need to do with this space that will enable us to do new things in worship that prepare us to go out and serve in new ways?”
The task force looked to the church’s history for guidance about the future.
“What we discovered was that if we could go back to a lot of the ways the room was configured in 1912 and 1913, that would serve us well. It kind of transformed into a restoration project instead of just a renovation” Joshua said.
ArchiTexas, an architectural firm just a block away from the church, specializes in historical restoration. Joshua said they helped guide everyone through the process of discovering how the room once looked.
“We have wonderful historical records, including architectural drawings of the room, which helped us dig down into our history,” Joshua said. “Other consultants helped us find out where original windows had been, helped us understand what the original floor was made of. We had such rich conversations. We made choices to balance the historical nature of our church with our hopes for the future.”
A Time of Challenge and Transition
After all the research and planning, the actual renovation and restoration lasted a little more than a year. It seems like a short time span in the grand scheme of things, but being without a sanctuary did present challenges.
“Our last service before renovation was January 15, 2017. We moved back one year and two weeks later, but when you’re worshiping in the gym and are displaced that’s a long time,” Joshua said.
Joshua said the transition was made easier with the generosity of their neighbors at Scottish Rite Cathedral.
“We had to move Christmas and Easter to Scottish Rite Cathedral because our gym was not big enough to hold everyone for big days like that,” he said.
“We had challenges, but the resiliency of our congregation was amazing and the intimacy of worshiping in the gym helped people get reacquainted with one another and meet one another again. It challenged us, but there were wonderful things that came from this time as well.”
Being physically displaced was not the only challenge that tested the congregation. Joshua said there were transitions within the church as well.
“Our congregation is very steadfast and the ministries and life of the congregation were not impacted by construction, but we have also undergone pastoral transitions,” he said. “Joe Clifford left us right after we finished the capital campaign. Since construction began, two associate pastors have retired. Today, we are blessed by wonderful interim leadership with Gareth Icenogle and Rebecca Chancellor Sicks. It has certainly been a year of transition and challenge but the congregation has grown through that together.”
A Bold Future
Now it is time to move forward with the vision that was the catalyst for the sanctuary project. Joshua said while they have restored the sanctuary to its former grandeur, there are contemporary elements that are designed to work in harmony with the historical design. Furnishings can be moved, acoustics complement both music and the spoken word. There is ADA seating, better sightlines, more accessibility for children. Small details will make a big difference during worship.
“I hope that this space will enable us to have different styles of worship and do things in a new way.” Joshua said. “I hope when all of that is combined it will empower and enable a bright future of ministry. Worship is at the heart of all that we do. It’s in worship that we are inspired and called to our outreach ministry and ministry with the least of these. It’s from worship that we accomplish all those other things together as a congregation. It’s our hope that this inspiring space will inspire future action.”
That future action includes the upcoming Stated Presbytery Meeting February 24. Joshua said he hopes attendees will be inspired by their experience.
“I hope they will experience the space as a welcoming space and an inspiring space,” he said. “I hope this space will help them feel closer to God, closer to one another in the time that they spend in worship and in prayer. I also hope that they will take something from that gathering that will enable them to envision something new.”
A renovation that turned into restoration. Something old that turned into something new.
Joshua said he believes that combination of past and present creates harmony that prepares the church for a bright future.
“So much of this project is about the harmonization of the old and new,” he said. “I think that’s what we are called to be as a church. We’re not turning our back on our traditions or our heritage or our identity, but changing times require us to look at it with fresh eyes and to envision a bold new future. I think this construction project has been a part of envisioning a bold future and I hope folks that visit us will see that and can take some of that wherever they go.”