About Us: A Brief History of St. Michael’s Church In Celebration of its 50th Anniversary, 1955 – 2005
The 50’s – Early 60’s: Organizing and Building a Community Church
In the early 50’s, Westlake Hills was a sparsely populated southwestern suburb of Austin and had only one church. A group of residents, the core of which was Episcopal, decided to start another church for the community built by the community. The members, drawn from a variety of religious backgrounds, worshipped in the chapel at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School and met for activities in the home of Marilyn and Jack McCormick, chaplain of the school. In 1955 this new congregation petitioned the 106th Diocesan Council to be recognized as an Episcopal mission. The Senior Warden was Robert M. Kimball, the Headmaster of St. Stephen’s. The Rev. Louis Levinson, who had been Assistant, replaced Jack McCormick as Vicar when McCormick left St. Stephen’s. The name for this community of the faithful was selected after the members, children and adults alike, submitted names and voted. The top two choices were St. Francis and St. Michael; St. Michael won.
In 1958 the Rev. Jim Tucker, chaplain at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School and vicar of St. Michael’s, encouraged the congregation to launch out on its own. The members met at Eanes School and, with the help of the diocese, purchased 12 acres on Bee Caves Road. The Rev. Ken Clark became vicar of St. Michael’s in June 1961, after his graduation from the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest and ordination to the deaconate. He served only St. Michael’s for the first three months and then was assigned as vicar of St. Mark’s as well.
Father Clark shared these memories of his experiences at St. Michael’s: “The Rev. Bob Phipps was Jim Tucker’s associate at St. Stephen’s and, I believe, they both took services at St. Michael’s — with Jim doing the lion’s share. It is also my impression that the eucharist was celebrated each Sunday. Since I was a deacon and couldn’t celebrate, and because other missions, like St. Mark’s, did not have the luxury of resident priests, the decision was made to go to the normal (for that time) pattern of eucharist the first Sunday and morning prayer the rest of the time. This was greeted with enthusiasm by some of the flock and with sorrow by others. At the end of my year as deacon, I was priested and what to do about services came up again. Some wanted to keep things just as they were and others wanted to go back to the eucharist every Sunday. A compromise which pleased no one was made: eucharist every Sunday at 7 and alternating morning prayer and eucharist at 9. However, things were not too bad because in this year we had large growth — as I recall from about 40 members to over a hundred. We also not only broke ground for the building but made the financial arrangements and got the building built. We had always had Sunday School; however, this program was enhanced by the new facilities.”
It was 1962 when these new facilities were built at our present location, 6317 Bee Caves Road. The parishioners, with the help of their neighbors and friends, furnished the church. They met on Saturdays to cover the kneelers and to build the pews designed especially for the building by UT Art professor John Guerin who also designed the original altar, cross and candlesticks.. Picnics and get-togethers were held at St. Stephen’s. The Women of the Church met monthly, sold their handiwork (bread, cakes, clothing, etc), bought and made the altar linens and silks, acolyte robes, surplices, and in addition made children’s clothes for a mission in Africa.
An important part of Clark’s ministry at St. Michael’s was the youth group. According to Jean Grubb, a member of the group, “the EYC met every Sunday for evening prayer and fellowship. We met in what was the kitchen and often times danced in the small church as it was then. Ken led us in discussions of current events, the Bible, our lives — you name it, we discussed it. He gave us a strong foundation to build on as we struggled through the 60’s. According to Clark, the congregation was open to experiment even in these early days. For example, they elected not to have a choir but to encourage the whole worshipping community be the choir. Halsey Tichenor, a teacher at St. Stephen’s, was the music leader. Under his leadership, the decision was made to buy a good piano instead of an inexpensive electronic organ. Electronic organs were the rage at the time and this was a really radical decision.”
“When I came to St. Michael’s, we were housed in the home which the diocese had provided for Bishop Clements who had resigned. When the diocese sold this property, a house was leased for us in Rollingwood. The first vicarage was purchased, again in Rollingwood. We lived in this until 1964 when I resigned to go to the diocese of Northwest Texas. I understand that (the next vicar) Keith Bardin found this house too small and so another vicarage was provided. The architect had designed a beautiful vicarage to be built on the St. Michael’s property; however, obviously, this was not built when I was there. I think that the tension caused of my servicing two missions was a factor in this. I know that some of the folks at St. Mark’s wanted us to live in Barton Hills. A good Anglican compromise of having us live in Rollingwood was probably the best decision at the time.”
