Our Parish Family is nothing if not resilient. From the flexibility for activities and events starting last September, to our embracing each other and the community to serve in the midst of the damage and devastation left by Irma, we have risen to all the challenges that could be thrown at us. Our latest chapter could be called “Back to the Future”, as we move out of the church building and gather instead in our Ballroom. Many of you may not be aware that Saint John the Evangelist actually began in the cafeteria of Naples Park Elementary School next door. We remained there while our church building was constructed over 27 years ago. We are now able to stay on our own campus as we perform the major repairs and renovations needed to Build Our Future, Serve Our Past.
There have been several questions that we want to provide consistent answers to our Parish Family as we embark on this new chapter:
What is Really Wrong with the Church? It looks fine.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The entire roof was compromised by Hurricane Irma, including the skylight above the altar, which was removed immediately. The beautiful wood ceiling is saturated and warping, and it is a structural element in the tallest part of the church, so we must evaluate the damage as soon as we can perform the invasive testing needed. The carpet was damaged beyond saving. The doors and frames are warped and unable to close properly around the entire exterior. There are questions around several other components of the building, including the drywall, the pews, the other ceilings. While we are not yet sure of the full extent of the damage, it is clear that there is a significant amount of work to be done.
How many seats are there in the Ballroom? Is it big enough?
We have 600 chairs that we will set for Masses in the Ballroom, roughly equivalent to ½ the seats in the church building. This will be more than sufficient for Summer and Fall. We will be working on plans for overflow if and when necessary, based on the time frame of the church repairs. If you notice that the Mass you normally attend is at capacity, and your schedule allows, you may want to move to a smaller Mass, like the 7 AM, 1 PM, or 5 PM Sunday.
What happens to the Adoration Chapel?
Unfortunately, due to the significant construction over the entirety of the campus, we will not be able to provide 24/7 Adoration in a separate space. The Ballroom will be open through to 4:30 on weekdays with our tabernacle (moved over from the church), and we will plan Exposition and other opportunities for Adoration as we work through the overall schedule with funerals and other services. The Chapel will be back once we return to the church building and will use our new fob-based access control system to enter at any time.
How can Handicapped Individuals Get Inside Easily? What about Buses from Adult Communities?
The lead of our Ushers and Greeters has determined that we will have an Usher stationed at the doors of the Front Office that will be able to direct and assist anyone with a physical issue and drop-off/pick-up of buses through that entrance. Regular Mass attendees are encouraged to use the main entrance doors to the Ballroom. Holy Water and bulletins will be available at those doors, as well as our smiling Greeters, that will assist finding a seat. Handicapped priority seating will be visible with blue seat covers.
Will the Gift Boutique be Open?
Unfortunately, we do not have the space available to create a Gift Shop in the Parish Activity Center. The Gift Boutique will open with the church building. In the meantime, there will be a small spiritware store that will open within the Life Center.
What is that Big Thing I See in the Ballroom Windows?
That is indeed our Life Center, which is on-schedule and on-budget for completion soon. We will be able to utilize it for hospitality and our CYO and CAO programs once we receive the Certificate of Occupancy from Collier County. This will allow us to gather and enjoy each other’s company immediately before and after Masses, as well as give us a space for our enlivening activities.
Where is Confession?
Reconciliation / Penance / Confession will be provided by two priests at the same times as before (8:30 AM and 2:00 PM on Saturdays until all are heard). It will be in our Parish Activity Center Classrooms 4 & 5, which can be accessed through the hallway door from the middle parking lot, or through the Ballroom door into the Classrooms. Please look for the signage to direct you to the hallway, where we will have chairs lined up for you.
Will there be Poor Boxes? What about Prayer Votive Candles?
Yes, we will have poor boxes at the main doors leaving the Ballroom to ensure the Saint Vincent DePaul Society will continue their mission during this time to directly support the poor in our area. Please give generously. Unfortunately, due to County fire codes, we cannot have the votive candles within the Ballroom for prayers. Instead, we hope you will take time praying with the beautiful Mary and Joseph statues we have carefully set within the walls of the Ballroom.
When are we getting back into the Church? What about Everything Else?
I wish I could provide a definitive answer to these questions. We are in the midst of the determination of the severity of the church damage. Once that is completed, we will have a rough plan of action to repair and renew that building. Only Masses and Services will be allowed in the Ballroom (and ancillary rooms) until the church is 100% ready for our return. With the addition of the Claussen Center repairs, that will mean we will not be able to support other activities on campus for the near future. It breaks my heart with all the positive and engaging programs we have here at St. John, but we need to fix these major issues. We will keep communicating the progress on all fronts through our email, online, and bulletin capabilities, and once we have time frames and progress reports, we will make sure everyone knows.
We look forward to seeing you in our Ballroom for Mass. As Father John said last week, we are the church, and where we meet, We Are Saint John!