Buildings of religious communities in Oshkosh

As we went around Oshkosh this afternoon, I stopped to photograph six buildings that house religious communities.

It was strange to see how deserted most of these buildings looked on Sunday afternoon. The Christian churches presumably had a lot of activity this morning, but by afternoon the building were dark, the parking lots empty. Even the yoga studio was dark and empty. The masjid was the only building with life: a handful of men using leaf blowers; they were clearly volunteers, because they worked at a relaxed pace and weren’t wearing work clothes.

I like the way the shape of Immanuel Lutheran Church echos the flat midwestern landscape.

Suburban streetscape with modernist church building from the late twentieth century.
Immanuel Lutheran Church, 338 N. Eagle St., Oshkosh

The masjid of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has the most attractive site of any of the buildings I photographed today, with the lovely trees surrounding it. I’m fond of the white fence on the left hand side, which appears to enclose a playground; it balances the minaret on the other side.

Suburban streetscape, modest one story brick building with white portico and a small minaret on one end.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, 300 N. Eagle St., Oshkosh

Visually, the most striking aspect of Zion Lutheran Church is the large white cross. It is about as tall as the utility poles along the street. The bright digital sign provides a welcome spot of color on a gray Wisconsin day.

Suburban streetscape, large one story building with low brick wall and gently sloping undulating roof. A large freestanding white cross is as tall as nearby utility poles
Zion Lutheran Church, 400 N. Sawyer St., Oshkosh

The Algome Boulevard Methodist Church, built in 1870, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is an imposing but friendly building. The siting is lovely: the building sits between two streets that meet at about a 60 degree angle, adding drama to an already dramatic building.

Older suburban or urban streetscape, large stone building with an imposing steeple
Algoma Boulevard United Methodist Church, 174 Algome Blvd., Oshkosh. This building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

I interpret the word “religious” in a broad sense; from my perspective, yoga studios look and act a lot like religious communities. Embody Yoga & Pilates occupies a storefront in the old downtown section of Oshkosh. The bright and cheerful sign on the window livens up the streetscape.

Urban streetscape, two story brick building with two storefronts on the first floor, one of which has a sign for a yoga studio
Embody Yoga & Pilates, 579 N. Main St., Oshkosh

The imposing mass of the High Ave. location of Most Blessed Sacrament Parish sits on a sloping lot. I like the way the red sign anchors the lot at the lower end (there’s a matching red sign on the upper side of the lot, not visible in the photograph). The somewhat austere building is softened by the trees and bushes planted around it.

A modernist building viewed across an empty parking lot.
Most Blessed Sacrament Parish (Roman Catholic), 435 High Ave., Oshkosh

Each of these buildings uses a muted color palette consisting mostly of earth colors, with occasional bright accents. Most of these building echo the flatness of the Wisconsin landscape. The two Lutheran churches send up nothing more than delicate crosses into the sky; the masjid has a modest minaret lower than the surrounding trees; the yoga studio maintains its modest presence in the first floor only; the Catholic church, though surprisingly large, still fits into the flat landscape. Only the Algoma Boulevard Methodist church rises up in a large mass, though its gray color keeps it from standing out too much.

What I did on my summer vacation

Back in July, Carol and I drove to the Cumberland County Fairgrounds in Maine.

We sang Sacred Harp, in a pulling shed, with forty other Sacred Harp singers. There were horses trotting around the race track next to the pulling shed.

Click on the image above to view the video on Youtube

The pandemic shut down in person singing for a long time. It felt really good to sing with other people in person.

I was glad to see that someone posted videos of us singing, so I could be reminded of one of the highlights of my summer vacation.

Westport, Mass., to Cumberland Center, Me.

We drive up to the Cumberland County Fairgrounds in Maine to sing shape note music. We tried to check into the campground on the fairgrounds, but there was no one to check in with. We called the number of the man who supposedly oversees the campground. He sort of grunted at us over the phone, and we assumed that meant we should just take whatever campsite we wanted. No picnic tables in the campsites. The restroom and shower are pretty foul. We thought about finding another campground, but this one is right next to where we’ll be singing. So we stayed, and set up our tent.

