The Church that Time Forgot

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I've written about our spiritual field trips here, here, and here.

Last Sunday my family and I went on another of our spiritual field trips. We visited a church in a neighborhood that was a booming subdivision in 1950. But economic power and family energy left their part of town long ago. The church is now surrounded by warehouses, dollar stores, and cheap convenience stores that advertise their primary products: lottery, beer, milk, and soft drinks.

The church has two parking lots, a small one at the front and a large lot to the side of the building. I imagine both would have been full fifty years ago, but on the Sunday we visited there were perhaps 15 automobiles there.
I noticed the building was very well maintained. There wasn’t a sagging shingle or unpainted surface anywhere to be found. The inside of the building was also in perfect condition. We were greeted by a mentally challenged man named Buddy, who introduced himself to me three times before the service began.
The pastor saw me in the foyer and said hello. He asked if I would fill out a visitor’s card and…
“Put it in the offering plate?” I said, finishing his sentence.
“Yes, that’s right. In the offering plate.”
Entering the sanctuary was like going back in time. There were 60 pews, all in immaculate condition. The walls were covered with beautiful stained glass windows. Every lightbulb was bright and shining. The hymnals - exactly two in each pew rack - were in mint condition, and there wasn’t a stray order of worship from a previous service sticking out of any of them.
As an ex-pastor, I notice those kind of things.
It wasn’t hard to find a visitor’s card because all the pew slots were neatly filled with them, along with little church pencils sitting upright in their appropriate holes. The pencil I used was sharpened to a fine point and looked like it was fresh out of the box. I glanced around and noticed that every pencil hole in every pew had a pencil in it.
By all appearances, these people were ready and expecting visitors, though I doubt they get many of them.
We took our seats on the left about halfway down the aisle. A few moments before worship, Buddy walked to the second row and sat in what I would guess is his regular spot. When the service began the community exchanged the Christian greeting known as the peace of Christ. Almost everyone, even elderly people with canes, came over to greet us.
They reacted like the characters from the Pixar movie Cars would have, if someone had wandered off the interstate and pulled into Flo's V8 Cafe for lunch.
There were about thirty in worship that Sunday, mostly older people. An aging organist played a dirge-like series of droning chords that transitioned us from one worship element to the next. We plodded our way through their order of worship, which is probably much the same now as it was in 1960. When requests for prayer were solicited, Buddy’s was fairly unintelligible and rambling, but the pastor waited kindly for him to finish.
What a delightful little church. How friendly and caring they are, both to visitors and each other as well as to their building and sanctuary.
The Spirit of the Lord was clearly in that place.
Which makes it all the harder to tell you what I believe is true: this church will be dead soon. Dead and gone. They might have another ten years in them. If they have an endowment of some kind they might straggle on a little longer. They couldn’t compete with the zippy, new designer churches even if they were located in a new subdivision. And no one is going to drive to the interior of San Antonio to worship in a way that went out of style somewhere around 1979.
It’s really not a question of what should be true or what we wish was true. They are about three or four decades behind the times and living in a world that no longer exists.
They are a church that time forgot.
So what are we to say about this community of believers? What should they do? What can they do?
I found myself wishing there was a Society for the Preservation of Aging Churches. Because one day, like the revival of Route 66, these old neighborhood churches might charm us once again.
And how sad we will be that they are all gone.
Image by Ana B. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Gordon Atkinson.