Memorial for church lost to Sunday fire

Community recalls good times in McPhetres Hall

Posted: Monday, March 20, 2006

A memorial for the church and hall Juneau lost a week ago featured more music and laughter than tears on Sunday afternoon in the temporary home for Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

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"Right now our place down there is in a bit of a state," Joyce Parry Moore told about 80 people gathered at the Catholic St. Ann's Parish Hall downtown, a block uphill from the charred remains of Holy Trinity. The church, including the attached McPhetres Hall, which was frequently used by the community, was destroyed by fire March 12. A neighboring home also burned down.

Odette Foster introduced the get-together as a celebration of the hall, which meant many things to many people. She had contra-dance memories from the hall, she said, introducing local performers who eulogized the place in song.

Mike Truax recalled the first concert he performed there was a tribute to Bob Dylan. Buddy Tabor elicited laughter as he recalled his earliest performance memory at the hall.

"My first gig at McPhetres was in 1978 as an Elvis impersonator," he said. "Out of the ash of ruin and destruction grow the most beautiful flowers of love, and I think you'll see these flowers grow."

Rev. George Silides said he is known to many as "the rector of McPhetres Hall." He came to find that a title of honor and distinction, he added. Its congregation wasn't limited to church membership, as many pointed out Sunday, recalling theatrical and musical performances among ways that the hall was near the center of their lives.

"Everything under heaven has a life span," Silides said, and McPhetres Hall had "a spectacular and glorious life span. It was a glorious place."

The first services were held at Holy Trinity in 1896. Sixty years later, a parish hall was added and named for the Rev. Samuel McPhetres, church rector from 1948 to 1959.

Johanna McPhetres Smith, who lived in the old church rectory as a child as McPhetres' daughter, said it was a dream come true that the parish built the hall, and a dream fulfilled that it lasted so long - "and it will be again."

Before singing a hymn, Moore said that when she came to Juneau from New York City 11 years ago, her sacred and secular lives were separate. Becoming a member of Holy Trinity Church blurred the lines because the church hall was such an important place for the community.

Mary Graham said she had so many memories of the place that she had forgotten that she had her 30th birthday party in the hall until Foster reminded her.

Before playing a Bach selection on the violin, Leif Saya recalled sleeping backstage at McPhetres as a child while his mother performed there, and in that half-dream, half-awake state "it energized my love for music." He also remembers his mother teaching Head Start preschool there.

His mother, Lis Saya, said the hall was not only a place where she worked years ago, and a place where she would later perform, but the place where she heard her first concert in Juneau.

Some people got misty-eyed and others smiled wistfully when Pat Henry sang a song he wrote about the loss of McPhetres Hall - a place that was beautiful and loved. It was where people played music and came to meet, where people watched plays and cared for children, where people voted and worshiped God.

"The building's gone, but the church still stands," went the refrain.

Emilie Valentine, age 13, talked about her memories as a member of the congregation's youth group. The morning of the fire, she heard about the blaze as soon as she woke up and saw smoke where the church should have been.

"I thought, as soon as the wind blows (away), (the church) will be there," she said.

When she realized the church was gone, she cried, she said. But even without the structure to meet in, the youth group and other church activities continue.

Holy Trinity services were held at St. Ann's Hall Sunday morning, positioned so the congregation is facing the window that offers a view of where their church once stood.

Father Thomas Weise, pastor of the hosting Catholic church, told the afternoon gathering that he was honored.

"You're only adding to our hallowness," he said. "Make yourself at home."

Silides said Sunday was the first day of McPheters' future. When the new Holy Trinity building is designed, it won't be the vision of an architect, but will be shaped by the people who worship there and give it life, with spaces that will continue to welcome the community, Silides said.

"It will be as open as it ever was," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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