A NEW CROSS FOR AN OLD CHURCH

   

        It was a joy to read Tribune Editor David Clemons’ December 16th article about the Monroe First United Methodist Church getting a cross atop its steeple after 65 years. It took me back in time remembering the years I was a member of that church. I was in my fourth year when the present church opened its doors in 1950 moving from the old red brick church at the corner of Broad and Highland Avenue.  My memories of the old church are scant, save for memories of nursery school, the sanctuary and the beautiful stained glass windows. I never understood why, when that church was demolished, the beautiful windows were not somehow incorporated into the new church building.

        From early photographs of the church I have, one can glimpse church school students dressed in caps and gowns in the pulpit area ready to move to the next grade level. At that time the beautiful alter area had not been designed. Also helpful in recalling how the building and sanctuary looked were Christmas cards the church sent out in 1950 & 1951 showing the inside and outside of the building complete with a photo of the chancel showing the adult and children’s choir.  I worshipped there almost every Sunday from age four until I left home for college and made repeated visits back during the years until I made Atlanta my home and joined Glenn Memorial Church on Emory’s campus.

 Looking at these photos brought back so many decades of memories where I felt I knew the inside of the church intimately.

I remember the pastor’s one room study with a portrait of the late Rev. W.T. Irvine hanging above the pastor’s desk; the beautiful church parlor, reminiscent of a gracious home living room and scene of many gatherings and meetings; the stateliness of the sanctuary; the warm quiet beauty of the Launius Memorial Chapel, given by Harry & Sallie Launius in memory of their son, Harry, Jr., who was killed in WWII; the various Sunday School classes including the Katie Caldwell Sunday School Class made up of the senior ladies of the church and taught with great gusto by its namesake, Katie Trout Caldwell, wife of Walton News Editor & Publisher Edward A. Caldwell.  “Miss Katie” was a force to be reckoned with when giving her Sunday morning classes, but it was a class all the ladies loved because of “Miss Katie” and her robust personality. Another class, formed in 1961, that even now brings a tear to my eye was the Tom Launius Class for college students, created in memory of my Walton Circle neighbor whose death from a tragic car accident while a student at Georgia in February 1960, gave the students a place they could reunite and feel at home while at the same time remembering their departed friend.

Another photo I have is of the Men’s Sunday School Class held in the Fellowship Hall back in the day. The photo shows between fifty to sixty stalwart men of the church gathered together for their lesson not realizing they would be photographed at the end of the class. Many of Monroe’s leading citizens and businessmen were members of this Sunday group.

The Fellowship Hall was used regularly for the weekly Wednesday Night Suppers where the church family would gather for a meal and fellowship, catching up with friends in between the Sunday services.  The fellowship hall was complete with a stage for plays and other civic events to be held along with functioning as a reception hall for many wedding receptions and other social functions still serving in that capacity today.

Another memory of the early church was the tranquil garden nestled in a courtyard between the two wings of the church building complete with a sundial sitting atop a brick pedestal which usually gave an almost accurate time.  The garden was created and designed by Mrs. J. Roy Nunnally and family who also gave lilies for the garden every Easter in memory of Mr. Nunnally, who was the chairman of the building committee for the new church and whose funeral was one of the first held in the sanctuary when he died in 1950.

Another part of the church was the small but efficient library created to fill a need of the congregation and cared for meticulously under the supervision of the late Mrs. Lucile S. Pickens, former high school librarian for many years.

In August of last year when I was in town for my 50th high school class reunion, I attended church the Sunday following the reunion and it was such a joy to once again be in the church of my youth and still see vestiges of old and familiar things mixed in with new changes since being a regular member. Shutters at the windows replaced the venetian blinds from the early years and the old ceiling lights were replaced with beautiful brass chandeliers. Both the shutters for the windows and light fixtures were memorial gifts to the church.

Music has always been a big part of the Methodist service and hearing the organ and piano brilliantly played by Janet Clark made me want to jump up and applaud her musical talent.  It is a rare occurrence to hear music of that caliber in today’s church’s and how thrilled I was to know my home church family had the weekly enjoyment of hearing music of such dynamic proportions. Going back in time I can remember our going from a Baldwin electronic organ to the majestic pipe organ whose sounds fill the sanctuary every Sunday morning. Hearing Janet play took me back in time to when Mrs. Paul Launius, “Miss Jennie” to many of us, was the long-time organist and then interim organist at times filling the sanctuary with music of ethereal beauty. Loving music as she did, for years she admonished the church leaders over the fact the sanctuary did not have a piano. In 1961 “Miss Jennie” gave the church a Steinway grand in memory of her late husband, Paul N. Launius, who served as Chairman of the Board of Stewards and in 1960 as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees.  The Sunday of the dedication for the piano the sanctuary was at capacity at both morning and evening services as “Miss Jennie” played the new piano accompanied at the organ by her daughter, Mary Frances Ihley. It was a day of musical grandeur I have never heard since.  The love and appreciation of organ and piano music which has become a great part of my life I owe in part to the passion of the music showered on me at an early age by Mrs. Paul Launius to whom I owe an everlasting debt.

On my next trip to town I look forward to seeing the new cross atop the steeple of the church I still call “home” when in Monroe. Its roots go deep into Monroe’s history and every time I have the honor of walking through those big double doors, with all the wonderful memories I have of this building, it will always be MY church!