Thursday, July 28, 2005

Busman's Holiday Episode the Second

Thursday John went with the tour and I took the day off to go to Dedham to see my mother who was glad to see me although she had no clue who I was or what I was doing there. It seemed to me that she was losing speech even in comparison with our visit in May. I looked for a knitting shop called Black Sheep Knitting Company and Italian restaurant I had visited in May and failed to find them because they were in Needham and I thought, for some reason, it was in Newton where there is a pleasant enough knitting shop called Putting on the Knitz and a little Italian place. Then I came back to the nice cool airconditioned motel and vegged out. Meanwhile John visited seven more churches and a Portuguese Buffet Dinner. I was jealous of the Portuguese buffet and was sad not to have seen the Memorial Unitarian Church in Fairhaven which is supposed to be absolutely spectacular but otherwise I was glad to be more leisured.
On Saturday we went to Taunton MA. John delights in pointing out that this part of southern Massacusetts has lots of place names from his home county of Somerset: Taunton and Bridgewater, for example. And he was thrilled to visit St John's Church Taunton , a very sweet white framed Gothic Church because the nearest church to his childhood home in England was St John's Taunton (a dark Victorian Gothic building with a spire, links to Forward in Faith and other conservative church groups and -- perhaps I should not be surprised -- without a website). He insisted I take a picture of this banner.

St John's Taunton MA is a small congregation yoked with two others in Bristol County and the proud owners of E. & G.G. Hook&Hastings Opus 764. It turns out that practically the whole organizing committee of this conference have been organists at this church at one time or another. Lois Regenstein played a delightful recital on it. ways.
I liked the carving on the case of this instrument, too, so here it is close up. Obviously there are some things I still need to learn about placing photos in my blog. Bear with me.

My three favorite things about this day were
1) Barbara Owen's recital at Berkley Congregational Church in Berley MA on an 1830's Hook and Hastings, both because she played two pieces by the local American Composer Oliver Shaw, (who wrote organ music to commemorate every imaginable event, apparently--on Thursday we hear programmatic music to commemorate the visit of Lafayette to Providence RI, also by Shaw) and because she gave lively little program notes including observations about registration.
2) St Mary's RC Church(Hook and Hatstings Opus 1674) which was plainly not the most prosperous church in the world (it was the one we were warned had no bathrooms) but the organ has been held together with string and chewing gum and duct tape by dedicated organ enthusiasts from all over the area and I like the idea of people giving their time to restore and maintain a historic organ.
3) We had a CLAMBAKE in a shed at West Presbyterian Church in Taunto which apparently hosts clambakes to raise money. It reminded me of the clambakes my grandparents used to put on for their friends. We'd sit at trestle tables in the garage, the guys would boil the Clam Bake in metal trash cans out in the yard. We'd have lobster and clams and corn and potatoes and carrots and hotdogs and it was great. No lobster at this clambake, breakfast type sausage instead of hotdogs and bread stuffing was served, which was a new one on me. Also Boston Brown bread.
You can see that we all really got into it!

You can learn more about the Organ Historical Society, this convention and next year's convention by visiting their website The Convention website tells you a lot more about the organs we visited than I can even understand. You can see a lot more pictures by peole who attended the convention here.

Busman's Holiday Episode One

I devoted the week of July 10, precious vacation time, to looking at hot old churches, such a refreshing change from daily life. We went east for the Organ Historical Society's annual convention. My husband John had identified what he thought would be the three best days and we drove there and back. We stayed in the Radisson in Brockton, Mass.

Brockton, for readers who don't know, is not a classic holiday destination. It was once a bustling industrial city thanks to the shoe industry, it was the first city to electrified by Edison. But since the shoe industry moved south and then abroad, it has been all down hill for Brockton. It has some lovely old buildings but also, like so many cities, block upon block of derelict buildings, blocks of people living in substandard housing, hanging out on the street corners in this hot weather because there are few good jobs. When I was a very little girl, my grandparents lived there and I assume my grandmother grew up there before attending the nearby Normal School , now Bridgewater State College in Bridgewater, but I have no idea why they lived there or how long or what they did. Being there made me wonder about my grandmother and her family.

The Radisson is part of a huge shopping center on the north end of the town. We didn't see anything in Brockton, however. We got onto big white busses at 8 a.m. every day and we came back after 9 p.m. And we went from interesting old organ to interesting old organ. One day I stopped counting after organ number eight. At each church, an organist demonstrates the organ by playing various pieces which show you what it can do and by playing a hymn which all sing vigorously. Then OHS members swarm around the instrument commenting on its appearance, construction and sound, using the special language of organ geeks: spotted metal, chiff, . On the bus and at meals they swap stories of playing services under bizarre circumstances and talk about organs they have known (and yes, they make puns and double entendres galore about transplanting organs, whose organ is biggest, etc.) They speak of great 19th and 20th century organ builders like Erben, Hook and Hastings, E.M. Skinner, Johnson and Jardine with the tones of awed admiration which other people reserve for talking about celebrity sightings. The huge preponderance of OHS members are males who will not be fifty again and who also like vintage trains. Several OHS members are Early Music enthusiasts and at least one was sporting a "Clavichords for World Peace" T shirt.

