Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen

Wendy’s Story: Remembering the Fire

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2017 at 2:09 pm
Wendy

Wendy Shepherd

The Great Fire of 1990

It was Monday in Holy Week, April 9, 1990. I had been working at Holy Apostles for two years. It was a lovely early spring day and I was busy preparing the Easter bulletins. Around 4 PM the doorbell rang and someone said that they saw smoke coming from our newly installed slate roof. Workmen were up on the 28th Street side of the building working with an acetylene torch. I called down to our then Operations Manager, Scott Wing, who said he would go and check it out. There had been an earlier issue, but the workmen told Scott that they had stopped the small area that had sparked. Reassured that all would be well, and feeling a bit beleaguered from preparing materials for Holy Week services, we left the office for the evening.

After I left, someone passing by the 28th Street side of the building reported in to the folks at worship: “Hey you better leave your building is on fire!” They evacuated the service and the AA meeting in the mission house and the alarms to the Fire Department were called in. The fire had reignited under the area where our organ sits today. I’ve seen picture of folks standing outside watching the flames eat away at the roof.

I did not find out about the fire until about 9 PM that night on the evening news when the newscaster stated that a Chelsea Church had burned. Uh-oh, I thought. Could it be Holy Apostles? Why yes, that was the picture I saw come up on the screen. Ten minutes later our Director of Administration, Father David Norgard, called, asking staff to come in the next day.

I arrived in the morning and was shocked to see a gaping hole in the side of the church. So many of the priceless stained glass windows had been damaged, including both of the rose windows. One of the windows in my office had been broken.

It was cold in the office. We worked without electricity – but Con Edison was on site to get us powered back up. The Salvation Army donated some food to use to operate the soup kitchen. We got partial power to the building restored by the afternoon – enough to serve our guests. Many folks dropped by to express their condolences over the fire. One person brought us flowers. The night of the fire, someone in the Penn South Houses next door had offered to provide shelter for some of our vestments, which were rescued before the smoke or water could damage them.

That afternoon, Father Bill Greenlaw corralled the staff and told us that, yes the fire was bad and we’d lost a lot, but the vestry was resolved, as were the parishioners, that we would rebuild and resume worshiping fully at Holy Apostles, as well as continue the work of the soup kitchen. By Wednesday we had full power in the building – thank you Con Edison!

Four years later on Saturday, April 23, 1994, with a procession from our temporary home at the General Theological Seminary led by Bishop Grein up Ninth Avenue, the Church of the Holy Apostles returned to worship at 296 Ninth Avenue. During the restoration planning meetings it had been decided that we would redesign the interior without reinstalling the church pews to create a more flexible worship space and a dining room for our soup kitchen guests. The soup kitchen began using its glorious new dining room in May of 1994. We also had a lovely reception in late May for the fire fighters who helped to save our building.

Restoring the Stained Glass Windows

Raymond Clagnan (formerly of Rambusch Studios – an eminent stained glass studio) came to work for Holy Apostles during our restoration. His workshop was located in the choir loft. Ray, Nancy Howell, Bruce Gutelius and one intern, Dana Legg, were tasked with putting together the jigsaw puzzle of glass shards left after the fire. They did an exemplary job of restoring the many church windows, matching stained glass in some of the shards tiny indeed. They also fashioned the windows in our narthex – one of the best recycling projects ever, using all of the pieces that could not be fitted into the restored windows to create the new ones.

Soup Kitchen Window PaneRay’s father, Bruno Clagnan, came by to visit his son and our in-house “glass shop” and liked the work we were doing for the hungry guests who come to our door every weekday. Bruno was also a stained-glass designer and gifted us with an original design, honoring not only the work of the soup kitchen, but also the craftsmen and women who helped to restore our fire-damaged church. The window was installed shortly after the restoration was complete and opened as the dining space for our guests. You’ll notice that there is no end date on the stained glass – that is because we continue to serve today, and have only ceased operation in the event of a shelter order from the city of New York.

 

–As told by Wendy Shepherd, Senior Administrator

 

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Anthony’s Story

In Guest stories, Keeping hope alive, Soup Kitchen Stories, Stories, The worst of times, Uncategorized on October 10, 2017 at 5:21 pm

Anthony2

Soup Kitchen Guest Anthony was born in South Carolina but came to New York with his family as a child. One of seventeen children, his home life was troubled from an early age. “I came from a dysfunctional family: alcohol, drugs, prostitution,” he says. “When I got a little bit older, I took that on too. I first sold drugs when I was nine years old. Then I started cutting school.”

Anthony was eventually taken away from his parents and lived in various group homes and with different foster care families. Having no family or stable living situation, he turned to drug use to cope with his sadness, confusion and fear. By the time he was 18 he had become homeless, living on the streets of Midtown, and was addicted to drugs.

