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Majestic Ruins, Whitewashed Sepulchres

Went with the whole family last Sunday to the open-air service and picnic afterwards at our old parish, St. Martha’s on Joy Road in Detroit.

While it was good to see the old place again, and to catch up with family and friends, it was a bit unsettling at the same time. On the grounds of St. Martha’s, everything is mostly the same. The signs of physical decay are subtle — a large tree fallen from some storm, and obviously not dealt with for some time. Grass starting to grow in the cracks of the sidewalks and parking lot. The cement chips from the crumbling in the east entrance that nobody ever uses any more (and that have been there for years now anyway). The furniture on the sidewalk from the tenant they had to evict from the old rectory, and knowlege that the deadbeat S.O.B. has left the church with a remodelling bill they can’t possibly afford to pay.

Nothing much, really. Certainly not compared to the blight that is the surrounding neighborhood. That’s pretty much the same as it was, too. Oh, a couple of the storefront churches have new paint jobs, some more buildings are empty, a few have changed hands, the usual. The sign by the open field at Southfield and Joy is by now a cruel joke — this is where the Herman Gardens housing project used to be. Now, there’s grass, and the tall trees that used to line the streets are still standing. That, and the “Herman Gardens Revitalization Project — Coming Soon” sign behind the fence that’s been there since the demolishion back in 1996 or so. (See this Freep article for some of the story behind the housing project delay. Meanwhile, I wonder what happened to the people living there when they decided to tear it down and (not) start over.)

I found an image of the old project apartments titled Row Houses at Herman Gardens. This is pretty much how I remember them:

The other signs were not encouraging, either. Some of the old regulars are still there (but so few, so few!). Some of the little kids I remember are now unrecognizable teenagers. The numbers are still depressingly low; there are not nearly enough in this parish to support such a facility, especially given the age of many. The most hopeful sign was to see that there had been Vacation Bible School that week, and to learn that the Sunday School was still operating.

There was mention of the current controvery which is fully expected to consume the General
starting tomorrow, other than a generic prayer for wisdom and unity which studiously avoiding any appearance of taking sides. Whatever. I could not help but wonder how St. Martha’s could possibly survive if there is a general implosion of the Anglican
Communion in general, and the Episcopal Church in particular, this year if the advice
of the Archbishop of Canterbury
is not heeded and the General Convention insists on triggering full-scale schism in the church. (So much for “dialog”. Or respecting the opinions of the Africans.)

Remember that tree I mentioned? Its fall has left a gap in the windbreak on the east side of the church grounds. Now that it’s gone, the minaret of the next-door Islamic Center of America
is clearly visible, looming over the parking lot:

It was not a hopeful omen.

(Images of St. Martha’s and the Islamic Center are from DetroitYES – The Fabulous Ruins of
, a wonderful and heartbreaking site.)

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