You walk up the concrete steps between the tall white columns. You try the door. It doesn’t open. You try again. It is locked. It’s Sunday morning and the church is locked. You listen at the door — but you hear no sound. Everything is quiet. For the first time in ninety years — the doors are locked tight on Sunday. The Hammond organ is quiet. The piano in the opposite corner makes no sound. You look through the windows. The pews are empty. Dust gathers on the pulpit and the big open Bible. A thin spider web can be seen across the choir chairs.
It’s a Sunday morning and the church is locked.
Even when the Depression came — the doors were open. Even when the wars came — the doors were opened. Even when the tornado came through, toppling trees and blowing away roofs — the church stayed open. And even when the houses around the mill sold — one by one — the doors stayed open. Later — when the machines grew silent, and people left the mill, brushing the lint from their hair for the last time, wondering what they would do — the doors were still opened.
The doors are locked and the dust gathers and the organ and piano are silent —once upon a time this was a holy place.
Yet — today — this Sunday morning — the church is locked.
Yet all across the land — and even a handful in other countries — lives were changed by that church with the tall white columns and its open Sunday doors. People walked down those aisles and found something to keep them going on hard mill days. They sang their gospel songs there — mostly “by heart.” Even after all these years they believe in that land that is fairer than day. They believe in standing up for Jesus and coming just as I am and all the power of Jesus’ name. They prayed a zillion prayers for … everything. Death, divorces, betrayals, depressions, whiskey, not enough money — ever, scared of the those who might just drop a bomb and blow them all away. They prayed for forgiveness and hope and faith and most of all even love — especially love.
People do not remember what the preachers’ names were or how long they were there — or even the faces of most of the people. They remember their hearts were strangely warmed — enough, just enough, to send them back to spinning frames and hot non-air-conditioned days and nights in the mill. Some don’t go to church anymore. Yet — even these remember when they heard a word that stuck — and it has never let them go. And it took — well, mostly it took. Some remember filing in, not on Sunday but a week-day — when they rolled the awful casket in and some preacher said, “I am the resurrection and the life…” They didn’t think they could stand it — but they did.
Most don’t know that if they came back on a Sunday and walked up the steps between the tall white columns that the doors would be locked. Yet — what happened there, year after year, preacher after preacher, collection plate after collection plate — mattered. It was their lifeline that they sang of so often.
And though this Sunday the doors are locked and the dust gathers and the organ and piano are silent — once upon a time this was a holy place. So holy they didn’t take off their shoes but they knew deep in their hearts that they had stood on holy ground. And it kept them going — and still does.
Roger’s blog is “Head and Heart,” from which this article is used by permission. The church referenced and pictured is Porter Memorial Baptist Church (October 24, 1924 – May 25, 2014), Columbus, Georgia.
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