One bonus of this campground: We got to watch horse racing while we waited for the evening singing to begin. I’m not very interested in horse racing, but it was fun to see and hear the sulkies rumble past.

Sulky racing, Cumberland County Fairgrounds

The evening singing was preceded by a chili dinner, with food shared by Maine shape note singers. Then we went into the Pulling Arena. A bunch of folding chairs were set up in the usual “hollow square.” We settled down to sing. The sound went up into the dim reaches of the pole barn far above us.

Cooper Book singing, Cumberland County Fairgrounds, Maine

We sang out in the middle of the dirt floor. At the end of the evening’s singing, I noticed a man, a woman, and a girl were watching us from the stands. I went over and told them they should come sing with us tomorrow. Then a couple of Maine singers came over, and told them about Maine shape notes singings. The Maine singers handed the man and the woman a Cooper book each.

I could see that the girl was also interested, so I handed her one of the Cooper books so she could look at it, and follow along. The Maine singers directed their comments to the adults. I made sure to tell the girl that lots of kids sing this music, too. She looked to be about nine or ten, a perfect age to learn how to sing four-part shape note music. I told her that kids always sing the tenor part, because it’s the melody, and the most interesting part. But this is the Maine singers’ territory, and I was overstepping the bounds by butting in and talking to the girl. So I quietly stepped away. And children in our society are so often ignored, I’m sure the girl wasn’t bothered in the least. It’s just something I happened to notice.


When I got up at about six this morning, there was fairly heavy fog. I went for a walk, but my glasses soon fogged up and I couldn’t see very well. So I listened for birds. A Lesser Yellowlegs remained unseen, but I could hear it calling tu — tu — tu as if flew overhead. A Seaside Sparrow in the bush next to the road, sounding a bit like a Red-winged Blackbird with a head cold, finally showed itself quite close by. Then I was on the beach where the sound of the waves drowned out the other sounds. The fog was even thicker on the beach, and I could barely see at all, my glasses were so fogged up. I looked down at my feet to keep from stumbling on the round stones of the beach, and saw this:

Sea Sandwort (Honckenya peploides)

Allens Pond at sundown

Allens Pond, Westport, Mass.

I took a walk after dinner, past the crowd waiting at Bayside Restaurant, across the street to Allens Pond. In the field within sight of the road, a man was talking to a twelve year old boy who had earbuds dangling around his neck. “There are probably foxes in here,” he said, gesturing to a field. The boy didn’t seem impressed. I said hello, and the man returned my greeting. “Perfect day,” I said. “Yeah, it is!” he said with a big smile on his face.

A few people were walking the Beach Loop, but as soon as I turned onto the Quansett Trail, there were no more human beings — just a rabbit. I walked down to where I could see Allens Pond. An Osprey sat on a nesting platform in the distance. The sun slowly sank behind the trees, leaving a few patches of salt marsh grass looking golden. A Willow Flycatcher gave its “Fitzbew!” call. I took a photo, and then just stood there watching the light slowly change. It wasn’t mindfulness so much as mindlessness — there was nothing in my mind, including my mind.

This was the most engaging thing I’ve done all day. I think I’m badly in need of this vacation.

Saco, Me., to Bath, Me.

This afternoon, Carol and I drove up to Bath, Maine, to sing Sacred Harp on the gazebo in the center of Bath. It turned out to be an excellent place to sing, which may show that a good singing space does not need walls if you have a wood ceiling and a wood floor. And with no walls, we were much less worried about transmitting COVID, especially with the stiff breeze that was blowing. It also turned out to be an excellent group of people to sing with. As Carol said after the singing, “It was a really tight group.”

After the Sacred Harp singing was over, we got takeout food. We ate dinner in a city park overlooking the Kennebec River. This is the furthest east we will travel on our cross-country trip.

