Saturday, October 1, 2016

Fire at First Congregational

I posted a blog entry last June which comes as close as I’ll ever come, I think, to writing a love letter to a church.    The First Congregational Church of Berkeley, located a block south of campus and about a fifteen minute walk from the house, is a joy to the eyes.  Maybe not to everybody, but I think to anybody who, like me, finds this kind of New England architecture so very appealing in its simple lines and quiet elegance.

Even more attractive is what goes on inside.  Over the years I’ve lived in Berkeley,  I’ve attended dozens of concerts and lectures here.   First Congregational has played an active role in community activities, providing a venue for any number of interesting speakers on book tours, and a home for one of our* favorite things in the world, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale.  We’ve had season tickets for many years now.  I can’t tell you what a luxury it is to have a world class musical group perform six times a year only a fifteen minute walk from your house.  Beethoven, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach and much much more.  So very good for the soul.

George Lakoff, Matt Taibbi, Karen Armstrong – and so many more people have popped in.  If anybody counted the number of times I went through those doors, they’d likely conclude I must be a Christian churchgoer.  I have never attended a church service there, actually, but I have commented that if all Christians demonstrated their faith through the kind of community service First Congregational does, there would be a hell of a lot more Christians around, and a whole lot less animosity toward religion.

And it didn’t hurt to take note that the United Church of Christ is a leading force for embracing LGBT people and their struggle for equality before the law in this country.  First Congregational is a member of that organization.  I, for one, will never make the mistake of thinking that to be a Christian you’d have to give up your sexuality, or to be gay you’d have to give up your religion.

My respect for First Congregational knows no limits.

So you can imagine the shock and sadness I felt, after complaining about helicopters flying overhead for what seemed like forever yesterday afternoon, to hear the news that First Congregational was on fire.

The good news, for the glass half-full people, is that except for some water damage, the sanctuary is still intact.  The fire was in the annex, where they run a day-care center, a center for homeless people, and many of the lectures I was talking about.  They don’t have the cause yet – they were working on the roof and probably somebody got careless.  There is some no-doubt-about-it good news, though.   Nobody was hurt.

Curious news reporting.  The local paper, the Berkeleyside, spoke of a fire in the church, failing to note it was the annex and not the church itself.  And the local fire chief, speaking to the press, was unable to identify it as First Congregational.  He knew it only as “a church.”  Funny how these ancillary things strike you when you’re hungry for news.  As if you zero in on the curious in order to soften the blow of the really bad news.  Curious to me, because as a kid growing up, everybody knew the names of all the churches in town.  Certainly firemen and policemen did.

First Congregational will survive.  I’m sure people will step up and contribute to its reconstruction.  I’ll contribute.  “Look ma, I’m putting money in the collection plate at my age!”

They’ve had fires before and have bounced back. 

First order of business is where are we to go for the All Beethoven concert on Sunday, October 16th?   Hope somebody steps up with a substitute location.

Wherever that may be, we (I’m sure I’m not alone in this) will be listening, conscious of the gratitude we feel that nobody was hurt and with the hope this marvelous church gets back on its feet as fast as earthly possible.

*I'm not using the royal "we" here.  I'm talking about me and the hubby.

photo credit: Berkeleyside

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