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06-11-17 - Sometimes a song, Sometimes a whisper

 Sometimes a song, sometimes a whisper
 Shelley Blundell

    I was wrong.  I was so wrong.  And I feel like a doofus. Now, I’ve been wrong plenty of times, and I don’t usually mind admitting to making mistakes.  I’ve had lots of practice.  But this time, I was wrong about our church; mostly because I assumed, but never questioned. 
But let me back up a bit. 

About three months ago, Paula Ann, our church secretary, received a phone call from a man who is assisting with the new Bountiful history museum on Main Street asking if we would like to be included. Of course we would.   He needed a brief history and a picture.  Paula Ann asked me if I knew anyone who would like to take on this project.  The last history of the church was written in 1981 for our centennial celebration.  We just needed to fill in the last 36 years.  Since I have been attending this church for more than 25 years, and because I like all of you way too much to try to pawn this job off on you, I decided to do the project myself.

I started by updating the time line of ministers and interims, we’ve had 10 since 1981, from the pictures on the wall by the office.  Then I started thinking and asking questions about the important events of the past three decades.  The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection leaving our building and the expansion of the food pantry were the two that stood out in my mind and others.  I asked Bob McKenzie lots of questions, which he is used to from me, made some phone calls and learned the date when the Episcopal folks left to begin moving towards building their own church, and I met with Lorna Koci from the food pantry who gave me a history written by our very-own Dianne McKenzie., who was one of the women involved with the food pantry when it was housed in the closets of this church.  Thank you very much, Dianne.

I finally started digging through news articles, photos, and written histories, many by Jerry Thompson, that Sharon LaDuke assembled a few years ago which are housed in the cabinet, put together by Ed Fisher, in the corner of our narthex.  Thanks again Sharon and Ed, and Jerry who I never met.

At first it all seemed a little daunting, but soon it became more familiar, friendly and fascinating, with little mysteries to solve.  There is some good stuff in those volumes—if you ever want to check them out.
So I updated the history, gave credit to those who wrote it, since they didn’t always themselves, and turned it over to the gentleman for the museum, and I sent copies to those who gave me info, and made a display board so you could check it out.

Well, I was feeling pretty good about this homework assignment, and was ready to rest on my laurels and pour a tall glass of iced tea. That didn’t last long.   Two weeks later Paula Ann says to me, “I just received an e-mail from a teacher back east who is doing her dissertation on the Danforth Chapel and would like to know if we have any historical information.” 

And I said, “What?!”  And I looked at her with the blank stare I give you now.  “Uh, I know nothing about the Danforth Chapel,” I admitted.  In all of the histories I had read to that point, nothing was ever mentioned about the Danforth Chapel.  I figured if they didn’t say anything, I was off the hook.

But now I was back on the hook.  And here is where I was so mistaken and such a doofus.  Because I had always thought that the Danforth Chapel, that small chapel that is attached to our north-west side of this building was a stepping stone built to accommodate the church when it moved from the little rock church which still stands on 160 West Fourth South, and which now houses the Fadel Law Firm and the present day building.  I did occasionally wonder why they didn’t build a bigger chapel if they were moving to have more space.  But whenever I would think of these things, I just shook my head and started thinking of other things.  I did wonder who the Danforths were and why I never heard anyone talking about hanging out with them at a potluck.  But I never asked any of you.  I just figured that family had moved on.

So I was a little confused when Paula Ann told me about the request for information on the Danforth Chapel.   And then she said, “It isn’t the Danforth Chapel, it is a Danforth Chapel—there are evidently many across the country.” 
It’s like finding out that the picture hanging in your grandmother’s house for years is signed and numbered by a Roosevelt.  It suddenly piques your curiosity. 

Paula Ann went on to say that a few years ago Jed Wilheit, a longtime member of this church, had given her a tour of the chapel, the benches his father made, and shown her the plaque. 

“There’s a plaque?!”  How many times have I walked past that without reading it?  So, off to the Danforth we bolted and I took a picture with my phone of the plaque.  Then I went home and in my high-tech way transcribed it.  (illustrate).  Type, swipe left, type, swipe right, type, swipe up, etc.  I sent a copy to Paula Ann (who I have got to quit visiting) to e-mail to the teacher, and thought, “Wait.  If this teacher is doing research, I’ll bet I can find more info on Wikipedia,” and yes I did. 

And in the midst of all of this, and I am not kidding, former Pastor Don Proctor dropped off a little book he has had forever over at the American Baptist church for our library, by, guess who?  William H. Danforth. So I started by reading his book.  And I have to admit I enjoyed it.

So who is Mr. Danforth, why did he build a chapel here of all places, and why does this matter to us now?
William H. Danforth was a sickly child from Mississippi County, Missouri who says he was challenged by a teacher with the words, “I dare you to be the healthiest boy in the class.”  That became his motivation to become physically fit by eating healthier and exercising, and was the driving force for him to succeed. He went on to found the Ralston-Purina Company in St. Louis Missouri in 1894 and was one of the founders of the American Youth Foundation Camps. He was a motivational writer including in 1940 his book I Dare You and involved in the congregational church, and a philanthropist. 

Ralston’s checkerboard logo evolved from a personal development concept from this book. He illustrated the balanced life as a box with the words physical on the left, mental on top, social on right and religious on the bottom.  To be healthy, you needed the four squares to stay in balance and one area was not to develop at the expense of the other.  The concept became intertwined with the company in 1921 when it began selling feed that was pressed into cubes called “checkers.”  Store that information away for Trivial Pursuit someday. 

Among his four-fold development principles was: Think tall, stand tall, smile tall, live tall.  He urged young people to, “Catch a passion for helping others and a richer life will come back to you.”  And he repeated often throughout this little book that “valuable possessions multiply when shared.”

