April 05, 2005

Church Across the Street

Once there was a church. It was a very old church, nearly 122 years old. The church loved the people who worshiped within its walls. And the people, they loved the church.

In 1883, the people built that church. They brought wood up the Sacramento and Feather Rivers on a steamer, unloaded it, and then transported it four miles by horse & wagon to the church site. With square nails and a vision for the future, they took that wood and built the church under the hot summer sun. In the fall, they had their first worship service inside the church that they had built.

Those builders are now long gone. But the church remains. And sometimes, as I sit in her pews, stand behind her pulpit, or work at my desk in my office across the street, she speaks to me. And she tells me of what it was like so many years ago, and of the changes that she has seen.

I told her that I was going to write about her in my blog, and she let out a little laugh. That's something new, she said. Who could have imagined that 122 years ago? Then again, I've seen a lot in my day, so I shouldn't be surprised. When the organ was added, that was something. And the sound system. And the office that has the computer and copy machine on which bulletins and newsletters are published. As important as these things are to you now, I remember when this congregation thrived without any of them.

Sometimes she tells me about the people who have passed through her doors. As I stand in the doorway, and touch that ancient wood with my hands, she tells me of Sundays when the church was packed, with not a single empty seat. She also tells me of Sundays lasting for months and even years at a time, when no one entered through her doors.

She loves the little children who run around. Occasionally they will knock something over or break a window, but she doesn't mind, really. Things like that are just superficial wounds, minor cuts, really. She especially enjoyed it when, about twenty years ago, she was able to have lots and lots of children inside her walls, attending classes until the elementary school up the street could be rebuilt following a fire.

She tells me about the people who spent their whole lives coming to church, the grandparents and great-grandparents of some of those who attend now. She has watched people from many different generations be born, get married, and die. And when a member dies who is 80 or 90 years old, she is often able to remember fondly when they were just little children themselves; and to all those who come to pay their respects, she whispers to them how precious life is, and asks, What are you going to do with yours?

Yes, there is something different about her. She's old. She's small. She's not in a hurry. Many of the newer churches in nearby cities are big and full of high-tech equipment, but she doesn't mind. In a state where over half the population now living was born somewhere else, she's content to live as a link to the past, and to share the wisdom she has from having been around in a simpler time.

As I look out my office window and see her standing across the street, I am reminded that the work I have called to do is much bigger than I am, much bigger than even a whole generation. And I am humbled and grateful.


Marina said...

Dear Reverent,
I would love to see the church you describe so nicely. It must be a great place, so ancient and yet so close to people's feelings.
You are a very good writer.Congratulations

the reverend mommy said...

And the bumps and the scrapes and the scratches and the cracked stained glass each tell a story -- and they are dust on gold -- they just bring forth the real beauty.

This was lovely -- I always wanted an old church

Danny said...

Thanks for the comments...
Look through the window in the picture of my desk, you'll catch a glimpse of my church. I'll work on getting a better picture here one day....

reverendmother said...


Steve F. said...

You paint an elegant picture of the building across from your office. But I'd argue that it's a building; it's not the church.

In Toledo, Ohio, where I lived 15 years ago, there were two fires - arsonists burned two churches, less than two miles apart, the week before Christmas. It was an awful tragedy.

The local TV news interviewed the pastor of one church. "How does it feel to witness the destruction of your church?" the news anchor said.

The pastor, looking rather haggard, still smiled, and said, "Oh, it's not as bad as all that..."

The news guy looked over his shoulder, where the remains of the structure were still smouldering behind them. Before he could ask the obvious question, the pastor said, "Oh, the building's gone - no doubt of that. But you see, we believe that the Church is what's left after the sanctuary burns to the ground."

I'll never forget that story, and never tire of telling it (much to the chagrin of my readers...).