By Maria Rocha-Buschel
On a soggy Friday evening, enthusiasm and attendance were not dampened as the community at St. George's Church honored the Reverend Dr. Tom Pike's 50 years in the priesthood.
"His popularity is evidenced by almost 300 people coming out to honor him on a rainy Friday night," the current Reverend Jacob Smith said as he greeted families after the service, some coming in from out of state just for the event.
Gramercy Park Block Association President Arlene Harrison, who was one of the major organizers on behalf of the GPBA for last Friday's celebration, had planned to speak at the service but took an unfortunate fall on her way to the event and a subsequent precautionary trip to the hospital. Mark Tenniswood, Director of Operations at Calvary-St. George's, read Harrison's remarks on her behalf.
Many of those who spoke at the event, including Tenniswood, emphasized Pike's dedication to historic landmark preservation.
"Church work is about people," said Tenniswood. "Tom describes buildings as tools through which we act and an important part of shaping community, and that led him to historic preservation. It's more than about preserving the physical structure. It's also about preserving the memory of events."
In his own remarks, Pike explained the importance he places on historic buildings and preservation through a scene in the book The Bostonians by Henry James. In the story, one of the characters looks at Memorial Hall in Harvard Yard and says that while the building doesn't look old, it looks significant.
"My years of serving here have led me to believe that these wonderful old buildings (in Gramercy Park) are significant," he said, adding that the church as well as other buildings in the Gramercy Park neighborhood have witnessed historical events that also affected the entire country, such as civil rights, and landmarking the buildings allows the community to preserve those memories. As Harrison noted in her remarks, Pike served as the Commissioner of the Landmarks Preservation Commission for 17 years.
In her speech, Harrison was also appreciative of the help that Pike has provided for the GPBA and Gramercy Park, from adding a Chanukah menorah lighting ceremony in the park to the restoration of over a hundred stained glass windows in Calvary Church and offering the parish house as a storage facility of sorts for donated supplies after Hurricane Katrina, September 11 and most recently working with Rev. Smith, who offered the parish house as a storage facility for supplies for those devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
"From its inception 20 years ago, Tom has worked closely with the GPBA," Harrison said. "He is the first person we turn to, to help lead our many historic preservation and community service projects."
Smith presented Pike with a framed copy of a New York Times article that was published in February 1983 about Pike's work to utilize St. George's Church as a refuge for the homeless, one of the first churches in the city to do so. The article highlighted just one of many projects spearheaded by Pike that benefited the community beyond the confines of the church, noting that the service not only aided needy people but also strengthened the neighborhood's roots.
"There are the poorest to the most noble, but (Tom) doesn't see them that way," Smith said. "He sees people as people, which is what made (the legacy of his priesthood) so lasting."