Spirit of Truth Church, 2011
Five or six years ago I provided some strategic planning assistance to the board of directors of a local pastoral counseling service. They were an interesting group, most of them being ministers or holders of higher office in their respective mainstream denominations. Once a month we’d spend an afternoon together in a Sunday school classroom at a local Presbyterian church studying the past and plotting the future for their organization.
One afternoon before our meeting began I was chatting with one of the ministers about the sad state of churches in a downtrodden neighborhood where I’d been taking pictures recently. Of the five churches in the neighborhood, the Episcopal and Methodist churches had closed, the Catholic church was busing in congregants from other neighborhoods, the Presbyterian church had not been able to find a minister for more than two years and the Baptist church was losing members every week.
The minister I was talking to, it turned out, had been the church official charged with de-sanctifying and closing the Episcopal church. He said this was one of the most unpleasant responsibilities of his job, describing how you not only lock the doors when you close a church, but also remove all of the artifacts that serve as spiritual touchstones for the denomination.
I was thinking of that story when I photographed the Spirit of Truth Church, above, this past weekend. I’ve been photographing this church on and off for years.
I don’t photograph every church I drive by. But this little church, sitting hard by a twisty country road, has always called out to me because of its simple honesty. It’s not a fancy church. There are no architectural flourishes. There are no gilt fittings, no fancy organ. It’s barely big enough to hold a small sanctuary, a fellowship hall, a kitchen and a small office.
When It Was Beach Grove UMC, 2008
The area around this church has been booming for the last decade. Where there used to be just swamps and lowland farms are now vast subdivisions of half million-dollar homes. There’s a fancy equestrian center and even a polo club. But this influx of new people has not been enough to stabilize this little country church. In just the last five or six years it has been a United Methodist church, a non-denominational Christian congregation and, now, something called the Spirit of Truth Church.
I may not darken the steps of many churches these days unless I’m attending a wedding or a funeral. But I don’t make a point of kicking little country churches when they’re down, either. That’s why I’m not going to show you the reason I stopped to photograph this church once again this past Saturday.
As I came around the bend in the road I saw that the entire foyer of the church, an addition to the original structure that also supports the church’s steeple, had literally come loose from the original structure and was leaning perilously to the right. Yellow tape like the police use to mark off crime scenes stretched around the whole front end of the church.
I don’t know whether the structure came off its foundation, was attacked by termites or whether some drunk driver, unable to navigate the curve in the road, merely plowed into the front of the church and knocked it over. Whatever the case, I suspect that the little congregation of the Spirit of Truth Church will be coming and going through the kitchen door for a while.