Posts Tagged ‘church’

I wonder what woke my grandfather up at 2 a.m. on January 16, 1967. The sirens, perhaps? The smell of smoke? The hum of fire engines?

I suppose it’s possible he slept through to the morning and got the news later.

But I suspect he couldn’t help but wake up as part of the church across the street from his home burned.

January 16, 1967.

January 16, 1967.

As I’ve previously lamented, the Stamford Advocate has no publicly accessible online archives, so I don’t know what caused the fire at the Springdale Methodist Church, now known as the United Methodist Church of Springdale.

(An Associated Press article that ran the day after the fire didn’t give a cause, but said it started in the cellar. The article estimated the damage at $40,000, which is about $282,800 in 2014 dollars, if online inflation calculators are to be trusted.)

The church’s website says the fire destroyed the original section of the church, dating to 1876 — an area including the original sanctuary, the fellowship hall, kitchen, choir room and secretary’s office.

A substantial portion of the church was saved, including the more recently built sanctuary and social hall. The morning after the blaze, a city fire official suggested the more recent wing of the church might be available for the following Sunday’s services, and perhaps it was. (January 16 was a Monday, so they would have had a whole week to get work done.)

My grandpa does not seem to have taken pictures of the blaze as it happened.

Maybe he wasn’t comfortable with his ability to take pictures in such unusual lighting conditions. Maybe he wanted to stay out of the way. Maybe he did take pictures, but threw them out because they didn’t come out to his satisfaction.

(Or, again, maybe he slept through the whole thing.)

He was there to capture the razing and clearing of the fire-damaged parts of the church. The weather looks to have been temperate; you can see the gents from the wrecking company in what appear to be windbreakers. Perhaps those conditions made the fire easier to fight and contain.


Church Razing 4

Church Razing 2

Just for comparison’s sake, here are a couple of shots of the church in the years before the fire:

Christmas 1958 or 1959. The portion of the church to the left of the front door was destroyed in the fire.

Christmas 1958 or 1959. The portion of the church to the left of the front door was destroyed in the fire.

1960. I believe the people pictured were leaving on some sort of retreat.

1960. I believe the people pictured were leaving on some sort of retreat.

A church bazaar in 1959 ...

A church bazaar in 1959 …

... and another in 1960.

… and another in 1960. Nice hat on that kid in the foreground.

The church added a new wing the year after the fire, and is still using it.

I think the new section of the church is visible behind my brother and I in the next picture, which was taken in 1975.

My memory, which is not what it used to be, says my grandparents took us across the street to play on a small playground next to the church. Of course the camera went with us.

The architect hired to do the job clearly did not make it a priority to match the look of the existing building. But, however drab or stark it might be, concrete has one wonderful attribute: It doesn’t burn.



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After almost three-and-a-half years writing this blog, it doesn’t feel like there are many areas of my grandparents’ life I haven’t retroactively invaded.

This week I’ll stick my nose into a place I’ve mentioned before but have never said much about. There’s no big historical reveal this week, just a snapshot of my grandfolks going about their daily business.

Or, more accurately, their Sunday business.

September 1 and 2, 1972.

September 1 and 2, 1972. The Yanks are still in the pennant race; the Mets aren’t.

I know my grandparents and great-grandma attended the Springdale Methodist Church across the street from their house, but I don’t remember religion ever seeming like a defining part of their lives.

There was no Bible on the coffee table, no chapter-and-verse in their conversation, and no crosses or pictures of Jesus hanging on the walls. There was low-key grace before big holiday meals, but that was about it.

My other grandparents, who were Catholic, would sometimes seek out the local Catholic church when they were visiting us, so they wouldn’t miss Mass.

I don’t remember my dad’s folks ever doing that. I’m sure they visited the church my family attended in the Rochester area, back when we attended one. But I think they were there to meet my family’s friends, hear my dad play organ and generally get a glimpse of our lives, not because they felt like they couldn’t miss a week of worship.

When my dad’s folks moved to Rochester, I think church took even less of a role in their lives. I remember my grandma’s funeral being conducted by a rented padre, which suggests there was no priest in town who knew her well.

(I should be warmer of heart. The man of the cloth did the best job he could given the circumstances. It was clear he was working off a hastily acquired Cliff’s Notes on Corine Blumenau, not from any deep personal acquaintance.)

But I’m getting well ahead of myself here.

My grandparents, while not drum-bangers for the Lord, were regular churchgoers during their years on Hope Street. And this week’s calendar entry finds them taking care of a classic bit of church business — arranging for flowers for the altar.

According to the calendars, my grandparents were responsible for dealing with the flowers throughout September and October 1972. It doesn’t look like they had to buy them, more like they had to get them on the altar before services and dispose of them afterward.

My grandma took extensive and detailed notes on that responsibility, probably to my grandpa’s chagrin. She barely left him room to squeeze in the daily weather, much less any notes on anything else that happened that day.

