In order to celebrate the Dedication Mass as well as Masses for Christmas and New Years, the parish sought a temporary occupancy permit from the city. A permit could only be granted after the building passed a safety inspection. On Wednesday the 20th, just two days before the dedication, the building did not pass. Several things needed to be done in order for the building to be considered safe for the public to access the Church. The city is responsible to ensure the safety of anyone who enters a building under construction explained Fr. Avi.
“The pews needed to be anchored down, exit signs needed installing, the roof needed to be clear of all debris, the construction materials like dumpsters had to be fenced and the parking lot cleared of ice,” said Fr. Avi.
On being asked by an inspector if he had a back-up plan, Fr. Avi motioned to the heavens saying, “He is my back-up plan.” Then he, along with the renovation committee and many gracious volunteers set to work.
Finally, on December 21st with just a half-hour before the rehearsal for the dedication would begin, the inspection was complete and the permit was granted.
“There were people crying when I announced it,” said Fr. Avi, “We had all worked so hard. The inspector was surprised that we were able to get so much done in such a short time.”
When the dedication Mass took place, emotions ran high for the people who knew what had occurred in the days before, “I was numb and I was praising the Lord for the miracle that he’d performed,” said Fr. Avi.
Though the walls of the church are still unpainted and there is still work to do, the Dedication Mass was a moving event, especially for those who hadn’t yet seen the new worship space.
Christopher Rappel, renovation committee member who is active in many roles at the parish cited Bishop McGrattan’s homily saying that actually, perhaps it was fitting that the Dedication took place amidst the renovations because the church is a work in progress, and so are all of us.
Sandra Will-Krile who serves as part of the renovation committee among other jobs within the church noticed the awe with which the parishioners entered on the day of the dedication. With newly anchored pews, a high sloping ceiling and lines that point to the altar, the new space certainly made an impact.
She said the renovation committee were constantly updated on the progress, so in preparation for the temporary opening, they saw what needed to be done more than what had already been done. “But when the people walked into the space and I saw their faces,” Sandra said, “it was then that I saw it through their eyes.”
The church was full for the Dedication Mass, which “went so smoothly,” according to committee members, despite the seeming chaos that had ensued in the days prior. It was a beautiful moment for all of the parish to see their work and care come to fruition.
To a few parishioners, the anointing of the altar stood out as one of the most beautiful moments during the dedication Mass. The time and care with which Bishop McGrattan took to anoint the altar and walls was noteworthy, as this is the first time that many in the parish had witnessed a rite of this kind.
The feeling of welcoming within the walls of Ascension doesn’t happen by chance; with nearly seven thousand parishioners, Ascension boasts over 900 volunteers active in the parish who might be called the lifeblood of the community. On top of those volunteers there is an active chapter of Knights of Columbus and of the Catholic Women’s League.
Fr. Avi, along with the renovation committee members are ever grateful to these families for their support both financially and physically as the process of taking the building from two semi-separate spaces to one unified sanctuary.
The community currently celebrates Mass in the hall and downstairs rooms. The Mass is projected on screens for the people not present in the main hall. During this time, the outside perception is that this is a rather painful burden for parishioners, but volunteer coordinator Sharron Robinson, along with renovation committee members are telling a different story.
“I think the sense of community is probably even greater with the renovations,” Sharron said,
“The volunteers step up that much more.”
When asked if the current Mass arrangement feels like fragmentation of the community, both Christopher Rapell and Sandra Will-Krile disagreed saying “No, in fact, I think people have adapted to the space that we have quite well.”
They both spoke of the parishioners as a resilient community pulling together to make the space at the church work rather than attending Mass at a school, which was their alternative.
To that end Fr. Avi who had been through parish renovations before said that it is challenging to maintain the sense of community in a different building, “so I asked the construction company and consultants if we could do this in stages.” Evidently, that approach has worked for the congregation, who have worked together to make not only two parishes one, but two sanctuaries into one unified space.
The big hearts of the community has never been more evident, said Sandra, than after New Year’s Day Mass when the new sanctuary had to be cleared of everything but the newly installed pews so that the work could restart.
“We expected maybe fifteen or sixteen people to help move things back into the hall, but we got fifty or sixty!”
As their pastor and renovation committee members would tell it, the people of Ascension are unafraid of hard work and lending a hand to anyone who needs help. With that spirit pulsing through its veins, they have every reason to look forward with hope to the future.
Written by: Jessica Cyr
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers