Stephen, Carol and the uniformed state assistant approached the familiar old church. Carol reflected on the numerous times she and Stephen had strolled this same sidewalk over the last twenty-one years. How many friends and strangers had they greeted and chatted with on the way to anticipated services and activities?
Stepping up to the wooden carved door, the state assistant reached into his breast pocket and retrieved the keys. The young man struggled with the stubborn dead bolt lock..
“You have to put your weight against it,” Stephen instructed him.
Taking Stephen’s advice, the door finally gave way. Upon entering, Stephen stared for a moment at the silent sanctuary stretched before them. Cold and lifeless, it seemed to long for the warmth of joyful inhabitants. Footsteps echoing against empty walls and pews, they all made their way to the front. Stephen stepped up on the stage to check the hidden shelves inside the pulpit. He searched for items he may have left behind; an extra Bible or book, reading glasses, whatever he might have kept handy while delivering sermons to the flock. Finding nothing, he rejoined Carol.
“I need to check the office,” Stephen requested of the stoic gentleman.
While Stephen searched his desk, she stepped up to the window to peer outside. The sun was shining brightly, however dark clouds in the distance hinted of an impending storm. There are storms that give warning, you can see or hear them, she thought. You have time to prepare...
Turning, she found Stephen standing beside her, holding a book he found. She had given it to him for his birthday. She smiled faintly as he guided her towards the door. She was fairly certain there weren’t many other items left behind when they packed last week. However, this was a ‘courtesy’ given them, one last walk-through.
“Is there anywhere else you would like to check?” Stephen asked, exiting the office.
“The classroom,” she started towards the end of the hall.
Stephen opened the door for Carol and turned on the light. Carol made her way to the middle of the room. Miniature chairs encircled her as if invisible children filled them. Memories flooded her mind as she thought back to the years she lead her pre-school Sunday classes. Her throat tightened as she thought how she would give anything right now to teach just one more. What would she feed those young, impressionable minds today? How would she warn them of things to come? How would she guide and advise them now? Would sweet stories of Jesus healing a blind man and walking on water be enough?
Carol choked back tears, refusing emotions to erupt as she walked over to the cabinets. Pushing aside scissors, glue, glitter and construction paper, she searched. At the back of the last cabinet her eyes fell on a familiar piece of folded yellow construction paper. With a strange feeling of anticipation she reached for it and unfolded it. She focused on a stick-figured lady with scribbled yellow hair, standing before smaller stick figures. The lady was holding a box... no, it was a book. She knew it was a Bible. Colors and lines blurred together as she swept tears from her eyes. She remembered a harmless and kinder time when this picture was handed to her by a shy, dark-haired girl named Cecilia.
“Thank you for teaching me about Jesus,” she simply said with a sweet smile.
The three silent companions exited the building with blank expressions. Carol paused to take one last look. Her eyes rose to the steeple. She tried not to react in shock as she noticed the cross was no longer there. She almost reached out to bring it to Stephen’s attention, but stopped herself. This was only the inevitable. Soon all churches would be called Community Meditation Centers, places where people would gather to participate in “non-religious” meditation. God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and salvation would only be considered bleak superstitions of the past. Devoted pastors like Stephen were now replaced by ‘service leaders’, delivering words of ‘reflection’ and ‘enlightenment’.
Stephen wrapped an arm around Carol’s shoulder and lead her away from the past into an uncertain future. Carol laid her head on his shoulder. Recalling Psalm 90:1, she breathed a prayer. “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. You alone will always be our dwelling place. Amen.”
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