Sunday, September 03, 2006

A Place for Joy

We attend a historic church in the northeast section of our city. The church has been on a downslide for the past 40 years. In 1996 the congregation actually voted to close the church doors and walk away in defeat.

Hubby and I joined this congregation 1998. Obviously folks with a better sense of history elected to try one more time to salvage a once great memory. The church doors remain open, but the congregation is sadly diminished.

Hubby is the music director at the church. We were brought in by a dear friend and influential city lawyer who lives in the historic Northeast in one of the great mansions built in the late 1800’s. Many of the church members live in these huge old homes, many of which are on the historic register. Because the area is in the urban core quite a few of these 100 year homes have gone through difficult times but now they have either been restored or are undergoing complete renovation. Others congregation members live in the little bungalows built in the 1950’s that dot the streets along side the great mansions. The diversity in the area continues to grow with each passing year, first the working class whites took over as the weathy moved to the suburbs, then the African Americans, the Hispanics came in the 1980's, and now the Asians. Our church opens her arms to everyone, whatever their racial identify or sexual preference.

Hubby and I live a long way from this once elegant portion of the city, though we still live in what is called the "inner city." We commute to the church because we are proud to part of the effort to save this stately, elegant lady from abandonment.

The church was built in 1888 by a famous local Methodist preacher. He gave the land and enough seed money to build a small church. The intent was to build a cathedral next to the original building and turn the original space into an education wing.

In 1925 ground was broken for a great stone cathedral. The Depression saw the church sold on the courthouse steps because the construction payments could not be met by the suffering members, but generous city benefactors returned the church to the congregation.

The church is situated on the highest point in the Northeast area, built with a tower instead of the more traditional spire. Consequently cell phone companies adore us and pay a substantial sum each month to erect their radio antennas atop our flat tower. These $1000 + payments from the cell phone companies help keep our doors open and the gas bill paid. The Catholic Church just around the corner, with its beautifully pointed spire is not so lucky.

I’m not a particularly religious person. Organized religion has usually felt hypocritical to me. In this church I found my home: a warm congregation, a place where my meager services can contribute, and a feeling of peace. We have the same problems people experience in any church. We gossip and we sometimes are petty. Fund raising is awful. But when the music pours forth in the gorgeous, soaring sanctuary I find I believe in God. My prayers, once left unsaid, have become an integral part of my life since joining this church. I may not believe in the dogma and dislike much of the ritual, but my soul has accepted the spirit of this beautiful space.

Today, our pastor spoke of love, a fitting message for Labor Day. Our ensemble sang Dona Nobis Pachem and I felt real peace enfold me. I knelt at the communion rail and offered up thanks for all the blessings of these past several weeks. I’m glad I could speak this morning with the Almighty Power of our universe and feel the Supreme Presence of love and peace enter my heart. This has been a beautiful Sunday. I am indeed grateful, and joy fills my soul.


Anonymous said...

wow...i love old churches and the inner city neighborhoods or small towns where you find the churches...much more interesting than blah, beige surburbia!

M(As If You Care)

milly said...

Why M, of course, I care. Why remain annoymous? I love architectually significant buildings, too. We could chat about them, if you'd like. M (who does care)