I’m a big sucker for lists. There’s something very satisfying about seeing a quantity of information stacked up so neatly together. It’s pretty simple for me to understand the appeal. I like to learn things. Everything we take in broadens our appreciation of everything else — each good work points towards its antecedents and its followers. It gets me excited to imagine, trying to run down every tangent of that twisted, often intersecting web. I’m in the habit of planning out the next five books I’ll read, before I’m close to finished with the ones that I’m already on. And just that planning starts me daydreaming, and daydreaming puts me in a great mood. I think that’s where I live a large part of reality.
So obviously, this city makes a lot of sense for me to live in. I can approach it all as one big list – first 15th Street, then 16th Street, etc… I can choose whatever self imposed parameters I like, different ways in which to engage. That’s one of the positives with lists: they’re arbitrary, they’re subjective, they’re just suggestions. You can pick them up and drop them as you like. A list taken too seriously becomes a mantra, and a mantra taken too seriously will often make a scary person. I don’t want to be a member of a church, but I’m glad that churches have been built, because I like to go and look at them. Hmmm. I’m not sure what that means exactly. Am I just cruising on a free ride here, finding all of my enjoyment from things that came before me?
Ah well, it keeps me busy at least. And I would say that finding a new garden to sit in qualifies as keeping busy. Of course it does! The church of Saint Luke in the Fields maintains a lovely one, right next to its chapel on Hudson Street by Grove. Walking around in there gives you some nice views of the back of the church and the surrounding row houses. If you get your line of vision just right you can imagine that you’re standing in the plot of some small country parish. And that’s basically what this church first was, when it was founded in 1821 to serve the village of Greenwich. Named for the patron saint of physicians, it was built on land donated by Trinity Church; before landfill extended out the shoreline of Manhattan this spot stood right on the river’s edge. It’s simple design points towards it origin as a country church, and summer chapel for New Yorkers escaping the frequent diseases the warmer months brought upon the city.
Trinity Church built the brick row houses that surround Saint Luke in 1825, reflecting what was already a growing and changing neighborhood. By the end of the 19th century, with Greenwich Village the home of large groups of immigrants and the working class, the congregation decided to move their location uptown, and in 1891 Saint Luke was taken over by Trinity Church, becoming one of its chapels. In 1956 a large number of houses around it were torn down and a school building, playground, and the current garden were erected. By 1976 Trinty Church had decided to divest itself of all but one of its chapels, and Saint Luke was once again an independent parish, as it remains today. It suffered a huge fire five years later, but enough of the original survived for the church to still be considered the third oldest in NYC. It’s an unassuming distinction that seems to fit its style. I’ve written about the second oldest church in these pages already. Do I detect some type of list developing here? How about the oldest church in NYC? How about the eighteenth oldest? Or should we approach it maybe by denomination — how many Catholic churches, how many Episcopalian? (Saint Luke is the latter, by the way). Do we wanna toss some Jewish synagogues into the mix? It’s not a question of hierarchy; it doesn’t matter what falls first and what falls second. It’s all just a refrain, each entry on the list is saying, “Here’s our world, here’s our world.” They’re all in conversation with each other. We’re in that conversation too — our numbers listed.
(Originally posted April 10th, 2009 on Takethehandle.com)