The bell tolls for All Saints’ new facilities

photos in server: 08040722– “The parish hall, the largest structure of the new program facilities, seen from Madison Street.”

08040721– “The bell tower, seen from W. Jefferson Street, is adorned with Celtic crosses and houses four bells.”

All Saints’ Episcopal Church

08040723– “The old chapel, originally built in 1910, rebuilt in 1937, displays the traditional architecture that helped inspire the look of the new program facilities.”

08030782–David Sparks

08030780–Albert White

08030781–Les Alvis

608 W. Jefferson St, Tupelo

Priest associate: The Rev. Dr. Michael Lippard

phone: 842-4386

455 members

Services: 8:30 and 10:30

The bell tolls for All Saints’ new facilities

The Episcopal congregation seeks spiritual formation and community service through the expansive space.

TUPELO – Downtown has recently been serenaded by the haunting sound of church bells. Those bells toll within a brick tower, embossed with Celtic crosses, which stands in the foreground of All Saints’ Episcopal Church.

The tower is the display piece of the handsome new program facilities, soon to be officially dedicated.

The facilities are the fruit of a focused capital campaign called “Envision: The Way Forward,” which to date has yielded $2.3 million of the estimated total $4.25 million pricetag.

“This project was undertaken with an eye toward the future,” said Les Alvis, All Saints’ senior warden, who has played an integral role in the project.

“We’ve had some visionary leaders here – priests and lay people – who were able to assess need, potential growth, etc., and plan accordingly,” added Junior Warden Albert White. “We met and exceeded our goal, which shows that you can do a thing on faith.”
One of those leaders was the Rev. Shannon Johnston, whose arrival in 1994 heralded a period of unprecedented growth and vitality in the congregation. “Coming here he probably got more than he expected, but he rose to the occasion,” recalled Alvis.

Johnston was elected bishop coadjutor for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia earlier this year and left All Saints’ in April. The church is currently without a rector, or chief pastor, but is being served by the Rev. Dr. Michael Lippard, a Lutheran pastor, and the Rev. Gene Asbury, the retired former priest associate of the parish.

Long history on site

All Saints’, which had its origins as a congregation in the 1870s, began worshiping on the Jefferson Street site with the construction of the oldest building, the chapel, in 1910. The structure was badly damaged by the great tornado of 1936 and rebuilt exactly as before.

All Saints’ built a rectory in the 1930s which was used as a home for the priest and his family, and later converted to parish offices. Then, in the 1970s, the congregation built a parish hall designed to meet the needs of the small congregation.

“That’s when we started to grow,” said David Sparks, a long-time parishioner, recalling the parish’s slow but steady growth throughout the 70s and 80s and its rapid rise in the early 90s.

That new church was built in 1992 and is now home to 455 parishioners.

The new program facilities replace the old parish hall, education building and office space, all of which were demolished. The new facilities are designedly multi-functional, will accommodate the congregation in their extra-liturgical activities: religious formation classes, social activities, meals, choir rehearsals and vestry meetings. “Versatility and space were guiding principles,” said Alvis.

The function of the new program space also has a theological dimension: It reflects an overall commitment to “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd,” a hands-on model of religious instruction based on the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori.

“There are no books or paperwork,” said catechetical leader Mary Howard King. “The students, ages 3-12, are able to handle and manipulate materials – crafts, symbols, models, etc. – which coincide with what we’re doing during worship.”

King said that creativity, imagination and space – both literal and figurative – are important aspects, adding that the building has an organic relationship with the activities, particularly educational, that will take place within.

The kitchen, an inviting expanse of gleaming stainless steel, is another show piece. “Its big, yet small enough to serve,” Alvis said.

Service a theme

That idea of service to the community was another guiding theme for architect and parishioner Gus Staub.

“Service is part of the gospel, as we see it,” said Sparks, noting that the plan for the kitchen is eventually to serve not only the parish but the community as well: All Saints hopes to resume serving sack lunches for the poor during Sunday services, as well as operating a soup kitchen in the future.

“We made a conscious decision to remain part of the downtown community, and service to community is important to us,” Sparks added.

As part of the downtown landscape for almost a century, All Saints values its place within that community and continues to be excited about growing with the city. They invite people to worship with them at a special 9:30 a.m. service this Sunday and to attend the dedication ceremony for the bells immediately following.

“If you look at the property’s rooftops from the library parking lot, there’s the appearance of a gradual ascendancy,” said White, noting the theological and civic symbolism as the bells tolled behind him. “We reflect on that often around here.”