The Soul of Calvary

by the Rev. Paul McLain

A musician on his deathbed last fall shared one of the most convincing proofs of the existence of God that I have ever heard. His eyes lit up when he thought about downtown Memphis. He reflected on the unique culture, music, food, and vibe, how the city itself has a soul. He thought for a moment and said, ‘This could not have happened by accident. To put all this beauty together in one place, there has to be a God.’

Last Wednesday, we celebrated the Confession of Saint Peter, a major feast day in the life of the Church. It is the day we remember Peter’s response to Jesus, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answers, ‘And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church.’ (Matthew 16:16,18) In this brief encounter, we get a sense of the Church as the link between Spirit and material, between heaven and earth. Jesus calls Peter, the all too fallible human with whom we can all identify, the rock – the foundation of the Church. Jesus calling a living, breathing human being a rock invites us to imagine the possibility of the reverse – can an inanimate object have a soul?

Calvary experienced a tremendous loss last week with the death of Vincent Astor. Among many things, Vincent was a dedicated custodian of our history. He was the leader of our docents and his tours of Calvary were offered with brilliant insights about our architecture and our collective story, laced with Vincent’s unique flair as a master storyteller. Through these tours, he had a way of making our building come to life. He and the docents he trained have helped us breathe in the joys, the tears, and the prayers infused in our walls for nearly 200 years. 

Vincent and many of you have guided us to see, hear, and feel the soul of our building. You have all taught us that the best way we can honor our stories filled with highwater moments and heartbreaks is by doing all we can to open our doors and hearts, bringing heaven to earth on our block and beyond. As we do so, we more and more embody the very soul of Calvary.  

20 thoughts on “The Soul of Calvary”

  1. I am so glad I had opportunities to get to know Vincent a bit better these last couple of years. He was a treasure. Thanks for capturing him so well in this brief space.

  2. First Baptist began in 1839, and its first building was across the street from Calvary, where the courthouse now stands. It built a larger building at Linden and Lauderdale in 1907. It built an even larger building in 1951 at Poplar and Parkway, where it remains. I have been there for the last 37 years, and have read and heard the stories of the past from many people who embody that same spirit of Vincent Astor. I can confirm that a church building can have a soul. I feel it when I am alone in our vast Sanctuary with colored light streaming through the stained glass windows. And I can feel it when I am in my “home away from home” at Calvary Episcopal. There is no better word than “soul.”

    1. Ray,
      Thanks for sharing the history of First Baptist. Glad you have a couple of spiritual homes in Memphis, each with their unique soul.
      Love and Blessings,

  3. This reminds me of the great work of our pastoral care teams. Week in and week out they bring Calvary and its soul to those in need. I am forever grateful to the wonderful team members who make this ministry possible and bring the brick and mortar to those who can’t be there.

    1. Martin,
      So grateful for the leadership you give to our pastoral care teams, bringing Calvary’s brick, mortar, and soul to those who are hurting. It’s a joy to serve alongside you.
      Love and Blessings,

  4. Paul, thank you for your wonderful words. I was pleased and blessed to get to know Vincent over these past many years. I thoroughly enjoyed our varied conversations which taught me that he was a special gem among the jewels of this church. His knowledge of the history of old 102 North Second as well the city proper truly made him very special. I’m proud that I could call him a friend.

  5. Paul, that’s a lovely tribute to Vincent Astor. The person who told me Vincent had passed later said that apart from his laudable reputation for promoting LGBTQ+ issues, he possessed an extraordinary connection to people in all different walks of life in Memphis. I will miss Vincent for Vincent, but also for missing out on the opportunity to inquire about a myriad of other individuals.

  6. Very well put, Fr. Paul. Thank you for memorializing Vincent in this way. I didn’t know him well, but I can tell he was very well loved among you all.

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