Today I attended mass at St. Anthony, which is next door to the pregnant women's shelter one of the other volunteers works at. St. Louis seems to have a great respect for old buildings, and St. Anthony is one of many neo-Gothic/Romanesque houses of worship that would not have survived Vatican II unscathed in, say, Chicago. In fact, a plaque in the entry praises the firefighters and restoration crew who rescued the church from a 1994 fire.
Whether that restoration is entirely a good thing is another matter, however. There were really lovely elements, like the delicate Life of Christ windows and intricate pastel details on walls. Others were a little distracting, like the almost-gaudy Stations of the Cross. And were those marquee light bulbs framing the side chapels? I hate to call God's house tacky, but there it is. Six confessionals were skillfully carved of dark wood, but also ponderously large. The baldachinno (or chuppah, as Jessica likes to call it) featured so many gold-on white intricacies, all I could think of was a huge frosted wedding cake. Mmmm, icing.
Earlier this week I visited what is nearly St. Anthony's polar opposite. Central Reform Congregation is a relatively young Jewish congregation in an even newer building. Their Central West End location is all modernity, with clean lines, simple metal and wood, and rooms that fan out from the circular lobby like spokes of a wheel. It's easy to tell that social justice is CRC's main focus - the food pantry and clothes closet are right past the front door, and there dozens of meeting rooms buzzing with activity. When I met CRC's Rabbi Susan Talve and complimented her on the building, she replied that the design came to her in a dream. Also, CRC originally didn't want a building, thinking it was a waste of money that could go toward programming instead. When some Section 8 housing nearby got condemned, though, they were happy to buy the property and move out of the Unitarian Church basement nearby. Funny how priorities can change - that reluctant building reflects CRC's priorities more concretely than any "mission statement" plaque.