We had a great time but as a non organ geek, I found myself noticing other church things: how off putting it is that one bathroom had a plethora of signs about what not to flush and instructions for the preschool classes on handwashing; the cool folders the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts gives to parishes for their newcomer packets; the subltle ways in which churches communicate that they are lively communities or preservation societies. As our congregation struggles with making our 1938 building accessible to all people, I was feeling grateful that we at least have bathrooms on both levels of the church building, unlike some of these lovely older churches which have no bathrooms at all or whose gracious hosts direct you to the building next door down a flight of stairs. It was very very hot in MA and I faithfully drank water and in consequence could probably conduct the Church Ladies' Room Historical Society tour of Southern Massachusetts so I had plenty of opportunities for such reflections. .

We visited Christ Church, Swansea (Geo. S. Hutchings & Co. Opus 515), a lovely little church Henry Vaughan building like a little English church with an absolutely spectacular monument to the benefactors of the church in the lovely green cemetery. Also in Swansea was First Congregational Church, (E. & G.G. Hook Opus 460) which has a fascinating old fashioned chandelier.

Lunch was provided by Good Shepherd (RC) Parish in Fall River, speedy and courteous service. Someone claimed that now Indian casino gambling has caused bingo to cease to be a source of revenue for churches which instead are doing more and more catering for crowds. We visited First Congregational Church (Ernest M. Skinner Co., Opus 191) which has absolutely fascinating abstract Tiffany windows in the East end. You can see a picture of them here. We had dinner in a church that has ceased to be a church at all and is now the International Culinary Institute of Fall River, quite a spectacular Victorian Early English Gothic structure of red brick and stone (or concrete) almost as flamboyant as those English Victorian churches on which it is modeled, sometimes referred to as "blood and bandages". The organ survived but no attempt was made to play it. When it was Central Presbyterian Church, it was Lizzie Borden's church but this played no part in its decline, apparently. Or in her behavior, for that matter. Then on Thursday evening we went to St Anne's Roman Catholic Church which has statues in its clerestory arches, intended to make you feel surrounded by the Communion of Saints. They have a Cassavant. We had a concert of organ music and choral music. Luckily I am not a music critic.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Parables of daily life

The empire of God is like the surprise lilies which come up as if from nowhere in the midst of summer when nothing much else is in flower.

The empire of God is like a church at 10 a.m. on a summer Sunday when only a few people are in church and by the peace the place is full of people of all ages and energy and spirit.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

More views of Saint Mark's Baby Boom

On July 10, we baptized baby Mackenzie Faye, just a week short of her birthday. It was a joyful occasion, as all baptisms are. Here she is with her mom, admiring her cake and here she is at the font with me, testing the water before she gets any more of it on her head. Carter, the ten year old theologian in training who is my trusty acolyte for baptisms, when I need someone to hold things for me so my hands are free for water and oil and holding the baby, is also in the picture, making sure he misses no interesting details. There is a lot to like about the Episcopal baptismal rite especially the words of the baptismal covenant more and more shape our understanding of what it means to live as Christian people and this great prayer we pray after the baptism:

Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the
forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of
grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them
an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to
persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy
and wonder in all your works. Amen.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Techie Triumph

I haven't done anything this difficult and ultimately pointless since I sat in the Bodleian Library for about a week with Polish grammar books and dictionaries to try to learn enough Polish to read a book for my thesis. I have spent way too much time looking at the Blogger help pages, resizing my pictures (actually, had used Photobucket to post them originally which I think was my main problem) and scrutinizing html in order to figure out what tag I had lost. In case you wondered, "How can I get my Profile and links back where they belong?" is apparently not a FAQ. I compared my blog with another one based on the same template. And then I just experimented until by dumb luck I got my profile, etc. back where they belong. Of course in the process I have doubtless introduced tons of useless code (at one point, for example, I had the Blogring box in two places only one of which displayed on screen) AND it still is not perfect. Too little space between blog and sidebar content, colors chosen to echo those of St Mark's are not quite right and I haven't even checked to see if they work on anything except IE. I have learned a lot but it is about hubris not CSS and HTML.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Only a wannabe techie

I am having a hard time with getting my profile and my links to stay up at the TOP of my blog instead of at the bottom. In the process of trying to fix this, changed templates which meant all my links went away. They'll be back soon. I know how to fix that and saved my old template edits so it should be fairly easy. I am also tinkering with colors. But I am thinking that some of my photos are just way too big, so I am working on changing them. (I put them in using the blog posting function of photobucket and am replacing them using Blogger's own uploading software.) Anyway, if anyone reads this and knows a brilliant and easy way to change the situation, please let me know. I fixed it on my old template but at the price of having my blog way over to the left side of the screen which I didn't like.
So, consider my template under construction and bear with me.