Friday, 4 November 2016

A Jersey Letter from America

I imagine a lot of my readers have heard of Alistair Cooke's letter from America. In 1967, the Dean of Jersey, The Very Reverend Alan Stanley Giles, made a trip to America and sent his own letter home from America to the readers of the Anglican Parishes Magazine in Jersey, "The Pilot". It is reprinted below, and gives a fascinating snapshot of how America appeared in the 1960s.

The Deans Letter
By A.S. Giles
[from “The Pilot”, June 1967]

Naturally my mind is filled by things American. After this my second visit of any length. I feel less capable of writing of the American scene. America is so vast, so varied, that one never ceases to wonder at its infinite variety. You can travel from near tropical conditions in the South, to biting cold in the North. From a world of skyscrapers, of bewildering patterns of flyover roads in New York, to the sixteenth and seventeenth century spaciousness of Williamsburg.

Its people differ just as much as the people of England differ. The Cockney, the Lancastrian and Yorkshireman differ not only in speech but in their way of life. America has all this but on a larger scale. The main division is between North and South. Some Southerners are still fighting the Civil war, and as one lady from the South told me she thought as a girl that all Northerners were called “damyankees” until her future mother-in-law corrected her.

Perhaps I can draw some conclusions. It was fifteen years since I was last in America for some length of time. Compared with those days I found a quieter approach to life. I mentioned this in Washington and was told that was probably due to the fact that America had taken on a new role in world affairs, she was now carrying a heavy load of responsibility through her involvement in so many parts of the world.

Responsibility, it was suggested to me causes men and women to think harder and deeper than ever before, hence the apparent mellowing of so many people. Possibly this is true. One thing I do know is that America has shown a willingness to bear some of the burdens of other nations. Her Aid programme for other countries lays a heavy burden on the American taxpayer. Despite the many rebuffs they have received, they continue with this Aid.

Of all the American cities I have seen. Washington will always remain my favourite. Here there are no skyscrapers, but instead some of the finest buildings of a modern world. Admittedly they are built in the classical style of another world and age, but there is a beauty which belongs to no one age, and to all ages. The Mellon Art Gallery would find a home in Athens, but it is not out of place in Washington. Its perfection outside is a fitting home for the incredible wealth of the art of apes inside.

The Capitol is an equally worthy building. Despite its size, it is modest in its dress and furnishings. The Lincoln memorial is a wonderful conception: the kind of place you are glad to visit time and time again. It may be that for me Lincoln has always belonged to the world, rather than just America. He was cast in the mould of men of whom Churchill was another example. Both men of vision who could translate their visions into realities, and what is more wonderful, translate it into words of such meaning, that we lesser mortals are helped to see our visions. The memorial does not try to glamorise Lincoln. It leaves him in his essential simplicity.

One can speak of the English atmosphere of Virginia, of the astonishing farmlands of Pennsylvania or of the futuristic skyline of Pittsburgh, the embodiment of modern technology.

What can you make of a country which in March can serve strawberries, melons, grapefruit and oranges picked from the fields in another part of the States only days before.

It is true that America gives the visitor the impression of being a wealthy country: a country with a high standard of living. Some people regard it as it modern land of promise. It is true that many people earn high wages, but it is also true that through intense competition, you have to work hard to hold your job. Salaries of ten thousand dollars may he paid, but I noticed that the price of houses and clothes was scaled to the same high scale of values.

What of the American Church, the Episcopal Church as it is called. It owes its birth to the missionaries of the S.P.G. who provided the means of worship in the days when America was indeed New England. Although Washington and his merry men spent a great deal of time chasing the English forces up and down America, and finally drove them out, much of English culture remained : and not least of all the Church.

When you realise that in two hundred and fifty years, the Episcopal Church which has had no sheltered position to help it has grown into its present size, you realise how sacrificial has been the faith of these people. Throughout the length and breadth of America you have parish churches, church schools all built and paid for in these two and a half centuries. Cathedrals in every Diocese, and several of them, such as Washington Cathedral would grace any English Cathedral Town.

When you see the large congregations, it makes you wonder how these things can be. Some people decry it by saying it is superficial. Do men and women in this age waste time and money on being superficial? It may be that a country which has built itself in two hundred and fifty years into this vast kaleidoscope of cities and peoples, achieved its present position through the hardness of its struggle. It may well be that their Christian faith was equally forged in the hard and early days of their creative years, and is not exhausted or satiated by the materialism around them.

Whatever the cause, there is much to be admired in the American Church: much to be thankful for in its continuing existence, and something for pride in that this offshoot of the Church of England is today a virile, growing Church serving the cause of Christ in the New World.


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