Old red-brick church survives in high-tech San Francisco

The outsider tends to think of San Francisco as irreligious city.

Cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge and LGBT pioneers are among things so-called “Baghdad by the Bay” is easily recognized for, but San Francisco has an array of beautiful structures, including many houses of worship such as Grace Cathedral, Sherith Israel synagogue, Saint Ignatius Church, Saints Peter and Paul Church and Mission Dolores, the oldest surviving structure in the city, dating to 1776.

Other noteworthy houses of worship are less well known. Take Saint Francis Lutheran Church, the only Lutheran church in the world to be named for the Italian (Catholic) saint.

Located on Church Street, near the intersection of Market Street in the Castro District, Saint Francis Lutheran dates back to just before the devastating 1906 Earthquake. By the time of the disaster, the main floor meeting hall had been completed and was in use, but the sanctuary above was still unfinished.

The earthquake damaged the sanctuary, but the main floor was left intact and was used by the Red Cross as a hospital and shelter for the injured and homeless.

The red-brick church was constructed in a Danish-Gothic style, modified in the Nordic tradition, according to NoeHill in San Francisco, a website dedicated to San Francisco historical sites.

It possesses a wooden steeple and features a stone foundation and steps. In the sanctuary are copies of two masterpieces by Danish sculptor Berte Thorvaldsen (1770-1844).

San Francisco, like much of California, received a wide array of immigrants from many parts of the world following the 1849 Gold Rush. Danish immigration to California began in the San Joaquin Valley and gradually moved to Fresno and then north to the Bay Area and San Francisco.

For many years, religious services in San Francisco were performed by Lutheran clergy dispatched more than 180 miles from Fresno, according to NoeHill in San Francisco.

Around 1900, when the Danish community in San Francisco had reached a size to warrant its own church, the community wrote to Queen Louise of Denmark asking for financial assistance. The monarch sent a gift of 500 Kroner, which formed the basis of the building fund.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the area around the church was populated mainly by Scandinavians and Germans. For many years, the neighborhood supported five Lutheran churches, each holding services in a different language: Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish and German.

Over the years, as English became the common tongue the various Lutheran congregations merged. In 1964, a Danish and Finnish congregation merged and named the new congregation in honor of San Francisco’s patron saint, Saint Francis.

(Top: 111-year-old Saint Francis Lutheran Church, in San Francisco’s Castro District.)

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Jesus: Apostles needed; Goliath need not apply

the last supper

I’ve occasionally pondered a blog dedicated solely to the religious adventures of Daughter No. 3. For one, there’s definitely no lack of material. She’s the one who most recently expressed interest in looking into the church role of “crucifier” (rather than “crucifer,” the individual who carries the processional cross into and out of church at the beginning and end of mass).

But as much as I chortle at some of her misguided answers to basic Christian history, I often find even better her attempts to explain her lack of knowledge.

Last week, for some reason (perhaps simply because I decided it was time for a little levity), I asked Daughter No. 3 what term was used to refer to the men closest to Jesus.

“UH, UH, UH, I KNOW THIS! I KNOW THIS! – The Twelve Disciples!” she shouted, proud as a peacock.

“No, not quite,” I replied. “You got the number right, but you missed on the title.”

“What?!? 12 Disciples! It’s disciples, I know it’s disciples!”

“No, I’m sorry, it’s not,” I stated. Then, looking at her siblings, I asked, “Anyone else?”

In unison I heard, “The Twelve Apostles!”

Daughter No. 3 was less than impressed. “Disciples, apostles, what’s the difference?”

After explaining that any follower can be considered a disciple, but the 12 specific individuals who were Jesus’ closest followers were his apostles, she seemed less than convinced.

So I followed up with, “All right, how many of the Twelve Apostles can you name?”

This, of course, is where the fun began; Daughter No. 3 began racking her brain for biblical names.

“David … Jonah … Adam … Abraham; how about those?” she asks.

