The fourth day of our adventure was on Sunday, January 29, after church. I really didn’t want to go that day because of where we had to go. Buddy insisted that we go, anyway, so that it wouldn’t be a wasted day. I reluctantly agreed.
We were at Mom’s, and we didn’t have to go far. Not even a mile up the road. We were going to go to the old Pageton Methodist Church and the other church that was down the track. I wasn’t sure what kind of denomination the church down the track was, but I do remember people going to it when I was a kid.
The reason that I didn’t want to go that day was because to get to these churches, we had to cross a bridge that was built by the railroad years ago. This said bridge is raised high over the Tug River. I was really hesitant in crossing the bridge…….so, Buddy went first. He volunteered to go, I didn’t twist his arm or anything.
Buddy went across and told me that the bridge still seemed very sturdy, as it is built from railroad ties. He said just to walk on the beam and I would feel a safer. As I crossed the bridge, I noticed that I felt safer on it than the stairs that led up to it. Years ago, the bridge used to cross the road that goes to “The Street”. (Pageton has one street. It is therefore called, “The Street”.) I remember the bridge going across the road, but I guess they shortened it for fear of it collapsing on someone as they went under. I’m not sure about that, just a guess.
After I bravely crossed the bridge, I noticed on the other side, there was a sidewalk. My first thought was, “What? A sidewalk!?” Why would there be a sidewalk on the other side of the river right beside the railroad track? Seems a little crazy.
The Methodist church is right there as you cross the bridge, so we didn’t have to go far. I have yet to get the details, but this church hasn’t been closed that long. We went up the steps to see that the door had been left open. We walked into a small vestibule that had a bookshelf against the back wall that has some books in it and some scattered on the floor. To our right was white swinging doors that led into the sanctuary. We went in. Even though I had lived in Pageton all of my life, I had never been in this church. There were some pew pads that were in the floor. The piano was against the back wall, next to a window. On that back wall, is a design of woodwork that is simple, but beautiful. Looking back through the sanctuary, there are stairs in the middle that lead up to a small loft area. There are some odds and ends stored there. On either side of the stairs, while in the sanctuary, are small rooms with curtain doors. Also, in the back of the sanctuary, to the right, is a smaller room that had a couple of steps leading to it.
While I was in there, I kept thinking, this little church would make a great community room. A place where the elderly and the young alike could go to have some kind of classes, play games, or just talk. There is so much potential in these older buildings that is just wasted.
I noticed something strange while in there, however, and that was that there was a few holes in the wall. I wasn’t sure why that had happened. Looking up, we could see that the roof was leaking as there were stains and the boards were beginning to fall down. Again, I felt such sadness at the sight of this little church. Just forgotten.
However, for this little church, I don’t have to wonder where the people have gone. They are now using the church that is on the main stretch of road that was once used by the black people in the community. Most of them have moved away and the people of the Methodist church started using their church as access is much easier.
We walked around so we could see the front of the church and I could photograph it. As I was looking around, I realized why there were holes in the walls of the church. The power meter had been jerked out. Someone was looking for copper.
We saw the bell that is still standing to the right of the stairs as you go up to the church. It is kind of hidden by brush, but we could get to it. I told Buddy to ring it. He asked, “Why?” I said, “Let’s just freak some people out by hearing the church bell again.” So, he rang it. Then a thought came to my head, “What if we had someone at each of these churches, closed and operating, one Sunday, to ring the bell? Just to let the people hear that the church is still there!” I think that would be so awesome.
We had another church to go to. Like the Methodist church, I had never been to this church. This church, though, it is special to me. This church inspired this whole project. I have been looking at it for over a year, wanting to go photograph it. Today, it was going to happen.
I was a little more apprehensive about going to this church because it was a ways down the tracks. Plus, we were in a place that was very difficult for anyone to get to us if they had to. Then I thought about animals….especially coyotes. At that point, I realized I had left my gun in the Tahoe. I would have felt much better with that pistol in my pocket! (Don’t worry! I’m legal. You just never know what you might come upon, especially in these old buildings.)
