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last-supper-detail

Photo: Evy Mages
Detail from a massive sculpture of a black Last Supper discovered by a demolition crew in the Columbia Heights section of Washington, DC.

Oh, my! Imagine the wonder of the demolition crew that uncovered this artwork in a former church! I wish reporter Andrew Beaujon at the Washingtonian had tracked them down and interviewed them for their immediate thoughts.

Here’s his story.

“Joy Zinoman got an unexpected phone call [in early October]. Demolition had just begun inside a former church in Columbia Heights that she’s turning into the new home of the Studio Acting Conservatory. Now the boss of the the crew working was on the line to tell the Studio Theatre founder about a remarkable discovery his guys made: An enormous frieze of the Last Supper that was hidden behind drywall for more than a decade.

“The building on Holmead Place, Northwest, had been slated to become condos before the conservatory bought it earlier this year. It was built in 1980, city records say, to house New Home Baptist Church, which moved to Landover, Maryland, in the 1990s. After that it became a building for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. A signature on the lower right of the sculpture  leaves no doubt at which point it joined the building’s history: ‘All rights reserved 1982 Akili Ron Anderson.’ …

“New Home trustee board chairman Willie L. Morris told Post reporter Esther Iverem, ‘It was very important to us that we have a black artist. All the other Last Supper pictures we’d seen were always in a white framework.’ …

“Anderson now teaches at Howard University and some of his artwork is easier to see, particularly his work Sankofa at the east and west entrances of the Columbia Heights Metro Station as well as stained glass at Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel and the Prince George’s County Courthouse.

“The fact that the participants in the Last Supper are black reflects a movement among African American artists, beginning in the late 1960s, to make the art in places of worship look like the people inside them. ‘I think it’s important for black children sitting in churches all over this country on Sunday morning to look up at the windows, look up at images and see themselves and believe that they can ascend to heaven, too,’ Anderson told Iverem in 1993.

“It’s not clear when the 232 square feet of religious art was covered by drywall. City records show that an inspector reviewed some ‘Close-in (concealment)-Walls Construction’ in 2003. Anderson says he undertook the artwork when he worked at Duke Ellington School of the Arts and had a coworker who attended New Home. ‘Most of the time I was in there by myself,’ he says.

‘It actually got to be something of a spiritual experience for me.’ …

“When you first view the frieze in person, as I did Friday, you’re likely to gasp: It’s difficult to convey just how large and impressive this sculpture is.

“Acting studios are supposed to be bare, and Zinoman, who likens this piece to the Sistine Chapel, really hopes it won’t end up behind a curtain at her conservatory. … She’s hoping a museum might wish to take it. Removing it from the wall will not be easy and will require a lot of skill and experience (and presumably money) to do properly. ‘All I want is for it to be in a place where people can see it,’ Zinoman says. ‘I think it’s a great work.’ ”

You can tell that a lot of love went into this frieze. If it does end up behind a curtain, at least it will still be available to visitors. If you know of any venue that could afford to move it and make it available to the public, please get in touch with the Studio Acting Conservatory, 202.232.0714.

More at the Washingtonian, here. Lots of great photos.

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Stuga 40 followed an inspired impulse on our way to the Swedish west coast and took a detour to a historic church that she had never visited. Off in the open countryside, the Romanesque Husaby Kyrka was beautiful and serene. We felt like we were discovering it.

I am sharing a few photos, including one showing the tombstones of Queen Estrid and King Olof Skõtkonung, who was said to have been baptized at a nearby spring in 1008 by the English missionary Sigfrid. Olof was the first Christian monarch in Sweden.

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Two women in San Francisco felt compassion for homeless people who have nowhere to go during the day. So they arranged with a local Catholic church to welcome them.

Patricia Leigh Brown wrote the story for the Christian Science Monitor series called “People Making a Difference: Ordinary People Taking Action for Extraordinary Change.”

“Tina Christopher’s day begins at 5:45 a.m. as she cleans the sidewalk in front of St. Boniface Catholic Church in the Tenderloin, the once-colorful vice district in San Francisco now better known as a province of the poor, the desperate, the addicted, and the down and out. …

” ‘All right my beautiful brothers and sisters!’ Ms. Christopher says in her always-chipper voice. ‘Good morning! Time to get up! Wakey wakey!’ Then she unlocks the church’s heavy iron gate.

“Soon, St. Boniface’s 74 backmost pews will cradle some 150 homeless people seeking ‘sacred sleep,’ the sound of snoring permeating the incense-filled room. Beneath the saints painted on the church’s glittering dome, they stretch out for nine hours of vital slumber, resting their heads on ad hoc sweatshirt and T-shirt pillows or sometimes their folded hands. For a brief moment, their faces, beatific and babylike in sleep, do not betray the nights of fearful wandering and the way concrete seeps into a person’s bones and stays there.