“Well, you seem to be on a decidedly Old Testament bent, sweetheart,” I told her. “Think New Testament.”

She paused, then blurted out, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!”

“I’ll give you credit for two,” I replied, figuring that then was not the time for a discourse on who the actual authors of the books of Matthew or John might have been, or that the authors of Mark and Luke are not known. “That means you’ve got four more to go to get to 12.”

She paused, then reverted back to the Old Testament: Daniel? … Noah? … Moses? …. Did I already say David?”

“Yes. You need one more.”

“Uh, Joseph,” she said.

“Which Joseph,” I asked. “There are several in the bible.

Goliath, who didn't make Daughter No. 3's list as one of the Twelve Apostles.

Goliath, center left, who didn’t make Daughter No. 3’s list as one of the Twelve Apostles.

She stared blankly back at me in the rearview mirror. I tossed out a name: “How about Joseph, Jesus’ father?”

“Yeah, that’s a good one.”

I looked at her incredulously. “If your brother was, heaven help us, a religious figure of some stature, do you think he would want me as one of his apostles?”

That brought a round of laughs.

Still, she wasn’t budging from Joseph, the father of Jesus.

“Congratulations,” I said in my best game show host’s voice. “You just named two out of 12 of the apostles. And to think you completed a two-year confirmation course just two weeks ago.”

“They didn’t teach us anything,” she blurted out in semi-disgust.

“Oh, I have a feeling they taught you plenty, you just weren’t learning,” I told her.

With that, I got a wave of the hand and a laugh. She knows that since I teach in the same faith formation program, I have at least a slight idea what was going on in her class.

I did give her credit, though. For once she didn’t go to her safety answer for all bible questions. Typically, the first name blurted out, no matter what the question, is “Goliath.”

Progress is coming in very, very small baby steps, but it is progress nonetheless.

(Top: Leonardo’s Last Supper, showing Jesus and the Twelve Apostles.)

Century-old stained glass underscores priest’s legacy

stained glass

This past weekend a small Roman Catholic parish in Chapin, SC, unveiled its new church, a Modern Gothic Revival-style structure 10 years in the making.

Our Lady of the Lake Church features an impressive bell, a beautiful ambo and a striking altar. But perhaps what sets it apart from most new churches is its stained glass windows.

Unlike most of what is in the new structure, the eight windows are more than a century old, having come from the old Monastery of the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary in Union City, NJ, also known as “The Blue Chapel.”

They were made at Buffalo Glass Works in New York by well-known stained glass artist Leo P. Frohe, who created them in the spirit of the Munich School style of glass, common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The set of windows was once called “the poor man’s Bible” by Frohe and his contemporaries because they offered a physical way for worshippers to experience the transcendence of God.

Detail of stained glass window depicting Mary and infant Jesus.

Detail of stained glass window depicting Mary and infant Jesus.

Five of the windows depict the joyful mysteries of the rosary, and the other three show images of the Sacred Heart appearing to St. Gertrude, Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and Mary’s coronation in heaven.

Frohe (1851-1919) was born in The Netherlands. He came to Buffalo in 1862 with his mother and sisters, joining his father, a classically trained artist who had arrived in the US a year earlier.

For many years Frohe was the manager of the Buffalo Stained Glass Works. Frohe’s work for the company won a silver medal at the Paris Exhibition in 1889.

In 1895 he established his own workshop, called Frohe Art Glass, in Buffalo.

The Blue Chapel was built between 1912 and 1914, and housed the Order of the Perpetual Rosary which was started by Dominicans nuns who emigrated from France.

The monastery closed in 2008 when its last two nuns retired and moved to a hospice in New Jersey.

Father Andrew Vollkommer, the longtime pastor at Our Lady of the Lake, arranged that the eight windows be transferred to South Carolina in exchange for paying for the reburial of nuns who were interred on the property of the New Jersey monastery.

