The Saints of Grace
Reflection by Dick Corbet
“Why have you stayed at Grace for 77 years?”
This is a question I often get asked. In those 77 years, I have watched leaders in the Episcopal Church take on many controversial issues for their times, including the adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the ordination of women, the ordination of a gay bishop, the election of a woman Presiding Bishop, the election of a black Presiding Bishop, and the acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
Even through those tumultuous times, my answer is always the same: I come from a very strong Episcopal background full of saints who have left a lasting impression on me.
I was baptized at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis in October, 1936 as a fourth-generation Episcopalian. My dad had always been an Episcopalian and my mother was a Roman Catholic drop-out. My parents moved to Kirkwood and joined Grace Church in 1941. Mother was confirmed by the Rev. Charles Kean in March, 1946, after WWII was over.
Fortunately they moved in next door to one of the many saints of Grace who helped mold my spiritual direction: Sam Murphy, Sr. Mr. Murphy was a Missouri State Representative, a former member of the FBI and a pillar of Grace Church. He was more than an idol, he was a compassionate guide in my early years. When I was a student legislator in high school, we would have mock legislations at the state capitol for several days. Mr. Murphy made sure I would be assigned to his desk on the floor of the legislature.
I was involved in any number of activities at Grace, from the Acolyte Guild to Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts - all anchored and sponsored at Grace. I attended Sunday School from first grade and part of second grade, but then lived with my grandmother in south St. Louis during the war and in Cape Girardeau for third grade. We rented our home on North Geyer, and eventually returned for the rest of my high school career.
Another saint of Grace was Julia D’Arcy, who was ourSunday School teacher for the boys’ fourth and fifth grades. It was Mrs. D’Arcy who insisted that when we were in the “big people’s church” from our release from Church School that you kneel with your back straight and do not lean back on the pews. I remember strongly evn today her preaching: “If you think you can not stand a little pain during the service, just look up at the Cross and remember how much and how long Jesus was in pain for you!” Yes ma’am! It was also Mrs. D’Arcy who on May 25, 1950 signed my 1928 Book of Common Prayer, along with our Rector and Confirmation Instructor the Rev. Charles Kean, another saint of Grace.
I would often ride my bike for some activities at Grace, which in those days were held in the Parish Building that is now the YMCA. The Grace Rectory was on the south side of that building where we had church school, confirmation classes and other activities.
One day when Rev. Kean was on the front porch of his Rectory, he was telling stories to several of us about his days as a newspaper reporter on the New York waterfront. He heard someone use a swear word and told us a parable I took to heart and have lived by ever since. He said, “If you would cut your leg on the pedal of that bike and say ‘G*d-d**n that pedal’ and meant it, then God would damn that pedal and make it disappear… and then how would you ride? So don’t ever use the Lord’s name in vain – only in praise.” I have never used any swear words since – except damn and hell sometimes – but never with God’s name. Being in the advertising business for many years, I feel if we don’t have control of the English language without using swear words, we should not be in the business. If a newspaper reporter on the New York waterfront can now live without swearing, I can certainly also. Thank you, Rev. Keane.
The Rev. Arthur Steidemann was Rector at Grace in the early 60’s. One Sunday’s sermon was about loving your enemies (Matthew 5:44). His challenge to us was to pick one person at Grace who is least like you and pray for that person. The person I chose was Josephine, who always sat in front of us. In my mind she was an old spinster lady and I was a hotshot executive traveling all over the country – at least 40 years her junior. I did pray for Josephine – every day. Then one day I attended a multi-parish event on healing – which I didn’t have too much faith in at that time. Guess who showed up sitting next to me? Josephine. I asked why she was here. She said she didn’t believe in that stuff, but wanted to find out more. Same reason I was there. Josephine told the leader that she has always had back pains. So he encouraged her to be a volunteer. We all placed our hands on Josephine and prayed. She sat up and explained she felt a warmth surging over her back and the pain was much less. Josephine, another saint of Grace, and I became good friends and we would often drive her to church.
There are many other saints and other reasons I still call Grace my home church. I hope others can find their reasons also.