“While I was vicar there were some important events in the community which affected the mission. The most notable was the Rev. Louis Buck’s attempt to integrate St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. I supported Louis in this which did not sit well with all of the flock. On a diocesan level, much tension was created by such things as attempts to allow women to serve on vestries and bishop’s committees and the integration of diocesan institutions, notably St. Luke’s Hospital in Houston. I supported all of these with, I believe, the encouragement of most of the flock. But, not all agreed and we lost several members.”
[Ed. note: Clark reported in a letter written in 1962 to the Rt. Rev. John E. Hines, Bishop of the Diocese of Texas, that the Bishop’s Committee had unanimously approved a motion by Senior Warden Ollie Bown that St. Michael’s was not a segregated institution. In another letter dated 1962, Clark warned the Bishop, who was coming in from Houston to attend a Bishop’s Committee meeting, to plan to stay the night. The reason being that “the meetings at St. Michael’s are not noted for their brevity.” The people of St. Michael’s have always liked to discuss issues and be actively involved in all aspects of church life.]
Father Clark continued: “These were exciting years and, in my opinion, were instrumental in building on the foundation laid by Jack McCormick, Louis Levinson, Jim Tucker and Bob Phipps. The seeds for many things which Keith Bardin and his successors brought to fruition were sown in these early years. The experience I gained in the three years I served as vicar have been immeasurably important to me throughout my ministry.”
The Mid 60’s – 70’s: Experimentation and Change
The Rev. Keith Bardin became vicar in 1964 and remained so until 1971 when the mission became a parish and he was elected rector. The decision to become a parish was a big event in the life of St. Michael’s with the members agonizing over the decision for months, if not years. It meant taking on an additional financial burden, but it also meant getting a bigger voice in diocesan affairs. As the congregation grew, a second building, lovingly called the “goat shed,” was designed by parishioner Tom Leach and built in 1968 for the use of the Sunday School and other parish gatherings. Both the original modest stone building and “the goat shed” were symbolic of the congregation’s decision, taken very seriously and very much a part of the life of the church, that as a Christian community, St. Michael’s would not get tied up in church buildings just for the sake of having large, imposing structures, but would keep things simple and multipurpose. We held regular worship services in both the “old” building and the parish hall, moving from one to the other according to the church seasons.
Under Keith’s leadership, St. Michael’s continued to consider itself an experimental church. Within the traditional structures of the Episcopal Church, St. Michael’s members were striving to extract a meaningful essence from the Christian religion and apply it concretely to the complex problems of the time. In his 1970 Annual Address, Keith proposed an “agenda for the future” that included quest for meaning, quest for community, a need to understand human sexuality, the thirst for the mystical and non-rational in life today, and the development of humane organization.
The symbol of St. Michael’s is an ancient representation of friendship: two people with arms extended and crossed; a circle around the figures represents eternity. The symbol was brought to St. Michael’s by Brother Gregory, a lay brother in the Maronite (Eastern rite) branch of the Roman Catholic Church, who lived at the Episcopal Seminary. The ideas embodied by the symbol are reflected in the original motto, “Every human relationship is an eternal responsibility.” The practice of worshipping in the round symbolized the community of believers united around the center of faith, the Christ, and radiating out from there to every point at which there is human contact. Following the great Christian tenet, “the priesthood of all believers,” St. Michael’s encouraged parishioners to take active roles in the planning of programs, services and activities of the parish and to witness to their faith both in the church and in the world by means of responsible words and deeds.
St. Michael’s attempted to break down some of the stereotypes and bindings of institutional behavior and roles which tend to confine people within them. For instance, both boys and girls were acolytes, the composition of the Vestry was often an equal balance of men and women, the Altar Guild had men as well as women and there was no longer a separate “Women of the Church” organization. In 1976 Mary Arnold was one of the first women to be Senior Warden in the diocese.
Many at St. Michael’s believed that drama was an important means of teaching and learning. Because of this, we often incorporated drama into our educational program and enhanced the dramatic content and nature of our worship services. Liturgical dance has also been a part of our history. It has been part of Easter liturgies, the opening service of the new building and special services.
