Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Little faith in do-it-yourselfers

A 16th century fresco inside a Naples, Italy church was damaged last week when someone drilling next door accidentally punched a hole through a wall, perforating the valuable artwork. Pictures show a hole in a stone wall above the shoulder of an image of St. Peter in the Basilica of San Giovanni Maggiore. Fortunately the drill missed St. Peter’s face, but the incredibly valuable artwork has been badly damaged. The perpetrator was an overzealous do-it-yourselfer who lived next door.

The risks of enthusiastic but unknowledgeable renovators knows no bounds.

In one church I served, the oak pews which were over a century old, began to split. A zealous church member, according to the story I was told, said he would fix the splits and fixed they were. With monstrous screws with massive heads. And instead of fixing the splits, the repair made the splits worse and the pews unusable.

I saw one church basement renovation where the floor beams below the sanctuary had been cut out to fit low doorways for halls and classrooms. I would not have wanted to been in that church with a full congregation present.

One of my colleagues was telling me of the acoustic problems they were having in their church. No one could hear without a lot of amplification and speakers. A lot of money had been spent and no one was happy.

“You went to a split chancel, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes, we did. A few years ago we moved the furniture around and made a flat performance floor. The central pulpit was taken out and the pulpit and lectern were placed on each side of the platform.”

“I hate to say it,” I said, “But knowing the original design of your church, I think you may have ruined the acoustics. Those old churches were well designed for the human voice. You could speak for hours without using a microphone and everyone could hear you.”

Church renovations are tricky. Changing sanctuary design to conform with a modern style of worship is very risky business. Make a mistake and you could end up with a very expensive mess than makes no one happy. You could even punch a hole in a valuable piece of art. But then you could have the result of an amateur artist who recently tried to repair an early 20th century fresco of Jesus in a church in Spain. It failed. Horribly. Her unskilled attempt went viral on the internet and was mocked as a bad restoration. But since then 150,000 tourists have flocked to the town to see the image, causing a tourist boom. New restaurants opened and local museums had the largest number of visits in years. Sow’s ear meet silk purse.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.