Chapel of the Holy Spirit: “Building” Consensus

by Fr. Basil Biberdorf

Photo credit: Elmer Aemmer, Kodiak Alaska Military History

An Orthodox church built in 1872 on Alaska’s Woody Island is currently inspiring Chapel members. The church utilizes the same simple rectangular footprint the Chapel is exploring but features a soaring roofline that draws attention upward.

Our chapel continues to work toward a plan for a building that is within our financial limits of what we could accomplish during coffee hour discussions, we decided to move to a building committee format. The committee, which is open to all Holy Trinity members, meets roughly weekly (usually Thursdays at the Chapel), for about two hours at a time. The goal has been to determine our needs in areas such as narthex layout, building aesthetic (including roofline), and altar size.

At our first meeting, to get a real sense of the size of our proposed narthex, we broke out the masking tape. Using that tape, we taped off a full-size floor plan in the Smith family’s garage. Within that we could see how large everything would be. Things (like bathrooms) that seemed too big or small on paper, looked reasonable when laid out on the garage floor. We could imagine a hallway lined with coat hooks on one side and a greeting table (to hold a guest book, candles, etc.) on the other. There was even room for our kitchen-in-a-closet, which could hold a sink, refrigerator, microwave, and coffee service, all hidden behind bi-fold doors.

Most importantly, it allowed us to see how much space remained for people to gather in the narthex. The narthex plays a vital role in several services, being the place where lityas, baptisms, chrismations, and betrothals are served. It’s also a place for the faithful to enter the church and prepare, however briefly, for worship. It is where the first-time visitor can take a moment to look around, adjusting to unfamiliar surroundings before going in further. However, in the plans under discussion, it will also serve a secondary (but still important) purpose as our Chapel’s hall. Thus, after services, we will gather there for fellowship and meals, and at other times for classes, meetings, and the like. We want to have enough space for people to be in the narthex for all of these different uses, and ensure that the secondary functions—food and fellowship—do not distract from its primary ones.

Then there’s the matter of church aesthetic. From the very beginning, we have desired a church building that looks like it “belongs” in our community, but with enough distinctiveness to be immediately recognizable as Orthodox. We sifted through numerous photos of historical churches, particularly those in the New World that would fit our criteria. The most popular one so far features a nave with high walls and a hip roof, crowned with a square cupola and three-bar cross, with gabled narthex and altar, as used in a church (now torn down) in Woody Island, Alaska, and similar to the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church in Kenai, Alaska, a National Historic Landmark since 1970. Right now, we are still waiting for drawings to visualize what we’re thinking, but these churches reveal our inspiration.

As always your prayers and financial support for the Chapel are coveted.