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From mansion to factory

From mansion to factory

The Diocese of Connecticut moved their diocesan offices to a repurposed factory in an old mill town.

Ball bearings were invented to help machines turns smoothly and work by transforming friction into motion. One wonders if this image was on the mind of Bishop Ian Douglas and architect Duo Dickson when they transformed an old factory into diocesan offices.

Eric Hessleberg writes for the Hartford Courant about how the choice was made to leave a mansion in the capital city and move to a factory in an old mill city.

Many in Meriden remember when the sprawling structure housed the New Departure ball bearing company, employing 5,000 during World War II. Today, the top floor is home to the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.

“When I told the retired clergy that we would be moving to a broken down mill town, they were skeptical,” says Connecticut’s Episcopal bishop, the Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, of the recent move from Hartford to Meriden. “But as soon as they entered this space, their view changed. They got it! We were able to bring the past, present and future together all in one room.”

The Episcopal Church, like many mainline religions in recent years, has been paying attention to its history and how it can help guide the present and future. The church is struggling with plunging attendance, prompting discussions about how to stay vital and relevant. In 2010, Episcopal membership in the United States dipped below2 million, from a peak of 3.6 million in 1966. In Connecticut, Episcopalians number 60,000, down from 68,500 just a few years ago.

“The reality is that the Episcopal Church no longer occupies the place of privilege it once had – and which the [former mansion headquarters in Hartford] represented,” Douglas says. “We are asking our parishes to be lighter, so to speak, and to be more open to new approaches. Therefore, we have to be willing to take the lead.”

Madison architect Duo Dickinson, designer of the new offices, agrees. “For the [Episcopal] church to make a move like this — to a city with these challenges — is a huge statement,” Dickinson says. “What this does is celebrate the church as it should be.”

Posted by Andrew Gerns.

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