10/12 an unabashed love letter to the people of Saint Ann’s

Its two main steeples reach majestically into the sun-filled Buffalo sky. Well, actually that’s not entirely true, seeing as its two main steeples are no longer there. And haven’t been for quite sometime – lost somewhere along the way from some previous snow-filled Buffalo sky, i’ve been told. So the final effect is that somewhat of a decapitated house of worship, one that begrudgingly admits its shortcoming, but still refuses to fall.

The steeples haven’t been replaced simply because this particular church happens to reside in inner Buffalo, a down-trodden area that hasn’t seen anything even remotely resembling wealth in many a year now. And while the Roman Catholic Church talks a pretty good game about feeding its flock, apparently it walks a much better game in neighborhoods where the flock is pretty well-fed already. Which is sad, considering the diet of this particular flock – but more on that later.

Upon entering the church, you see a past glory, slowly crumbling under the grip of time and weather. While most of the ceiling remains intact – in glorious hues of blue, gold and salmon – in other areas massive bubbles are visible through the paint where previously, rain water on the exterior side lead a recon mission through cracks in the building’s defenses towards the inside. In other areas, the rain was wholly successful in its mission and whatever section of ceiling used to be there is now totally absent, save the wooden skeleton of the roof proper. The myriad of statues throughout the building are mostly looking skyward, but whereas i’m sure the original intent was to show these saints as being “heaven-bound”, in its current condition, they look much more like worried home owners waiting for the roof to cave in. As to the accoutrements, easily half a forest was lost in the construction of the various wooden latticework, railings, doorways, crucifixes and pulpit – never mind the ornate and almost inhabitable central sanctuary at the back of the altar. All carved with intricate expertise, and for now, all safe from the weather. And while children may be prone to scratch their names into pews elsewhere, in this building every one of them seem to be safe from such juvenile branding activities. The floor is a combination of hard wood and ratty carpet – the orange variety that everyone in the seventies felt was all the rage. Fortunately, the carpet is so worn down as to now look far more “historical” than “dated”. Unfortunately, the carpet is so worn down as to look like it belongs to a long-dead building, instead of a living one.

So all said, a church that used to be mighty, glorious – and possibly even a bit arrogant – now sits humbled by time, neglect, suburban sprawl, and a religious hierarchy that sometimes finds it hard to practice exactly what it preaches so loudly to others. But just before you call the wrecking ball and start digging a grave for this once impressive monolith, let’s take another look, seeing as mass has now started…

The choir is small, unorganized and not very well trained. Many of them seem to have never used a microphone before and others simply ignore its existence altogether. They are a mixture of race, age and sex, all led by a doddering old man at a tiny electric keyboard, and when all is said and done – they sing like angels. With sincerity, with faith, and with communion. The congregation is likewise small, especially when considering how large the building is, and much like the choir, a blend of age, sex and race. In fact, to look at them objectively, you wouldn’t see too much that these people would have in common with each other in their daily lives – and maybe they don’t. But when they come together here, they become “One” – again – with sincerity and faith. During the Lord’s Prayer, the entire group becomes part of one long web, strewn throughout the church, with only the very first upheld hand in the line and the very last not being grasped by another. And at the “sign of peace”, it would almost appear to be much more a game of musical chairs than it would a simple gesture of good will. The entire process can take up to five minutes (quite a long time by Roman Catholic standards) and no person is left unnoticed, no extended hand left untouched. It’s the type of environment that would drive someone who suffers from mysophobia simply mad. It would also put a kink in the armor of anyone who happens to be racist or judges others based solely on their appearance as well. In this place, however, faith overrides all of that. And it’s not something that is sleeve-worn or in your face. Nor is it something that you must accept upon entering, or take with you when you leave. It’s not even something that is spoken. It just IS. It’s visible, tangible, breathable even. This small group of individuals create a force so strong that it can not only be felt, but it actually invades your own senses as well.

Heaven bound...

Now, lest someone think that this will become a slippery slope as to my trying to prove one faith superior to another, let me be clear that this is not the intent of this post. And it’s not the intent of the congregation either, i don’t believe. And maybe that is why they can create a force so strong that it almost hugs you upon entering into it. They seem to be focused only on their faith and on each other. It would appear that they have no real desire to shove their beliefs down the throats of others, but you’re more than welcome to join in if you’d like (to clarify an earlier statement, they are very cognizant of possible mysophobia sufferers and don’t grab for hands unextended). It is also clear that instead of focusing on any misperceived superiority towards the faith – or lack thereof – of others, they are focusing only on theirs alone. And when “Mother Church” held back its wallet, these parishioners – many of whom can ill-afford it – started to self-fund the church just so that they could keep it’s steeple-less doors open.

In short, they’re good people, who are quietly living their own faith – for themselves and their God alone. They have found their community, their purpose and their home, resulting in their spirits being well-fed and contented. Not because of some outside benevolence, but as a result of their own hard work. They have a living Strength within a dying building. One that is refreshing to see, and i just thought you might like to know that pockets of humanity like this still exist.  i also think it would be very nice indeed if a whole lot more of us could live the same.

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