Saturday, March 14, 2015



(The Last Supper Scene from the old high altar is now in the vestibule of the Church of the Most Holy Trinity six blocks away):

A recent Protestant wedding at Sacred Heart Cultural Center in downtown Augusta (Catholics aren't allowed to be married here!). Please note the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes to the left of the altar! Saint Joseph is to the right of the altar. A statue of the Sacred Heart is dead center in the old high altar and stain glass windows are from the Meyer company of Munich, Germany!
This beautiful church in downtown Augusta was closed in 1970. It was built by the Jesuits in the late 1800's and by the same brother who designed St. Joseph Church in Macon. There are similarities in looks, although St. Joseph was built with better quality materials and artwork.

It was purchased by an Augusta area philanthropist Peter Knox in 1986 (having been vacant for 16 years and in such a mess, one would have thought it should have been torn down) who then restored it as a community cultural center maintaining its original name, Sacred Heart, but now not Catholic Church, but cultural center.

When the Diocese of Savannah sold the property in 1986, it included not only the church, but a huge three story rectory behind it, an elementary school building and large convent next to it. How much was it all sold for in 1986? For about $250,000! The stain glass windows and marble art work are worth more than that!

None of the altars, statues, windows, stations of the cross, etc were removed! The only things taken were the pews which went to my former parish six blocks away, The Church of the Most Holy Trinity.

It is used today for all kinds of things, weddings in particular (although Catholics are not allowed to use it for weddings, which is really, really dumb)!

Now it is being used as a non-denominational "Electric Cathedral." Please note the story below the pictures from Saturday's Augusta Chronicle:

Electric Cathedral’s message current

Parachurch tries to reach young adults spiritually

By Lisa Kaylor Staff Writer

The altar at Sacred Heart Cultural Center glowed a hot pink Monday as the strains of Michael Jackson’s Beat Itechoed off the ornate domed ceiling.

Ryan Abel belted out the familiar 1980s pop tune as 20- and 30-somethings in jeans and T-shirts moved from socializing to taking their seats, and the lights began to dim.

Abel promised a crisp $50 bill to the winner of a social-media contest in which guests were asked to take a selfie with a friend and upload it to Twitter or Instagram.
Then the Electric Cathedral began in earnest.

The service marked the one-year anniversary of the para-church. Brandon May, the pastor of the new Illuminate Church – which meets at Westside High School – gave the message, in which he likened the power of the Holy Spirit in each saved person to the power of Grayskull in the old He-Man cartoons.

After the service – or “gathering,” the preferred term for the monthly meeting – guests were served anniversary cupcakes before many of them went to Whiskey Bar Kitchen for dinner and more informal socializing.

“(Electric Cathedral) was started by four guys who just met and wanted to do something for young professionals in their 20s and 30s,” said Abel, the executive director.

Abel, who is on the staff at Wesley United Methodist Church, said he and friends from other churches realized it was difficult to establish a ministry to reach that particular demographic at each church. 

The area doesn’t have a large enough population to support several ministries that cater to young professionals, he said.

So they combined efforts and created an organization with its own board of directors and bylaws through which any church wishing to partner with them could benefit.
Seven churches are partners with Electric Cathedral. They support the ministry financially and through prayer and participation.

The partner churches encompass a variety of denominations. One of Electric Cathedral’s goals is to break down denominational barriers and the territorial nature sometimes perceived among churches.
Attending on Mondays doesn’t interfere with more traditional worship times, and it’s less intimidating to invite someone to a gathering on Monday night than asking them to attend a worship service at another church, Abel said.

He said the parachurch also wants to reach young professionals who are not plugged into a church and help them find a church home. Electric Cathedral introduces them to many churches, preaching styles and peers to help them find a place to feel comfortable.

It also encourages other churches to work together. For example, through Electric Cathedral, Brandon May, who was new to the area, met John Kenney, the pastor of Quest Church in Martinez. Kenney offered the use of space at Quest for planning and other resources to help May launch Illuminate earlier this month.

“That’s a huge win for me and Electric Cathedral,” Abel said.

He also wants to support downtown businesses through the parachurch, so as the congregation grows, additional activities might be planned at downtown restaurants and businesses.
Kelsey Bensen, 25, and Sarah Hanes, 28, have been coming from the beginning. They are friends with some of the organizers.

Hanes said she loves the music and the people, and Benson likes the environment. “The message is really good,” Hanes said.

