I’ve always fancied myself a rebel of sorts.
In my head.
It’s rare that those thoughts of superhero viligante justice become actual events. Normally they just reside safely between my ears, where no one gets hurt, or more importantly annoyed.
But as you get older, you start to know when it’s time to “shit or get off the pot” faster, and faster. You begin to know and sense, “Ok, this is it. If I don’t do this now, I won’t be able to do it ever”, and the regret will weigh much heavier than any momentary anxiety from the act of doing it.
And so it was, that I found myself on a hot summer day this August, breaking and entering into an abandoned and condemned church building.
Because when you find out a place is going to be demolished, you know it’s time to, well, I better not say it again, or my boss and a few parishioners here and there might get frustrated. But when the shoe fits. . .I can’t help myself people!
Unfortunately in our society dilapidated buildings, churches, schools, homes, are simply the run of the mill. We drive by them, and think that someday maybe we would be able to have the energy and the money to revive them, and to breathe life back into them.
But we don’t.
And no one else does.
And each of those buildings mean something to someone. Or did. Life was lived there at one point. Things happened, memories were made. But it’s easy to shrug it off, or forget until you pass by it again.
Until it’s your building.
The place that means something to you, the place you lived life, the place where things happened. The place you made memories. The place you can’t forget.
The place that your parents met and fell in love, the place your father proposed to your mother only two weeks after meeting in the second pew, the place they were married, the place you and your brothers were baptized, the place you first sang in public, the place you first felt at home.
What happens when the building goes away? As a United Methodist Preacher’s kid, I am no stranger to not getting attached to buildings. Really. I get that we move and we do ministry where we are called, and that it’s about the people, and it’s about God.
But sometimes, if we are honest with ourselves, it is a little bit about the place. And you think you will always be able to drive by, always be able to show your daughters, always be able to know it’s still there doing what it does. And so it’s ok to “lose it”, it’s ok to move away, while it’s not an every day part of your life, it’s not something you can’t revisit.
Through an amazing renegade artist L’amour de la Mort, I became aware of the state of Lincoln Church. And it was heartbreaking, but at the same time beautiful to see. And I thought to myself, well, maybe I can plan a girls weekend with some friends that are photographers and have done some renegade photography.
And then I got pregnant.
So I put it off.
But after communicating briefly with my cousin, I found out that it was already fenced off, and set to be demolished, though he didn’t know a specific date.
Reason 1billion75thousandand4 as to why I love my husband and he is the one for me, when I said “Babe, I’m gonna need you to help me break into a church this Monday after Mom’s retirement party. . .” he was completely unfazed.
So we made as much of a plan as you can make, when planning to break into a condemned church.
My parents agreed to be the getaway car. We were leaving the girls with them for the week, so we would drive to Danville in separate cars, park one at the Pizza Inn (now called Jocko’s) and then drive over to the church for Nate and I to try to make our way in.
Nate and I got to Danville a little faster than Mom and Dad and chose to drive by the church. Well, it was as my cousin had described it. To the point that Nate didn’t want us to do it anymore. It looked that unsafe.
I was adamant and livid. I came to Danville with a plan. I was getting in that church with him or without him.
We went and ate at the Pizza Inn (Jocko’s-old habits die really, really, hard), the whole time I was abuzz with nervous and excited energy. Mom and Dad had driven by the church as well, and it was a classic gang up. Everyone thought it was a bad idea for the pregnant woman to break into the church. . .their passion and suggestion were met every single time with the fire of a thousand suns. Or, in more modern terms, we’re talking Teresa Giudice first season of Real Housewives of New Jersey gonna flip a table fire.
WAS NO ONE AWARE OF WHAT THE POINT OF COMING TO DANVILLE WAS? IT WAS TO GO IN THE CHURCH! I HAD SURROUNDED MYSELF WITH TRAITORS!
To be fair to the traitors, I had told no one about the fence and that it was that close to being demolished, the info my cousin had shared. We can call this “pregnancy brain” or we can call it being extremely cunning.
