Easter 2010 at Euclid Avenue Congregational Church in Exile

Easter Rainbow above the church in a clear sky
Easter Rainbow above the church in a clear sky
EACC Easter crowd on front church steps at E.30 & Euclid
EACC Easter crowd on front church steps at E.30 & Euclid
Balloon flight 2010
Balloon flight 2010

The congregation of Euclid Avenue Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ celebrated Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010, in the sanctuary of the former First United Methodist Church, East 30th Street and Euclid Avenue, in downtown Cleveland. There was a very large crowd, and the enormous First Church sanctuary was well-filled.

It was a very festive service, and the grief of the previous twelve days was, at least temporarily, set aside to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. There was festive music: Jean Langlais’s “Acclamations” for the organ prelude; Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia;” an arrangement by Mack Wilberg of “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above;” and, of course, the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah. The mighty Casavant organ got to sing at full volume with the energetic singing of the congregation.

Interim Pastor Terri Young gave a beautiful sermon about just as for the early followers of Jesus, it was necessary to pass through Good Friday in order to get to Resurrection Sunday. In the same way, EACC has passed through the death of the fire in order to be reborn into the new life that God has in store for the congregation.

Pastor Terri also baptized six or seven children, and there was Holy Communion. Rev. Curt Ackley, the Association Minister of the United Church of Christ Western Reserve Association, welcomed representatives from other Western Reserve Association churches who presented greetings from their congregations.

Following the service the congregation celebrated its traditional “Easter balloon release.” Prior to Easter, Sunday School students and other members of the congregation sign church-addressed postcards which are then attached to the strings of hundreds of helium balloons. After the service, each person is given a balloon, and the congregation assembles on the front steps of the church. In response to the Easter Acclamation, “The Lord is risen!” the congregation shouts, “The Lord is risen indeed!” and releases their balloons. This was a stunningly beautiful day, with a clear sky and a slight wind which took the balloons in a northeasterly direction. Just as the balloons were launched, the sun was hidden behind the church steeple and there was a mysterious “rainbow” or “corona” that appeared in the sky above us. Was it God renewing God’s rainbow covenant with our church? It did seem miraculous to have the colors of the rainbow at that particular moment.

The balloon launch was followed by a reception for all in the dining room of the church. After the somber tone of the Palm Sunday service and the palpable grief of just a week ago, it was good to see people set it aside, even momentarily. There is no doubt that there will be many challenges in the weeks, months and years ahead as the church decides on its future. But with God’s help, all is possible.

A few steps forward, a step backward

Since last Tuesday night after the EACC exterior walls were demolished, I have purposely not visited or driven by the site, in the same way I would avoid looking at a rotting corpse lying alongside the road. Today, however, our Wednesday mid-day services of prayer and healing resumed. The Cleveland Clinic has generously offered the church the use of their lovely chapel—very modern and quite stark, but full of light and visual interest—for the services. The clinic also offered grief and wholeness counseling to the attendees at the service. There was no way for me to get to the service without passing by the EACC site, and I knew it would be difficult.

On the way in I tried not to look, but after the service I intentionally stopped to observe the ongoing demolition and removal of debris. The demolition experts have found several artifacts (including some historical records that may or may not be able to be preserved because of water damage). Sitting on top of a lidded dumpster was one of my organ music books (I recognized it immediately—a volume of Bach organ music, a reprint of the Bach Gesellschaft edition by Dover). It was brittle and totally charred around the edges, beyond anything that could be considered useful. It disintegrated to the touch. Another member asked if I didn’t want it. No, I have no use for it. The book had a useful life once, but that life is now extinguished with the flames that burned it.

That was enough for me, and, frankly, I had to walk away to compose myself. It was time to return to work. There may be remnants of our past church life there, but I question the amount of energy that some may be expending to retrieve them. (It is, of course, not for me to say what is meaningful to others.) I guess it is part of the grief process, but for me, grasping at what is gone won’t help me move into the future.

I will routinely be walking that path to these services in the coming months. In a relatively short time the EACC site will be fully excavated and will again be green space, as it was in the 1860s when the church first built a structure on the place, when the area was at the far reaches of the city of Cleveland. Maybe the healing of the site will help with the healing of our hearts.

Cleveland Bach Organ Marathon This Afternoon

2010 Bach Organ Marathon

This afternoon, March 21, 2010, is the Cleveland Bach Organ Marathon sponsored by the Church of the Covenant and the Cleveland Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. It starts at 12:30 and runs to 5:30, with eleven local organists each playing about 25 minutes. Audience members will be free to come and go as they please in between sets.

I will be performing; my slot is about 3:00, give or take, and the repertoire will be the Prelude and Fugue in C Major (9/8), BWV 547 and the chorale prelude “Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele” from the Leipzig collection of chorale preludes. As it happens this is also Bach’s 325th birthday.

Weekend upcoming

Measha Brueggergosman
Measha Brueggergosman
Tom Trenney
Tom Trenney

A busy concert weekend upcoming for VFB:  Attending Tom Trenney’s master class with CIM organ students on Saturday morning, Cleveland Orchestra Wagner concert on Saturday night with the fabulous Measha Brueggergosman, fresh from her appearance at the opening ceremonies at the Vancouver Olympics. (I traded my usual Friday night tix for Saturday, because I can’t cope with the Fridays@7 extravaganza tonight.)  Then Tom Trenney’s organ recital at First Baptist Church on Sunday afternoon.

Musicians and Other Artists in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List

Every year at this time the British government publishes the long list of British subjects who have been given awards in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.  Several prominent musicians are on this year’s list:

Order of the British Empire: Dame Commander (DBE)
Mitsuko Uchida, CBE, Pianist. For services to classical music.

Order of the British Empire: Commander (CBE)
Stephen Cleobury, Director of Music, Kings College, University of Cambridge. For services to music.
Simon Preston, OBE, Organist. For services to classical music.
Jonathan Pryce, Actor. For services to drama.
Graham Vick, Artistic Director, Birmingham Opera.  For services to opera.