An occasional series of reflections from parishioners on Emmanuel Church
What makes Emmanuel Episcopal unique? I think the key word is opportunity. You can make a bigger ripple in a small pond. You can get to know most of the core supporters of the church quickly. You can find a way to make a difference. In my case it has been helping with scripture readings and administering communion. There is a quick comfort level in listening to a sermon from our minister J.T. Thomas. He has a genuine and sincere interest in each of his parishioners.
There are so many chances to help those less fortunate in the community. It’s the unusual nature of the church sanctuary itself with a dedicated choir leading the way from the balcony. It is a wonderful ten-year-old named Jack making sure each service is filmed for those who can’t make it to church. And then you have the generous nature of those who provide tasty snacks for the after service social in the meeting hall. I love a small vibrant community, and that’s exactly what Emmanuel Episcopal Church is!
How has Emmanuel buried itself so deeply in my heart? The word “simple” comes to mind. I love the simplicity of the clear glass windows that let in the sunlight, the dogwoods, and the oaks in all the seasons. I love the smallish size of the church, the welcome and acceptance that I feel when entering it, and the joy of making music in the choir. I love taking our black lab, Sweet Pea, on Ted Caplow’s Nature Trail so she can play in the waters of Stockton Creek. At this moment we are blessed to have strong leadership from the clergy and vestry. They have looked at the very real need around us and have responded by kicking us into higher gear through Scott House and the joint Crozet Ministries. Strong leadership deserves followers who make it possible to power this higher gear. We all need to familiarize ourselves with Sign Up Genius and fill in where we see gaps. We are regularly attracting new members; we are all responsible for making them feel as welcome as we feel.
There is SO MUCH GOOD in Emmanuel. It takes work and pledges of time and money to keep it that way and to share it.
I have always been proud of the role of women in Emmanuel’s history. It was Nannie Harrison Garrett who made her dream of founding our church come true. Can you imagine the chaos involved in constructing a church while northern raids in both the Piedmont as well as the Shenandoah Valleys raged in 1862-63? The town of Crozet with its railroad prominence has got to have seen action since it was a lifeline of food and supplies to troops in the Shenandoah Valley via the Crozet Tunnel. Two other women, Phyllis and Nancy Langhorne gave the bell tower for the church in 1905 in honor of their mother. Later Nancy became Lady Astor of England and the first female member of Parliament. In 1914 together with their family, they gave the exquisite, simple, balanced, arched, four-sided English country courtyard that encloses the heart of Emmanuel today. To sit in the courtyard is to come as close to the peace that passes all understanding as is humanly possible.
My first memories of Emmanuel Church are decidedly unspiritual. On Sunday mornings in the summer, my aunts, uncles and cousins at Royal Orchard on Afton Mountain all vied to get a seat in the Pierce Arrow, circa 1914, that in the 1950’s was used only weekly for the drive to Emmanuel for Sunday services. If we hadn’t found a seat in the Pierce Arrow, my family, the Bococks, would sometimes take our car.
Inside the church it was hot and sticky with humidity. We waved the heat away with hand fans that had a backlit Jesus on one side and a funeral home on the other. We often sat right behind the Gibson family, and as a teenager I can remember my mind straying as I admired the Gibson boys, just about my age, whose blond hair curled over their pink Oxford shirts.
On our way home if we were in our car, Mother would take a vote whether or not we should stop to visit one of several homebound old ladies on the way home. She would be outvoted 4 to 1, but hers was the only vote that counted. Two of these women were Irene Gibson, the famed “Gibson Girl” so admired in the first half of the 20th century, who lived in a cottage at Ramsey in her old age. The second lady was Mariska Owlsley, whom I remember in a wheelchair in a dimly lit and scarcely furnished huge drawing room at Tiverton. It was always a relief to get back up to Royal Orchard.
Decades went by and Fred and I lived our life in West Africa, Washington D.C., Alexandria and Princeton. Post 9/11 we moved to Charlottesville, and it was at this point that Emmanuel reentered our lives.