Thanksgiving for the Example of Perseverance
John R. Tyler
The Church of St. Michael and All Angels, founded in 1912, had outgrown its facilities after only sixteen years. It was a time of prosperity for the church and for the country. The church decided in 1928 to enlarge the church and parish hall. While planning for the project was still underway, the church learned that St. George’s Church was struggling financially and would either have to close or merge with another church. The two churches agreed to a merger and to be located at the buildings of The Church of St. Michael and All Angels that were soon to be enlarged.
The expansion work began in December 1928 at a cost of $5.3 million (today’s equivalent dollars). The parish had a number of generous contributors, and it was assumed that any cost not pledged up front would be paid off in several years with special gifts.
Then the unexpected happened. A stock market crash began on October 24, 1929, culminating five days later on “Black Tuesday.” The Great Depression had begun and would present a significant financial challenge to the newly merged parish.
In 1931 there was an unsubscribed building indebtedness of $1.75 million (today’s equivalent dollars). The church would be unable to meet operating expenses for several consecutive years in the depths of the Great Depression.
In February 1932, a large budget deficit was predicted, and immediate steps were taken to deal with the situation. The Rev. Poindexter had come as the first assistant rector for the newly merged parish in 1930, a year after “Black Tuesday.” His services were terminated in June 1932. The church’s financial assistance to the Mt. Calvary Mission near Grand Avenue was discontinued. During the years of the Great Depression, the word “retrenchment” appears repeatedly in the vestry minutes. This retrenchment took many forms. Church staff members Martha Bishop and Lizzie Dyer each offered to take a month’s vacation without pay in order to reduce salary expense. The weekly bulletin was discontinued during the summer months, and when it was resumed, it was reduced in size to reduce costs. Cuts were made in the music program. The salaried quartet of the choir was furloughed during the summer months, and Mr. Friess, the organist & choirmaster, voluntarily accepted a salary cut. In 1934, the choir purchased awning equipment that they rented for weddings and other occasions to raise money for the choir.
Despite the severe economic times during the 1930s, church membership and parish programs grew during the decade. The rector observed that “in spite of severe retrenchment in expenditures, the efficiency of the various activities of the church had not been impaired, nor had morale been lowered.”
Then the unexpected happened—again. The Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. World War II had begun, and it created financial and other forms of hardship for the church and parishioners. Everyone suddenly had to deal with shortages of everything. These material shortages, along with the continuing financial drain of paying down the building expansion debt, meant that the fund-raising campaign to replace the church’s original organ installed in 1913 had to be suspended. The campaign would not resume until after the war.
In 1942, the H. J. Heinz Company ran a full-page newspaper ad that discussed “the truth about food shortages.” Nylon was commandeered by the War Production Board to make parachutes and tires, and nylon stockings soon disappeared from store shelves. A magazine article proclaimed that “patches are popular” and that it was now fashionable to use them to extend the life of clothing. Wearing patched clothes was a sign of patriotism, for it showed one was doing his or her part to help free up wool and cotton for war material. Gasoline, tires, sugar, meat, silk, shoes, and even chicken wire were just some of the items rationed as raw materials and production capacity were diverted to the war effort. Automobiles were not manufactured during the war years. Most devastating of all, eleven men of our parish were killed in action during the war. Their names are listed on a plaque affixed to the north wall of the nave.
We are in the midst of a pandemic that has had and will continue to have severe health and economic impacts on us. Some parishioners have lost their jobs. Others have been furloughed or had their salaries reduced. Businesses have closed, some permanently. There is no sign as you read this that the pandemic is abating; in fact, the number of cases and resulting deaths generally are increasing as winter approaches. There is hope that sometime next year we will have a safe and effective vaccine that, once widely-administered to the population, will allow us to return to normal, although the new normal won’t look exactly like the old normal.
We can find encouragement in this difficult time by looking at how our former parishioners dealt with the problems they encountered during the Great Depression and ensuing war years (1929–1945). They made sacrifices, in many cases far greater than those most of us are required to make in this pandemic. Who do the parishioners of those earlier years inspire us to be? What do they inspire us to do in meeting our present challenges? They persevered during difficult times. They adjusted and pushed through—for seventeen consecutive years—in spite of overwhelming obstacles. We can, too, if we, like they, are faithful to do what is required of us.
We can willingly and faithfully wear masks, maintain social distancing, and practice rigorous hand-washing. Isn’t this more convenient for us than the rationing of gasoline, tires, sugar, meat, silk, nylon hosiery, and shoes was for our fellow parishioners of earlier years? We have grown weary of the continuing restrictions, but let us not grow weary in doing what is right” (Gal 6:9). The science-based health restrictions our church has wisely implemented allow us to worship together during this pandemic, even if outdoors only at the present time. What the rector said to the parish in the depths of the Great Depression can be adapted to be a source of encouragement for us: “In spite of severe [pandemic challenges], the efficiency of the various activities of the church [has] not been impaired, nor [has] morale been lowered.”
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
— Hebrews 12:1–2a