The windows were then restored at a Charlotte studio that specializes in stained glass.

Stained glass from the Munich School, created during the late 19th and early 20th century, possessed unique characteristics.

It is said to mirror “the European Romantic-era style of artistic, musical, and religious philosophy that took the lofty, hyper rational ideals of the preceding period and brought them, in a sense, back to earth,” according to the Hudson (NY) Reporter.

“It was believed beforehand that nature and the body were imperfect and that spiritual enlightenment could only be achieved by rejecting one’s earthly experience,” according to the publication. “The Romantic era proposed that true spiritual revelation was achieved instead by embracing nature and human emotion.”

Unfortunately, the man so instrumental in bringing the windows to the new church, along with everything else associated with the elegant structure, wasn’t on hand to witness the dedication.

Father Vollkommer died in his sleep in late January at age 60, after overseeing nearly every aspect of the structure nearly through to completion.

In more than 20 years of shepherding the parish, Father Vollkommer helped it grow from 60 families to 800, so there was more than a tinge of sadness that he wasn’t on hand this past weekend to see the fruits of his labor.

However, it’s not often that any of us are able to leave a legacy that will last generations. Buried a short distance away, Father Vollkommer will remain figuratively and literally in the shadow of the new church for decades to come.

Picturesque church a reminder of town’s glory days

First Presbyterian

Say one thing for old-time Presbyterians: They knew how to build a church.

Consider First Presbyterian Church in Laurens, SC. Built in Victorian Gothic Revival style, it has all the beauty and elegance of any storied European house of worship despite being located in a town with barely 9,000 residents.

Constructed of red brick, it possesses a cross-gabled slate roof, and a two-story mansard-roofed tower. It employs board-and-batten dormers with round windows and an octagonal broach spire. Its decorative brickwork is indicative of beautiful masonry found on many buildings constructed in the US up through the 1940s.

Features of First Presbyterian’s brickwork includes corbelled arcades, blind-raked arcades, soldier courses set with diagonally placed bricks, brick buttresses, and brick chimneys with recessed panels and corbelled bands and caps, according to information about the church detailed by the National Register of Historic Places.

Door to First Presbyterian Church, Laurens, SC.

Door to First Presbyterian Church, Laurens, SC.

The congregation was organized in the early 1830s, and by the 1840s it was more than 100 members. The church continued to grow prior to the Civil War, with its first standalone structure, on Church Street in Laurens, being built in 1850. By 1860, First Presbyterian’s membership rolls had swelled to 176, including 46 slaves.

First Presbyterian, like most houses of worship in the South, struggled during the war, as not only were a number of its congregants killed during the conflict, but contributions fell off as members sought to keep their own heads above water financially. In 1863, its minster was sent off to serve as chaplain in the Confederate army.

Following the 1861-65 conflict, First Presbyterian slowly recovered, as the region embraced manufacturing and textiles, and also served as a transportation hub, with several railroads serving the town.

Toward the end of the 19th century things were going well enough in both the churchB.F. Mauldin story 177 and the community that it was decided expansion was in order.

First Presbyterian acquired a lot on Laurens’ Main Street for $800 and began construction in 1891. The first service inside the completed structure was held two years later, in April 1893.

During the past three decades, Laurens, like many Southern towns, has fallen on difficult times as textiles and manufacturing plants have closed or relocated. Nearly 500 fewer people lived in Laurens in 2010 than did so 50 years earlier, a trend evident in small towns across the Southeast.

However, even with the problems inherent in struggling town, the Presbyterians of Laurens, SC, have a house of worship they can rightly take pride in.

B.F. Mauldin story 171

Francis, Kirill set for historic meeting in Cuba

francis kirill

The recent announcement that Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic church, and Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox church, plan to meet in Cuba later this month will mark the first such gathering in more than 950 years.

The summit comes after decades of diplomacy between the Russian Orthodox church and the Vatican.

