Sunday, October 24, 2010

Where faith meets the road...

Belmont Gospel Church (Now Ebenezer Presbyterian Church)

I grew up in a very conservative German Pentecostal Church.  My foundation in faith had solid Republican overtones. I grew up believing that a woman's role was in the home, thought that men should be the head of the house and that children should obey their parents unquestioningly.  Divorce was almost unheard of and I didn't know what a homosexual was until I was in high school.  I grew up believing in speaking in tongues, that God had a perfect will for my life, and that divine healing should be a common event in our lives.  For me, God created the earth in seven days, only Christians would go to heaven, in particular those Christians who were Bible believing Fundamentalists.  There was a little wiggle room for drinking, probably because the church was German, but Bingo, movies, rock and roll, and coed beaches were not thought highly of.


I met God there.

I started out my morning planning to go to the Green City Market and pick up my CSA and some other beautiful market items.  Kath asked if I wanted to bring the camera when we were about a mile from home and after a little hesitation, I decided, yeah, it would be great to get some shots of the the market in Fall.

Carrots... duh!

These Squash reminded me of Crustaceans

Peppers Galore!

By the way, Muffin and Lucky each got a half of an $8 Hamburger...
Free range, humane killed beef with garlic aioli and arugula on a fresh baked bun.
Kath and I also had one each!

I also had another reason for picking up the camera.  I wanted to go to the church I grew up in and take some pictures.  I also had this very strong inkling that I would have the chance to go inside and see what the building looked like some thirty five years after I had last been there.  When Kath and I got there, I was not surprised that they had a garage sale going on and in I went.  One of the leaders was completely open to my taking pictures and I had a stupid grin on my face for the next twenty minutes as I took pictures of a piece of my childhood.

In the faith community I now worship in, communion is served from a several ton marble altar with an incredibly beautiful liturgy surrounding it.  A very powerful moment for me is when the priest says "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and happy are those who are called to His supper." and the congregation responds by saying, "Lord, I am not worthy to recieve you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."  I am very conscious of my own sin and the mercy God shows us in offering communion with Him.

At Belmont Gospel, it was a little simpler...

This very table would be brought down in front of the altar and be covered with a white cloth.  All the board members and Pastor Klaus would be behind and to the sides of it as Pastor would read the words of institution recalling the first Lord's Supper.  The board members would bring the elements to the congregation as they sat in the pews.  After serving themselves and the Pastor, the whole church would take the elements at the same time.
By the way, the communion wine was not wine... it was grape juice.  (This little bit of Americana... In 1869, a certain Mr. Thomas Bramwell Welch developed a process for preserving grape juice and maintaining most of its flavor.  It also prevented fermentation from occuring.  He was a prominent Methodist and given the Methodist Church's historic stance againts the evils of alcohol, Welch's Grape Juice would become the new communion wine for millions of conservative Evangelical Christians.) 

My dad was a board member and he and my mom were very involved members of our church.  When he died, I remember looking back at the funeral procession entering the cemetery and saw this long line of cars waiting to enter.  Here is where they sat, Sunday after Sunday...

The benches used to be bare wood, but when the church was redecorated in the late 60s or early 70s, the padding was put in.  Before that, several of the older folks had brought square, thin cushions to sit on during the services and if the kids had a chance, we would slide across the bare wood on them when the church was empty.  Believe it or not, the vinyl padding has held up with no tears or cracking!!!

A view of the church from the front... much as it was 40 years ago.  The plainness of the room was typical for Evangelical Churches of that era.  Even today, most Evangelical Churches have little in the way of ornamentation.  The windows are new.  The old ones had dark wood panes and gave a little more character to the room.

This was the old pulpit that was in the main sanctuary until the renovation in the 60s.

Where it stands now is where Wally Gebhart would lead the "Opening Exercises" for Sunday School.  There would be several songs and a short talk about God and His (Her, my addition.) offer of Salvation. 
Every Sunday we would sing,

Where is the best Sunday School in town?
Belmont Assembly of God!
Where are folks friendly as they can be?
Belmont Assembly of God!
So that's where I'll go to Sunday School,
Belmont Assembly of God!
Belmont Assembly of God!
Belmont Assembly of God! 
(There was a noticeable ritardando and crescendo at the last line.)

I can't even remember most of the words to the songs I have written, but I do remember these!

Well, I no longer believe much of what is in the first paragraph of this post.  But I do believe in a merciful and just God who is promiscuous in His/Her love for us.  And I learned it first at Belmont Assembly of God.

I also believe in Sauerkraut!

Here is a recipe from my youth.  I tried making Sauerkraut this summer but somehow I couldn't get the fermentation to begin and I ended up adding a little semi-sour cabbage to the biologic load of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  I hope the fish enjoyed it.  If there are any fish.

Sauerkraut, Pork and Potatoes served on Imperial Rye Bread
2 pounds of Frank's Sauerkraut (from a bag, NEVER the can) rinsed and squeezed dry
1to 1 1/2 cup of apple juice or cider
A couple of red potatoes, cut up (Skin on or off... it doesn't matter)
Some kind of cooked pork (Spareribs, shank, feet, or knuckle, don't use higher quality cuts.)

1.  You can mix any proportion of anything above, just keep the cider to kraut ratio roughly the same.
2.  Put ingredients into a stainless steel pot, cover and boil until potatoes are soft.
3.  Serve on a good strong rye bread.

Our family would always get our rye bread from a Certified Grocer on Elston Avenue.  Mom knew the delivery time from the Imperial Baking Company and we would go there to get the bread when it was still warm.  They always had a small square of paper that was baked onto the crust at one end of the loaf which had the words "Imperial Baking Company" on it. 

The Nobel Laureate, Saul Bellow, thinks it was one of the best rye breads in Chicago.  I agree.

The discussion began over bowls of steaming golden mushroom and barley soup cooked by Prof. Allan Bloom, Mr. Bellow's associate in a seminar on Nietzsche and nihilism at the University of Chicago. Mr. Bellow's contribution to the lunch was what he described as the best corned beef and Jewish rye bread in Chicago.

''And I won't tell you the name of the delicatessen,'' he went on as he unwrapped the lean, fine-grained, fragrant slices. ''But it's in East Rogers Park. As for the rye bread, it is the best in the city, but it's not nearly up to the standards of my cousin Louis. He had a fine old Russian-Jewish bakery in Chicago. It was the Imperial Baking Company and his rye bread was famous. He also made black Russian pumpernickel in huge ovals, each about the size of a threemonth-old infant. Carrying it home was hard work. No one makes that kind of pumpernickel anymore.''

Sadly, true.


  1. Thanks Dan, great memories. Did the opening exercises include singing Happy birthday to the old a/g way? " A happy Birthday to you (repeat) Every day of the year may you feel Jesus near, A happy Birthday to you and the Best year you ever had" then you gave an offering for Sunday School.