St. Joseph Church of Aztec

Before leaving Aztec, New Mexico, we circled back to a church at the edge of town that I had admired on the way in.

St. Joseph Church was built in 1946 and is positively charming. It’s cheerful and brightly decorated with beautiful pots of flowers.

I was just snapping a couple of cell phone pictures when a sedan stopped in the street and blew the horn.

The elderly driver of this car rolled down the window to ask if I was ok. I told her that I just liked the church and she thanked me. She attends this church and told me about how beautiful it is inside. She invited me to attend a service someday and shared stories about the kindness shown to her by the congregation during recent times of trouble.

She shared about her upcoming visit with her son who nearly died of Covid and about her boyfriend who recently passed away.

She was delightful and I was touched by her concern.

I shared with her a little about the road trip I was on with my friend and she asked about Ohio. She wished us a safe journey and promised to pray for our safe return to our respective homes.

Later I learned that her beautiful church has been vandalized a few times in the last year. I imagine she was actually concerned about her house of worship and the intentions of a stranger. You can read a story about the vandalism here.

It’s ridiculous that this is a worry but I’m always glad for those good Samaritans who keep their eyes peeled for potential trouble. The world could use more people like that.

Layers Of Time

If you’re lucky, once in a while you will be going about your business when something truly special steps into your path and begs for attention.

That happened to me this weekend while visiting cemeteries with my parents in Morgan County, Ohio. My uncle is buried in a cemetery that sits just below a little white church on a hill. It has been abandoned for as long as anyone can remember. From the cemetery you can just catch a glimpse of the top of the church through overgrown brush and trees.

This place has long captivated my imagination. It was a mystery waiting to be solved. Sadly, it was long unattainable because I wasn’t crazy enough to brave the snakes and poison ivy just to climb the hill for a look.

This time was a completely different experience because someone had cut back the brush on the bank, creating a rough trail all the way to the front door. It was like they knew I was coming.

You can bet I abandoned my parents at the cemetery and scurried right up to the top for a look. The clearing was small, the stone porch steps have shifted but the inside was eerily intact. It looks like the congregation of Pleasant Hill Methodist Church just closed the door and walked away.

Everything is covered in a thick layer of dust and the piano is in rough shape. The floor seems sturdy and most of the glass windows are intact. The light in there was breathtaking that afternoon. I was in awe of how the light played on those dusty old wood pews.

Describing the physical experience of seeing the old pews in the light of a late May Sunday is the easy part of this story. What’s a little harder to describe is the most important part of the experience.

Most history buffs will understand when I say that some places feel special. They feel like important things have gone on inside. They feel like there’s a layer of time as thick as the dust on those pews that can only be felt rather than seen. They feel alive.

I had the strangest sensation that I was not alone in that 1889 era church. It was as though there was some unseen event taking place just beyond my line of sight. I could feel the energy of a congregation. That piano sat silent for me but still seemed full of energy.

In another time, someone pounded those keys to the tune of an old hymn like “Mansion Over The Hilltop” while an elderly preacher gripped his Bible and studied the faces of his congregation as they sang along.

I felt like an intruder and yet, didn’t feel unwelcome. I simply didn’t belong. It was an odd sensation. Unsettling but special. If I could just turn my head fast enough, I was convinced there was a church full of people just behind me.

This is why I adventure, friends. This sort of thing happens so rarely but the promise of the opportunity to experience a place so unusual is one of the things that keeps me looking.

Pineola Presbyterian Church

During our travels through the mountains north of Asheville, we found ourselves driving through a small town called Pineola.

It was here that I caught a glimpse of an old church that caused me to scream that we had to stop. Haha. My poor friend was driving and had never experienced my irrational demands to stop and go back immediately.

Isn’t it pretty?

With wood shingle siding and stained glass windows, Pineola Presbyterian Church is one of the prettiest and most unique churches I have seen.

The hillside behind the church holds an older cemetery and there’s a shelter house with picnic tables where I imagine the church holds events.

Here’s another look from the cemetery.

There are churches everywhere you look in North Carolina. This one is tidy and so pleasant it’s tempting to go back for a service someday just to see inside.

Springbank Methodist Church

There’s an old brick church that always catches my eye when I travel Route 104 from Chillicothe to Columbus. It’s set off from the road, surrounded by farmland. There’s a cemetery across the highway that appears to be related to the church.

I made a point to stop for a closer look on my last trip by earlier this month. I have been telling you some of the stories from that day including butterflies at Franklin Park Conservatory and finding classic treats at the Peanut Shoppe. These things were wonderful but I was equally entertained by scoping out old barns and this historic church.

I appreciate the simple details here like this bell.

The front door seems careworn and welcoming.

And the way the sky reflects in this window is striking.

The church was founded by Dr. Edward Tiffin who was Ohio’s first governor. The current building has been standing since the early nineteenth century.

That summarizes all I know about it but something here feels familiar and welcoming. It’s tempting to drive over for a Sunday morning service just to see inside. I’ll keep you updated if that happens!

Boyce United Methodist Church

This Methodist Church in Boyce, Virginia was so charming I had to stop for a picture. Old churches always catch my eye but this one seemed special for the details in the windows and steeple. I like how shapes are repeated throughout the design without seeming at all fussy.

Boyce isn’t far from Winchester and that area is brimming with history, old barns, churches and other interesting landmarks. It’s close to Shenandoah National Park as well. There is plenty to do and I have written a lot about this area in case you’re looking for a getaway this spring.

In addition to the tour guide quality attractions, there’s plenty of off the beaten path stuff to see along the way.

Another One Lost

This old church has been a constant in my life since childhood even though I’ve never been inside. It’s just always been there and it has been abandoned for as long as I can remember.

It’s another in a long line of old country churches and other historic structures that you see abandoned across communities everywhere. The churchyard is still mowed because there’s a cemetery too. If not for cemeteries, many old churches that have been abandoned by their congregants would be abandoned to nature as well.

Congregations age and die, human expectations and interests change, and time marches on. I suppose all these old, empty churches are just a sign of the times.

Still, it’s sad to see them falling in.