During her Spring Break, my oldest granddaughter, Olivia, went on her first church mission trip. I am looking forward to seeing her this weekend and hearing all about it. This got me remembering my mission trip when I was 15. This was the year that I was “president” of my church youth group at Trinity Episcopal Church in Newport R.I.. The year was 1974 and my friends and I were very active in many aspects of this historical landmark. Due to the resistance for “the Church of England” of early colonists, it was not until 1698 that our church was founded by a congregation of Episcopalians, Huguenots and Quakers. The membership grew to large for the original building, so the present day church was built in 1726.
Many youth group members served as Tour Guides for this one of a kind building. We proudly explained that individual families paid for and designed all the different shape and sized individual doored pews to help keep the cost of the building down. These individual walled spaces provided warmth for each family during cold winters. It was also said that the owners of the pews owned the air above and the ground below, under which many original family members were laid to rest with a straight shot to heaven above. The “wine glass” shaped, center aisle, freestanding, triple decked pulpit is the only one like it in America. Quite a few of us took turns playing hymns every night at 5 PM for the entire town on the church bells. Every evening I played the carillon I was so afraid of playing the wrong note, which, sadly, I must admit happened more times than I prefer to remember.
Due to the good fortune of holding that youth group position, a parishioner of our church approached the Rector and offered to sponsor me on a mission trip to Puerto Rico. This generous member of our congregation, U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell had, just one year before, originated and sponsored the Basic Educational Opportunity Grants, to offer financial aid for higher education. Many of us, or our children, have benefited by what we now call a Pell Grant. Repairing a Christian School and building a new tennis court for the children of that parish in Puerto Rico was hard, but fun work. We would start every day at 5 AM and had to end our days by noon due to the strong heat and bright sunlight. That afforded us many memorable trips to the rain forest, El Yunque, sight seeing in San Juan and miraculous views of the glowing water of the Phosphorescent Bay on evening boat trips. I ate my first turtle filet and had a rather old, toothless man in the village where we stayed offer the local priest 20 chickens for my hand in marriage! This was a solid week of hard work and wonderful memories. I can only hope that Olivia has made many new friends and wonderful memories of her own.