In 1840, at the dedication of a new church in Lexington, Massachusetts, designed by his friend Charles Follen, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Know then that your church is not builded (sic) when the last stone, the last rafter and clapboard is laid, not when we have assembled, not when we had adhered to the customary rite, but then first is it a church when the consciousness of his union with the Supreme Soul dawns on the lowly heart of the worshiper.” (My emphasis.)
Last Sunday we shared a memorable service with Victor Lundy and Arnold Westwood, the architect and minister who worked together to create our sanctuary. Something surprising and almost magical happened — we became conscious of our union with the Supreme Soul.
Victor and Arnold’s visit allowed the old timers who were here 47 years ago to dig into the memory bank and call to mind those early years. On Saturday Jan Park, Ken Lanouette and Joe Wertheim shared their memories. They talked about the process that moved from Victor’s renderings to the first shovel, turned by 18-month old Andrew Wertheim, to completion.
I was deeply moved by Arnold and Victor’s presence and inspired by their presentation. Then I was moved even deeper by the thunderous response of the congregation’s standing ovation, and I realized that we, as a congregation and culture, share a sincere respect for our elders who paved the way for our journey.
We witnessed an aspect of the building process that was mostly unstated – the disagreements that had to be resolved. We heard Arnold talk about the ‘original plans’ that included a stained glass skylight with colors to represent the four seasons beginning with spring colors as you enter and moving through summer, fall and winter colors as you go forward. He urged us to think about completing the stained-glass skylight while Victor is still alive.
Then Victor spoke and looked down at Arnold and said, “I’m so glad we didn’t install that stained glass. It was a bad idea! The clear glass letting in the light is so much better.” Then he looked at us and said, “When Arnold encouraged you to put that stained glass in before I die I felt like doing something dramatic and popping off right here and now so you can’t do it!”
The bond of friendship between them was clear. Victor explained that it was the first time he had attended a Sunday service in the sanctuary, and he said it helped him appreciate the human aspect in a way he’d never done before. “As I look out at the silhouettes of all these beautiful faces I realize that I’d always focused on the soaring wood overhead. Now I’m reminded of the foundation of this place, which is the people who fill this room week after week.”
In 1961 Victor was awarded the prestigious Progressive Architecture Award for our church. Last Sunday he got a greater award – the lasting appreciation of this vibrant congregation.
We got a chance to meet Victor Lundy and to feel the depth of his humanity, and to worship with Arnold Westwood, reminded of his humanity as he told us, “I’ve been sitting here with tears in my eyes this morning; it’s so good to be back here, to feel at home again.”
It was a high water mark in my twenty-three years here – one of the highest. I want to express my sincere appreciation to all those who helped in so many ways to make our weekend with Victor and Arnold such a wonderful, meaningful and moving event. Thank you!