Here’s the story: The two pieces of slate, and the large rounded glacial pebbles set in crushed limestone around it, are the salvaged pieces of the altar at Holy Innocents Hoffman Estates, my former Episcopal mission parish. When we closed the church at the end of December, 2006, there were a few people who mourned the loss as if a family member died. Many of them left after trying to remain with the rest of us; they just couldn’t continue in the new place.
One of the things that was discussed in the run-up to the closure and merger with St Nicholas was a crazy-ass idea: the St Nick’s people offered to help us dismantle the altar and move it to Elk Grove, where it would become an outdoor altar for summer use. This was receive politely by some and enthusiastically by others, but privately a lot of us thought “nice sentiment, but not possible.”
Well, butter mai butt and call me a biskit, they got ‘er done last week, a little more than a year and a half later. A few months back, the old altar was carefully demolished at the old building, as the new owners had agreed to letting us take it down. They’re not a liturgical church and did not need it (and it was in the sightlines between the congregation and the ministers).Â A crew of volunteers went over and took the altar apart. Most of the men who originally put it up have died, but a few older ladies remembered the story on how it came to be. The men had gone up to Kettle Moraine State Park in Wisconsin to liberate some glacial rubble from a quarry area, and the slate for the altar top was duly ordered with a nice set of Maltese crosses at the corners and in the center. A relic of the Blessed James De Koven was set in the top – this explains uch about our Anglo-Catholic tradition at Holy Innocents. But when the then bishop of Chicago was to come for a visit in the early Sixties, he told the mission that the top of the altar was much too low – it needed to be raised a matter of inches to be “correct.” Well, so they went and bought another piece of slate, which was quickly marked with crosses (they appear to be done with a stonecutting saw, very utilitarian). The family of Florence Keller donated the cost of this second piece of slate, and it was installed on top of the first one. Here’s how it looked after the closing liturgy, when we cleared out the worship space immediately after church on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. And here’s how it looked ‘undressed for Advent‘ the year we started the “grocery bags for the hungry” pantry ministry.
When the altar was dismantled, it was found that the stones were mortared in place around a simple wood-and-chickenwire frame, which came apart pretty easily. The two pieces of slate were separated for the first time in forty years, having been held together with little more than gravity and caulk.
The whole affair was trucked over by the volunteers to St Nick’s, where the pieces spent the winter on wood pallets under canvas. Then a few months ago, a committee started working on what to do with it all.
Originally, the old altar was to be restored as it had originally been. The workmen decided that the old top would form the supports for the new altar, and they cut it in half and angled the halves in order to give as much support as possible to the newer top – the plan was to rebuild the “cage” around them and put the rubble boulders back, covering the old top back forever.Â But then after church a few weeks ago, we were all “volunteered” to move the boulders to around the edge of the newly laid concrete slab, and this was the first time for us to see the slate altar “in situ.”
We admired the Maltese cross carvings (one of them had to be sliced in half). Manny, one of our priests, is Maltese, and he took a lot of ribbing. Several of us started talking as we lugged boulders… “what if we did something else with the boulders instead of replicating the old altar?”
We decided, just a random group of sweating folks, that we liked the modernity of the exposed “old” and “new” slate and the way the legs were angled, with the Maltese crosses toward the street, appealed to us. We didn’t mind the machine marks on the back, either. They just showed that it was an altar that had been used – it was a working altar for decades, and a little wear and tear is inevitable. So after some discussion, and moving the boulders again, the Bishop’s Committee ratified the informal “what-iffery” of the boulder-haulerrs, and came up with a nice solution (approved by the ultimate authority, the “stone guy” that Tim had found who was willing to do the work at cost, with free labor).Â So now it remains only to be used. We’d better do this quick! Summer is almost over. But we think that seating won’t be a problem, as everyone has at least one camp chair or folding tailgater chair at home. I just hope it doesn’t happen while I’m away on vacation, although it probably will.
It’s funny how things work themselves out. Father Steve, our vicar, had been so anxious to preserve the past, but the people who were interested in doing something new were the former Holy Innocents people – in fact, pretty much ALL of the former HI people that have become integrated with the rest of St Nicks. He was so worried about causing hurt, but we were all very quick to come to the same conclusion – we’re happy to see the old made new, for the greater good of our own church community. Now we have to figure out how to rededicate the altar, and ourselves.
A harvest blessing, perhaps?
I can has iPhone?
I can has iPhone?