St. Michael’s also emphasized an appreciation of the natural environment by means of its “wilderness” property. As development in the area increased, the church land would preserve the natural beauty of the landscape. Work parties were held for parishioners to enjoy and care for the land; we built a patio, a chapel in the woods and a nature trail with the Stations of the Cross. The brass plaques on the Stations of the Cross were given to the church by Ed Prudhomme; the calligraphy on the original wooden plaques was done by Linda Lowenthal. Recently a memorial wall was erected on the nature trail as a focus for meditation and prayer, remembering those no longer with us. Over the years, St. Michael’s has also encouraged community groups to use its buildings and grounds.
The 80’s: Development, Responding to Growth
The beginning of a new decade brought the expectation of explosive growth in the Westlake Hills area. Keith Bardin retired in 1980, and in mid- September the Rev. Mark Jorjorian became rector of St. Michael’s. With his quiet sensitivity and physical vulnerability, he led the parish into a new decade in which many decisions had to be made, decisions about religious education for young and old, decisions about outreach, decisions about buildings and grounds and how best to use them, decisions about worship, decisions about money.
He asked the congregation to make a commitment to St. Michael’s Church to become The Church — the risen body of Christ in the world, to participate in the “enrichment of God’s world and everything and everybody in it.” Mark exemplified this himself in his work in the church and in the community. He was active in the Venture in Mission campaign to support the mission work of the church at home and abroad. As a member of the diocesan Health, Education and Welfare Committee, he was instrumental in the creation and funding of the Capital Area Food Bank. He had a special ability to accept and celebrate each person’s point of view and opinion as worthy of respect even if contradictory to his own. This celebration of the validity of diversity and individual differences within the community was an important element in the growth of the parish.
Mark celebrated his last service at St. Michael’s on August 2nd, 1981. His death on August 5th from a congenital heart problem devastated the parish. The responsibility for the running of the Parish was placed in the hands of the wardens and the vestry. The Rev. Will Spong was asked to serve as interim rector. Seminarian Bob Bonnington carried on many of the administrative tasks of the Parish.
At that time the community around the church was expanding rapidly. St. Michael’s was concerned about responding to the growth. In May of 1982, the Rev. Clifton Mann was called to be rector of St. Michael’s. In the fall, a series of parish potluck suppers and meetings developed a consensus that the church’s location in the fast-growing area dictated that we expand our facilities. In February 1983, the Vestry appointed a Master Planning Committee to recommend an architect; in October, the Vestry approved the architect’s master site plan and plans for expanding our facilities. These plans were presented to the parish at a special meeting, and a Building Fund Drive was initiated which was completed in March 1984. In July 1984, a contract was signed for the sale of 3+ acres of land on the east side of the church property and in July 1985, the sale was consummated. During this time, many meetings were held with members of the parish regarding every aspect of the project. The service of Ground Breaking occurred in June, 1985. Terry Barnes did a pen and ink drawing of the old church building before construction of the new one began so that we could remember the church as it had been.
Also in response to the planning meetings and the decision to limit the size of the congregation to maintain the strong sense of community, which has always been a hallmark of St. Michael’s, the Vestry voted to establish a Mission Land Acquisition Fund. Because several acres of St. Michael’s land, which legally belonged to the diocese, were sold to fund the new building project, the fund would allow parishioners to “pay back” the diocese and plan for future growth in the Westlake area. The concept would not actually be funded until 2001.
The first Sunday in the new building was July 6, 1986, with the Consecration on September 9. The design of the building is intended to promote the fullest participation by the entire community. The interior has simple lines, natural lighting, muted colors and hardwood furnishings. Prominent to the eye are the symbols of the two Sacraments given to us by Our Lord. The Baptismal font represents entry into the community of God. The pulpit and altar, simply constructed of natural redwood, symbolize for us God’s presence both in Word (Gospel and Sermon) and Sacrament (Communion).
The cross was created by artist-parishioner Randy Kirk. It consists of two joined crosses. The altar cross is made from a Juniper tree he found on the church property. The sidearms are proportionally larger than most crosses to better represent the human body. The processional cross is made to be carried in and fitted into the heart of the larger cross. It is made of dark wood and has embedded in it stones and pottery from Israel dating back to Jesus’ day. Hidden inside the heart of the processional cross are two scrolls – one containing the Ten Commandments in Hebrew, the other, Christ’s commandments, in English, “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” According to Randy, “That is the direct statement of what the joined crosses represent.”