Sisters Lakrista Davis, 25, and Lakeiba Davis, 29, drive from Aiken every month to attend.
Lakrista heard about Electric Cathedral from her pastor, Terrance Thomas, of Nazarene Missionary Baptist Church in Fairfax, S.C., when he came to preach one Monday four months ago. She has been coming ever since.

“The fellowship is amazing,” she said. “It’s just a great group of young people. Everybody’s so welcoming. We don’t have to worry about feeling left out or different.”
Lakeiba attended Monday for the second time and has already joined the volunteer staff.

“Catering to that age bracket, it gets that young group out there. So many, they’re stuck on, when they go to church they want that laid-back setting. (Electric Cathedral) gives you that laid-back setting, but at the same time, they’re teaching. … the worship is awesome.”

Electric Cathedral will take a break in April for the Masters Tournament and return May 11 at 7:30 p.m. in a new, as yet undisclosed location. Visit the Electric Cathedral Facebook page for new information.


Michael said...

It hurts me to think of this lovely building, once a Catholic church, being used for this purpose. That altar behind everyone that's now a piece of decoration and is totally ignored once had Christ descending onto it in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The building space itself would have been filled with people who sought to receive the fruits of said Sacrifice, most especially by Holy Communion.

And now it's a community center/Protestant space! :( Why did we need to close down old churches like this one in 1970, but we were perfectly fine building ugly modern churches to take their place???

Michael said...

If anyone wants to see the building looking like a church (albeit without pews—it's just empty), here you go:

So sad. :(

Cletus Ordo said...

I have to agree with Michael's question. Why? While I won't condemn the diocese for making this decision, I have a very hard time agreeing with it. I don't condemn the decision because I don't have all the facts as to why the sale of the building was necessary. What I do know is that we are increasingly seeing sacred places where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has been offered for years sold off and used for not only secular but profane uses. One need look no further than St. Vibiana's Cathedral, the old cathedral for Los Angeles. It is now a place that can be rented for wedding receptions and rave parties. I just don't understand how we can consecrate a building and the ground it stands on and then take money to give it over to strangers who will use that same building for uses that at best, don't glorify God and, at worst, are offensive to Him. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable about this can explain?

Cletus Ordo said...

Then again, I have to give the new owners credit: At least they had enough sense of beauty to keep the reredos intact. That's more than can be said for many "expert" liturgical consultants who have sacked so many churches in the last four decades.

Paul said...

"Do something for young professionals"

Another slap in face conveying that the Catholic Church is irrelevant.

There is a process of "deconsecration" that, in effect, returns the church to a "building" and the church's ground to "soil". I suppose making any sort of fuss would solidify the erroneous thoughts of Catholics "praying to idols" but I wonder how many of those same people would appreciate having their photos of their mother or father spat upon?

Anonymous said...

Obviously this building was kept looking like a traditional Catholic church for the sake of all those people who want to get married "in church" by not "by the Church." They want the traditional backdrop with the beautiful altar and vaulted ceilings, but don't want a priest or the Sacrament of Marriage. I think parish priests could regale us with numerous tales of couples who have come to them just wanting to use "the space" (the church) and wanting to have their own kind of presider and ceremony, including rock music, for a wedding.
So apparently someone got the bright idea to provide "a space" for this crowd.
I think the Church should be aware this is possibly happening to old churches, and at least remove most if not all of the interior such as altars, statues and other items before it is taken over by a secular buyer, or make that a condition of sale. But it's not clear from the article if the items are original to the building, or if the buyer added them later.
It's a desecration, and a scandal, and once again we the People of God stand helpless to stop it. It's as if we're living in communist Russia.

Anonymous said...

When the people who founded and attended and supported the old, often large downtown...inner city churches move away to another part of town or to the suburbs, who is supposed to foot the usually large bills to maintain the old places. Businesses....and churches need revenue...customers in order to stay in business. That's not so hard to understand, is it?

Anonymous said...

And if the S.S.P.X. wanted to buy it the local bishop would say hell no!!!!

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Sacred Heart was closed because there were three Catholic churches in downtown Augusta, all within 2 miles of each other. There was not sufficient support for all three. It was sold because there was no financial support available to maintain it.

Holy Trinity was chosen as the most likely to be maintainable. It was also the most significant historically.

