Walker Community Methodist Church

9 Jun

Walker Church in South Mpls. burned down on May 27, 2012 probably due to a lightning strike.

I was talking to my brother about the burning of Walker Community Church the other day and he said that the church was irreplaceable.  He was talking about the building, not the people, and he was making the point that even with full insurance coverage, one cannot reproduce the building because no one constructs buildings like that anymore and most insurance covers the square footage, not insurance for the amount of money one would need to reproduce the old church.  He said that, of course, the congregation won’t want to rebuild the church anyway, and I can understand that for ecological reasons.  But there still is that sense of loss.  I had one funny moment when I thought about God smiting us for letting David (Henri) paint the sanctuary that shade of  yellow-green.  It was ghastly.  Mostly though, I feel sad. This is true even though I belong to another Methodist church now in another state.  I think it is okay to mourn a building both because of the loss of an older architecture and because the building holds so much symbolism not only of Christianity, but of the history of the people who worshipped in the building.

When I cast back on memories of Walker, I think first of the two horses I rode in on: Roger Lynn and Ellen Jensen (count on an English PhD to mix metaphors).  The memory of Roger that sticks out the most is when he drove me and my dog, True, to the airport so that True could enjoy life running on my parents’ New York farm rather than destroying my house.  When I thanked Roger, he said that in a small church such as this one the burden for the minister was not that great.  Of course, in a large church such a mundane task would not be assigned to the top guy.  And that’s one of the aspects of Walker that I appreciate: whomever the top guy/gal is— that person will of necessity have to be involved in the nitty-gritty of the church’s work.

I mention Ellen Jensen as the other “horse” because she was the one who brought me to “Bring a Friend” Sunday.  The special memory I have of Ellen is sitting with her at the Black Forest Inn eating German food and exchanging gossip.  This might seem unrelated but it isn’t.  Her friendship led me to Walker; the qualities I admire most in Ellen are the qualities I admire about Walker–impetuosity, generousness of spirit, and commitment.

At the end of his tenure, Roger chose to start a hospitality get-together that would come after church.  If I remember correctly, he asked Tom Manley and I to start it.  He added, “Make it good coffee” and we usually did.  I had a mental chuckle, because Roger was still fine tuning even as he walked out the door.

But it was a perfect match for both Tom and me–two introverts.  I’m reading a psychology book right now entitled Quiet by Susan Cain.  “Watch out for us introverts,” she warns in so many words.  According to Cain we’re the idea people and we work better when we’re by ourselves.  Tom, of course, has done other things for the church, including taking the offering to the bank.  I found that providing hospitality was easier for me than sitting on a committee might have been.  Tom and I pretty much made all the decisions, although we did have a lot of help with the goodies and the clean-up.  When someone would say that we served too many sweet things, we would simply smile blandly.  We had a way of serving the church that was feasible for us.

When I mentally walk myself through a typical Sunday at Walker and how I interacted with the building, I think first of the toilets not always working and then my climbing of the staircase with the coffee cups and the feeling that I was going to fall because I could feel the weakness of the steps through my shoes.  The music would have started and I would pray that the Hank Williams’ song “I Saw the Light” hadn’t come up yet.  I think of it as a powerful, dramatic song when everyone sings it together, so I like being present to sing along.  The songs were sung at the beginning before the formal start of the service and some Methodist hymns like “Morning Has Broken” were in our hymnal, along with songs by the Beatles, Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan.  Then it was up on the stage to lay out the cups and other supplies.  Allyson  and Carol were the two people who helped us the most often.  Walker was unlike any other church I’ve ever been in because of that stage.  When Seth’s funeral took place, one of my strongest memories is the number of Methodist ministers who were sitting on it.  I think it made the church seem bigger than it was.

Just before the service started, Tom and I would sit down.  I remember the pews as slippery to sit on and smooth to the touch, partly from the many people who had sat there over the years.  I wish I knew the dark wood they were made from (Fred probably knows), but I can see them with the light shining on them from the stained glass windows and there was a dark varnish over the wood.  I preferred it when Gerry did the Native American ceremony with the smudging of the ash and I loved the acrid smell of the burning.  (Gerry would often slip Tom or me a twenty during the hospitality to help us out.) The reading from Lao Tsu came next and served as a stabilizer for the quiet aspect of the service.  Meditations were actually meditations at Walker and we had the bells to wake us back up if we fell asleep.  At about that point Ed Ed and Laura would usually show up.  Laura, like me, was often carrying coffee.  I like it when people look tired in the morning–the morning was made for sleeping.

As I looked across the room during the homily I could see Kristine on my eyeline.  I usually sat on the left with Tom and she usually sat on the right.  She looked and sounded like an interesting person and I always wished I had talked more to her.  That’s the problem with being shy.  Behind us was a man–Constantine, I believe? (Tom will remember).  He never said much but I always thought of him as part of the service.

What I remember from the homilies was usually more personal than theological.  Roger once told us the story of how his father helped him bury his dog.  Seth told us about the point when he decided to marry Becky.  I think it had something to do with a car accident.  Walter told us his favorite hymn was “Holy, Holy.”  He’s been through a lot lately, so hopefully the congregation has considered singing it for him.

And then there was the Counter Thrust.  The congregation was allowed to voice their opinions on the service.  Most of the comments were intelligent, but Fred’s were singular.  I don’t know if it was because he had already worked his way through the Times or because he had eaten frosted flakes, but he came ready to parry.  I was honestly worried that what I said might not measure up, although I’ve always liked Fred.

At the end of the service, we stood on the stage and celebrated Communion by passing a loaf of bread and several goblets of fruit juice.  Then we had Joys and Concerns–these ranged from the trivial to the tragic–but all was taken in in the sweep of the prayers that ended that section.  For some reason I always ended up close to the edge of the stage, with the feeling that I was about to fall off backwards.  Conrad would close the service by playing “Amazing Grace” on his guitar and, holding hands, we would sing all four verses.  The words were written by a British man named Newton who forswore slave trading; the source of the melody is unknown.  Its penitential message was perhaps unusual in such a liberal church, but it has strong roots in folk tradition and was sung  by a number of people in the sixties, including Joan Baez.

Afterward, we would move to the middle part of the stage where the cookies and fruit had been set up on one table, and the coffee had been set up on another.  Several of the people who had played music during the service continued on near the edge of the stage; many of them were guitar players. Kent’s piano playing always stood out for me.  I’m sure that piano burned along with most everything else.  God knows how much money it will take to replace it.  Abbey, Seth’s daughter, did find the altar box after the fire, so we have the bells that brought the meditation to a conclusion and the altar cloth.

Ed Ed would hold forth on various invasive species like the buckthorn that was wrecking my hedge in the backyard, while Fred would expound on the Times and a friend of his from Ithaca.  Tom and I would counter with the one article each from the Times that we had managed to cover before coming to church.  I was often in my own small group; I noticed that other people seemed to move around more.  Still, there was a kind of communion in simply being at the same church at the same time.  It was a very unique religious experience and one that everyone who was there will always remember.

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