The Flight of 300 Paper Doves

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Each year, an enormous yet delicate mobile is assembled by St. John’s Episcopal Church in Essex, Connecticut. The Pentecost Dove Mobile, designed by the late Roger H. James, “fills the chancel, rotates with the breeze, and symbolizes the Holy Spirit.” In a yearly tradition that began almost 15 years ago, parishioners gather to fold, thread and hang each of the 300-350 paper doves that adorn the mobile.

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The mobile’s designer, Roger H. James, was an engineer at Pratt and Whitney with masters degrees in mechanical engineering and computer science. He was a member of St. John’s for over 15 years and a very talented person who enjoyed organ repair, sailing and sailboat repair and Change Ringing of handbells. Today, Roger’s original sketches and engineering drawings are kept by his wife Darlene and two sons, who are also engineers. The drawings remain a symbol of the expertise and craftsmanship that went into creating the mobile.

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The design is rooted in balance. For the 300 dove version, a main support bar divides the mobile into two sections. Each section is then divided again three more times. This grid allows for 32 corners where strings of 4-5 doves can be hung using thread. Additional strings of doves are also added at the centers of the smaller bars to bring the total number to between 300 and 350. When the mobile is raised, it moves and spins slowly with the natural airflow to provide an amazing scene where the doves take flight on their own.

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The families of St. John’s continue to provide a new collection of doves each spring. The doves are hand folded using detailed instructions that are distributed with the paper squares weeks before construction. On the evening of the raising, everyone gathers with their doves to thread them together and suspend them from the frame. The mobile is raised for Pentecost (roughly 5 weeks after Easter) and remains airborne through Labor Day.

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Above, Roger’s granddaughter Katherine (shown top-right) contributes to the mobile. Roger (shown bottom-right overseeing dove assembly) also designed a larger mobile for Trinity Episcopal Church in Hartford, Connecticut in 2002. The large mobile (shown left) contained 500 paper doves, which when flying in formation actually numbered enough to set off the fire alarm within the church. Since his death, his plans have been shared with Episcopal churches in both Connecticut and Virginia, and the mobiles continue as great legacy which brings people together for creativity, community and worship.

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