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Grace Church to break ground Sunday

The Rev. Bill Harper watches as his 9-year-old son Blake brings stones to the future site of the altar for Grace Episcopal Church. A ground-breaking ceremony will be held Sunday on the Day Road site. - ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo
The Rev. Bill Harper watches as his 9-year-old son Blake brings stones to the future site of the altar for Grace Episcopal Church. A ground-breaking ceremony will be held Sunday on the Day Road site.
— image credit: ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo

While Port Madison Lutheran Church looks back on the last century, its neighbor-to-be looks forward to the next.

Grace Episcopal Church will host a ground-breaking ceremony tomorrow at the site of its new building, a 10-acre field on the south side of Day Road East, behind Island School.

“We have tried to resist the temptation to think about our building meeting ‘our’ needs,” said Bill Harper, Grace’s vicar. “This building will be used 100 years from now to do the same things we do – welcoming people into life and out. We ask ourselves how important will something be 100 years from now.”

Bishop Sandy Hampton will preside at the ceremony, which will take place where the altar will be located.

The congregation purchased the 10 acres from the Cave family three years ago. It had been recently logged, which Harper said may have been a good thing.

“I can’t imagine how we could have decided which trees to take out and which to leave,” he said.

Now, with heavy equipment on site and grading under way, Harper and other members are bringing in rocks from throughout the site and elsewhere, paying homage to the biblical tradition of collecting stones from which to build.

The new church will be the first permanent home for the 300-member congregation, which began in a private home in 1992 with a gathering of 64 people. Most had been attending the older St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.

From there, the group moved to the high school, then to the Masonic lodge on Grow Avenue and High School Road, where it currently meets in the basement.

“We’re grateful to the Masonic lodge because it is cinder block, and lets no light in,” Harper said. “When we sat down to design the new building we said it had to have light and a fireplace, which the lodge has.”

The original plan was to build on the east side of the lot, at the highest point. But next-door-neighbor Gerard Bentryn said that portion of the land had the best soil, so the church decided to locate elsewhere on the lot, leaving open the possibility of leasing the prime land for farming.

“We didn’t really need 10 acres,” Harper said, “but when we had the chance to buy that much, we then had the opportunity to preserve the rest.”

The upper portions of the building will be glass, to admit ample light.

“With the Biblical heritage of nomadic people and our own history, the initial concept for the building was a tent in a field,” Harper said. “What we will have is very permanent, but it’s meant to convey openness.”

Construction of the building, designed by Bainbridge Island architect Jim Cutler, will take about a year. Under the normal seating arrangement, the church will accommodate about 220, but opening a large door on one side of the sanctuary will allow as many as 350 to be seated.

The sanctuary will not use the traditional fixed pews, with everyone facing the altar, but will use chair seating, with rows arranged in a circle.

“Most people will have birds-eye views of other people,” Harper said, “not of me.”

When Grace rearranged the chairs at the Masonic lodge so worshippers faced one another, the change was far more profound than Harper had expected.

“It changed the nature of our care for each other,” he said. “We have our compassion stimulated through our access to and awareness of one another.”

There was some debate about whether to dedicate finite resources to a building.

“There is value to the nomadic existence, but you have to worry about where you will be,” Harper said. “The idea of an anchoring point and the opportunity to be good stewards of land on Bainbridge Island got us over the question of whether we should build.”

And while there was concern about shouldering substantial long-term debt, the fund-raising effort was so successful that the $2.2 million project cost can be covered with only a $300,000 mortgage.

The design is aimed at minimizing operation and maintenance costs.

Again, Harper said, the key was looking at the long view.

“Thinking 100 years out, we realized that this building is not a burden to us,” he said, “but rather, our gift to future generations.”

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