Friday, April 8, 2011

Twenty-sixth day of Lent: It's who we are

Gray, raw day. The pit the city is digging has grown, turning around the corner onto 86th Street. The bus stop sign has been taken down. The stop completely cordoned off. Like a medieval castle, we are being surrounded by a moat. 
First up are two plumbers from Watson Plumbing on assignment from the Landmarks Conservancy. They’ve come to examine the broken drains, the standing water. We start in the storage room in the basement. Clogged broken drain. Standing dirty water.
Then through the boiler room and out to the back yard. The pool has been drained but underneath, another broken drain, just waiting for the next rain. The last will be the  hardest. 
The water is visible from a ground floor window. At the northeast corner of the sanctuary building. How to get there? It’s in a mini yard I didn’t even realize that we had. On  the first visit, the plumber and John gained entrance by going to the apartment building on 87th, talking to the super, going out through their yard, climbing over a small fence. A door was visible. How to get to it?
The only way is to take flashlights and enter into the crawl space behind the boiler room under the sanctuary. This is truly the stygian darkness of the church. Years ago, some former super laid out a path of planks and broken doors across the water. Clearly this is an old issue. I’ve never been here before.
We reach the door. There’s no lock, but it won’t open. Rusted shut. We’re going to have to bust that open, they say. Whatever it takes, I say. They will write up a report. Be back. 
I’m outside sweeping when I see another plumber outside the door. He’s been there half an hour. Rang the buzzer. Well now, that’s broken, too. He’s here to check the boiler. I’m having trouble keeping all these plumbers and their assignments straight. It’s like all plumbers, all the time. 
He checks out the ancient boiler. Opens the doors. Takes pictures. Marvels at its over a century old brick walls. The former coal box converted to oil. Then gas. It’s real dinosaur. The hot water tank is separate. Do we need to replace  it? Just turn it back on? Is going tankless cheaper? He too will write up his report. 
This morning I have seen the bowels of the church. The underground brick and stone walls. The dark, earthy wetness. Those who wax romantic about these old buildings have no idea. No idea.
Later I meet Hope and Jim and Ted and Norm at Popovers. We’re planning an archival exhibit for the centennial. Norm has volunteered to head this up. We talk about themes. Eras. How we want to show how a classic whitebread church with ushers in morning coats and catered picnics in the park turned into the feisty cutting edge vanguard community of the eighties. And now a committed, multicultural circle with its allies striving for a future. A vision. 
We go back into the church. Look for the best place to mount the exhibit. Talk about next steps. Assignments. I like this better than plumbing. I take Norm and Ted outside to see what remains of the quote that has been the watchword for this church since its birth.
Above the door, only a few letters remain. But its message is clear: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit”, says the Lord God of Hosts. (Zech. 4:6) Both feel moved. That this should be the theme of the exhibit. Of the entire celebration. 
I recall how this was our theme the Sunday after 9-11. The banner with these words our intern Chris from Union created that hung down from the balcony. The dramatic musical setting Bill created. I look up at the words again.  Bits of the intricate carving remain under the worn letters. Perhaps a metaphor. It’s been weathered. Worn down. But still there.  It’s who we are. 

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