In early 1986, the Rev. Jo Roberts Merriam, who had been a seminarian at St. Michael’s, became associate rector. Clifton and Jo had a shared ministry to show that the Christian journey is not a solitary walk. Jesus had sent out his disciples two by two to “bear one another’s burdens” and share in their joys. With their powerful preaching and thought-provoking Bible study they encouraged the congregation to live in the Kingdom. St. Michael’s, like many other churches and organizations, felt the effects of the economic downturn in the state economy. Because of the large building debt we had assumed and a loss of membership plus the inability to increase giving, we could not afford to support two clergy. In July 1988, Jo accepted a call to become assistant at St. Paul’s on the Plains and chaplain at Texas Tech in Lubbock. Clifton subsequently received a call to be rector of St. Stephen’s, Lubbock; his last Sunday at St. Michael’s was July 23, 1989.
The Rev. Jim Williams was called as interim rector to serve the parish until a new rector was chosen. His gentleness and humor were a special gift to the parish. He also helped guide the search committee through a comprehensive process of prayer, planning and self-analysis. Jim had been active in the Cursillo movement in the diocese and encouraged St. Michael’s parishioners to attend. The renewal movement began at St. Michael’s in the 80’s with the introduction of Cursillo. Many individuals within the parish have attended a Cursillo weekend — a three-day retreat to learn what is fundamental to being a Christian and how to live it out in the daily environment. This movement fired small groups within the larger community who met regularly to share their Christian walk with each other.
In 1990, the Rev. Robby Vickery accepted a call to serve as St. Michael’s fourth rector. He had an interesting background, having turned down a four-year scholarship for graduate work in engineering at Stanford University to attend the Virginia Theological Seminary. He clearly had the pastoral skills the parish needed. He has been described as “a good example of the Episcopal Church at its best, seeking to find the middle way, to include everyone.” He has said that his goal has always been as a priest, to listen, teach and be a wholesome example. He has encouraged the parish to participate in and has actively participated himself in outreach projects at El Buen Samaritano, renovated homes for the poor in Austin and elsewhere, and challenged the parish to become part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network.
He has also recognized the importance of service and fellowship within the church. The communion bread is made by members of the parish. The St. Michael’s “Men’s Group and Garden Club” and the new Women’s Group meet every month. The need for more fellowship and a way to incorporate new members into the community, led to the creation of Koinonia, the Wednesday night catered meal and speaker series that began in 1991.
St. Michael’s began intentional small group ministry in September 1993 in the interest of making the church smaller. As a church grows, it can become too large for some people to feel connected. Any church has a core group who are very involved. In a growing church there are increasing numbers on the periphery. Some of them are not certain as to how to find a sense of place. Small groups allow for the integration of these people. They also allow for the possibility of more established members to form community on a deeper level. Ultimately they help build the Body of Christ by building community. The leadership training that is part of the program has helped many parishioners learn new skills. Some groups have faded away. Some live on. New ones are born.
After a number of years without a youth program, St. Michael’s again developed an EYC that has flourished recently under the able leadership of Lyn Kleinebecker, Terrice Barnes and Chad Pevateaux. The St. Michael’s youth community meets weekly to grow in their faith, have fun, sing songs and enjoy each others company. The EYC has served on mission trips, gone skiing, camping, river rafting and to Happenings. A number of those young people also serve the church as acolytes. In addition, St. Michael’s again supports a Boy Scout program. Troop 30 started at St. Michael’s in 1969, but had disbanded. After restarting at another church, Troop 30 returned to St. Michael’s about 1991. The members meet regularly in the parish hall and have done several special projects for the church.
Barbara Rusling brought St. Michael’s Stephen Ministry, a ministry of caring relationships with members of the parish who are undergoing some type of stress in their lives. The first class of Stephen Ministers began in January of 1993. All of the participants have had Stephen Friends and continue to participate in training and meet in support groups regularly. In 1991 Bob Ayres brought Education for Ministry to St. Michael’s. EFM is a program of the Episcopal Church that combines Bible study with theological reflection on the meaning and significance of scripture. In the four-year program, participants read the Bible, church history and Christian theology. The study is done in the context of committed and small group relationships with a maximum of 11 other Christian searchers who meet weekly for nine months of each year.
As St. Michael’s grows, we struggle to learn from our history and build on our strengths. As Mark Jorjorian said, “All human life is lived in the tension between the past and the future; to live in the present with meaning, with hope and with history, is what is meant by the Biblical word ‘life’.”
