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Mack Williams: The Secret Passage of Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church

When I was considering what to write for Easter Sunday, I decided to write about a place just as dear to me as my old home on the Old Concord Road: Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church.

If I tried to write about every memory of Saint Paul’s, my “old news” would fill up the Post, leaving no room for the news which is “new,” so I will limit myself to one place in the sanctuary, unseen by most, unless they were a pastor or acolyte. In connection with this, I will also write of my time as an acolyte.

I have always been interested in “lost passages” of antiquity, even the never found, geographical “Northwest” one (I guess since no one knew it first off, it can’t be said to have been “misplaced”).

This “mystery” of Saint Paul’s is not like the “Holy Mystery” which occurs at the Sacrament of Holy Communion, but something architectural.

The “unseen” thing is beyond the altar, but contains no secret cache of “Holy Relics”( if it did , someone standing next to Luther’s sarcophagus in Wittenberg, Germany would hear a “rattling” noise, signifying bones attempting to turn themselves over).

Despite what I just said about “Holy Relics”, I do have a confession to make, but since I’m up here in Danville, where Pastor Bost is not “handy”, I’ll make it to you (and essentially, to him also, by his reading it): Despite being a “Lutheran boy”, I have always been fascinated by “splinters of the true Cross”(but thankfully, never purchased one), the Shroud of Turin”, “remnants of the sign placed above Christ’s head on the cross, and the “incorruptible bodies of the Saints’). It’s easy to see why the prevalence of this sort of thing back then got Luther all fired up.

Now that I have gotten you all worked up, with your mind possibly thinking back to certain scenes in the Indiana Jones movies, I will deflate all that by telling you that the “secret passage” at Saint Paul’s  is just a narrow pathway behind the chancel-altar area, from one side to the other.

To the best of my memory, the Pastor’s robes and stoles for the different Seasons of the Church are stored on one side and on the other, the tools of the acolytes (recently confirmed, with the contents of Luther’s Small Catechism still fresh in their minds) are located.

The acolytes’ “tools” include ; cross necklace, robes, fresh candles for the altar, replacement wicks for the candle lighter-extinguisher, and of course, matches ( now, probably replaced by lighters, with such lighters ideally not already being the acolytes’ personal property).

That back passageway was almost “single-file” narrow, but in no way as constricting as the “eye of a needle.”

After being guided by Pastor Floyd W. Bost through that secret “tunnel” and readied for our acolyte duty, we emerged into the open, lit the candles, then sat till the end of the service in chairs specifically placed for us in that “Holy of Holies” section of the church.

I remember sitting there, being “on view” by the congregation, so “nose-picking” was definitely out of the question (being shy, I never did that in public anyway).

Pastor Bost is now, and was then, always an excellent speaker, so I never had to worry about falling asleep, or something even worse, that reflexive “jerk” one gets (and everyone sees) when he realizes he has just slipped over slumber’s threshold.

I remember sitting there, not wishing to stare into the eyes of the members of the congregation, so I gazed at Biblical scenes depicted in Saint Paul’s beautiful stained glass windows.

In addition, I always took note of one stained glass pane containing the “Spiritus Gladius”, the Christian version of the Roman battle sword which preserved,for a while, the “Pax Romana.” In its church depiction, it can be thought of as benevolently cutting through the soul with a different message.

Following our extinction of the candles, my companion acolyte and I disappeared back into that “secret” area to leave our robes and “fire equipment.”

The “Grand Gallery” of Khufu’s Great Pyramid on the Gizah Plateau can be thought of as a passage to the afterlife.

The “secret passage of Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church” does no less, playing its part in the lives of Confirmation’s young graduates as they navigate their way through this life and beyond.

 

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