What's inside Sacred Heart - altars and stained glass - is original to the building. The building was deconsecrated, so there is no "desecration" going on now.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I just pulled my copy of the Southern Cross out of the mail and the front page photo shows the Rite of Election with the Bishop at your Church, Father. And guess what" The photographer was extra careful to shoot at a camera angle that left out your new altar rail.

Speaks volumes about the attitude in this diocese toward Tradition.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that all of the talk and the concern is for the old building. The poor old neglected building. It might be a good idea to consider the "neglected" people who are there...looks like quite a few young people. They talk about feeling welcome...not feeling left out or different.

If the church was still a Catholic church, would they feel this way. There are, of course, Catholic churches all around. The folks at Sacred Heart must not feel the same about them...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - Why would a photographer, in this case, Sarah Dixon, include an altar rail in the picture to which you refer? The Rite of Election is about people, not stones.

Your silly complaint speaks volumes about you, not about the Diocese of Savannah.

Troll, troll, go away said...

Dear Blog Troll "Anonymous"

1) The concern for "the old building" is deeper than something mundane or materialistic. That building represents sacrifices made by at least two generations to build a magnificent place to worship god. That building was a place where every Catholic had a stake, be they rich or poor, all were equally at home and equally welcomed. As far as the "young people" allured by the glitz of the "electric cathedral", they weren't even around to feel welcome or unwelcome when Sacred Heart closed. ALL are welcome in the Catholic Church. All may not like the message and all are free to accept or reject the message, but it doesn't change the fact that ALL are welcome.

2) If you look at the Catholic Churches that have been most successful in drawing and keeping younger people during the last two decades, they have been the more traditional parishes and, usually that goes with traditional-LOOKING churches.

3) The rite of election is indeed about people and their Church. The odd below-the waistline camera angle is not an accident. A normal angled photo might have revealed more of the people because their faces would not have been hidden by the altar as they are in the front page photo. Oh, I can't prove it was on purpose--but I can't help but have my suspicions.

4) You are obviously beating to death this entire the "Church is people and where we worship doesn't matter" thing. Historically, Catholics have always wanted beautiful places to worship. Churches like St. Joseph and Sacred Heart are products of the golden age of church building, when our churches were literally sermons in stone. The architecture and interior artwork inspired and awestruck the people who attended and gave generously to have churches like that. We have much more material wealth today than we did during that period, yet if you look at what the average parish settles for, it speaks a great deal of how selfish we have become. Are we more godly people than the folks who built these older churches. I'd like to think so, but the indicators of Catholic Church attendance, and people who follow the Ten Commandments or the rate of crime suggest otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 4:15 pm:
Sure they "feel welcome" and "not left out or different" because nothing is asked of them; nothing is expected of them different from how they are already living. I bet every one of them would say, I'm a good person. Have you ever been to one of these non-denominational "electric" church services? Lots of entertainment, lots of feel good "preaching" about how much God loves them, lots of emoting, but not too much demand on repentance and change of heart. They NEVER do an altar call. It's essentially a rock concert and rave without the booze. Of course they feel welcome. It's the same entertainment and message they get in the whole society!

They also say "the fellowship is fantastic." What does that mean to you? To me it means, hey, I get to meet people like myself and have a good time. It's an outing. Kind of like a bar, but for the less wild-hearted.

Geez. You can't really believe that's what Jesus died on the cross for.

Anonymous said...

"The building was deconsecrated, so there is no "desecration" going on now."

Well gosh, Fr. Kavanaugh, that makes me feel all better.

Anonymous said...

I can't say that the new use for that church is a good thing, especially since it retains the look of a Catholic Church but not its message; and I wonder if that isn't just one more tool that anti-Catholic America can use against the Church. I also had always thought that when a church was decommissioned the altar was removed?

Anonymous said...

Just how do you "de-consecrate" a building? Or for that matter anything that has been consecrated?

Just asking.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Canon Law (c.1212) provides that, "Sacred places lose their dedication or blessing if they suffer major destruction or if they have been permanently given over to profane uses, de facto or through a decree of the competent ordinary."

CSLA commentary on Canon 1212: "If a sacred place is to be given over permanently for profane uses, the competent ordinary should first issue a decree in writing, directed to the person responsible for the sacred place, stating that the place in question is no longer a sacred place and has by the decree lost its dedication or blessing. The issuance of the decree is subject to the rules for individual administrative acts and individual decrees (cc. 35-47, 48-58), and recourse may be taken against it if a person, physical or juridic, is aggrieved by it. Although a sacred place also loses its dedication or blessing when in fact it has been permanently given over for secular purposes, this is not a legal option for omitting a decree but simply a provision of law in case a decree is not issued. A decree should be issued because it recognizes the authority of the ordinary who had the competence to establish the sacred place, it leaves no uncertainty about the status of the place, and it allows the possibility of recourse."