“Christopher is the program director of The Gubbio Project, a pioneering effort, believed to be the country’s first. … Cofounded in 2004 by the Rev. Louis Vitale, a well-known peace and human rights advocate, the program provides a place for homeless people to sleep during the daylight hours, when most shelters are closed.

The project is named after Gubbio, the Italian town where, the story goes, residents befriended a wolf after realizing the animal wasn’t dangerous, just hungry.

“The project’s guiding lights are two women who are devoted to the dignity of the people they call ‘guests.’ Laura Slattery, Gubbio’s executive director and public voice, is a West Point graduate-turned-social justice activist who wears jeans and hiking boots and exudes a sense of calm resolve, even in a crisis. Christopher is the exuberant all-hands-on-deck ground commander who knows the name of every guest and whose finely tuned antennae swiftly intuit their needs and issues. …

“At St. Boniface, Christopher writes daily notices on the whiteboard:

“Shower bus 8:30-2
“We have Blankets!
“Tomorrow – some socks.

“She is in constant motion, eyeglasses perched atop her head, dispensing cough drops, rubber bands, tampons, shaving cream, and other necessities from a converted confessional. She makes it a point to ask guests whether they’d prefer a pink toothbrush or a blue one, a black blanket or a brown one. ‘Even the simplest things are important to people who don’t have choices,’ she explains.

“Socks and other staples come from volunteers like Roberta Snyder, who has established relationships with housekeepers at nearby hotels and provides soaps, shampoos, and other items …

“[Slattery] thinks of The Gubbio Project as ‘the ministry of presence,’ one that dispels some popular myths about homeless people along the way. Quite a number of donations to Gubbio’s $350,000 annual budget, for instance, are made by guests. ‘Last week it was $42,’ Slattery says. ‘The week before it was 24. Flips the idea of panhandling on its head, right?’ ”

Click here to read about the women’s routes to their unusual calling — one through addiction, one through West Point.

Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor
Tina Christopher (l.) and Laura Slattery run The Gubbio Project, which gives people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco a place to go during the day.

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OK, it’s not really a totem pole, but I was afraid the word kopjafa wouldn’t ring any bells with readers.

Today at church we dedicated a wooden pole that was carved by the minister of our sister church in Transylvania when he visited Massachusetts last year.

A translated Wikipedia entry says that, originally, two kopjafa poles were to used to carry a coffin to a cemetery. The poles were then placed at the head and foot of the mound. But according to my minister, nowadays kopjafa poles are set outside churches and, as in our case, sometimes given to a partner church.

The minister read the poem below as he spoke about our church’s connection to Transylvanians of the (almost) same religion. The subject is a little sad for what we do at Suzanne’s Mom’s Blog, but it fits with our previous discussions about the value of preserving language and customs in minority communities. (Hungarian Transylvania was handed over to Romania after World War I, and has had some challenges, starting with language challenges.)

“Leave, if you can …
“Leave, if you think,
“That somewhere, anywhere in the world beyond
“It will be easier to bear your fate.
“Leave …
“Fly like a swallow, to the south,
“Or northward, like a bird of storm,
“And from high above in the wide skies
“Search for the place
“Where you can build a nest,
“Leave, if you can.
“Leave if you hope
“Against hope that homelessness
“Is less bitter abroad than at home.
“Leave, if you think
“That out in the world
“Memory will not carve new crosses from
“Your soul, from that sensitive
“Living tree.”

Read about the poem’s author, Hungarian poet Sandor Remenyik, here.

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flowering-tree-BostonlEven though it was a bit chilly early on, the flowering trees and sunshine suggested that spring isn’t going back on us.

After church, we had a lively, chaotic Easter egg hunt and marching band with grandkids who are 1, 2, and 4 and very funny.

Then came a leisurely brunch with a beautiful fruit salad from my daughter-in-law, and new recipe for egg strata that turned out very well.

My husband and I got a little bonus time with Suzanne and Erik as the three of us tried to tire out the two-year-old in the playground before his car ride back home.

Suzanne is always up for an Easter egg hunt. In fact, Liz, her roommate, used to do the honors for her back in college. Liz sent Suzanne a text this year to make sure that everyone’s Easter was being taken care of.

Easter-at-churchdyed-eggsWhatever you celebrate, I hope you had a sunny weekend.

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If you had to guess one church in San Francisco that would be all over the idea of rooftop gardening to feed whoever needs feeding, which one would it be?

Right. Glide. I like its garden’s name: Graze the Rooftop.

“Graze the Roof is an edible, community-produced vegetable garden on the rooftop of Glide Memorial Church, a progressive church and nonprofit located in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.