In the early days of St. Michael’s, Christian Education was conducted in the traditional way. But in the late 60’s and early 70’s, St. Michael’s took a new approach to education: “Let’s have everyone in the mission take turns at teaching; let’s have children and adults together.” According to Keith Bardin, education through the Church would then begin to be a total process – with all taking the roles of teacher and student, interchangeably and at times simultaneously – rather than as in the public school model. The teaching style included time for creative activities such as drama and dance.
During the 80’s, St. Michael’s continued an experimental approach to Christian Education. In 1982, following a conference given by the Rev. John Westerhoff, the Christian Education Committee decided to try the team-taught, lectionary-based method he recommended; it was a great success. During the development of the Westerhoff philosophy, the organization of the program was carried on by the Christian Education Committee and a superintendent who was responsible for organizing supplies and recruiting teachers.
As the program changed and grew, a lay person was put in charge of the organization of the program. Later, parish committees were reorganized and a new committee chair and Director were given oversight of the Christian Education program. That committee implemented the Joy program. In an attempt to continue Christian Education for children through the summer, a different format was offered utilizing drama. The end result was a production by the Sunday School of the play, “It’s Cool in the Furnace,” Sunday, October 16, 1983.
As the number of children grew, it became difficult to meet the needs of the varying ages in one group and to recruit the required number of teachers. It was felt that there needed to be more consistency and development of the children’s education. They were therefore divided into smaller groups. Groups of teachers were asked to commit for the year, rotating in and out as their schedules allowed. Christian education tried this approach for several years, still relying on the resources of the teachers or leaders to provide ideas and insights. The amount of time each person involved had to commit to the program grew too large. At this point, the Christian Education committee turned to prepared curriculum.
When the Vickery family joined the church, Debbie saw Christian Education as her special ministry and began coordinating the program, which consisted of team-teaching of a liturgically-based Episcopal curriculum from the Diocese of Colorado. In the summer of 1992, the parish was treated to a second production of “It’s Cool in the Furnace.” In 1994, the first Cascarones Pentecost celebration was introduced by Susan LeVieux. Debbie studied and then implemented Jerome Berryman’s curriculum, Godly Play, a philosophy and method based on the Montessori method in which Bible stories are presented with visual aids and the children are allowed individual time with hands-on activities to interpret the stories in their own way.
In the fall of 1994, St. Michael’s T-shirts were created using a design combining several of the children’s pictures from a spring Sunday school project.
Over the years a Liturgy Committee created many special services to address our needs and interests. We created special services to celebrate Baptism, a renewed awareness of the meaning of marriage, and an understanding of our Jewish and Latin heritage. By means of special programs we tried to get behind the traditions to their origins, thus renewing their vitality and applying them to life today. Before the adoption of the new Book of Common Prayer, St. Michael’s tried some of the experimental liturgies. The Rev. Frank Sugeno and others from the seminary came and instructed the congregation in the use of the trial liturgy known as the “green book.”
St. Michael’s was known to be on the cutting edge of liturgy. In those years the Eucharist was celebrated every week at St. Michael’s when most churches had it only once a month and used Morning Prayer for the other Sundays. Weekly Eucharist is now the norm in most Episcopal parishes. Over the years, the number of clergy, not attached to parishes, who selected St. Michael’s, has been impressive and has added to the vitality of the church. St. Michael’s has also benefited from the many seminarians who have done their field work at the church, contributing their special gifts and talents to the community and taking with them valuable experiences of the “real world” of parish ministry.
The new addition to St. Michael’s building was built with the capacity for complete liturgical flexibility – the pews aren’t bolted to the floor and everything moves. Only recently have we taken full advantage of that capability. We now arrange the church in accordance with the teachings of the church year, inward-looking as we prepare for Advent, open and traditional for Christmas and Easter, askew and off-center during the wilderness of Lent. In this way, we are all challenged not to be complacent, not to expect everything to always be the same in church or in life, to see God as Creator and Creating, growing and changing us and the world. Even though this is a good chance for education on the church year, it is also another chance to deal with diversity – some people love it, some don’t.
In recent years we have emphasized the sacrament of Baptism as a major part of our community pattern of Sunday liturgies. This rite is our common initiation into the Ministry of the Baptized – including both lay persons and clergy. The baptismal font has been given a central place of honor alongside the holy table and the ambo. Special baptismal banners have been made for each candidate – customized with their own Christian names. In 1995 and 1996 we had a sunrise Easter vigil that buy modafinil and processed into a church lighted only with candles. Parish members presented the Vigil readings as if they were being told around a fire. After the Pascal sermon, the lights were turned on for the baptisms. After the 1996 Vigil a Dixieland band led a procession to the parish hall for a breakfast celebration.
