Long-time friend and one-time classmate Jean Flye (Raitt) sent me the model of a church you see below. Depicted is the First Presbyterian Church in Delhi, New York, still in operation after more than 200 years. The current church was built in 1882, replacing one constructed in 1811, which in turn had supplanted the original that was built outside of town.
My dad was pastor there from 1949 to 1959, and our family lived right next door in what they called the manse, I guess to distinguish our house from a rectory (not a problem for me, but I suppose that’s how these things go). Jean’s kindness brings back a ton of memories.
As a PK, that building was a center of much of the ten years that I lived in the small town, and was a strong influence on my behavior: “well you are the preacher’s son, you know!” I must have heard — and ignored– that a hundred times and more.
For a building that is now 130 years old, it has survived cold winters and hot summers extremely well. Every major part of the original sanctuary is made of wood, which to my knowledge has never undergone a major reconstruction. And I would imagine that the ceiling and roof still creak when cold, hard winds come up — much as they did when I was a kid. Kris and I took a brief tour last spring when we were back in the area visiting friends, and I noted that almost nothing had been altered inside. That would suggest that the members are content with what they’ve got, new additions to the back of the building notwithstanding.
What was missing, of course, was my dad standing at the pulpit, as he had for a decade. I felt that strongly.
Jean’s gift took me back to those days, which remain benign…for the most part…and are decidedly gone, not to return ever. Over the length of my dad’s career in the ministry, which ran from 1939 to his death in 2010, protestant churches in America had huge growth, if not something of a renaissance. The Presbyterian churches he served in the northeast were generally filled, and the Delhi church on Clinton Street was no exception, and was, in fact, the largest church, in terms of membership, in the town.
No question, then, that the caution to be aware of my “position” and to conduct myself accordingly had some weight — if no place in reality whatsoever.
In terms of a place for a kid to grow up, and honestly, as a place to live beside, First Church was pretty close to perfect. I’m not sure that it was necessarily a trusted affinity with God, but there was genuine comfort; it was and is that kind of building.
And with it there was a large property that stretched back to a little creek ideal for dam creation by small boys, and on to woods and hills that seemed ready-made for re-contesting the battles of World War II by those same boys brandishing weapons sawed from wood planks.
There are dozens of stories of those times, and frankly, of that church, that my brothers and I continue to share — and bore our friends with.
Among my favorites, a bona fide white Christmas when Dad attached lights to then short pine trees at the front of the church. I must have been all of ten at the time. There had been a rich snowfall and I recall walking up Clinton Street, admiring the glow of the lights through a thick coating of snow on those trees.
Not a sight that you’ll ever see in the heat of California.