My turn: Holy Trinity was a special second home

Posted: Thursday, March 16, 2006

Between 1940 and 1970 my family was active in Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, the historic and beautiful church that burned to the ground Sunday in Juneau.

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Bishop Peter Trimble Rowe baptized my brother, and the Rev. Mark Boesser presided at my father's funeral. All together during this general period, my family commemorated the following events: the baptism of 11 babies, the confirmation of five children, the celebration of one wedding and the officiating of four funerals - all at Holy Trinity.

During this period, children regularly attended Sunday School, sang in the choir as they grew older and participated in pageants at Christmas. My brother was probably the tallest young man in Holy Trinity history to serve as an acolyte. My mother occasionally substituted as church organist. She was active in the altar guild during all of her years at the church, and she never missed participating in a church rummage sale, held either in the old undercroft under the main church building or in McPhetres Hall.

As a vestryman, my father would occasionally read the lesson on Sunday, wearing a cassock and cotta. (I would usually bury my head when that happened.) This would occur only if the usual reader was out of town. My father, however, considered his special duty was to tell church members where to park cars. The parking lot in front of McPhetres Hall had been a necessity when it was built, he said. Otherwise, people might not have continued to come to Holy Trinity.

Our family began eating church potluck dinners in the old undercroft when my generation could barely walk. Later, potluck dinners moved to McPhetres Hall, where the light was brighter and you could tell if you were placing tuna fish cooked in mushroom soup or string beans cooked in mushroom soup on your plate. I'm sure I attended a hundred potluck dinners. For the most part, they were fun.

We never missed a Sunday service unless family members were out of town. My father, who often delivered babies at night during his years as Juneau's chief obstetrician, sometimes took a catnap on the living room couch after making rounds at St. Ann's Hospital on Sunday mornings. Here is how my mother got him going during his nap: "Dear," she would say, "shall we walk or drive to church?"

The church - with its beautiful dark wood interior and luminous stained glass windows - will forever live in my heart as a second, special kind of home.

As my grandmother grew senile, for instance, I asked my mother, "How do you cope so beautifully?"

"I go to church twice a week," she replied.

"What does the church mean to you?" I asked my father.

"It means being good," he said.

For us, "the church" was always Holy Trinity, and our thoughts about where we were became as important as why we were there. Why and where were necessary to answer what.

I especially remember Christmas Eve and the fragrance of fresh evergreen boughs throughout the church and the long wooden beam that held candles across the front above the altar rail. The beauty inside the church that night, with glowing candles, glowing robes and glowing faces meant all was right in that time and place as we sang together "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night."

With the addition of McPhetres Hall, Holy Trinity opened its doors to the community beyond its Episcopalian congregation. These groups grieve, too, this week, as they remember happy times in that space. They, too, are feeling the loss of a special home.

We can meet together anywhere for a particular purpose. But those fortunate to have known Holy Trinity in its unique, historic glory will forever have a story to tell.

• Virginia Whitehead Breeze is a resident of Juneau and freelance writer.

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