At the conclusion of each Sunday service we are urged to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Service to others is very important at St. Michael’s. Over the years, parishioners have been involved in many projects. From 1963 to 1970, St. Michael’s gave a party every month for the residents of the Lakeside Apartments for the elderly. “Same Place,” a teenage dance center, was sponsored by St. Michael’s along with other Episcopal churches giving 400 young people a safe place to gather on weekend evenings. In 1968, members sponsored an experimental coffee house at 1909 Whitis. In 1969, the Creedmoor Bi-Lingual School was unofficially sponsored by the congregation. In 1980, several parishioners worked with the Friends Meeting (Quakers) to sponsor a Vietnamese family.
Several projects grew out of an effort begun in 1983 by a group of parishioners to organize and enlarge our outreach ministry. After hearing a presentation about MetroMinistries of Austin, an interdenominational organization concerned with social ministries, the Outreach Committee decided to encourage individual commitment and institutional involvement. The Committee organized Thanksgiving and Christmas projects collecting food, clothing and household goods for several needy families. Church members donated so much that it was decided to create a new way of helping even more people. Parishioner Judy Taylor, as the principal of a low-income elementary school in South Austin, offered to let us have a “garage sale” at her school. The household items were sold for very little money, giving the families of the students the opportunity to choose what items they wanted and not just receive charity. Even selling items at 5 or 10 cents, hundreds of dollars were raised and that money was then given to outreach projects outside of Austin. The Becker Garage Sale was conducted for several years, finally being taken over by the teachers at the school.
For four years, members of the congregation conducted worship services at a local nursing home two Sundays a month. The parish did a clothing drive for a diocese in Africa, a toy drive for Native American children and a shoe/coat drive for migrant laborers in South Texas. In 1985, a group of St. Michael’s parishioners worked with members of St. John Neuman Catholic and Westlake Presbyterian churches to bring two children, one Protestant and one Catholic, from Northern Ireland for a summer visit. In 1988, at the instigation of Rose Davis, a member of the congregation, the parish raised the funds to buy a truck for a mission in Peru.
To help combat hunger, parishioners participate in the CROP Walk to raise money for Church World Service and local hunger relief programs as well as stock a church food pantry to provide food for needy people in the community. From its beginnings, St. Michael’s has been supportive of the diocesan El Buen Samaritano Human Need Mission in South Austin. Members provided a hot meal once a month for the 13 years of the program and have also helped in other EBS programs such as the Mother-to-Mother project. Even though we are not one of the biggest Episcopal churches in the Austin area, St. Michael’s has played a major role in the success of EBS.
For years, parishioners have worked with Hands-on-Housing, a program of Austin Metropolitan Ministries to renovate the homes of elderly poor people in East Austin. Some of these have been done in partnership with other churches and organizations. A major new project has been to become a host church in the Interfaith Hospitality Network, a group of churches that host homeless families for a week to help them put their lives back on track. We have learned valuable lessons with each experience as a host. We added a washer and dryer to the nursery so that our guests would not have to go to a laundromat. Starting in 2000, St. Michael’s has worked with other Westlake churches to build a house through Habitat for Humanity.
St. Michael’s has always been a church that loved to sing. There was not an official choir for many years because the entire congregation was considered the choir. That is the reason the choir does not wear robes; it is not separate from, but part of, the congregation. In the early days, Halsey Tichenor was the Music Leader. What Keith later called the “Makeshift” Choir sang only on special occasions and had several Directors over the years, including Nancy Podio and Bob Alexius; earlier pianists were Nancy Podio and Standish Meacham.
During Mark’s ministry and under the direction of Mary Parse, the choir began to sing more often. In an emergency, Leonard Johnson, parishioner and UT Voice professor, took over the choir. Before long, the group was rehearsing every week and subsequently decided to sing every Sunday. Under Leonard’s direction, the “Makeshift” choir was renamed “Magnificent.” Not only were there anthems every Sunday, but it began singing at weddings and funerals at the request of parishioners and has participated in diocesan choral festivals. From time to time, the choir has also reached out to the wider community by presenting music such as Vivaldi’s “Gloria;” “A Festival of Lessons and Carols,;” the musical revue, SMIFL (St. Michael’s is For Lovers) on Valentine’s Day,1988; Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols;” the “Fauré” Requiem in 1991 and 1993, and Donald Grantham’s “On This Day.”
