Thursday, September, 22, 2005

The Preacher’s Corner
By Rev. Dr. Milton Winter


I preached under duress last Sunday! When I went to open my Bible for the scripture lesson, a huge spider came out from between the pages, right at me! This was a King James Bible, and I intended to read the lesson from Ephesians about rearing your children “in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord” — which wording I prefer to the Revised Version’s “discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Well, I slammed the book shut and read from the Revised version, changing the “you’s” to “thou’s” and otherwise re-wording back to the King James from memory!

When I told one of my friends after church what had happened, Bill said, “Milton, maybe if you read your Bible more, the spiders wouldn’t take up residence in it.” Ahem…

I have been thinking of Shelly’s poem, “Ozymandius.” So I Googled it up just now, and here is how it goes:

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings,
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Ah yes, great Ozymandius. How many high and mighty have ended up just like him. Some through just dessert, and others by sad default. I think of Melanchthon Woolsey Stryker. Who is Melanchthon Woolsey Stryker, you say? Well, in his day he was one of the most famous preachers in the country. Perhaps this will connect you: he was pastor to the Cyrus McCormick family of reaper fame there in Chicago where McCormick had his factory that eventually became International Harvester.

A hundred years later, I worked as an assistant pastor in Dr. Stryker’s church. And as churches do, they had named a room in the building for him. When this was done, about 1912, the room had been set aside for a most worthy service: it housed classes for immigrant girls, teaching them how to sew, cook, do office work, nurse — all the skills that would be needed to earn a decent living in Chicago in those days. Then, the neighborhood was full of such young people and, over time, most of those girls had done well. They had married, raised families, and moved to the suburbs and, one may presume, begun to vote Republican.

By the time I came along the Stryker room had been remodeled and renamed, and his portrait taken down. The space was now the Page Smith Parlor, and it has been turned over to the United Presbyterian Women. The UPW met every Thursday afternoon to sew little smocks for babies, and roll bandages for the Red Cross. Their sewing machines were stored in a long closet that ran down one side of the room with a door at each end. It had not been redecorated when the parlors were redone. And that is the fact to keep in mind for the rest of the story, because for some reason even though the “Stryker Room” was gone, the “Stryker Closet” remained.

Everyone around the church referred to this large storage area as the Stryker Closet, and that is what I learned to call it when I began to work at the Fourth Presbyterian Church. It was, as we say, a “catch all,” and I, like everybody else, kept this, that, and the other, of my various and sundry supplies and materials in there. I never questioned the name until I began to do some reading in the history of the church and realized to my horror that this is all that remained to honor the church’s distinguished former pastor and one of the nation’s most eloquent preachers.

Upon questioning, I learned that the Page Smith Parlor had formerly been the Stryker Room, and what its old purpose and ministry had been. Like Ozymandius, the mighty are often fallen and forgotten as time rolls on! But sensing that Dr. Stryker had been a humble man, I made it my mission to perpetuate the name of the Stryker Closet, as it is surely better to have a closet in one’s memory than nothing at all. And on a recent visit back to Chicago, I noticed that even though the old church has been remodeled yet again, the Stryker Closet is still there. I wish they would put a brass plate to honor the memories it so worthily preserves.

Now, one story about me and the Stryker Room Closet. Late one night I got to wondering about a movie projector I would need the next morning for my Sunday school class. I had forgotten to hunt it up, and would be in the lurch if I did not have it the next day. So, as I so often do — then and now — I made a late Saturday-night trip over to the church to line up everything for the Sabbath. Here in Holly Springs it is perfectly safe, but to go into that cavernous old church in downtown Chicago was something I should not have done.

I learned my lesson this particular Saturday night, because as I opened the door of the Stryker Room Closet and began rooting around among all the clutter it enshrined, I heard a stirring down at the other end of the long space, in the vicinity of the door at its opposite end. It was a street person, roused from sleeping off his hangover! No doubt he had had a secret bed in this room for months! Fortunately, he was as scared of me as I was of him, and the two of us went running from the two doors that were at each end of the room!

People sometimes ask me if there are ghosts in our old churches. Well, I have never seen a ghost, but I did encounter a street person that night in the Stryker Room Closet! But as the 84th Psalm says, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” And, in keeping with Dr. Stryker’s concern for the less fortunate, the old church in Chicago soon began a ministry to the homeless, and even now, is seeking to raise several million dollars to give that outreach a proper home and facilities. I wish they would name it for Dr. Stryker!

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