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Grace - another Kappa Phi Delta memory

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Grace Cathedral


     It has been said that God has a good sense of humor.  A Godly sense of humor, at that.  And, it has been said that God is gracious and forgiving.  And for both these attributes I am grateful – otherwise, I could have possibly been smitten many times in my life.  Zapped by a lightning bolt.  Turned into a pillar of salt.  Heck… maybe depicted in an Hieronymus Bosch painting four hundred fifty years before I even arrived.


     Now, I understand that pretty much all religions have protocols for dealing with “sins.”  Some may be pretty harsh, with stoning, dismembering, and the like coming to mind; many are much more benign.  Take Christianity, for example.  My Catholic friends and relations do this thing where they confess their transgressions to a priest and are assigned some sort of penance, like reciting a bunch of “Hail Mary’s” or “Our Fathers” or such. 


     And then you have us Baptists.  I once faced a challenge of trying to explain to a Catholic friend why we don’t have to do the “confession” thing.  “Well Jeeze, Sheila!  We’re allowed to talk to God directly our-own-selves! We don’t need an intermediary!” 


     Pretty much, a good Baptist pastor can anonymously work miracles of a minor (or not-so-minor) sort by making us feel just plain awful and resolving to not do such-and-so again.  “No more dancing at the Junior High Sock-Hop!  No more stealing a smooch from Betty Ann behind the bleachers after the football game!”  Yup… we’ll behave for sure.  Sorta.  For the most part.


     As an interesting side-note, for a period of my late teens – early twenties, I worked in a mailroom for a large banking firm.  Amongst my co-workers were a number of moonlighting Baptist pastors, working their way through a graduate program at Golden Gate Seminary in Mill Valley.  I have to say, I was astounded at the philosophical disparity between these gentlemen; I was privy to many, many spirited discussions about Biblical topics.  Some were amazingly esoteric; some were downright surprising, like the simple topic of eligibility for admission into Heaven.  Opinions differed greatly, ranging from “a person who is good and pure of heart will find his [or her] way into Heaven,” to “Only Baptists Allowed!” 




     Anyway, I have digressed enough – now, on with the story:


     I believe I may have mentioned somewhere along the way that the men of Kappa Phi Delta enjoyed and sponsored many celebrations, most of which could be loosely classified as “frat parties.”  Outside of the one time where some knothead set the Kappa Phi house on fire and a few miscellaneous injuries, pretty much all our events were fun and successful.  And also memorable were the “after party” episodes, following official events, and the common mid-week impromptu gatherings.  These could be anything from a few of us hanging about scarfing up leftover snacks and beer to hitting the road for adventures.  As one might assume, the former of the two was the safest; the second could, and at times did, lead to something being broken or lost (including me), something expensive happening, or even police interest.  Like the time some poor football player “fell asleep” after consuming copious quantities of booze – and was left stretched out on the lawn of a mortuary, with his hands clutching a lilly to his chest.  Or the time another drunken football player was poured onto a plane to San Diego (“family emergency!”) with a dime in his pocket for a phone call after his arrival.


     But there was one event that I’m sure got the attention of The Big Guy.


     Atop Nob Hill, at 1100 California Street in San Francisco and occupying the entire block, stands Grace Cathedral.  The modest Grace Church, founded during the Gold Rush in 1849, had by 1965 evolved into the magnificent edifice that was the center of  the Episcopalian Diocese of California, and historical “home” for a number of well known Bishops.  Including the notorious Bishop James Pike, whose life included multiple marriages, family suicides, participation in séances, and even his own claim of being vexed by poltergeists.


     So… can any of this possibly have anything at all to do with the gentlemen of Kappa Phi Delta?   Well heck yeah it does!


     One of the wonders of Grace Cathedral was its amazing pipe organ.  Touted as “the largest organ West of the Mississippi,” the Aeolian-Skinner instrument boasted some 7,466 pipes.  These tubes ranged in size from tiny, offering-pencil size to hollowed out metal telephone poles.  Impressive as all get-out – more in just a moment!


     Well, as luck would have it, one of our guys just happened to be an Episcopalian.  And happened to be a member of the Grace congregation.  But that’s not all!  Doug also just happened to be musician; in this, he also just happened to be one of the official Grace Cathedral organists.  Perhaps of a junior status, but a bona fide pedal-stompin’, ivory tickling church musician. 


     And there we were.


     I think it was a Wednesday evening.  Mighta been a Tuesday, or heck, even a Thursday.  But I think it was most likely a Wednesday.


