Faith Works 7-3-13
Held gently in trust
St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Granville is coming home tomorrow.
For the last year, they've been assembling their two or more in Jesus' name up at Swasey Chapel, and thanks to the co-operation of Denison University, they've not lost sheep but even gained a few.
They worshiped up on campus because down in the village, their historic structure was bent, nearly broken, by the sheer force of last year's June 29 derecho winds.
With trusses cracked, the building could not be used. A historic Greek Revival structure, built in 1837, St. Luke's is the oldest church building still in use in Licking County. There are older congregations, and in Newark, Trinity Episcopal's original 1834 building still stands, but shrouded in an office complex; a close second is Old Stone Church of Christ, built originally in 1838 but abandoned from the Civil War until 1913.
So the unique status of St. Luke's as a community and county institution is the original craftsmanship and design still on display, and that the building has fairly continuously been in use. There is an element of our common history that is embodied by this place, whether we're Episcopalian or not.
To restore the building without markedly changing the character of what makes it special has cost, over the last few years, an investment that ran up into seven figures. The congregation has leaned into the effort, giving sacrificially, even as a certain modest amount of aid has come in from non-members.
From the outside, you could ask if it would make sense to just start over, to pop up a pole barn and finish off the insides decently, and have a new building with minimal upkeep in the near-term, plus all those resources that didn't go into preserving a landmark now there to spend on mission and outreach.
You could ask that, although a reasonable response is to ask "would those gifts be there if you didn't have the focus of a historic building to raise them?" It's hard to know. And even more to the point, a casual observer would quickly notice that, if anything, St. Luke's mission and ministry to the wider community has, during this pilgrim period, if anything increased. They are active in running the Market Street Pantry in Newark for food assistance, even as the Great Granville Garage Sale and Turkey Trot 5K went on as usual, blessing the Licking County Coalition for Housing and Food Pantry Network of Licking County.
In fact, the congregation is acutely aware of the fact that they hold their church building in trust for more than just themselves. That place, the history in and around it, and even the look and feel of the worship space, is something that is more than any one worship service can communicate: although I am sure that tomorrow, at 8 am and 10 am, Rev. Stephen Applegate will try!
T.S. Eliot was speaking of Little Gidding in England when he wrote these lines in 1942, during a time of trial for that country, when people of all faiths needed a connection, a tangible link to something that would endure. He said of the experience of visiting a historic church:
"You are not here to verify,/ Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity/ Or carry report. You are here to kneel/ Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more/ Than an order of words, the conscious occupation/ Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying."
For the congregation of St. Luke's, they will gather to kneel where prayer has been found valid for over 175 years, and where our prayers this day will gather around them.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's delighted for his brothers and sisters at St. Luke's. Tell him about another historic church building at firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Knapsack on Twitter.