Other Trivia

One of the first questions people ask when they enter the sanctuary is, “Where are the pews?” It was 1994 and the 600 seat sanctuary was far from full on Sunday mornings. The Pastor, Rev. Dee Talley, asked a local architect, William Hiltner, what to do. His answer, “If you don’t have the people to fit the space, make the space fit the people. Take everything out and use the chairs and furniture moveable so you can accommodate a service for 25 or a wedding for 250.”
Calvary members donated the pews to another church and put in a new wood floor with an inlaid cross and a labyrinth. And William won an award for his redesign of the sanctuary. Taking out the pews, in addition to making the space more versatile, improved the acoustics making it a desired performing and rehearsal space for the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra, the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, Bell Canto, and many others.

Why aren’t the pictures in Calvary’s windows like the ones in other churches?

The founders of Calvary were Presbyterians and while it is true that in many Presbyterian churches there are pictures depicting the life and some of the parables of Jesus. But the Scots Presbyterians who built Calvary wanted only native Wisconsin wildflowers in their windows.  Their love of nature was part of the reason for the wildflowers. But more important was their understanding of the importance of preaching in Presbyterian Churches: when the minister steps into the pulpit to preach the Word of God, you should sit up and pay attention and not be looking at the windows. The windows were designed to inspire but not distract.

When the Davidson window was restored by Martha Davidson in 2005, we heard a legend about the window. The story is that if you sat in the part of the sanctuary Margaret Davidson sat in and if the morning sun was just right, you could pick out the stylized outline of a Harley Davidson motorcycle, circa 1936. Since the pews were removed and no one knows where Margaret sat for worship, we have not been able to prove or disprove the story. Perhaps one of you will catch a glimpse of the motorcycle in the window.

When the sanctuary was renovated in 1998, not only were the pews removed but the chancel area was pushed back and the pulpit and communion table were brought down to the level of the congregation. This would allow the congregation to gather around the communion table and worship the way the earliest Christians did, family-style: reading the scriptures, praying, sharing in the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, and taking up offerings for the poor.

To help define the new worship space, a stylized tent was hung above the table with it’s panels stretching and hovering over the congregation. The tent has a rich history in scripture. In the Exodus story we are told that God “tented” or “pitched tent” with the people, meaning God dwelt and travelled with the people. And in the first verses of the Gospel according to St. John, we are told that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word “dwelt” can also be translated “tent” meaning God in Jesus pitches tent and dwells with us.

The tent reminds us that God dwells with the people and this congregation dwells, pitches tent, in the heart of the city of Milwaukee.

The panels or sails that make up the stylized tent also remind us that the Body of Christ is diverse. We come from a rich variety of traditions. Some are most familiar and comfortable with the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, others feel most at home in the praises choruses of more evangelical and pentecostal groups, while others find their spirits quickened by the rich intellectual depth and the balance of order and ardor of the mainline, apostolic churches. The different panels of the tent that hover above the communion table affirms our rich diversity and remind us that we do not need to evangelize one another into one dominant expression. Here you do not have to unMethodist, or unRoman Catholic, or unOrthodox yourself to belong. Here we are more like a choir, each with our own voice brought together in rich harmony by the Spirit of the risen Christ among us. Indeed, it is only when we stop trying to convert one another to our particular way and instead listen to one another and find ways to harmonize that we can fully be the people God has called us to be.