Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thirty -seventh day of Lent: Stygian darkness

Just as I’m ready to head to my lectionary study group, I get a call, the roofers are ready to start. I open up the doors to let them in with loads of ladders, roofing materials, tar, drain spouts, leaders...The big ladder needed to get to the north tower won’t fit to go up the stairs. But I suggest taking it into the sanctuary and over the balcony and that works. When the ladder is up,I climb up and go through the hatch into the north tower. In fifteen years, I’ve never been in this space before. Halfway up the brick wall is the little door that opens out onto the roof. 
John arrives for a final review of the  contract with Woodshed. Hope arrives and we dig into the bag of archives. And Jim Clifford comes in to say hello on his way back from the hospital. Amanda and Danielle have finished a meeting and are in Riverside Park for lunch.
The bag of archives. Crazy. Random. After the water disaster, everything was just gathered up by the clean up crew and stuffed in bags. As we go through the items, years pass, pop up, go by, trail off...there’s lists of members, pew rental lists, marriage registers, mortgages, deeds, architectural plans. 
All right, I’ve discovered the meaning  of the two memorial plaques in the narthex! Lewis C.Bales was the second pastor of Park Church, only served briefly and died at 34 in San Francisco. David R. Downer, who the plaque says ...terminated his ministry and his life... was the first pastor of West Church. So these two plaques are concrete (marble?) reminders of the two former churches, their buildings, their people.
We find the merger documents. The first new church manual. Old centennial bulletins and history booklets. Documents from previous landmark fights. The merger struggle of the early nineties. No order, just jumbled up.
Strikingly, the documents repeat themes of struggle: financial, interpersonal,political, ecclesiastical...always hints of secret meetings, strategies, plots and plans...anger, hurt, accusation, acrimony...but also persistence, always facing near disaster and keeping we are.
I meet Amanda and Danielle in the Park. Sunny, but still a little chilly. Catch up on our mornings, head back to the church. 
The head of roofing crew is on 87th Street trying to figure out how to get into that little, small flooded space outside the south wall of the  sanctuary. (When John went back there the first time, they had to climb over a fence, a small wall...and John said, and I had neither hip boot waders  nor proper wellingtons...) I tell him I know the way.
So we head down through the crawl space, back through the stygian darkness (explained that term to Danielle today) across planks and doors spread across dank pools of water to the door at the back. A quick twist and the lock falls off.  Though two large garbage containers have been filled with a swamp like sludge, there is still a foot or so of ominous water remaining. Clearly the source of the water that has drained into the bowels of the church.
The crew chief steps into the murk, searching for the drain. Wraps his hands in a plastic bag and digs down. This will take awhile.
Making my way back through the crawl space, trying to stay out of the sat dig water, I see the detritus of history tucked into nooks and crannies. Never installed organ pipes, broken furniture, a wooden bed head board...the exposed original brick and stone foundations...wet, creepy. People who romanticize about these buildings have no idea. No idea. Times like this I just want to say, it’s way beyond, just way beyond, take it down, start over....
I’m taking Amanda to see Jack. The Seattle connection. the music connection. My dream of producing an evening of his music, his poetry...I’ll come back and lock up later.

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