Hinsdale church undergoes conversion
Redeemer Lutheran gives its building a makeover to welcome and nourish modern souls
Last updated 11/6/2019 at 4:58pm | View PDF
Versatile, open floor plan. Sleek, fresh bathrooms. Tech-friendly upgrades.
They could be attributes of someone's forever home. Or, in this case, of a community's place of gathering en route to an eternal destination.
Redeemer Lutheran Church held a ribbon-cutting for its $1.4 million renovation project, Renewing Redeemer, Oct. 20. The building footprint hasn't changed, but much of the environment within now projects an airy, contemporary vibe to better care for those who enter.
"Our understanding about space has changed, and our needs have changed," senior pastor Rev. Katie Hines-Shah said. "The way that churches are utilized has changed a lot over time."
When Redeemer's last significant capital makeover was done in 1988, the church was not serving as a PADS shelter for homeless every Saturday May through September or housing meetings for several AA and Al-Anon groups as it is today. And making areas accessible to all was not the priority it has become.
Church members Tom Bothen and Art Gustafson headed up the committee that shepherded the endeavor, beginning with a two-year designing phase with the congregation's architect to fashion the right plan. The pledge campaign to raise the necessary kicked off in January of 2018, and work began of February of this year.
The church took a holistic approach that extended all the way to the sidewalk, where 12-foot arbor vitae projected resistance rather than receptivity.
"You couldn't see our door," Gustafson remarked.
"When it was removed, very few people noticed that it was gone," Bothen quipped.
But it tied into the overarching mission to boost the church's hospitality index, the church leaders said.
"From the beginning the key word was 'welcoming,' " Gustafson said. "But how do you get there and what does it mean?"
Inside the west entrance - now clearly visible from Blaine Street - new flooring and illumination invites one to advance and see the rest.
"The materials were changed, the sight lines were changed, the lighting was changed," Gustafson said. At the top of the steps, Hines-Shah's remodeled office sits to the right and to the left, the church's vintage library area and office were transformed into a comfortable meeting area/coffee corner.
"A lot of what we did with the space is we made private space into public space," Hines-Shah said.
A central run of carpeting leads past a new wall of windows that front the church office and a storage area hidden behind carefully chosen finishes. Ahead, the classic stained glass windows signal that one is entering a more sacred space.
Previously, newcomers had trouble finding their way into the worship space because of impeding corners.
"You would see all these big walls, but where's the sanctuary?" Hines-Shah said. "So we cut corners - literally - and made windows and opened things up."
The curving of a wall at the back of the sanctuary not only helped resolve a pinch point, but replacing the solid surface with windows makes creates a flow of energy.
"There's a lot of subliminal architectural features to make it more welcoming and accessible," Gustafson said.
In the lower level ('basement' is out of fashion), an old stage in the fellowship space was converted into storage for tables, chairs and blankets used for PADS and other group gatherings. And the electrical system also needed a boost.
"Our homeless guests have cellphones. So having only three outlets in the basement was no good," Hines-Shah said.
Overhauling the bathrooms was a major focus, she noted, making them more accessible and also increasing capacity by adding a gender-neutral bathroom on the lower level.
"We had one's men's toilet for all of the PADS guests downstairs, which was not enough," Hines-Shah said.
Accessibility means that congregants with a range of medical challenges need not fear going to church, she related, and gender-neutral means more than available to male or female.
"So that a husband can help his wife, a dad can help his daughter potty training," she said. "We find that when we pay attention to those kinds of needs, we end up catching a lot more people than we thought the first time."
New LED, motion-activated lighting promises to reduce the church's energy bill, and wall-mounted flat screens serve as efficient information centers. Bothen praised the project architect and general contractor, as well as the church's membership.
"We had a very engaged congregation. They supported us with the funding," he said. "We had a good plan well executed."
Hines-Shah said the investment in brick and mortar aids the church's vision to reach beyond its walls.
"Giving our best to God is always a lovely place to start," Hines-Shah said, noting her illustration to kids that communion is served in a silver chalice and not a Styrofoam cup.
"Whether they be newcomers to Hinsdale with $3 million mansions or homeless people looking for a place to sleep, we want them to also have the best so they feel welcome, so they can feel the fullness of God's welcome when they come into this space."