I saw in this morning’s Colorado Springs Gazette, my old place of work, that Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church—one of the city’s prettiest—has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. I can’t think of a church that deserves it more.
When I was The Gazette’s religion reporter, one of my first—and most enjoyable—assignments was diving into the bowels of Grace and St. Stephen’s to get to know the church’s sprawling, 4,000-pipe organ.
When you go into a church with an impressive organ, you may or may not see a bristling array of pipes. Often, these pipes are actually a façade—just a showy bit of metal for the folks in the pews. The actual working pipes are often hidden out of site, in crevaces and alcoves and whole rooms. In Grace, the pipes filled four or five rooms, splayed and stretched across floor and wall and ceiling, requiring the church organist Frank Shelton and me to contort like cave spelunkers to get to them all. “Some pipes are thinner than straws and shorter than index fingers,” I wrote, “others tower like telephone poles.” The pipes make use of the church’s own walls—pushing and prodding the stone with its sound. In a sense, the church itself becomes the instrument—as critical to the organ’s sound as the pipes themselves.
I covered a lot of stories at Grace, some of them not so fun. It was the site of a major brouhaha when the rector was accused of embezzling funds. The rector alleged that he was being framed by the diocese for his outspoken views on homosexuality (the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., had recently voted to allow openly gay clergy to serve in its churches, and the pastor was a national leader opposing the move), and the congregation split over the fracas, fighting over the church like it was a kid in a difficult divorce. It was a complicated, messy story to cover—one that didn’t do the Church, as in the Christian Church, much good. And there was some doubt whether the physical sanctuary would survive the fight.
So for me, the fact Grace and St. Stephen’s stands in the center of town, still beautiful as ever (and now a recognized landmark), is a bit of a metaphor for the broader Church itself. Sometimes Christians don’t give Christianity our best. Sometimes we fail the Church, sometimes we betray her. We’re human, after all.
But despite our flaws and failings, the Church remains, strong and beautiful. And even the stones inside may sometimes sing.