Stanford Magazine - March 1993

Sacred phoenix rises again

After three years of closure, Chaplain Robert Gregg presides over Memorial Church’s (re-)re-dedicatory service. For this occasion, Gregg delivered a sermon on the topic, “Come Back – All is Forgiven” a joking reference to “the strange notion held by some that the earthquake was ‘an act of God.’”

In the aftermath of Loma Prieta, Memorial Church was reconstructed over a three-year period. During this time, performances by Stanford music groups were transferred to the Dinkelspiel Auditorium. Dr. Gregg worked closely with Melvin B. Lane, Chair of the Stanford Memorial Church Reconstruction Fundraising Committee. Apparently much of the fundraising came from couples who were married in the church.  Students also contributed by creating a raffle ticket sale, in which the winner would receive a complimentary wedding service in the reconstructed church. In a 1990 fundraising brochure, Gregg expressed his gratitude to all those who provided assistance: “I have been amazed by the letters and gifts that have come in, from all over the world, really. Many people have told of their weddings in Memorial Church, their experiences in the choir, their parents’ and even their grandparents’ stories about ceremonies and programs in the church.”

Chaplain Gregg oversaw several programs in renovation. A technologically advanced seismatic bracing scheme was developed by two structural engineering alumni: Chris Poland (class of 1973), and Evan Reis (class of 1988), to protect against future earthquake damage. As explained in a 1992 Stanford Daily article by Juthymas Harntha, entitled “Renovation Nearly Done: First services in Three Years Begin Today,” Dr. Gregg had ordered the removal of chicken wire from the stained glass windows and a subsequent deep cleaning. In Gregg’s words, the result was spectacular: “‘It’s the first time in 25 years that there’s been nothing between the sunlight and the windows,’ Gregg said. Gregg ordered the wire removed because it had outlived its original purpose – protecting the glass from ‘unruly students’ of the Vietnam era, who broke many windows on campus in protest of the war.” (In fact, former President Lyman authored a book on the subject of student uprisings: Stanford in Turmoil: Campus Unrest, 1966-1972).

In retrospect, Gregory Wait, the choral director during these years, states that the earthquake “provided the Office for Religious Life with an opportunity to reinvent itself.” Wait in particular notes Chaplain Gregg’s indefatigable efforts to further the Stanford’s original ecumenical vision for the church. Gregg hired clergy representing multiple religious traditions, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. The Dalai Lama visited the church in 1994, and Reverend Scott McLennan, the current Dean of Religious Life, hired Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann to act as the Associate Dean.

Chaplain Bob Gregg greets His Holiness the Dalai Lama on April 19, 1994. Photograph by Linda A. Cicero/Stanford University News Service


Bios: Dr. Robert Gregg – Chaplain of Memorial Church from 1987 to 1998 and Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies.

Melvin Lane – Chair of Stanford Memorial Church Reconstruction Fundraising Committee, 1989-1992.

Chris Poland – Stanford alumnus, class of 1973, and structural engineer who co-designed a seismic bracing system for Memorial Church following the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Evan Reis – Stanford alumnus, class of 1988, and structural engineer who co-designed a seismic bracing system for Memorial Church after the 1989 earthquake.


Mel Lane with hard hat

Melvin Lane overseeing Memorial Church’s reconstruction after the Loma Prieta earthquake, August 4, 1992. Photograph by Chuck Painter/Stanford University News Service