Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Personal Cloud of Witnesses

This is the First Presbyterian Church in Orange, Texas where our presbytery met today. The dome of the church is covered in copper. Below is my photo of the inside of the dome, the gorgeous Tiffany glass images of angels hovering over the sanctuary.

During the drive to and from Orange yesterday and today to attend our presbytery meeting, I found myself traveling in time as well as space.

At first the trip brought back recent memories of driving with Babs to Sewanee for college, since the first part of our journey was down the same highway. Then came the remembrance of the two back-to-back trips to the area El Jefe and I made a couple of years ago when two of my uncles who live in the "Golden Triangle" (Orange-PortArthur-Beaumont) area died within two days of each other. The last surviving uncle's memorial service was at the First Presbyterian Church in Orange where the presbytery meeting was today.

A pang of nostalgia and grief descended as I got closer to Orange. I no longer have any relatives living in the area--my cousins who grew up there have all moved away and my older relatives are now all deceased. The closer I got to Orange, the more memories of long-ago visits to them surfaced.

I grew up in San Antonio, but my father was very close to his family in Orange and Port Arthur. I went with him on many trips back to see his family over the years. About 5 years ago, El Jefe, Babs and I attended the 100th anniversary celebration of the founding of the First Presbyterian Church of Port Arthur. Portia was in college out of state at the time.

My great-grandmother was a founding member and early pillar of the church in Port Arthur. She must have taught Sunday School for many years. My great-grandfather, on the other hand, attended the church only until an Episcopal church (referred to as the "First Crisco Episcopal Church" in the family because of the Deep Southern accent of its pastor who called upon the name of the "Lard") was established.

My grandmother was the Music Director of the church in Port Arthur. My grandfather was an elder and clerk of session as was my late uncle. My other uncle was an elder at the church in Orange, where he was baptised, married and buried. My late father was also an elder and clerk of session at the church where I grew up in San Antonio. He was the only one of his family who left the area after growing up.

Orange is in an industrial area surrounded by the detrius of the by-products of processing oil and gas. It's not a pretty town. But the church itself is a jewel. Built by the contributions of a very wealthy family at the turn of the twentieth century, it features a copper dome and Tiffany stained glass windows with typically Victorian images. Church docents offer regular tours of the sanctuary building which is on the second floor of the church--the better to avoid the frequent flooding caused by hurricanes and tropical storms. It is the first building west of the Mississippi River to have been air-conditioned, an amenity considered a necessity now.

Today's presbytery meeting emphasized the many new church developments that have begun in the last couple of years. We had an outstanding keynote speaker who talked about setting aside our own agendas in order to go out in mission to bring the gospel to our neighbors. It is exciting to realize that our presbytery is intentionaly making growth a priority.

I sat next to one of my late father's best friends, our retired General Presbyter, who also married El Jefe and me. He is also a native of the "Golden Triange" area. He makes frequent reference to my Dad, so I feel that Dad is there with both of us whenever I see him.

Throughout the meeting I felt surrounded by my own personal cloud of witnesses--my dad and all of those family members who I knew or knew through family history. Uplifted by them and by the meeting, I fairly flew back west on Interstate 10.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also set aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perserverence the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12: 1-2


St. Casserole said...

Thank you! I love seeing pictures of this gorgeous church and reading of your connections to it.
Not many of us are cradle presbyies anymore.
I've made (and sampled) the first Grace Solidarity Cake in preparation for the rigors of tomorrow (and the Storm). I'll make a second cake tomorrow to pass the time. Thank you for taking out of my world for a moment and letting me glimpse yours in TX.

annie said...

I was glad to see the church as well. I was born in Orange and also had family in the area.

(I may also have been guilty a time of two of saying something like in the name of the "Lard"!)

Dubya said...


Lisa said...

Beautiful! Both the church and your story.

cheesehead said...

What Lisa said!