Join hands disciples of the faith, whate’er your race may be! Who serves my Father as his child is surely kin to me. In Christ there is no East or West, Hymnal 1982 #529
From the Rector, May 2019
As Rector, I have always given the staff two days off after Easter due to the sheer volume and intensity of work that is required in the weeks leading up to Holy Week and Easter: Easter Monday for rest and Easter Tuesday to catch up on all the things at home that we have put off doing due to the preparations for Holy Week and Easter.
I jokingly refer to the Monday after Easter as “Horizontal Monday” for clergy. Having officiated ten services from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday, I usually just collapse at home on Monday and binge watch Netflix from a horizontal position all day. That was true for me this year as well. However, I received an email on Easter Monday that changed my plans for Tuesday.
Bill Fitzpatrick, who is a member of our congregation and involved in the not-for-profit group Preservation South Carolina, invited me to accompany him on a visit to a Trinity Episcopal Church in Abbeville. The edifice of Trinity Abbeville is not only the visual anchor of downtown Abbeville, it is woven into the history of Abbeville, the antebellum south, the Civil War, and its aftermath. Due to a number of factors, including issues that arose during the original construction of the church in 1859, Trinity is literally falling to pieces. The proud home of Episcopalians in Abbeville and a symbol of the city itself bears all the marks of benign neglect and the relentless march of time. When Bill asked if I would like to see the inside of Trinity on Easter Tuesday, I decided that all the work I had not had time to do would just have to wait a little longer.
In an attempt to restore Trinity, Preservation South Carolina, the parish and the Diocese have joined forces to first stabilize the structure then restore Trinity to its former glory as a place of worship while also repurposing Trinity as a community center. Stepping inside of Trinity is to step back in time and to be presented with a puzzle whose pieces don’t seem to fit. The evolution of the church over time has led to historical elements being replaced, moved, painted over, and lost. And yet the structure drips with history: plaques on the walls given to remember the dead, an altar dedicated to the memory of prominent members of the congregation, historic stained-glass windows, an original pump organ, and the original marble baptismal font all hint at past glory. As you move through the plaster-dust-laden nave, you can almost hear the whispered prayers of the past.
However, what affected me the most was the slave gallery. The plaques on the wall, the names in the windows, the names on the pews, all on the main floor, told the story of the people of Trinity: however, they did not tell the full story. For while the pews of the Church were well made, solid and fixed and assigned to prominent and not-so-prominent families, the slave gallery’s pews were spartan and nameless. In fact, as I stood looking at the worn benches, I suddenly understood that to refer to the balcony as the “slave gallery” was itself anonymizing and dehumanizing. Were the occupants of the balcony not equally worthy to be known by name? Where were the names and the dates of the children of God who graced the balcony and who also lived and died in this community? Who were the individuals and families that occupied these benches and who very well may have been the hands that raised this very building or fashioned the furniture in it? Where were their stories? Where are their faces?
The past can be unsettling and it can be uncomfortable, but it cannot be avoided. To hide or erase the past is to increase the chance it will be repeated. By failing to include the names, dates, and stories of those that occupied the balcony of Trinity, Abbeville as part of Trinity’s story is to keep the worshippers in Trinity’s balcony in a form of bondage – bondage to a nameless, faceless past that was not of their choosing, that was unjust, unfair, unchristian and inhumane. While standing in their past presence, I decided that I wanted to know their stories and more importantly, to tell their stories to others. I want their stories to be a part of a reopened, revitalized, and reimagined Trinity. To this end, I hope to bring their stories to life and use my love of genealogy, history, my researching skills and my familiarity with church records to trace their descendants and uncover their stories and the stories of their families. If you have an interest in accompanying me on this journey of discovery I would welcome your companionship. It is only when their stories are told that the full story of Trinity will be told, and Trinity will truly be restored.