The Providence Journal reports today in “Age and Grace” that Grace Episcopal Church, in downtown Providence, plans as part of its restoration to add a new glass addition. This festered within me all day, and so I went downtown to take some pictures to help me assess where it would be added to the church, designed in the Gothic style by the ecclesiastical architect Richard Upjohn, of New York, and opened in 1848. The Journal story, by Patrick Anderson, reads:
Repair work on the building exterior is already under way, and church leaders are finishing plans to extend a new parish hall off the west side of the building. The new hall would replace the church’s current basement gathering space with a glass-enclosed, wheelchair-accessible, single-story structure fronted by a new sanctuary garden.
It seems as if the glass addition would take up at least part of the church’s current parking lot, seen from Westminster Street through a wrought-iron fence. The firm hired for the job is Centerbrook Architects, of Centerbrook, Conn., which designed the elegant restoration and addition to Ocean House in Watch Hill. But a visit to its website reveals that beauty is not the firm’s only product.
A glass addition would almost certainly represent a fall from grace for Grace Church. Even if it were as modest as the glass addition behind Round Top, the Congregational church nearby on Weybosset, it would be as much a spiritual as an aesthetic betrayal of its people, its neighborhood and its mission. Churches are not normally expected to stick their thumb in the eye of their community.
While my family and I were living downtown just a couple blocks from this church, I used to take my little boy Billy, then age 1 or 2, to services there, not to inculcate him early with lofty thoughts but to try to imbue him with a taste for beauty. (You can’t start too early!) I cannot forget its lovely services. The congregation was so nice to Billy and me.
We moved out of downtown with the arrival at Grace of the Rev. Jonathan Huyck. Hard to believe now, but to take the job in Providence he left a congregation in Paris. I have a call in to him, and maybe he will assure me that my skepticism has jumped the gun. A glass parish hall needn’t be an abomination. It could pick up rather than rejecting, as usual, the church’s architecture. But these days that is rare. I will report what he says.