All Saints-by-the-Sea parish celebrates end of sanctuary renovation
No fireworks were needed for the joyous celebration when parishioners gathered July 4 at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito.
It was the first time they were able to worship inside the charming 121-year-old church since it closed down in January 2019 for the Sanctuary Preservation and Readiness Project.
The morning was filled with applause, laughter and wide smiles. Emotions were high, with tears by many at seeing their beloved sacred space finally intact and ready for in-person worship.
The day also celebrated independence — from construction workers spending month after month rebuilding and enhancing the sanctuary, which was built in 1900.
“We call the church building a sanctuary, which provides a place of refuge, safety, support and strengthening. The church, of course, is the people, not the building,” said the Rev. Aimée Eyer-Delevett, the rector.
“Over the years, the foundation settled away from the building so that it was no longer resting on its foundation. It was shored up by 2x4s and other fixes where the structure made contact with the foundation. In other words, it was held up by grace and prayers. The floor was slanted, the roof was sagging, and the walls were out of alignment,” she said.
After an extensive survey of the campus properties by the church’s Building and Ground Committee and consultation with a structural engineer, it was decided that a massive renovation was necessary.
“This included rebuilding and seismically strengthening the bell tower and sanctuary, adding a new foundation under half of the sanctuary, steel moment frames throughout the interior and improving the lighting and acoustics,” Rev. Eyer-Delevett told the News-Press.
Once the church leadership determined the scale of the seismic work needed, they went to the parish to determine what other needs and wants the congregation had for the building.
“Everyone knew the pipe organ was failing, so replacing the pipe organ was a given. People watched fellow parishioners and loved ones struggle to climb six steps to come to the altar for communion. There was a deep desire to ensure that the communion rail was accessible to all people,” said Rev. Eyer-Delevett. “Finally, the congregation had long desired to have a columbarium where they could lay their loved ones’ ashes to rest. They had endeavored to create a columbarium for two decades but faced neighborhood opposition.
“When I arrived at All Saints, we reached out to the neighbors to hear their concerns, share the reasons we wanted a columbarium on campus and come to a common understanding. We were able to do so by ensuring neighbors that the columbarium would be fully contained within the sanctuary building, open only during business hours and available only to parishioners for interment.”
An important aspect of the renovation was the refurbishing of the historical stained glass windows. Each was carefully removed, cleaned or restored and stored by Judson Studios, who originally built the windows throughout the years.
“We have windows that tell the story of Moses who led the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt to freedom; we have windows in honor of King David, Israel’s great king, and the great prophets of Israel. We have windows that tell the stories of Jesus’s birth, ministry, death and resurrection. And we have many windows that depict the lives of the saints of the church,” said Rev. Eyer-Delevett.
“When the majority of the population was illiterate, stained glass was used to instruct the faithful in the stories of scripture. I find them still useful in this way when ministering among preschool and early elementary children.”
More than 250 people were involved in making the project a reality. They served as communication experts, fundraisers, advisors, overseers of construction and design consultants; hosted informational sessions and celebrations; led tours before construction started to help people understand the scope and desperate need for the seismic retrofitting, and after construction shared with the congregation the fruits of their collective labor.
“The total project cost was approximately $11.6 million, including a substantial amount to supplement the church’s investments to pay for maintenance of our new sanctuary,” said Rev. Eyer-Delevett. “Funds were raised from nearly every parish family as well as friends of All Saints. No debt was incurred for this project.”
She pointed out that All Saints has served as a sanctuary for people throughout the years and throughout their lives.
“We serve our wider community from early childhood through our Parish School and in life’s later years through our sponsorship of the Friendship Center, a daycare center for the elderly. All Saints has a rich history of hosting and supporting recovery groups on our campus.
“On Jan. 9, 2018, All Saints-by-the-Sea also became a sanctuary for people fleeing the debris flow, seeking refuge, safety and life-saving assistance. Our campus became a ‘pop-up’ emergency shelter, emergency medical facility and ultimately an evacuation point when the National Guard arrived to take people to safety.
“All Saints-by-the-Sea is also involved in outreach efforts throughout our community and beyond, from the founding and ongoing support of Transition House, a partnership with Cleveland Elementary School, a school we built in partnership with the Episcopal Church in Haiti, ongoing support for economic development projects in developing countries, and so much more.”
The rector of All Saints since 2014, Rev. Eyer-Delevett graduated from Wellesley College in 1995, Candler School of Theology at Emory University with a master of divinity in 2001 and General Theological Seminary with a master of sacred theology in 2004. She served as the rector of the Church of the Holy Nativity in Clarendon Hills, a Chicago suburb, for eight years.
“This project is significant to me personally because it reminds me of what a group of people can do when we join together in a common purpose, guided by common values and empowered by the grace and strength of God. I am astounded that a community with an average Sunday attendance of 250 people could raise the significant funds needed and provide the organizational and oversight support to successfully achieve this goal.”