Sunday, November 23, 2014

They do not build them this way anymore. . . to our shame

I have long lamented the way the churches put up cheap, warehouse buildings that are supposed to represent the God who made and sustains all things.  Apparently the best we can do or afford are buildings that are temporary and reflect more the nature of fallen humanity that the eternal and almighty God.  Then, as if adding insult to injury, we equip them with temporary things.

In contrast to this, another age and another generation worked to build that which was worthy of God and their buildings have proven rather cost effective -- enduring even the neglect of their people.  Here is one such instance -- a German Roman Catholic parish slated for closing that sat empty for 6 years and yet still testifies to the craftsmanship of its builders, especially in a pipe organ that had not received any attention for those 6 years and still regaled the ear with the splendor of music.

Read about it here. . . snippets below.

HIS SCENE HAS BEEN PLAYING OUT all over the United States and many parts of the world. One such tragically sad closure is that of the Holy Trinity (German) R. C. Church in Boston’s South End. It was exceptionally unique and beautiful. Established in 1844, the current building was dedicated in 1877. The parish was closed in 2008 and the church building recently put up for sale. Serving the German community, it was also home for many years to the Traditional Latin Mass. (This is especially notable prior to Pope Benedict’s 2007 Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum on the celebration of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of 1962).

Holy Trinity was one of several churches in downtown Boston built in the nineteenth century to serve an enormous immigrant population. These edifices, many within a few short blocks of each other, are larger than most cathedrals throughout the United States. Many issues, some complex and some tragic, leave the nineteenth and twentieth century configurations of the Archdiocese hopelessly out of date and unsustainable.

UT NEW LIFE BEGINS TO BREATHE ELSEWHERE: I received a phone call from Fr. Jonathan Gaspar, Director of the Office of Divine Worship and Priest Secretary to His Eminence Se├ín Cardinal O’Malley. The historic organ at Holy Trinity Church, an E. & G. G. Hook, Opus 858, ca. 1877 was being removed in five days in order for it to be preserved. Before it was to be dismantled, he asked me to come in for a look and to record the instrument one last time.

The hope is that this instrument will continue to lead the people in singing God’s praises in a brand new Neo-Gothic style chapel being built by the Archdiocese near Boston’s newly developing waterfront. Although not designated as a parish, Our Lady of Good Voyage Chapel will serve a great need in that location. Pending the outcome of fundraising, this organ will have an opportunity lead the Church in sacred song again.

As I began to play the forty-five rank instrument, I thought of the generations who came here to worship God. For one hundred sixty-four years, this parish nourished the faithful. Playing these last notes in this church was a sacred privilege I did not deserve.

HAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A SHORT ten-minute visit tuned into nearly two hours. The organ was in shockingly good condition for having not been serviced in six years. (This is a testament to a highly robust music program that featured several ongoing choirs.) After six years, the tuning was remarkable except for some reeds, which one expects. The chests were in astoundingly good shape. One hundred thirty-seven years after it was first built, this instrument wants to sing on! It must.
Typical of the extraordinary craftsmanship of the Hook organs are its deep and rich colors. I savored the distinctively warm flutes and strings supported by beautiful 8’ foundations. The reeds were colorful, and the instrument, well balanced. Rebuilt and revoiced by Conrad Olson in the 1950’s, the instrument is highly versatile, capable of leading hymns as well as accompanying chant and choral music.

Exploring various colors, I wandered into improvisations of hymns and chants I thought fitting for a last farewell. Among them were Praise to the Lord, and For All the Saints to honor all those who came before to worship here. In Paradisum and Lux aeterna were fitting for what felt like a funeral for the organ and for this magnificent church. Finally, I share with you the very last notes I played that day, an improvisation on Ave Maris Stella. Its somewhat mournful tone is fitting. The final phrases linger on a bit too long, as I did not want to leave.

The bells in the tower, (which originate from New Orleans during the Civil War—another intriguing story) as you can hear, still work beautifully:


Kirk Skeptic said...

We also live in a different age in which congregations are often financially strapped and must lower their aesthetic expectations, and the utility bills which accompany them. If the choice is between grand art and paying an honest minister an honest wage, I will always choose the latter. In our economic milieu, this is not necessarily a false dichotomy. Besides, without Purgatory and other scam artistry Rome uses to fleece the flock, the Lutheran situation is even tighter.

Anonymous said...

I have been to many services (including Lutheran services) where I got far more from the music than I did from any spoken words. Music is an integral part of true worship of the Lord.

By the way, there is a great difference between worship and preaching. The distinction tends to get muddled, but it is very real.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

ErnestO said...

The Church will not fail.