Buddy assured me that we would be ok, especially with all the noise we were making. Then began a most difficult task. It was not easy as walking down the tracks, as I had pictured in my mind. Those tracks have not been used in over 25 years, or more, which made for a very difficult path. There were trees and briers and weeds everywhere! Buddy went first to find the easiest route possible. There were a few clearings, but not many. I’m not sure how long it took us to get to that church, but I know it was awhile. Once we got there, though, we had to back track. There was no way to get up to it! It sits on a hill behind the track and the hill is straight up and down. We went back to where Buddy said it would be easier to climb. When I was a kid, I loved playing in the mountains! To go up a mountainside, was no big deal. Now, that I am 35 years old, and not able to move like I used to, it was very difficult. Buddy literally had to pull me up rocks that were moss covered, as I could not climb up them. I thank the Lord I married a strong man.
Once we got to where we were going, there was a little stream that was coming down the mountain. Once we turned around from the stream, we were standing above the church. I was totally amazed. I had an idea what it looked like as I could see it from the road. Being this close, though, was totally different. The front wall of that church is standing. The doors are there with a lock on them. There are two windows there, although they have no glass. There are stairs leading to the locked doors, but in very bad condition. The sanctuary is now in the basement of the church. It has totally collapsed, and the old thing left standing is that front wall that is painted blue and white on the inside.
Buddy found the cornerstone. There are two names on the cornerstone. While facing the church, that one says, “St. John Baptist Church 1950 Pastor Rev J.B. Evans”. The one on the side of the church, right beside that one says, “St. Joseph A.M.E. Zion Church 1950 Pastor Rev C.W. Ferguson”. Unsure of what the name actually was, we looked up the stairs and there above the doors were stickers that said, “St. John Baptist Church”. Again, I wondered at where the people went. Here’s their church, what is left of it.
Do you remember when you were a kid and you made the church with your hands and said, “Here’s the church, and here’s the steeple. Open it up and see all the people.” Here are the churches, and here are the steeples. We open them up, but there are no people.
As I looked at this old Baptist church, I cried. This church is not as old as mine. I thank the Lord that my little church is still there and operating. The Lord has really blessed it.
Over to the right, we saw some old outhouses, and a stone wall. I asked Buddy if he thought it had been a house or maybe another church? He looked at the stones facing down the track, as the other church faces down the track, to see if there might be a cornerstone, but didn’t find one. I took a lot of pictures and told Buddy that I wanted to take my time as I would never be back there. He, however, rushed me as it was getting late. It was already 4:30 and we were on the backside of that mountain and it was getting cold and a little dark.
We had to travel that difficult path again. It was very difficult to get to that church, but that was our goal.
Jeremiah 18:15-16 says “Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up; To make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head.” Our county, state, and nation has forgotten the ancient paths. That is why our churches are empty — our country is on a path of destruction.
Jeremiah 6:16-17 says, “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.” There are few that are walking in the old paths and attending church. There are few that are hearing the sound of the trumpet, or the church bell that it is time to worship the Lord.
My prayer for our country is this: Psalms 25:4 “Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths.”
We finally got back to the bridge and again I noticed the sidewalk. Very strange to have a sidewalk here, I thought again. We crossed the bridge and went back to Mom’s. I called Dad to come look at my pictures. He explained the sidewalk. There used to be a train depot there! AHA! Sidewalk mystery solved. Then he explained the stone wall. There used to be another church there, but it didn’t face down the track, it faced the other church. Dad said that St. John Baptist Church used to be operated by white people and the one with the stone wall was operated by black people. When the white people left, the black people tore their church down and used the white people church, which is what is barely left standing.
I had told Buddy that day that I would never be back to those churches, and that I would never put myself through what I had went through that day, just to get a picture! But…..I have to go back. There’s a picture I missed and I want to make sure I get it. All the way back down that difficult path to St. John Baptist Church.
© Post & photos: D. Renee Bolden