Almost everything in the new sanctuary at St. Barnabas Episcopal church is as new as the building. The carpeting, lights and the dark, wooden cross on the altar are fresh.
But congregational leaders said they love the things that bridge the new space with the old: The old pews have been refinished and outfitted with book racks for Bibles and hymnals. The pipe organ and stained glass windows are original to the church property, but they’ve also gotten some tender care and polishing. The altar furniture is from the old space, as are the stations of the cross spaced evenly through the sanctuary.
Then there’s the sanctuary door. It’s new, but it’s coated with the same red paint that distinguishes all Episcopal churches as a place of peace and care.
“I like the fact that it’s new and exciting, but there’s continuity from the old sanctuary, with the pews and windows,” said the Rev. Donald Johnson, the congregation’s priest. “There’s something special about seeing our history in the new sanctuary.”
The local church was founded in 1933, and in 1938, the congregation moved from Locust Street to the place it stands now at 1200 N. Elm St. The old sanctuary had declined over the years, and after time engineers recommended bracing the church walls with a bar. Eventually, the congregation got news that it couldn’t put off too much longer.
“We had a structural engineer tell us that ‘you can fix the floor of the church and mess up the walls, or you could fix the walls and mess up the floor,” said Emanda Johnson, a member of the church interiors committee and the pastor’s wife.
Vestry clerk and longtime St. Barnabas member Betty Kay Seibt said the congregation had some questions about the expense and energy of building a new sanctuary on the church property.
“A lot of people said ‘why not fix what you have?’ But at some point, it’s not good stewardship to just keep fixing what you have,” she said. “We were definitely at that point. It didn’t make sense for us to keep trying to fix what wasn’t really fixable.”
Cecile Johnson, a longtime member who serves on building committee, said the congregation broke ground on the new sanctuary with a charge and a mission.
“Throughout the whole time, we tried to be true to and honor the bequest of Alonzo and Elisabeth Jamison and Chaldean Newell,” Johnson said. “We knew based on the bequest that the church would stay downtown, and that we’d repurpose as much as we could from the old sanctuary.”
The congregation sits on a small slice of property neighboring the central offices of Denton ISD. Church leaders spoke highly of their neighbor. Denton ISD allows the church to use its parking lot, and when both parties discovered an error in property lines, the school district gave up a foot of space to the church so the congregation could proceed.
“I have nothing but the highest praise for DISD,” said Senior Warden of the church, John Seibt. “They have been total partners through this. I really can’t stress that enough. The [Episcopal] diocese [of Dallas, which governs the local congregation] has told other congregations that if you need to know how to work with a neighbor to call us.”
The new sanctuary, designed by Jim Kirkpatrick Architecture Studios in Denton, has an exterior of blond stone. The interior has the classic layout of the cross. Members and visitors gather in the narthex, then enter the sanctuary and dip their fingers in the longtime baptismal font, which sits next to the old sanctuary’s Paschal candle, which represents the risen Christ.
Anne Schoolfield — who serves on the building committee and the Adkins Family Window Committee, and who is the choirmaster — said that when the congregation started planning the new sanctuary, leaders made sure the building reflects the congregation’s commitment to inclusiveness.
“We have more bathrooms in this sanctuary, meaning we have men’s rooms, women’s rooms and a gender neutral and family bathroom,” Schoolfield said. “We’re an inclusive community here, and that was really important to us for that to be reflected in the building.”
The church commissioned a new stained glass window — the Adkins Family Window — by Denton stained glass artist Christie A. Wood. The window is a tribute to the local family, all of whom are professional musicians. The matriarch of the family, Alis Adkins, was the longtime organist of the church. The new round stained glass window was installed in the choir loft, and is opposite of the new stained glass rose window above the altar.
There’s plenty of practical space, too — a bright new kitchen, storage for liturgical clothing and objects, worship preparation and the new church office and nursery.
The Rev. Johnson said that the new sanctuary will position the church for its next chapter.
“We want to connect Denton to Canterbury,” he said, referring to the church’s relationship with the world-wide Anglican Communion. “We’re also hoping that this new building will attract new people to our community. We’re inclusive, open to all.”
With churches in decline in general, congregations like St. Barnabas have to be open to the neighborhoods around them. The church opens its doors for Denton Community Theatre rehearsals, and groups such as AIDS Services of North Texas, Habitat for Humanity of Denton County and Ann’s Haven VNA started by meeting and organizing in St. Barnabas, Betty Kay Seibt said.
In the last year or so, the Daughters of Abraham has brought Christian, Jewish and Muslim together for regular dialog at the church, and a Sons of Abraham is forming, Emanda Johnson said.