I think maybe the hope was that I would back down. So they would let me inch closer and closer to the prize, but I would chicken out at the last minute.
So here is where the story becomes hypothetical, like a story must when someone might have hypothetically might have done something seemingly illegal. So let’s just say IF we did break into the church, this is what it MIGHT have looked like.” I’m sure my awkward winks that are radiating at you at this point are getting the point across.
We got there in my parents car and I told Nate we were going to have to climb through the wheelchair ramp, and hope we could push that door open. There wasn’t a way to put a fence around that part of the church because the former parsonage sat so close to the house. There was simply yellow caution tape. Not stay out tape. Big difference.
Nate had to climb under, I was able to climb over the wheelchair ramp. If only jr. high Meredith could see me now, we wouldn’t have spent so many nights crying ourself to sleep, because we would have seen that one day that 36″ inseam was going to come in handy.
That door wouldn’t budge.
Nate thought we were done.
I jumped down off of the ramp into the fenced in part of the church and saw that a huge stained glass window was completely busted out and that it might be my only way in. We were then clearly someplace we probably weren’t supposed to be.
I looked and then looked at Nate. I think that was the moment I was the closest to calling it quits. But reason 1billion75thousandand5 of why I love my husband and know he is the one for me, he simply said, “If we’re doing this, we’re gonna need to do it” and proceeded to hoist me up and push me through the window. I toppled in and realized I might be doing this alone! What if I couldn’t get the door open to let Nate in?
At first I had the camera, and realized quickly I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I wasn’t going to be able to document and be present.
I had to simply be.
I had to touch and feel and see.
Everything was in disarray. And it was one of those moments, where you know you have to make a split second decision, I could either mourn, or I could embrace, and be grateful for what I was experiencing.
So my hands went over the grooves of the pews where I sat and learned of the love of Christ.
My feet tentatively stepped down the aisle I would run/walk with a haphazard ponytail and an acolyte robe that was way too big to light the candles.
My legs stepped up the steps to the chancel area where I sang my first solo.
My eyes looked out upon the pews, the view my Grandfather held so many times, imagining the people, and the lives, and the hearts.
Nate and I explored the rest of the church. The third floor gym had fallen to the ground floor.
I could see sky.
We made it to the basement, the fellowship hall where I ate so many casseroles, danced so many funny dances, “helped” get ice cream socials ready.
After a certain amount of time, I wanted to go. There is only so much soaking in to be done. Only so much reminiscing. Too much can get dangerous.
With a final look at the sanctuary, I thanked God for the opportunity to see and step in that formative place one last time.
And with the broken out stained glass windows, and the pipes from the organ strewn about the sanctuary, I felt the Holy Spirit’s presence in such a palpable way. The Holy Spirit is thick when time and space becomes blurry. And my heart was full with the knowledge that that was the point. Time, and space, and place, all change.
Ashes to ashes.
Dust to dust.
The thing that doesn’t change, is God.
You can know that, and you can say it, but whenever you are saying goodbye to a place for the last time, and you get to acknowledge it was never the place that formed you, it was the amazing consistent work of the Spirit in you in that place, that moment is Holy, and it is good.
Now, don’t get disappointed. We did get a little excitement. As we were ready to leave we almost got caught by a mailman, and had to quickly duck and lay low for awhile. As we ran to the getaway car, my parents urged us to hurry, as a car had been watching them for some time.
As soon as we were in we started screaming
“GO DAD! GO”
And my Dad’s face as he slammed on the gas and sped us all away, might have been worth the whole trip.
We made it to Pizza Inn (Jocko’s) and breathed a sigh of collective relief and laughed together. It was an experience I will never forget, and I am so incredibly thankful for a family who want to keep me safe, but are also willing to let me risk for incredible moments, and to feel like a rebel every once in a while.
Some have said this baby I’m carrying will inevitably be a rebel.
They’ve already broken in someplace.
A mother can only hope.
Well, hope, and pray.
peace to you,