“This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine”…….
On January 7, 2012, Buddy and I started this adventure of visiting the churches in McDowell County, West Virginia. Unfortunately, we did not get to visit as many as we would have liked. We still have many more to go.
This is what I have seen….in reality and in my mind’s eye.
All of the houses that we passed to go to one of the churches are standing. The houses are occupied, lights are on everywhere and the community is filled with life up and down the streets and rows! We are prosperous.
McDowell County is supplying the nation with coal, as we ARE the nation’s coal bin! Welch has one of the first parking garages in the nation built, downtown is full of banks, shops, and theaters. The lights from downtown light up the night sky! It is Little New York, the Free State of McDowell!
It is Sunday and in all the churches, I see people sitting in the pews and standing all around as there are no seats to be had. The children sing, “This Little Light of Mine”, the Gospel is preached, then the pianist plays “Amazing Grace” as the congregation sings. I can see them even now, as their light shines bright into the community.
Time flies as the hands on the clock circle unimaginably fast.
There are some empty houses now in the community, and not as many lights shining on the streets and rows. Many people have moved to find work elsewhere, due to the fact that there are no jobs to be had or because of the raging waters that claimed their home. Coal is still being mined, but the people are not benefiting from it as they once were. A few shops in town have closed and the theaters. Lights are still shining downtown, though!
It is Sunday and my view is heartbreaking to say the least. I see a few empty seats, here and there. The hands on the clock continue to move. Then I see a few more empty seats. The hands are never failing on that old clock. It keeps ticking.
In half the churches, I see a few children still singing “This Little Light of Mine”, the Gospel is still being preached, and the pianist still sits at the piano playing “Amazing Grace” as the small congregation sings. I see them leaving now to come back next meeting time to this church house. It’s light continues to shine in the community.
In the other half of the churches, I see a handful of parishioners gathered with the pastor. I hear “Amazing Grace” being sung, but with no music as there is no pianist. I hear them talking. I’m not sure of the words that are being said, although I can tell they are words that these few never wanted to speak. I can feel the ominous meaning of them. I see them leaving now, not to return next meeting time to this church house. It’s light goes out in the community.
That old clock keeps ticking, just the same.
Many of the houses in the community have fallen in. No one has lived in them for years. Just as a body that has no life, the earth claims them with gravity, decay, and flood. There are a few standing. Some are occupied. There are a few lights on the streets and rows. Coal is being mined. There are not many people left to mine coal as machines now do what men used to. Mining is now all evaluations and regulations. Only a dress shop and a consignment shop now remain downtown. There are a few professional offices. The lights still shine at night….though somewhat dimmer.
It is Sunday, and some of those churches that had to close their doors are as the houses in the community. Gravity has pulled in the walls and ceilings. Their steeples have crashed into the pews and beautiful wooden floors beneath. Pianos are underneath the collapsed walls, ceilings, and steeples. Those ivory keys will never again play “Amazing Grace.”
Down the road, just a little ways, though, I can faintly hear sweet little voices in harmony: “Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” A pause as I hear the clanking of a coal train in the distance. Then much louder I hear someone starting to play old ivory keys to the tune of a beautiful song, and on cue, voices singing in unison: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound”…….
Tick, Tock, Tick.
I have always considered myself an optimist; however, before I reviewed the churches we had visited, I was convinced there were more closed churches than open. I was surprised to learn that they are even. We visited 35 churches. Of those churches, 16 are open, 16 are closed, 2 are used for missions, and 1 moved to another building. Those churches that continue to operate are still letting their light shine!
By doing this project, we have met and talked to so many wonderful people. For those of you I have I have met and talked to, thank you for your help, stories and encouraging conversations! For those I have yet to meet, I can’t wait to visit your church! Remember to keep your light shining as we still have amazing grace!
Thanks to all who have read the blogs and newspaper articles, encouraged us to keep going, and those who went with us on the journeys!
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.