“I was bouncing back and forth between detox, using drugs, and sleeping on the streets,” he recalls. It was during this time that he first found Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, and started visiting every day to eat. Though he wasn’t yet ready to accept the help that he needed, those meals helped keep him alive until he could find the strength to make a change.

Sadly, it would take a long time before Anthony would make a full recovery. Just as he left the foster care system, and now an adult, he spiraled even further, ending up in prison for 15 years. By that point Anthony had become a father himself, but he had no contact with his children. After completing his sentence he was released with no support system in place, he quickly returned to homelessness and drug use.

His turning point came in 2012, when a little girl gave him a dollar. She said that her mother had told her to give it to him because he was “a bum.”

“I had enough money to buy drugs that night, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it,” he remembers. He had always refused help from homeless outreach workers, preferring to stay on the street and continue to use drugs, but that night, when their van pulled up and they offered to take him to shelter, he got in.

“It was 6 degrees below zero when they picked me up,” he says. “I had no shoes. I hadn’t showered in five months. I was embarrassed.” When he got to the shelter he was greeted at the front door and offered something to eat. He told them all he wanted was to take a shower.

“I stayed in that shower for over an hour,” he remembers. “When I came out, I looked like a raisin.”

That long, hot shower was Anthony’s first step toward accepting help and turning his life around. He went through detox and stayed clean this time, then moved on to get his own apartment in a supportive housing unit, which he shares with his two dogs that once lived with him on the streets. Now he is even reunited with his children, after many years with no contact.

“It took a long time to build up their trust because they all thought I would go back to using drugs,” he says. “It started with just conversations here and there. Now they’re always coming over to my apartment.”

Today, the soup kitchen is a place where Anthony can find a meal, but it’s also more than that. “God knows I’m grateful,” he says.  “I come here to stay grateful.” After years of homelessness and time spent in prison, the soup kitchen is a reminder of how far he’s come, and that there is some stability in the world, a place that didn’t give up him, where he can find community and kindness.

“I have people depending on me now. My kids trust me. I trust me, and that’s the most important thing.”

In Memoriam: Bern Nix

In Uncategorized on September 6, 2017 at 4:32 pm

Bern Nix on Guitar
Image from Wikipedia Commons

It is with much sadness that we  learned about the passing of our friend and fellow writer, Bern Nix, who died May 31st, 2017 at the age of 69.  Bern first started writing with us during  the Fall of 2015 after seeing a flyer about our Writers’ Workshop in the Chelsea neighborhood. He quickly became one of our valued “regulars” through the Fall and Spring sessions thereafter, adding his thoughtful wisdom to our discussions, and his insightful essays to our anthology and blog. 

As humble as he was wise, Bern wrote about his life in music from a perspective that belied his notoriety as a jazz guitarist. He was, we would have to learn through independent research, well-known for his contributions to the avant-garde harmolodics style, and had once been lauded as a top ten jazz guitarist by Down Beat magazine. 

Much like the improvisational music he played, his writing unfolded through ethereal commentary, punctuated by wry humor and clear imagery. His art – in whichever genre –  was an authentic and unique gift. 

Here is a piece by Bern that slides effortlessly through several topics and ideas while clinging to a central theme. It was first published on this blog in 2016:

The Discreet Banquet of the Comfortable Class

Bern Nix

Seeing the picture of the banquet table generates a mixture of associations. Someone once said life is a banquet and many poor suckers are starving. That’s not an exact quote, but I’m certain you get the general idea. Food can be about sustenance, community, or abstinence. Often those hazard a career in the arts find themselves unwittingly playing the role of hungry artist. Frequently it is more about famine than feasting. One gig may pay exceedingly well. The next may pay virtually nothing at all. If you’re doing well you may have the luxury of the incestuous elite. It also allow for an awareness of how certain life choices lead one down a road that is far afield from what many consider to be “normal” or mainstream.

Sharing a meal with others can have outcomes that vary. How many holiday family get-togethers degenerate into combat? Hidden rivalry, resentment, and misunderstanding come to the fore. Asking someone to pass the salt can easily turn into an act of war.

When I was quite young, I spent hours in the library reading. Everyone said that would-be writers should read. I read and always enjoyed reading. One of the first things I read by Kafka was A Hunger Artist. The metaphorical aspect of this story contains much having to do with the hazards of artistic life. At least that is the notion in a painfully real and vivid manner. Of course there is humor inherent in the darkest aspect of it all. A person who starves to death professionally can have a laugh or two from time to time. Maybe a professional hunger artist’s life is the ultimate punch line delivered by the ultimate sick comedian.

Hunger has many aspects. There’s the physical hunger for food, the metaphysical hunger for something that palliates the ineffable dread that characterizes even the most smug, secure existence; the kind of existence that allows for one to sup in elegant places.

___

For full obituary and more information about Bern Nix, click on this link:

http://wbgo.org/post/bern-nix-guitarist-steeped-ornette-colemans-harmolodic-language-dies-69#stream/0