Carol looking east over the Kennebec River

A quick meomry from our cross-country trip that I forgot to write down earlier:

When we drove into Wyoming, a sign directed all vehicles with watercraft to pull into the Port of Entry for inspection — “including canoes and kayaks.” Signs directed us around the weigh station to a small building belonging to the Wyoming Fish and Game Department. A polite young woman carrying a clipboard and wearing a Fish and Game uniform greeted us. She was obviously checking for invasive species. She looked at the canoe on top of our car, and at our California license plates. “What was the last body of water you had the canoe it?” she asked.

I thought for a moment. We hadn’t used the canoe in the whole 13 years we’d lived in California. “The Atlantic Ocean,” I said.

She looked surprised. “Whereabouts?” she asked.

“Coast of Maine,” I said. “Saco Bay.”

She knew Saco Bay, and it turned out that she, like me, was from Massachusetts.

“Where’d you grow up?” I asked.

“Near Essex,” she said, and told me which town.

There was no one behind me waiting to have their boat checked, so we chatted for a bit. We asked what brought her out to Wyoming. She had gotten her degree in wildlife management at a university in New York state, worked for a while in the northeast, then decided she wanted to go some place completely different. So she chose Wyoming.

I told her I was glad that Wyoming was checking all watercraft for invasive species. “I’m a fisherman, and invasives have already ruined too many fisheries,” I said.

Especially the mussels,” she replied.

So yeah. If you own a boat, remember: clean, dry, and drain.

Acton, Mass., to Saco, Me.

Abby and Jim’s back yard proved to be a very comfortable place to sleep. As we were packing up the car to leave, I noticed these charismatic European Paper Wasps (Polistes dominula) building a nest.

Native to Mediterranean Europe, P. dominula was first introduced to the United States in Massachusetts in the 1970s. Since then, it has spread to Maine, Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, Washington state, and perhaps elsewhere. Abby said she was going to kill the insects and remove the nest, which I am glad of — according to the Invasive Species Compendium website, P. dominula has been shown to displace native Polistes species.

Another dreary drive today, though only two hours long. Traffic was heavy and aggressive from Acton to southern Maine. We were glad to get off the highway, and set up our tent at Ferry Beach Conference Center, where I’ll be leading a workshop in ecological spirituality for the next week. I’ll post more about that workshop in the coming days.

Newfield, N.Y., to Acton, Mass.

We had a long breakfast with Paul and Gina this morning. After breakfast, the four of us, plus Allagash the dog, went for a walk at a nearby pond. Paul and I met in a field ornithology class, so we listened for birds: Summer Tanager, Dark-eyed Junco, Wood Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, Hermit Thrush (maybe), and more. Gina noticed this spectacular Wood Lily:

Wood Lily (Lilia philadelphicum)

Then Carol and I started driving east again. After a long drive, we arrived at the house of my sister Abby and Jim. Now we’re sitting outdoors in Abby and Jim’s screen house talking after dinner. What do siblings do when they get together? Talk a lot, and goof around. Here’s a photo Abby took of me:

Just now Abby asked, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m uploading to iNaturalist.” She doesn’t know I’m actually writing on my blog while we’re sitting here in the screen house.

Conneaut, Ohio, to Newfield, N.Y.

I attended a morning session of the Religious Education Association annual conference. I wanted to hear two presentations on abuse and trauma as it relates to religious education. A significant part of my career working in congregations has been devoted to addressing the after effects of religious abuse and trauma (RAT). I’ve mostly dealt with the effects of misconduct by clergy and staff, and I found it helpful to learn about the wider scope of RAT. The presentations also introduced me to additional books and academic studies that I want to read.

But attending this REA session meant we got a late start. The drive started out dreary, but as soon as we got off Interstate 90 onto Interstate 86, the driving became much more pleasant — few cars on the road, fewer big rigs, the road winding through rolling green hills. We passed into Seneca Nation, and many of the road signs were in two languages.

Road sign in Seneca Nation in two languages

We soon arrived at Paul and Gina’s house in Newfield. They live on the edge of a 12,000 acre state park. As soon as we arrived, Paul, Carol, and I, along with Allagash the dog, went for a walk.

The woods were lovely…

Flowering plant in the woods

When we got back, we set up the tent on their lawn. Then we sat on their deck and ate dinner, and sang until dark.