The two branches split in 1054 over disagreements regarding theology, when they officially became two separate faith traditions: Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians.

While modern popes have met in the past with the Istanbul-based ecumenical patriarchs, the spiritual leaders of Eastern Orthodoxy, the meeting with Kirill is more substantial. Eastern Orthodox patriarchs play a largely symbolic role, while the Russian church is seen as wielding considerably more influence because it includes 165 million of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians.

Whereas past efforts to bring the two faith leaders together have failed, the two churches are now willing to meet largely because of the “current turmoil facing Christians in several parts of the world, and particularly in the Middle East,” according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Both the Vatican and the Orthodox Church have long been vocal in denouncing Islamic extremist attacks in the Middle East, North and Central Africa, in which radical Islamists have waged wars on Christians, often causing a rift between Muslims and Christians, the publication reported.

“In this tragic situation, we need to put aside internal disagreements and pool efforts to save Christianity in the regions where it is subject to most severe persecution,” Metropolitan Illarion, foreign policy chief of the Russian Orthodox Church, told the Associated Press.

In addition, concerns that Ukrainians are losing faith with the Orthodox church over its acquiescence to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “aggression in Crimea and the Donbas,” and the Roman Catholic church’s desire for religious freedom for Catholics in Russia and Ukraine are also driving the meeting.

The split dates back to difficulties between Michael Cerularius, patriarch of Constantinople, and Pope Leo IX, head of the Roman Catholic church.

By the middle of the 11th century, there were a number of ecclesiastical differences and theological disputes standing between the Greek East and Latin West. These included the source of the Holy Spirit, whether leavened or unleavened bread should be used in the Eucharist, the Pope’s claim to universal jurisdiction and the position of Constantinople in the organizational structure of Christendom.

Michael Cerularius was determined, if possible, to have no superior in either church or state. He took several actions against the Western church, including attacking it because it used unfermented bread in the sacrifice of the mass and closing the Latin churches in Constantinople, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia.

In 1054, Leo IX sent a letter to the patriarch that cited a large portion of the Donation of Constantine, a forged Roman imperial decree which was purported to have been written by the emperor Constantine the Great, supposedly transferring authority over Rome and the western part of the Roman Empire to the pope.

Leo believed the Donation of Constantine to be real and cited it to show that the Holy See possessed both an earthly and a heavenly imperium, the royal priesthood, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia.

The upshot of the Donation was that only the apostolic successor to Peter – the bishop of Rome – was the rightful head of all the Church.

In early 1054, Leo IX sent a legatine mission under Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida to Constantinople to negotiate with Michael Cerularius in response to his actions concerning the church in Constantinople.

Humbert quickly disposed of negotiations by delivering a bull excommunicating the patriarch. This act, though legally invalid due to Leo’s death on April 19, 1054, was answered by the patriarch’s own bull of excommunication against Humbert and his associates.

Not surprising given the bad blood that had been brewing between the pope’s representatives and Michael Cerularius, the patriarch rejected the claims of papal primacy, and subsequently the church was rent in two in the Great East–West Schism of 1054. That split continues to this day.

(Top: Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill.)

Catholic church emerges from receding waters in Mexico

AP Mexico Colonial Church

An indication of the extent of drought conditions in southern Mexico was shown earlier this fall when a colonial-era church, under a man-made reservoir for nearly 50 years, was revealed by receding waters.

The Temple of Santiago, also known as the Temple of Quechula, is an abandoned Roman Catholic church located in the  Nezahualcóyotl Reservoir in the southern-most state of Chiapas. It was built in 1564 but later abandoned due to a smallpox epidemic in 1773 and ultimately submerged by a dam in 1966.

Drought conditions in Chiapas have seen the ruins rise again. In late October, the water level in the reservoir had dropped by more than 80 feet. The church normally rests under 100 feet of water.

The church is 183 feet long and 42 feet wide, with a bell tower that rises 48 feet high. When constructed, it was far larger than needed given the size of the congregation, but the Spanish anticipated a population boom.

