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It’s more than dust, dampness, and polished pews.

My memories lie somewhere between sleepiness and wakefulness. Many came back to me on a recent visit to a country church. I wandered through the old sanctuary and the Sunday school rooms. I found the pastor’s office near the altar. The door was open, its absent tenant unconcerned about intruders. I felt immediately at home there among the book-lined shelves. 

It was there the question arose like incense: What is it about a country church that quiets the spirit? The building itself had little to recommend it other than its simplicity. Country churches are often small, as are their congregations. In these rural communities, a few faithful worshipers still attend according to the pattern set by parents and grandparents. 

Entering the church, I smell the musty hymnals and the citrusy polish applied to the pews. My eyes are drawn to the tile floor, worn down by many feet. The carpet down the center aisle is tattered and torn.

A damp odor greets me as I descend the stairs to the basement. Entering the kitchen, I pause to wonder at the gallons of coffee served from the large urns on the counter. How many bowls of potluck Jell-O have passed through these serving windows? I seem to taste the memories. 

In the fellowship hall, I feel the hot breath of the furnace. Long tables, heavy and covered with old linoleum, stand in review, awaiting arrangements of plastic flowers to make them more welcoming.

The kitchen itself needs new appliances. Generations have lit the old stove. The counters are clean, but surface cracks show their age. The cupboards have been painted far too many times. Porcelain plates, cups, and saucers wait on papered shelves, too good to throw out.

I recall people walking overhead as they leave after worship. The door of the sacristy squeaks open as the pastor enters to take off his robe. He will sit a minute before coming downstairs. His study is warm and quiet. He looks out the window at the graveyard and remembers the words of hope and resurrection he has pronounced beside the graves. Those buried there once worshiped here too and sang the same hymns the congregation sang today. They too drank coffee after the service and ate open-faced sandwiches. 

What is it about a country church? It’s more than dust, dampness, and polished pews. It’s more than coffee and Jell-O, more than a cramped pastor’s office with outdated furnishings. What is it about a country church?

I confess, I can’t really say. Perhaps it is the spirit of place that follows me between the gravestones as I think about the sermon I’ll be preaching today. The quiet invites me to ponder the years spent and the years ahead. I peer down the hill and out over the farmland. Families will soon be walking up the path to the church.

My thoughts move to the words I will say, gathered from books I have read. I think of the conversations in the café and in homes I have visited.

“Good morning, pastor,” the first arrivals say.  

What is it about a country church? Can I say? The answer lies somewhere between sleepiness and wakefulness. Many country churches are closing their doors. But I hope not all. I would like to think there are still pastors opening the rural churches to turn on the lights and turn up the heat. I would like to think there are pastors sitting quietly before the service begins to look over their sermon one last time. 

I might have lived some of this history. I am hopeful that others will experience the spirit of place.


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