I’m haunted by empty churches.
Churches that are dark, locked to the public, abandoned, neglected, and empty.
The country church where my ancestors are buried is among those churches that appear mortally wounded. Bled out by internal conflict, declining attendance, and an aging population, it is a ghost of its former vitality.
When God witnesses the light in a church burning out does it break His heart? It breaks mine.
When a church dies, so do the love and traditions associated with that community.
I wonder what will become of the church cemetery where my ancestors are buried when this beautiful church closes its doors for the very last time. Will the red geraniums of summer graves still be planted and watered after the water is turned off? Will people feel alone in the winter darkness after the steeple light that now illuminates the church is illuminated for the very last time?
I wonder if the sound of Taps and rifle fire still will still sound over the graves of veterans on Memorial Day after the doors of the church are chained, its hand-carved pews auctioned, its congregation scattered, and the stain glass windows so lovingly cared for eventually sold or boarded over?
Will the children of our ancestors still come to pick lilacs here? Will the countryside still ring with the laughter of a close-knit community based on God’s love?
Alone among the wild flowers, ancient pines, and bird song, I wonder how long the brick building will stand against the encroaching shadow of neglect and indifference.
I take consolation in the fact that although my ancestor’s church may one day vanish from the landscape, God will remain. Perhaps not in the decaying remains of the church these immigrants built for Him so long ago to thank Him for reaching their promised land, but in the endless skies, surrounding bluff lands, woods and river valleys that God created beforehand.
And although our footprints will one day disappear from this beautiful landscape, He will not. Although the lights on the church steeple will dim and grow dark in the coming night, God’s light will continue to shine for eternity — calling us home.
“Before anything else existed, there was Christ with God. He has always been alive and is himself God. He created everything there is – nothing exists that he didn’t make. Eternal life is in him, and this life gives light to all mankind. His life is the light that shines through the darkness – and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:1-5)