     Doug (“Dougly Do-Right”) Wheelright, Bill “Wynuts” Wyant, Ray Gee, and a few other stalwarts and I were sitting about hoisting a few.  Mostly beer; Hank undoubtedly with his bottle of Old Crow, and the rest of us – including Half-Breed Pete - sharing a jug of Red Mountain.


     Eventually most of the gang faded.  Being naturally responsible fellas facing sentences of work or school the next morning, they’d wandered off to bed, leaving Doug, Bill, Ray and myself.  Of course we were wide awake and focused, engaged in serious discussions about the state of the world, our campus, and most importantly some shortcomings (very few, of course!) of the Kappa Phi Delta house.


     Now, Doug was fairly well off.  He evidently hailed from a family of means:  his normal attire was Brooks Brothers; he often drove a newer, black Chrysler Imperial, and was noted for being quite generous with donations to the House.  He had sponsored a number of repairs and basic improvements, including decorating the downstairs pool room/bar as a rathskeller.  Nicely done!


     Well-fueled by wine and beer, we became heavily engaged in discussion about current House needs.  And we identified one glaring need:  we had noted that during parties, we had a shortage of seating.  With living room (parlor) furnishing moved out to make room for dancing, few places remained for guests to perch between dance numbers.  And, sometimes seating was dicey even for mid-week dinners.


     “Why, fellas!  I have a solution!” declared Dougie-Doo.


     We looked at him expectantly; he grinned and said “Guess what!  We have surplus chairs at Church!  Why, I’ve even already been given approval for a donation of a dozen ‘extra seating’ chairs.  All we gotta do is go get ‘em!”


     Wow!  Cool!  Free chairs?  What a windfall!  So just when can we collect these chairs?    


     “Well… how ‘bout right now?  I have my car; we can probably put a few in the trunk and just tie the lid down, and the rest in Bill’s Bronco!"


     Naturally, it didn’t take any more urging for us to be mounted up and headed off to Grace Cathedral.  On a Wednesday (?) night.  After midnight.


     But not to worry – we had Doug.  And Doug had keys; he was, after all, staff. 


     “Let’s go!”


     And with that we were off.


     As I said, it has been said that God has a good sense of humor.  A Godly sense of humor, at that.  And a good thing, too.


     In retrospect, I truly do not believe that Doug had received official clearance for the disposition of a dozen or so chairs.  And really cool chairs they were!  Padded, and upholstered with durable blue vinyl.  Gold-painted metal frames.  Quite handsome furnishings!  And, as they were stackable, we did manage to neatly fit a dozen (or so) into the two vehicles.  It meant that one or more of us would be riding back to the house in a fashion which would not be legal today, but this was then and we made it work.


     But no… I don’t think God would have given the chairs a second thought.


     However, there was a bit more to the visit.


     For starters, there was Doug, seated at the console or keyboard or whatever it’s called of the largest organ west of the Mississippi.  At a time that was roughly halfway between midnight and sunrise.  Playing – quite well, and of course quite loudly – Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor.  If you’re not familiar with the piece, think Disney’s Fantasia.  Or Captain Nemo at his organ aboard the Nautilus.  I doubt if it had ever before been played on that instrument – or since.  But I’m here to tell you, it was danged impressive!


     So, what is the most natural thing in the world to enjoy with good music?  Why, snacks, of course!  And of course, we had neglected to bring anything along.  But wonder of wonders, we rummaged about the altar and discovered a sizable stash of crackers - and bottles of wine!  Perhaps not exactly Mouton Rothschild, but certainly better than our normal juice of the vine.  The crackers were kind of bland, but heck... they were free, and they wend well with the vino.  Oh, yum!


     After our impromptu concert and noshes, we talked Doug into giving us a tour of the grand minster.  He was more than happy to proudly escort us about the place - and we were privileged indeed to see areas never disclosed to the public.  Included were the mechanical rooms, the innards of the organ, and even the bell tower!  Accessing the tower was a mite dicey; my memory clearly recalls us walking single-file along a very, very narrow path that was not a path at all - might've actually been a rain gutter, probably fifty feet or more above the ground.


     And that part of the visit is what brought about our abrupt departure.  It seems that one of us - um, that just might have been yours truly - found a large wrench, measuring at least four and a half feet in length, leaning in a corner of the tower.  Undoubtedly for the purpose of adjusting something with the hanging or ringing apparatus for the HUGE bells.  Bells as big as me.  Or bigger.  But the larger discovery was that said wrench indeed made for a perfectly serviceable substitute bell clapper, or striker.  And those bells rang MOST magnificently in the wee hours of the San Francisco night.


