Grateful for our Pillars
by Louise Westfall
According to ancient cosmology, the earth was situated between enormous pillars, holding it firmly against the watery chaos below. The Psalmist both praised the God who built those pillars, and occasionally warned the people that God would shake the pillars to remind them of Divine rule and to bring about righteous transformation.
The next time you’re reading Deuteronomy, or I and II Kings, or Chronicles, check out the lengthy and detailed descriptions of the pillars of the great temple in Jerusalem. The finest wood, the strongest metals, the most costly jewels for ornamentation — no expense was spared to support the dwelling place of God.
Stone pillars were set up even in the wilderness to mark significant events, to memorialize God’s mighty leaders, and as altars upon which to offer thanks and commitment. Latter-day pioneers quarried red sand stone from Colorado Springs to build a sanctuary in the wild, wild west: a magnificent house of prayer for all people.
— I’ve been thinking a lot about pillars lately, and specifically about the pillars of this church. What has enabled us to stand for over one hundred fifty years? What has helped us withstand the challenges of time and culture, world wars and civic unrest, sea changes in every area of human life? What pillars have supported us, and inspired us to love God and one another generation after generation?
Surely our historic building and breathtaking sanctuary come to mind. I have always marveled at the Central members who dreamed up this place. Regular window panes would have worked; but no, they chose Tiffany-style stained glass; lots of churches have pipe organs, but ours is distinguished by the decorative pipes that call attention to the music made here; the soaring Romanesque ceiling and intricate wood and brass details surely added to the expense, but our forebears considered it part of their devotion to God. And don’t conclude that the cost of this building shoved mission to the back burner: remember, these are the folk who welcomed Chinese immigrants others scorned and tutored them in English language skills; these are the folk who responded to the health care needs of poor people by founding Presbyterian Hospital. Friends, Central is built on strong pillars in the form of men and women of deep faith and amazing vision. And we are grateful.
Today we are privileged to welcome one of those pillars, Dwight Johnson, grandson of David Dwight Sturgeon, and son of Ralph and EJ Johnson, whose names are much in evidence in Session Minutes, annual reports, and official histories. D.D. –whose imposing portrait hangs in the room named for him and whose electrical company was one of Denver’s leading businesses — oversaw the complete rewiring and upgrade right at the end of the Depression. And Dwight’s mother, EJ, was elected an elder in 1959 –the first woman in the entire Rocky Mountain Synod to do so. Dwight, thank you for being here, and sharing with us about your family, beloved pillars of our church. What would you say about your family’s relationship to Central? [DWIGHT, talking about the many initiatives and projects undertaken by the Sturgeons and extended family; his own involvement, tapped at age 25 to chair a denomination-wide stewardship initiative and in which under his leadership Central excelled; etc]
Louise: Among your many memories, what especially stands out for you about Central? [DWIGHT responds with stories and reminisces about your own growing up, what you learned, what you experienced, etc]
Louise: Scripture reminds us that the “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us can inspire and strengthen us for outstanding ministry in our time. What advice and insights would you share with us for ministry today? [DWIGHT responds with his seasoned wisdom]
Louise: Thank you, Dwight. We’re delighted that Dwight will join us for the potluck lunch that follows worship, and then will share more stories and historical perspective beginning around 12:45 here in the sanctuary.
Someone has written that friends are like the pillars on your porch: sometimes they hold you up, sometimes they lean on you … and sometimes it helps just to know they are there. We are grateful for Central’s human pillars spanning more than 15 decades whose Christian faith shaped this congregation; pillars whose bold decisions thrust Central into community service and witness; pillars whose generosity and vision allowed Central to “go big,” to make a significant impact in downtown Denver.
… yet they were human — individuals not so different from you and me, with quirks and faults and fears. Even our massive red sand stone erodes and washes away.
And so they built this church not simply with their considerable resources and brilliance. They sunk their pillars into the one foundation that is sure, that will stand the test of time and the storms of change. The rock of ages. The foundation that though all hell should endeavor to shake, God will never, no never, no never forsake.
So here we are. Surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses including the men and women described so vividly this morning. With gratitude and the grace of God, let us run the race that is set before us. Let us build Central on the firm foundation identified in the first letter to the Corinthian churches, in the third chapter. Listen for God’s word to us:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe. I planted, Paul watered, but God gave the growth. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and others are building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!