On Saturday, February 16, Buddy and I were traveling to Kimball on route 52. As always, we were both searching for a church that we had not visited. As we crossed the bridge at Eckman, I said, “Hey, that looks like a church over there. I’ve never noticed it before.” Buddy insisted that he had told me it was there. If he had, I didn’t remember.
After our visit to Kimball, we traveled to Vivian. While at Vivian, I took some shots of the old Vivian Grade School. We had been down there last summer with Elaine McMillion, who was filming for “Hollow”. Everything was so grown up at that time, however, that we could not see the school very well. Buddy and I found a side entrance that was easy to get to, but we did not go in. Not because he didn’t want to, but because I am a chicken when it comes to old buildings. I know they have been standing there for years, but today might be the day they fall.
After taking a few shots of the grade school, I took a few more shots of the Peerless Coal & Coke Company Store. My Granddad, Eltrue Gordon, had worked for them at some time. That fact alone makes that old, burnt, falling down building a part of my family history.
We then drove to Eckman. As we always do, we “discussed” how to get to the church. I always say, “Let’s go this way”. Buddy always says, “Let’s go that way.” Of course, since I am driving, I always choose my way first. (I don’t like it when I have to turn around and go the way he said, but it does happen more often than I like to admit.) On this day……I was right.
We pulled up to the church and the first thing we noticed was all the trash beside of it. Looking at the church, we noticed how bad a shape it really is. The roof on the left side is partially gone. From viewing it on the outside, we were unsure if we would be able to go in. I walked up to the window and said, “At least I can peak in and get some shots.” As he always does, while I am repeating words of warning, Buddy ignored me and walked in the wide open door.
He came back out and said, “It’s ok, you can come in.” I said, “Are you sure?” He always gets aggravated at this time. The time when my OCD kicks in and I require complete reassurance….once, twice and sometimes three times. He calmly says, “Yeah, I’m sure. Come on.” I slowly and cautiously walked into a vestibule. The first thing I did was look up for a bell. I could see nothing but a wooden ceiling. At least I would hear the bell before it crashed onto my head.
I walked into the church more cautiously than I did the vestibule. The whole time, I was gripping my camera in front of me. This way, if a human or animal lunges at me, I have a defense. The defense of shooting them first. Essentially, taking their picture BEFORE they harm me. Laugh if you must….go ahead. I know that you are. I can hear your laughter before you read this. However, this is truly how I enter these falling down churches or buildings.
The first thing I noticed in the floor was a piece of gold Christmas garland. You know the kind. The kind that we have all used in Christmas plays when we dress the kids up as angels. My first thought was this: “Was their last service a Christmas service?” I started looking at the roof and the ceiling. I noticed a ceiling fan whose blades are completely drooped down, as if it is in complete despair. There are a few wooden pews over to the right. Two of them are upright while one has a leg missing and the other is laying on it’s back. To the left is another pew against the wall and an old cabinet that has hymnals and papers strewn all over the floor in front of it.
Buddy was up to the front looking around. There is a book laying on the altar that was a hymnal. There is another book that is laying on the banister. It has been purposefully laid there as if someone is coming back to take it home. When he saw that book, Buddy said what he always says when he finds something unbelievable. “You’re not going to believe this.” “What is it?”, I said. “You got to get a picture of it. It’s a Bible with ice on the cover.” He opened the cover to search out a name. There is none. Completely soaked through with ice on the cover, it is completely ruined. It’s laying under a part of the roof that is halfway gone. I took a few pictures.
Buddy started toward the back of the church and I followed. There is some more garland laying on a step that leads to the back. There is a wall that partitions the front of the church to make a little hallway to the side. Towards the back, we could see a restroom that had a shower. To the left before the restroom is another room. This room has a piano.
The piano, like the Bible, sits in that room like it is waiting on someone to return to get it. It is turned towards the door, as if it could watch for someone to come pick it up to take it home. The light from the window behind shone on the top and back of it. I took a few pictures of it, and went back to the sanctuary.
I took a few more shots of the Bible laying on the banister with debris all around, the pews that were left, and the falling in roof. While alone in the room, I cried and said aloud, “Why, Lord? I just don’t understand.”
I keep telling myself that population decline is one reason our churches are empty, am I lying to myself? There are 22,000 people in McDowell County, enough to fill the open AND the closed churches.
As were leaving through the front door, we noticed it was starting to snow. After taking a few shots outside, I went back in to attempt a few shots of the snow falling. I said, “Can you make them a little bigger, Lord?” And wouldn’t you know it, they got a little bigger. I couldn’t hold my camera well enough, though, to take a good shot. Before we left, I asked Buddy if we should take the Bible with us. It didn’t seem right to leave it there, but then, it didn’t seem right to take it, either. It is still there.
“And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.” Exodus 25:8 KJV
I wish I could show you the snow falling through that church roof.