My grandparents might have climbed Mount Washington on the 1st and held a backyard nudist party on the 2nd. I’ll never know, because there was no room on the calendar to mention it. Thanks, Grandma.

The name “CARRIE” is my grandpa’s other contribution to these entries; it appears to be in his hand. I don’t know who she was. Perhaps she was the “Mrs. Bachman” mentioned in my grandma’s note.

(It wasn’t Stephen King’s Carrie; she was still taking shape in her creator’s head in the fall of 1972. And anyway, my grandparents weren’t horror buffs.)

This fragment of family history, while not fully sketched out, fits my image of my grandparents to a T.

Disposing of flowers or baking oatmeal squares for church gatherings are just the kinds of low-key things they would have done to support the church community — and, by extension, worship the Lord.

I’ll imagine them, then, in their modest Sunday best, each with a vase in both hands, putting the flowers gently on the rear floor of Mrs. Bachman’s Rambler American.

Well done, good and faithful servants.

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This post began as a strident anti-religious screed, then was more prudently and thoughtfully rewritten during a rainy drive to Wilkes-Barre.

The intersection of religion and money always makes me squirm.

To figure out why, it helps to take a look at my formative years in the early to mid-’80s. Those were spectacular boom-then-bust years for televangelists of every stripe, whose capers were front-page news.

I was no TV addict as a kid, and certainly didn’t seek out religious programming. But I can remember some of the figures from the glory years of televangelism, as caught in snippets here and there:

— Dr. Gene Scott, the leonine Los Angeles preacher whose all-night program was sometimes the only thing on at 2:30 in the morning where I lived. I can still see him, slumped down and scowling in one of his cowboy hats, sharply exhorting his late-night faithful to reach deeper into their pockets.

— Staying home sick from school one day and catching an episode of “The PTL Club” after the on-air departures of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. I remember a pair of beaming nonentities — introduced on-air as “your happy and smiling hosts!” — basically trying to gloss over the fact that their organization was ass-deep in alligators.

— Bakker, blubbering and singularly pathetic, being led away to prison in chains after being found guilty of fraud and conspiracy.

The foibles of other televangelists didn’t register to me until I did some more growing.

Robert Schuller, for instance, appears to be one of the more honest figures in his line of work; but he also spent a reported $18 million in Seventies money building a giant glass church. Seems to me he could have fed, educated and otherwise uplifted a lot of needy people (done the Lord’s work, in so many words) with the money he’s spent over the years on construction and maintenance of his building.

So, yeah, walk around my memory banks for a couple of minutes and you’ll understand why the intersection of religion and money makes me squirm.

At the same time, I realize there are worlds of difference between the high-rolling televangelists and the staff of your average neighborhood church. And I know those neighborhood churches can’t magically exist without some sort of cash flow.

This week’s calendar entry, then, captures a somewhat more benign meeting of God and cash:

Nov. 14, 1965.

I didn’t know what Loyalty Sunday was when I first noticed this entry. I thought it had an ominous, finger-pointing, with-us-or-against-us sort of ring, reminiscent of Joe McCarthy.

I thought it might be a publicly promoted civic event. I imagined millions of Americans lining up, under thick clouds of peer pressure, to state their support for their country and its then-contemporary war effort. (Nov. 14, 1965, was also the first day of the Battle of the Ia Drang, the first large-scale conflict between American and North Vietnamese troops.)

Then I Googled the phrase “Loyalty Sunday.” Most of the matches were for churches of various denominations. And many of the matches involved the phrase “pledge card.”

While Loyalty Sunday means slightly different things in different congregations, it most commonly seems to be a day when congregants tell their church how much they’ll be giving for the year to come. The churches, of course, always angle for a few more bucks.

The wordsmith in me cringes a little bit at the idea of Loyalty Sunday, since true spiritual loyalty shouldn’t have much to do with money. Who is more loyal to a church, in the truest sense: The person who drops 50 cents into the basket and lives the messages he hears in church, or the person who gives $100 a month and revels in avarice, greed and lust?

Since my grandfather (who certainly did not revel in avarice, greed or lust) took time to note Loyalty Sunday on his calendar, I assume he intended to take part. Perhaps he even put it on his calendar ahead of time so he could give some thought to how much he wanted to tithe.

I would be interested to know how much my grandparents gave, as a portion of their overall household budget. I’m sure they didn’t pony up as much as some of Jim Bakker’s devoted marks — er, congregants. But I imagine they gave something, as dutiful members.

The Methodist church my grandparents attended is still there, which suggests that enough people still dig deep on Loyalty Sunday to keep it alive.

Here’s hoping the current leadership spends this year’s take a little more intelligently than the Bakkers did.

(If a theme park rises on Hope Street, the neighbors will know that something’s afoot.)

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