A special gift to the parish was the “Mass for St. Michael’s” service music composed by Noel Alford in 1982 before he became our pianist. Another special gift of music and a further example of the creativity of the members of St. Michael’s was the development of psalm refrains by parishioner the Rev. Dr. Michael Floyd, professor of Old Testament at the seminary. The refrains allowed the congregation to take part in singing the psalms. Later, we began to use the simplified psalm tunes that allowed the choir and congregation to chant the entire psalm together.
As part of St. Michael’s effort to stay together as one family, the music during Sunday services is drawn from different heritages -traditional, classical, folk, and renewal. To show the universality of the Gospel of Pentecost in 1994 and 1995, not only did we have parishioners read the Gospel in many languages, but parish youth Pam Pontius played the prelude on a Japanese instrument.
A Reflection: What Makes St. Michael’s Distinctive
Communities of people, whether they are countries, states, cities, families, or churches, are affected and shaped by their histories. Both the triumphs and traumas play a role in defining the unique flavor of each community. St. Michael’s as a community is no exception, and continues to be shaped by its history.
The parish history makes clear that St. Michael’s exemplifies many of the societal conflicts and changes that have characterized our society as a whole. In the last three decades, massive changes have rocked the institutions that have regulated our society: government, church and family.
The Church struggled with changes that seemed to discard long-cherished traditions. Women entered into the governing bodies of congregations, as well as into the clergy. Increasing numbers of lay people participated in leadership roles within congregations. Changes in the forms of worship reflected the societal attempt to contemporize tradition in an effort to find fresh ways of making Church participation more relevant and attractive to an increasingly diverse society.
Since Keith Bardin’s time, St. Michael’s has embraced the opportunity for these changes. The result of this is seen in the architecture of our worship space, the flexibility of our sanctuary, the active participation of lay people, including women, in leadership roles, and experimentation with contemporary forms of worship. These are all very much a part of life at St. Michael’s. Individual differences are warmly accepted. Some of us stand while others kneel. We receive Eucharist in differing ways. Some of us perform traditional gestures of reverence while others do not. All these differences make our congregation a place where it is easy for newcomers to feel at home.
The family is another institution that has undergone tremendous change in the last three decades. The explosion of divorced, single-parent and blended families, the high mobility of the population, and increased problems such as substance abuse have eroded and threatened to destroy the possibility of continuity and resiliency within families and communities. This increased stress in families has been reflected in both congregation and clergy.
St. Michael’s has been very much affected by the forces that have disrupted families. Parishioners and clergy have experienced the traumas associated with marital problems, divorce, financial disasters, illness, traumatic death and polarizing differences. Mark Jorjorian’s tenure was ended too soon by his tragic death. The parish went through a difficult and extended time of grief and then rebuilding. Three of our clergy have been divorced, leaving the members of the parish saddened, traumatized, and too often polarized. We carry both the scars of this trauma and the increased resilience that comes from facing them.
Perhaps our expectations for perfection in ourselves and in our leaders have undergone a necessary softening as a result of the struggles. We have had to face the fact that the Church is not immune to the forces affecting society as a whole. At the same time, within the Church we have a powerful means for conquering the forces that would destroy us as individuals, as families, and as a community of faith. One member who lived through one of the most disrupted periods in the life of St. Michael’s said that the thing that enabled the remnant to withstand the forces that threatened to destroy the community was the weekly coming together for the Eucharist. That statement embodies the only hope any of us has for surviving our brokenness-our faith in Jesus Christ.
St. Michael’s is blessed by our Episcopal heritage, dedicated leaders, beautiful surroundings, an educated and talented membership, and by the close experience of some members with pain as a Church community. The experience of shared pain can help us to be open to receive those who come during troubled times in their lives. It can help us draw closer to those among us who experience sorrowful or frightening times. It can make the times of rejoicing even more precious.
We will always have our differences, but we can remain a strong Church family by holding on to what we believe especially when buffeted by events and forces that make us reel. We will continue to be buffeted, but we will continue to be a strong Church family by focusing on what we have in common, our faith in Jesus Christ.
Editor: Charlotte Carl-Mitchell