“Graze the Roof features lightweight (upcycled) raised garden beds made from milk crates; a worm composting system and an educational mural which ties the whole project together. Glide youth and volunteers from throughout the Bay Area maintain the garden and host monthly tours and workshops.”

Do you live in the San Francisco area? Looks like there are a lot of fun workshops available, such as Designing Sustainable Habitats, Introduction to Permaculture, and Urban Fruit Tree Stewardship. Read more here.

Photo: Graze the Roof

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Photograph: James Montague for The New York Times
Outside the Vakar Lajos rink, where the Hungarian name of the Romanian ice hockey team, Hoki Sport Club Csikszereda, is printed on the ice.

I don’t follow ice hockey, but a recent article on ethnic Hungarians playing for the Romanian ice hockey team caught my eye.

I already knew that a chunk of Romania is like a little Hungary because my church and a church in Transylvania (20 percent ethnic Hungarian) have a longstanding relationship. Exchanges back and forth occur nearly every year.

So in flipping past the sports section the other day, I couldn’t ignore an article by James Montague on the irony of Romania, a country that under communism repressed ethnic Hungarians, having so many of them on their national ice hockey team. A feeder team in Miercurea Ciuc, Romania, calls itself Szekely Land, after a former province of the Kingdom of Hungary.

“The Szekely Land, named for a warrior tribe that dates to the Middle Ages, is a Hungarian-dominated area of Romania, covering three counties in the center of the country. The roughly 1.2 million Hungarians represent Romania’s largest ethnic minority, about 6 percent of the country’s population. The fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I marooned millions of Hungarians in what is now Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Serbia. The Szekely found themselves cut off and subject to a policy of assimilation, including heavy restrictions on the use of their language, under the former communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.”

Sometimes having so many ethnic Hungarians on the Romania team can lead to unhockeylike situations. The “anomaly reached a critical point during a 2011 game between Romania and Hungary in Miercurea Ciuc,” writes Montague. “After the game, almost all of Romania’s players joined with their opponents to sing the Hungarian anthem.

“ ‘Some of the paparazzi caught it, and it was a big scandal,’ said Attila Goga … who has played for the Romanian national team for a decade but holds dual Romanian-Hungarian citizenship. ‘It’s a little bit strange, but I can see that, too. They don’t understand our situation here.’ ” More.

My advice to autocrats: Don’t try to change people’s language. It always ends badly.

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Suzanne and Erik loved attending Glide Memorial when they lived in San Francisco. It’s a big, welcoming Gospel church. It calls itself “radically inclusive,” and having been there several times, I can attest to that.

“A radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization.”

Lots of hugging goes on. Homeless people participate, society ladies, political celebrities, gay and straight … Perhaps you saw the church in the Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness, based on a true story.

Besides the extraordinary choir, which is the initial draw for many churchgoers, we liked the congregant testimonials about what Glide has meant in their lives. Some people had been through pretty dark times, and Glide had been one piece of the road out.

Today as my husband and I drove home from a visit to Providence, we put on a radio broadcast from a Unitarian Universalist church, where a friend sometimes reads the announcements on air. The minister introduced a new-to-the-church idea, which I hope works out as well in Boston as it does at Glide.

He called it My Story and gave his own spiritual story as his first example, inviting parishioners to let him know if they wanted to do the same in upcoming weeks.

If nothing else, it should help the service be more interactive. And it should let members get to know each other better, especially if they are brave enough to share their rough times, the things they don’t bring up at coffee hour.

By the way, life’s difficult passages may be well served by our favorite bit of wisdom from Glide: “A setback is just a setup for a comeback.”

How many friends and even public figures would you like to tell that to?

Photograph: http://www.firstchurchboston.org

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This is about a Unitarian Universalist minister who decided that community work was more important than having a church building.

As Donald E. Skinner writes of Ron Robinson in UU World, “The particular mission field that the Rev. Ron Robinson has claimed is one of America’s abandoned places.

“Turley, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa, was a thriving place until the 1960s when white flight and the movement of oil industry jobs out of Tulsa began Turley’s long slide into economic and social decline.

“Today many houses in Turley are vacant and abandoned, some boarded up, others open to the elements and slowly falling down. Burned-out structures are nearly hidden by tall weeds and brush. The once robust main street is now down to a gas station, grocery, a pizza place that won’t deliver, self-service laundry, carwash, and a collection of auto repair and salvage businesses.

“Most younger residents have no health insurance and little health care. Most children qualify for free school lunches. Residents live, on average, fourteen fewer years than people five miles south, in midtown Tulsa. Unemployment is twice the national average.

“In the middle of this, Robinson, a Unitarian Universalist minister, has established A Third Place, a community center that includes Turley’s only library, several computers for public use, a free health clinic, food pantry, drop-in living room, and a place to get used clothing and household items.”

Read more here.

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