The little old time churches have a unique atmosphere about them that cannot be duplicated. Perhaps it is the earnest prayers that are embedded in the rafters, or the memory of the rejoicing services that still ring in the air. It could be the rough mourner’s bench where the repentant sinner wept bitter tears as God granted forgiveness.
Often these old churches were built on a hill, where an adjoining cemetery kept departed loved ones in close connection to the church. Gravestones were modest, some of them of cut rock and dating back into the eighteen hundreds. It was possible to trace your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents by reading their headstones.
These little country churches, like the two-room schoolhouses, have almost become a thing of the past. Modern church buildings have taken their place, with beautiful brick exteriors and luxurious interiors. I am not being critical; God’s house should be a thing of beauty. But the little country church had its place.
I was blessed in growing up in one of these country churches. In fact, I can never remember a time when I didn’t go to church. My earliest memories are centered on a humble little church located on a hill with the family cemetery spreading out behind it.
My grandfather Andy O’Dell saw the need of a Church of God in this community, and gave a tract of his property for a church building and a cemetery. His body lies there now, along with my grandmother, my father, several uncles, an aunt, a baby granddaughter, and other members of our family.
When I was young, there was a beech tree growing right in the middle of the cemetery. Now it has grown to huge proportions, and each fall scatters its burnished gold leaves over the graves of our loved ones. I like to think of the church as a place to prepare us for eternity, and the cemetery as a resting place until Jesus comes back for us.
I recall Daddy reminiscing of how the church was built. The foundation stones were hand hewn, and hauled in by horse and sled. The volunteer labor was done by the men of the community, and before very long the church building was finished and dedicated for a place of worship.
It was far from a pretentious place. The pews were homemade benches, with slats placed both for the seat and backs. There were no inside rest rooms, but two outside toilets built far apart for modesty sake. Tall poplar trees shaded the entire lot and it was a most pleasant place. It is hard to recall exactly the physical look of the place, but it is the atmosphere that lingers on in the mind.
To walk into the church on Sunday morning was to leave behind the worry and cares of the past week. You could hear the drowsy hum of murmured voices from the very back bench where the junior class were reciting their lessons. The adult class would be deep into serious study of their Bible lesson, oblivious to anything around them.
The primary class with the bench of little ones with the cards and the seals we received each Sunday—remember those? It was usually a farm scene of ducks or chickens, or puppies or kittens. We always had kittens upside down or puppies flying through the air. Some of us still have the cards we received in Sunday school.
Sorry to say, not all of us were perfect little boys and girls. I remember one drowsy Sunday when a wasp lit on the neck of a young lad sitting in front of my brother Ronnie. Ronnie reached up and gently mashed the wasp, which immediately retaliated. The boy jumped up, red faced and embarrassed, slapped his hand to his neck and proceeded to exit down the aisle.
As he left in a hurry, he caught his foot in the strap of a lady’s purse and dragged it down the aisle with him. Double embarrassment! It is hard to keep a straight face in moments like that, even in church.
When I grew older, I found out the real purpose for these little country churches. I was about 12 years old and was attending a revival in one of these places, when the Lord sent such conviction upon my soul that I stood and trembled. I don’t remember the sermon, or the songs that were sung, but I remember the longing I had to kneel at that altar and pour out my heart to God.
There I knelt, repenting of my childish sins, when I felt the comforting arms of one of the older saints around me. I will never forget the feeling of that burden lifted, and the brightness of God’s presence there.
If I had continued walking with Jesus, I would have saved myself a lot of heartache. Like a lot of young people, I went my own stubborn way and made a mess of my life before I came back to the Lord. I am thankful He is so forgiving and merciful.
I know now that God “dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17-24) but in the hearts of men and women who love and obey Him. Although we have tender feelings for the little churches where we worshipped when we were young, they are merely buildings. The Spirit of God dwells in us.
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