A meaningful service was held at St. Paul’s this week for a beloved member who has gone on to the Lord. Many from our congregation today and years past gathered and shared memories of time spent with Mrs. Leona Rogers as well as their history with St. Paul’s. One conversation in particular brought back memories of my own upbringing at the Methodist Church in downtown Oklahoma City.
“I don’t think I would be allowed to go around that chancel area,” the man said, “because when I was growing up that’s where I used to sit in the balcony.”
He laughed and looked at the ceiling as he relived the moment.
“I can remember paper airplanes drifting down from the balcony and into the pews that surely hadn’t taken flight from my hand. There must’ve been some allure to gravity because I can also remember pencil erasers that may have accidentally been flung over the railing as well. And, surely there were never any hymnals dropped off of the balcony to see how quickly they could hit the floor and what kind of thump they would make!”
I chuckled to myself knowing precisely what he was talking about. I too grew up with a beautiful balcony that wrapped around the sanctuary of First Church OKC. There may or may not have been a few paper airplanes that I released over the railings there. What a joy it is to be a kid in the church. The whole building was my playground. From the little corridor that ran behind the pipes of the organ to the magical room at the top of the bell tower where an octave of levers pulled and chimed the giant church bells for all of downtown to hear, there were few who knew their way around like I did. I can’t help smiling thinking about the people I’ve come to know at St. Paul’s who have grown up here and must feel similarly about their building.
Also, in the balcony at First Church, we had a couple big round stained-glass windows that you could reach out and touch feeling the warmth of the sun shining through. The way the risers and floor were built for the seating created a hidey hole where the bottom 1/10th of the stained-glass window rounded out. This is where we would hide our soft batch Keebler Chocolate chip cookies that we borrowed from the church pantry so as to have something to snack on when the sermons went long. Those are the kind of fond memories that warm my heart when hearing memories of the now well grown up kids and youth with such history at St Paul’s.
By the time I was a youth, I think the church had figured out how best to keep us under surveillance and engaged in worship. They reserved the first several rows right in front of the altar rails just for us. We had to turn completely around and crane our necks to look longingly up to the younger children in the balcony tearing up their bulletins for spit wads and crawling their way around to the stained-glass hidey holes. By this time, we actually cared a lot more about being spiritually mature contributors to our church, though, I can remember our pastor calling a couple of my friends by name in the middle of his sermon to wake them up! I don’t remember my name ever being called for that reason but perhaps once or twice I was asked to stop passing notes. I’m sure I was just sharing scriptures with my friends, right?
Apparently, Mrs. Leona wasn’t one to let anyone get away with such shenanigans either. As it was told to me, one quick look or gesture would be enough to tame all the mischief in the balcony. I always love hearing about life at St. Paul’s prior to the tornado that deemed a new era of worship space in order. Imagining the sanctuary flipped around with a dome, balcony and organ pipes is fascinating. I know it is a time and space that will always be cherished.
I also know how much our sanctuary today is loved and cherished. I was in a conversation with a friend of mine who was married at St. Paul’s in the mid 1980’s. He was overjoyed recalling their ceremony in front of the incredible stained-glass we have behind our chancel. I can understand why. I still find our stained-glass as stunning as the first time we walked through the doors.
There are many things people have shared with me about our sanctuary now. I had a current member laugh about how she can no longer sit in her self-designated pew at the back of the sanctuary because it is where the sound booth now stands. Another member told me they feel the warmth from the sermons now more than ever because they’ve moved up several rows and are so much closer to the preacher as she is on fire for the mission and message of Christ. I guess it’s more than the building that has been changing over the years at St. Paul’s.
In my time at St. Paul’s I’ve already developed memories on the 2nd floor of our Education Building, both wonderful and not. It’s been soul quenching to be a part of the choir and to be in the choir room where I’ve built relationships with many fabulous people. Even better, getting to sing with my daughter every Wednesday night and to watch her be “adopted” by all of our new family members has been priceless. Nonetheless, it was a tough winter for us, and we certainly valued our robes through the months that there had been no heat in the choir room.
It was not too big of a deal when the hot water tank for the 2nd floor kitchen mysteriously emptied itself all over the closet and adjacent rooms. In fact, I gained a new respect for our resident plumber that day as he was prompt and efficient in removing the tank and making sure there were no other threats connected with it. However, I could not have been prepared for the Sunday morning the St. Paul’s house keeper called in a panic to have me come to the church at 8AM. We waded through ankle deep water in the Disciple’s class room as it rained both water from a 3rd floor leak and crumbling ceiling tiles all over the floor and furniture. When I was at Graceland in Memphis, I was awed by the waterfall wall that Elvis had in his living room. I was less excited about our new waterfall wall that we had in our chapel. Ah, memories.
This week, following a good deal of demolition and clean up, I have been able to take several people to the 2nd floor to see what has been done and to catch the vision of what is to come. Stepping off of the elevator can only be described as “a brand-new experience.” I think everyone’s first word has been, “Wow.” We really have an incredible space where I am excited for new memories to begin. Space for Adult Sunday Morning Small Groups to meet, build relationships and study scripture together. Space that the youth can, once again, call their own and will include both a recreational area and a place to worship. And, call me crazy, but I’m also finding myself pretty excited about the big new bathrooms we will have in the middle of it all!
This week, honoring the life of a beloved church member brought many people into St. Paul’s. People from the church’s past and present. Hearing the joyful stories of what St. Paul’s has meant to them is what got me excited about what the church will mean to so many in the future. We are an alive and growing body of Christ. It’s amazing to meet people in the community and find out how well they are familiar with the work we are doing for our neighbors. There is no better time than now to be dreaming God-sized dreams for the future of St. Paul’s.
Not even paper airplanes, pencil erasers and hymnals can soar as far as what God has planned for us.