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

A cathedral or a church also loses its consecration if some act of desecration or violence takes place inside.

(Perhaps former PI can fill in, but our cathedral in Savannah after undergoing a major restoration with a new altar had a unstable person come in with lighter fluid which he sprayed on the cathedral and pulpit and other places a lighted a fire that cause the pulpit to be destroyed, the cathedral to be damage and tremendous smoke damage to the newly repainted surfaces. Did this lead to a "reconsecration"?

I know for a fact that in the early 1980's or late 1970's a group of satanists entered the cathedral and took pictures of satanic rituals at the cathedral's altar and other locations of the most vile kind. The photos were discovered by the police later and given to the bishop who when he saw them order the cathedral to be reconsecrated.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Troll - I see in the photo only one person half-obscured by the altar. Others are obscured by the MC, the Bishop, and the altar server.

To conclude that the Diocese is opposed to "Tradition" because the altar rail does not appear in the picture is pretty odd. The photo does not include a baptismal font or a confessional. Are we to conclude the Diocese is opposed to Baptism and Confession?

The photo is of an event, not a building. Choosing the moment at which the Bishop shows the people the names of the Elect is, I think, a very good synopsis of the event.

I think the photograph is very well composed. Included are the people engaged in the ritual, the altar of sacrifice, candlesticks, crucifix, angel statues, one of the dedication candles attached to the wall, the old altar, the semicircular apse, and the stained glass windows.

The arc of the apse is especially well positioned. It give real movement to the image!

I think the photographer/editor made a visually clever choice to make the bottom of the photo the floor of the sanctuary. Not only does it "ground" the action, it also provides a base for the upward movement that is accomplished by the elevated Book of the Elect and the triangular old altar with lead the eyes up to the brightness of the windows.

I don't know that the early 1900's were really the "Golden Age" of church building. The builders of Notre Dame, Paris, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, and St. Basil's in Moscow would be inclined to agree with me.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

I don't know if the arson constituted a "desecration" that required re-consecration. I would tend to think not, since the guilty party was mentally unstable and the intention seems, from what I recall, not to have been anti-Church or anti-Faith.

Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry to hear that Electric Cathedral has caused so much sadness. I'm the Executive Director of Electric Cathedral, Inc. I can assure you that there were no ill will or bad intentions. We mean no disrespect. We just want to reach post graduate young professionals and get them into local churches. I'm not a Catholic (obviously) and to be quite honest I'm not very well versed in Catholic traditions or customs. I just "Googled" the article that was linked to this post and found the comments interesting. I can assure you that Jesus is being taught and that proven life change has occurred and is continuing to happen through the power of the Holy Spirit! We think Sacred Heart is a beautiful building and it has helped unite churches in our city. God has done that. God is in this. God is with us! I pray for you all and apologize for any offenses that have happened in accident. It was not our intent. For those of you who wish to rejoice with us, over the past year we've seen 6 people come to Jesus. Countless people have been able to find community and fellowship. We appreciate your prayers as we move forward on this mission with the vision God gave us.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Dear Electric cathedral I think the sour grapes in the various comments is more about the Catholic diocese closing this landmark and then selling it without having stripped it of its sacred artifacts. Today there are clearing houses that recle windows, altars and the like for new churches. St. Teresa in Grovetown is an example of this with the altars and windows in their new church. P
Since I am from Augusta and was pastor of Most Holy Trinity, I am quite grateful to the Knox family for saving this building for secular and religious purposes.

Anonymous said...

I am very confused. Many of the comments I read appear to be from folks that think this building was most recently a church. But for the last 25+ years, it's been a "cultural center". I had my high school prom there in 1989! I'm glad God has found His way back to Sacred Heart, AND that such a beautiful building has been preserved so well.

Anonymous said...

I was married in this church/cultural center (two of my photos from my wedding are actually being used on this blog-thank you). My husband is Catholic and we held our service here to symbolize our Christian faith from two different past denominations coming together. Catholics can get married here...we are proof! Love this venue! A church is not made up of 4 walls but of its congregation in faith. Love Sacred Heart!