Friday, January 10, 2014

Folk Choir Day 6: Old Florida

The trip we designed for this Florida pilgrimage was expansive: we started in the Winter Park/Orlando area and then headed all the way up to the Panhandle, past Pensacola. Then, on the way back, we made our way along the Gulf of Mexico to the sleepy little town of Apalachicola.

Why here? Because over the course of the past year, we were contacted by two marvelous people, Marie and Willoughby Marshall, who had kindly inquired as to whether they could receive an "injection of liturgical enthusiasm." Working long-distance with and then finally meeting Marie and Wib has turned out to be one of the great delights of this trip, for though they are octogenarians, they are possessed of a boundless enthusiasm, especially for all things that help to build up the unique and precious community that is Apalachicola.

When, in Fort Walton Beach, we told them that we were headed to this sleepy little town of 2,500 people, the response I got was a dreamy look in the eye. "Apalachicola," they said, "that's old Florida." And it was not said in a demeaning way, but inflected in a manner that connotes reverence. Almost like they had realized that all of their cities were turning out the same way, a conglomerate of malls, parking lots and chain restaurants.

The big news in this town was that a new stop light had just been installed by the school – and some of the locals weren't disposed to seeing the necessity of the thing, so they were just ignoring it. (I cannot verify this peculiar snubbing of the law, but I'll admit it makes for a great story.)

I grew up in a town in rural Vermont with a population of 800. So walking through this sleepy little place, a seaport town that had once been a great shipping center for the cotton industry, was a nostalgic trip for me. Small shops, a community bank, houses that were actually known by how they were related to different members of the town... all this contributed to the experience.

Willoughby, our principal host, is an architect by vocation, and his wise eye has influenced much of the landscape. He asks how to preserve, how to protect, how to keep his hometown vital in the midst of an ever-encroaching sprawl of urban ticky-tack. He seeks integrity and simplicity in design. And he cherishes that which he loves. As does his wife, Marie.

In a lot of ways their lives parallel the stances we adopt in the Folk Choir toward the liturgy. We too seek that which has integrity, that which speaks to the simple and the elegant. And we hold close to that which we love, which is prayer and song.

A great American musicologist, Gilbert Chase, once said something that I still keep close to my soul: "Look to the old ways, and walk therein."

And that we did, in old Florida. In Apalachicola.

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