Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Going Home Congregational Church October 1 1914

When I was in La Grange for my reunion I went by to see my home church. I went inside and it was Saturday and they were having meals for the homeless. I met the Pastor, Reverend Carly Stucklen Sather who has presided over the exciting the new activities of the church. Because the number of members has decreased the church has changed its corporate structure to one that is more appropriately fiscally sound. She gave me a tour which included the freestanding Music School which is in the top floor of the Parish Building and provides private music lessons for people in the community. The church has always had a strong music program and its 
current music director appears to be very productive. We toured the chapel and chancel and saw the photos of previous ministers. When I was growing up the ministers included Paul Sylvester, Tom Crosby,  Franklyn Cole, and John Biggert was my folks pastor.
The First Congregational Church of La Grange was established in 1881 and the initial wooden structure was built in 1882. The stone church was dedicated in 1893. My grandfather, Robert V. Thomas, moved his family to La Grange from Chicago around 1902 and we were told that he was one of the leaders in the construction of the present sanctuary in 1907. My mother attended the church from the time her family moved to La Grange to the time she and my dad were moved to St Louis in 1983. We kids were active in the church from the time we were born until we left town for college. At that time there were two Sunday services (9:30 and 11:00) and the children went to the early service. I ushered at the 9:30 service for several years. We sang in the choir and when I was seven I sang a solo at a packed Christmas concert. It was scary and exciting. But by the time I was a young teenager we had a new Choir director, Russell Wing. He was really into the music and discipline. One afternoon at choir practice my arm got stuck between the slats of the back of my chair. Other people made a commotion and Mr. Wing asked me what was the problem. I replied , innocently , "Mr. Arm , my wing is caught in the chair." Mr. Wing failed to see the humor and I was permanently no longer in the choir. We all joined the church (after standard lessons which included a lot of memorization -Books of the Bible, the Beatitudes, the 23rd Psalm and more) on a Maundy Thursday evening. I still have my little King James Version on my closet shelf. The church was quite social and many of my folks friends were members. During the winter there were many church dinners downstairs in the assembly hall where they invariably served au gratin potatoes with ham.

The large sanctuary with its many rows of dark wooden pews is still breath taking. I spent much of my time in church counting the pieces of glass in the magnificent round stained glass window. The organ had the capacity to shake the walls .  Now there is a new
organ which partially obscures the stained glass window. We were all baptized here. I attended the funerals of both my grandparents here. Our children were baptized in the small chapel in the front left corner of the sanctuary which is now used for storage - change being the only constant ( Heraclitus). To the right was a stairway which had an electrical chair to help the disabled get into the sanctuary. To the right of the sanctuary is a large assembly room and as children we always tried to sneak up into the bell tower. Our parents memorial service was held the chapel in the Parish Building and was performed by John Biggert. The church continues to play an important part in my spiritual life.

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