So there I am, toodling down a dusty gravel road in the capital of Nowhere shooting fall foliage pictures, when I stopped in the middle of the road. (No chance of getting rear ended there.) Tucked away in the middle of that section of the Shawnee National Forest, just to my right, was a quaint little country church. You know, the old kind with a little bell tower, white clapboard siding and an adjacent cemetery. The orange and yellow maple leaves glittering in the sun around it made it an irresistible lure. I wheeled into that empty church yard faster than you could say, “Hallelujah”. I had already spent three hours roaming the Forest and needed to get back to Kentucky for a client shoot, but I could not resist a country church. Besides, it was Sunday morning; I needed a little church time.
I snapped off a few pictures in the yard before I realized there was no lock on the church door. Unable to help myself, I pulled on the door knob, and sure enough, it was open. On the heels of Halloween, the Nervous Nelly in me, halfway expected to see the ghosts of past worshippers sitting in the pews. And in a way, I did. The empty building is well preserved, and while I’m guessing there maybe is a homecoming event there once a year or a special event once in a while, it has obviously not been used in many years. Someone maintains it though. A layer of dust covered the pews that smelled of old wood, and I left footprints on the dusty floor as I slipped to the front of the single room. The lectern was there, along with the old upright piano, the faded picture of Jesus behind the pulpit and the hand lettered list of local men who served in World War II.
It was silent enough to hear the memories in my head of old hymns like “I’ve Got a Mansion” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”. And the voice of my long dead great grandpa, who did a little preaching from time to time back when men wore dress shirts, suspenders and hats. I wondered about the people who had worshipped at Pleasant Ridge Church, about the fate of the men on the honor board and what happened to the homes that had probably surrounded that church when it was built.
My mental wandering was interrupted by a truck that pulled up to the church. It was a local funeral home director who had stopped by to place a temporary marker on a grave. Before I left, we spoke of the death of old churches and their congregations. I snapped one more photo and drove away, grateful for unlocked doors and the footprints of country folk.