Four years ago on election eve, Howard couldn’t stand the suspense. I can identify. So I thought you might enjoy the column he wrote for the Saturday following, November 8th, 2008.
A few figs froms thistles…
by Howard A. Tabor
It’s the little things
Early Tuesday evening (election night) my dog Digger and I took a walk. Aunt Phyllis had set aside some of her renowned green tomato chutney, and I couldn’t pass up her generosity. It was a crisp autumn night. Someone was burning leaves (in clear violation of city ordinance #71-028, but who among us is prepared to cast the first stone). On the way home, digger detoures toward The Commons (he has some favorite spots near the Carousel), a route that brought me near the Episcopal church.
St. Joseph-the-Carpenter is an attractive Gothic Revival building under ordinary circumstances, but Tuesday night it was especially beautiful. Burning leaves tinged the air. Twilight muted the already mossy grey-brown shingles. The stained glass windows were open and glowing. And the sound of choir rehearsal drew me through the door and into a back pew. Gerry Leiden was working the boy choir for our new Christmastime tradition, the Festival of Lessons and Carols.
Great buildings are always better than they appear; they insinuate themseles into our being through more than a single sense. That night, reinforced with distinctive sights, sounds and scents, I came to a newer, better understanding of a building I’d known since childhood.
The Episcopal church of St. Joseph-the-Carpenter was built in 1878 and dedicated late that year. Earlier, Episcopalians had worshipped in the chapel of Bishop Kemper Academy, and afterward the school and parish shared a priest as a matter of economic necessity.
Priests were hard to keep in the early years of parish life; the church might as well have had a revolving door. But Rev. B. F. Cooley of Massachusetts loomed large in building the new church here, despite only six months’ residency. He had attended Nashotah Seminary in Wisconsin; was steeped in music and ritual there; and appears to have been acquainted with eastern architects, which accounts for Henry Dudley becoming ours.
Dudley reinterpreted the Gothic Revival style for us, using heavy wood timbers, beaded siding and cedar shingles rather than stone or brick. Proudfoot & Bird’s enlargements of 1898 only enhanced those qualities. Gerry Leiden’s choir rehearsal Tuesday evening confirmed something we’ve all known about St. Joe’s: its accoustics are nearly perfect. If Stradivarius had built churches, instead of violins, they might have looked and sounded like St. Joe’s—rich, resonant, mellow and smokey, like the air outside—because virtually every surface is unpainted wood. Leiden’s oratorio “Shananditti” premiered here last April, and recording companies from Des Moines have used the church auditorium several times—a welcome source of income when the offering plate is thin.
Long, low and liturgical, St. Joe’s out-ritualized the Romans across the street, but it was a friendly rivalry and communicants at one were always welcome at the other—despite official positions taken by their administrative leadership. The two church choirs—St. Joe’s and St. Ahab’s—often joined forces for Christmas and Easter, and the priests “covered” for one another on occasion. In the midst of the 1898 remodelling, Fr Kemp even co-officiated at the funeral of his papist friend Rev. Manning. Apparently, ecuminsm has been alive and well in Agincourt for more than a century.
Digger and I sat in the church for nearly an hour as Dr. Leiden put the choir to work. I don’t think they ever realized we were there, the group was so focused on its task. Sight, sound, smell and touch (gee, that cedar has worn smooth in the last 130 years) wrapped me in a spiritual blanket; rare respite from the stress of a sagging economy and a War on Terror that none of us wanted. I took an hour of comfort with my friend Digger beside me and then headed home to watch television returns with newfound hope.
My advice to you: Find comfort where you can and offer it where required. I found some Tuesday night at St. Joe’s