“It was a church built thinking that this could be a great population center, but it never achieved that,” architect Carlos Navarretes told the Associated Press. “It probably never even had a dedicated priest, only receiving visits from those from Tecpatán.”

While parts of the church occasionally reappear during some dry seasons when water levels are low, the only other time a sizeable part of the church reappeared previously was in 2002. Then, visitors were even able to walk inside it.

The Nezahualcóyotl Reservoir was built on the Grijalva River to generate hydroelectric energy. Nezahualcóyotl is the nation’s second-largest reservoir.

(Top and below: Temple of Quechula, partially rises above the waters of Nezahualcóyotl Reservoir in the Mexican state of Chiapas.)

Nezahualcóyotl Reservoir 1

Keeping a lonely vigil over antebellum church, area history

Allendale 11 27 2015 173 a

Well back in the Allendale County countryside sits Smyrna Baptist Church. The antebellum church hasn’t held services since 1958 and today has but a single member on its rolls. Yet, there was a time when Smyrna Baptist, like so many rural Southern churches, was a vibrant, thriving house of worship.

Today, Hugh Gray, a cotton farmer and former Allendale County councilman, takes it upon himself to keep watch over the church. He grew up attending Smyrna Baptist, his family is buried in its graveyard and he’s purposely kept his name on the church rolls, making him the lone member, even though he attends Beech Branch Baptist Church, near Luray, S.C., about 15 miles away.

Gray helps keep up the grounds and watches out for troublemakers. A couple of residents closer to the church call him whenever a vehicle stops at the church.

Gray said individuals have broken into the venerable structure, stolen pews and otherwise caused trouble.

“More often than not when I get a call that someone’s down here at the church, they’re up to no good,” he said.

Constructed somewhere between 1827 and 1848 (dates vary according to sources), Smyrna Baptist was organized in 1827 and originally known as Kirkland Church, after its first minister. By the early 1830s, the church was big enough that it could afford to try three members for heresy regarding communion.

Allendale 11 27 2015 071 a

In the end, the trio, a husband, wife and the wife’s sister-in-law, were excommunicated and would go on to form a nearby church, Antioch Christian Church, which operated from 1835 until 1939.

Smyrna Baptist is described a meeting house-style structure, featuring a front with a central Palladian window “flanked by balancing nine-paneled entrance doors with transoms.”

The windows have louvered shutters with eyebrow-type windows located above each window. The structure’s original roof was covered with metal in the 1970s. Smyrna Baptist was placed on the National Register of Historic Properties in 1976.

Among those buried in its graveyard are Dr. Benjamin Lawton (1822-1879), a local physician and planter who signed the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession and served as a captain in the 3rd South Carolina Cavalry Regiment; and Lt. Col. Benjamin B. Kirkland (1838-1885), who served in the 1st South Carolina Infantry Regiment and was wounded at Second Manassas.

There’s also a memorial to William Baker Rice Jr., an Allendale County native who volunteered for the Royal Air Force during World War II and was killed in action on April 28, 1942, over what was then Bengal, India, and is buried in Chittagong War Cemetery, in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

The decline of Smyrna Baptist and hundreds of other rural churches across the region reflect the migration that’s taken place during the past century as significant numbers of Southerners have packed up from rustic locations and made their way to larger towns and cities, be they medium-sized polities such as Columbia, SC, Knoxville, Tenn., or Richmond, Va., or large metropolises such as Atlanta, Charlotte and Jacksonville.

Smyrna Baptist and churches like it reflect an era that’s long passed. Hugh Gray is doing what he can to keep his small church from falling victim to the ravages of time and vandals, but one has to wonder who will take over once he inevitably joins his family in the church’s graveyard at some unknown point in the future.

And who is looking after all the many small churches that don’t have someone like Hugh Gray to watch over them?

Allendale 11 27 2015 023