     I was somewhat astonished at Doug's reaction to hearing the splendid (but admittedly loud) peals that echoed about the sleeping city.  And I still marvel at the recollection of how quickly he had us out of the tower, back along the path-that-was-not-a-path, off the roof, into our vehicles, and flat-out away from Grace Cathedral.


     As I said, it's a darn good thing that God has a good, and Godly, sense of humor.  And on that night, His guffaws may have been heard above the San Francisco fog in the form of discordant cathedral bells, clanging and tolling at an hour never before - and never again - heard.


Bell Ringing at Night Drawing by CSA Images - Fine Art America



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49 minutes ago, Red Gauntlet , SASS 60619 said:

When was this, Hardpan? I was a frat boy at Cal in 1966-67 era and engaged in a couple of scavenger hunt hijinks in SF related to the brotherhood....


Well, Red, this was I think late 1970 or early 1971 - as near as I can recall.  :rolleyes:


I have another story about a brief crossing-of-paths with a Berkeley sorority... Alpha Omicron Pi maybe?  :rolleyes:

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55 minutes ago, Cold Lake Kid, SASS # 51474 said:

As to GOD's sense of humour, just member when and where he performed his first miracle and what it was!


Water to wine at the Wedding at Cana...?  :)

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I transferred to the University of Colorado Boulder from a Junior College in my junior year.  I could not afford a fraternity but attended a rush banquet for one anyway, because it was different from dorm food and was free.  The fraternity had arranged for members of the Pi Phi sorority to be waitresses at the banquet.  The beautiful young women served us by standing behind our chairs, arms on either side of our heads, cleavage on the napes of our necks.  


I remember the service, not the menu.  I remember wishing I could afford to join a fraternity, but realized that dinner would not be served that way every night.  I returned to my dorm, and didn't wash my neck for a week!  :)

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some things God forgives because we were young once , in my case he may remind me one day at the pearly gates that getting into the whiskey with the monseigneur and the church architect [my employer] while "tuning" a lessor organ in a tinier catholic church one evening [think it was a wednessday but not certain anymore] about that same time period 69-70 ,   was not quite as reverent as might have been appropriate even tho the pieces chosen for play were quite dignified , 


much better than my brother , at my wedding , diving into his own version of the door "light my fire" on the lutherans pipe organ , but again we were young once .....

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1 hour ago, Subdeacon Joe said:


Thass it, Joe!!  :D

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1) Life should be LIVED!! -- and an old man's memories are of the young man's adventures!

2) My most profound respect for those gifted souls who can dedicate one hand to treble, the other hand to bass, PLUS flip the switches, push or pull the knobs, AND run that unseen rack of pedals with their eyeless feet!

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Your digression reminds me of some debates I heard among Baptist ministers.  There is indeed a broad range of opinion and seldom agreement.

When I lived in Nashville a good friend and mentor was an editor at Abington Press. 

Pierce impressed two things upon me:

1) You can prove or justify ANYTHING with selected references from the Christian Bible;

2) When the World Council of Churches met to discuss doctrine the only thing that everyone agreed on is that Christ is Lord.

As a practicing Baptist, I was taught that we have "Once in Grace, always in Grace." 

So we don't have to go to confession with a priest, but there will be an accounting when we face our Heavenly Father.

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I hadn't intended to go into the history of it, but since it's been mentioned a few times...


From the Gospel according to St. John:

"And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:  whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."


On the history of Confession, which dates to the first century:




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reminds me of a road trip some years back , 

I was playing bass , for a littte country band , 

had a weekend trip , playing 4 gigs in 3 days 

private party , a wedding and reception , another party , then a church service on Sun am 

everything went pretty well , including the Red River dustup , on Sat nite 

Sun morning came around , it was very hot that day , doors open , fans running , ya know the drill 

just at the end of the service , a blast of wind found its way in , well there went the words for the song 

the others faltered, and the only thing , I could come up with was to play the lead part to Swingin' Doors on the bass 

while the other band members sorted out the mess of the missing music sheet 


  made a bit of a dust up , then I went to tear down out equipment , wearing a Hank Jr , rocking with the Bama Band T shirt 


  biggest crowd , that has ever been in that church 


  CB :lol:

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