Mr. Danforth set up the Danforth Foundation with his wife, which focused on national education philanthropy providing scholarships to college students, supporting projects to revitalize the city of St. Louis, and funding the Danforth Chapels.  It closed in 2011 with a gift of $70 M to the Donald Danforth Plant Center, a research center that focuses on solving world hunger.  The Danforth Chapel Program supported the establishment of 24 chapels from 1936 until 1959: 15 of them on college campuses.  Some of the closer ones are at Arizona State, Montana State and Colorado A & M. if you are planning a road trip.

So how did Danforth find us?  We can thank the pastor’s wife for this one.

Kaye Dreher, who was the wife of Pastor George Dreher, was a graduate of the University of Georgia and Union Seminary, New York City. She had been a student in St. Louis and a recipient of a Danforth graduate fellowship.  She became friends with Mr. Danforth.   Prior to her marriage she was a secretary of the Student Christian Movement of New York State.  Her husband, the Reverend George Dreher was a graduate of Dartmouth College and Yale Divinity School.  This young, highly educated, couple first served the intermountain area in Mountain Home, Idaho. 
The Drehers were called to serve the Bountiful Community Congregational Church, in the Old Rock Church.  And boy, for the next five years, did they serve.

The church had been closed during the last two years of WWII and reorganized in 1947.  The war years were followed by tremendous growth—soldiers came home, married and started families.  Bountiful, aided by the new Chevron Refinery in Woods Cross, was growing rapidly.
This next part has lots of names and dates to set the stage, but don’t worry, there is no test.

At this time, Dr. Stanley North from the Board of Homeland Missions appealed to the Congregational Denomination to support the building of a new church structure.  In February of 1951, H.C. Shoemaker proposed raising $15,000 toward a $40,000 building to Dr. North.  As a result the present church site of one acre of peach orchard was purchased from Jed and Laurel Stringham for $6,000.  By April of 1953, the church had obtained a parsonage adjacent to the south of the building site and the Drehers moved in.  The rapidly growing church held its first service in this new building on April 4, 1954 in the sanctuary, which is now the gym.   The last service in the Old Rock Church was held on Sunday, June 28, 1953.  Between June of 1953 and April of 1954, services were held in the Bountiful High School Auditorium.  The congregation grew from 64 members in 1950 to 428 in March of 1960.  The building was planned for three sections: the first included the current gym, classrooms, and kitchenette. The educational wing was added in 1961 under Reverend Eugene Haynes, and this sanctuary in 1971 under Reverend Don Mills. 

Now, here comes the Danforth.

About 18 months after the first phase of the church was built the church through Kaye Dreher accepted a gift of $10,000 from William H. Danforth, for the building of a Prayer Chapel.  The chapel was dedicated on July 31, 1955.   After this sanctuary was completed, the Danforth was revamped in 1972 with stained glass windows and new wooden pews, built by Jed Willheit’s father.

Now I realize that this sermon has been a little long on history, and a little short on inspiration.  But the funny thing is, the more I delved into our history, the more inspired I felt. 

And the more I cared that I was so wrong and clueless about the Danforth. I have frankly fallen in love with the idea of this little chapel.  The Danforth was never a stepping stone, but always its own entity.  At the height of the growth in this church, when the building was popping at it seams, our Danforth Chapel was built small-- on purpose.  It is intended to be intimate, quiet, nurturing.  It is not a relic from the past as I had thought, some bookmark between pages. It is as much a part of our present and future as any area of the church. And most importantly, it is a gift—a gift we seldom open.  The sanctuary where we are today is tall, spectacular, and beautiful.  The large stained glass windows, the cross, the pipe organ—this room uplifts and sings hallelujah. 

The Danforth Chapel puts its arms around you, and whispers, “I am listening.”

It is equally beautiful, but smaller in every way.  It is intimate, like an embrace.

And there are times we need songs, joy and celebration; and there are times we need quiet, whispered comfort.
I remember a few years ago when my great- aunt Charlotte was close to death but lingering and I came by the church on a made-up errand.  I needed to be here, but chose not the sanctuary but the Danforth Chapel to say a quiet prayer, which was answered later that day.

At that moment I needed a small space.

Even though I was confused about its history, I was using it for its original, intended purpose.

As I researched our history, the clouds cleared away and I felt a little less a doofus, and ever more grateful.

The Danforth Chapel reminds us of the people who came before us who loved this church like we do, who needed this church like we do,  and who gave us the gift of a place; a place to reflect and be in touch with ourselves and with our God—places like the Skewes Garden given by Jack and Mary Jo Skewes in 1971 in memory of their son who died in Viet Nam, or by the peace pole in the front courtyard given in memory of Sally Kelsey’s mother and step-father Alice and Bill Kemnitz, Jr. in 2000.

These places are gifts that I plan on opening more often; and I encourage you to visit too if you aren’t already, when you are in need of uplifting. They all engender peace, reflection and love. They are not relics, but sacred places to feed our souls. They give this church its depth.

 Pastor Jodi and I have received permission from Council to add some accessories to the Danforth Chapel to accompany the Christian symbols which include the Christ crucifix given by Don and Marge Proctor, and the more realistic picture of Christ which was a gift from George and Sarah Bishop.  It is our goal to make the Danforth Chapel even more relevant and accessible to other faiths by adding Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Native American and other belief objects as a way of extending open, inclusive arms to everyone who visits.
I hope Mr. Danforth would agree. I think he would.  His chapels were called all-faith chapels.  I will end with his words, inscribed on the plaque of each Danforth Chapel that reads:

Dedicated to
The Worship of God
With the Prayer
That Here
In Communion with the Highest
Those Who Enter
May Acquire the Spiritual Power
To Aspire Nobly
Adventure Daringly
Serve Humbly