Once every decade or so I attend church, usually under duress or some sort of leverage. Thirty-two years ago—more or less; it was a couple years before I met Mr Vandervort—I dated someone in Minneapolis (just twice) and went to church with him one Sunday morning. It was a service at Westminster Presbyterian on Nicollet in Minneapolis.
Westminster is one of those great urban anchors; a landmark inner-city congregation renowned for packing the pews. I don’t recall who the senior pastor was then but he delivered the kind of sermon that might actually have got me back.
This wasn’t the species of sermon you might encounter on the Sunday morning God Box. There was no Creflo Dollar “Prosperity Gospel,” a thinly-veiled guilt trip to fund his $65 million private jet. No irrational link by Pat Robertson between same-sex marriage and a storm in the Carolinas; any god with aim that poor is unworthy of hosannahs. There weren’t crowds of the mangled and maimed waiting for miraculous cure. Instead, it was about the importance of letters.
I’m an inveterate letter-writer. Don’t even hint that you might enjoy a regular correspondence; it’s a Pandora’s mailbox impossible to close. From the pulpit we heard about Paul, the New Testament’s most prolific writer of epistles, which subtly morphed into a broad contemporary essay about the importance of communication. Remember this happened more than thirty years ago, before the Internet put penmanship on the list of endangered activities. All this comes back to me this evening for two reasons: 1) one of my favorite correspondents has written me off [about which I’m very sad, by the way], and 2) I’ve been thinking a lot about Agincourt’s counterpart to Westminster Prez: Asbury United Methodist.
My passion for the Akron-Auditorium plan—a phenomenon of the period 1880-1920—is well known, so Agincourt was an obvious opportunity to design an example of a type I’ve been investigating for decades—literally. It matters little to me that my version of it circa 1920 may have been the last A-A church ever built anywhere. The plans (and the volumes they represent) were remarkably easy. The elevations are another story.
I suspect that Asbury UMC is able to seat twice the normal Sunday crowd. Mainstream Protestantism is shrinking as the evangelical and charismatic denominations attract young members and older mainstreamers go to their reward. On the day of dedication, it was SRO, but normal services must have warranted all that space. The question today is how it manages to survive, a dinosaur of a buildings in the digital age. Asbury’s success depends on it current senior pastor Candace Varenhorst, whose sermons and administrative magic keep the place afloat.
Candy is a good friend of Howard Tabor and Rowan Oakes.