Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Holy week stories--Zion Pres
Somewhere in Nebraska. Somewhere south of here. Somewhere in the eastern part of the state--that's about it. I don't remember where exactly, not that it's the kind of attraction that would bring in the tourists.
That's where I found it, standing there just off the road, on gravel, across from a cemetery, all the ingredients of a dead church once upon a time named Zion Pres. Not all of such ruins are Presbyterian out here. Many are Lutheran, some on the reservation are Episcopal; they come in all flavors, although size is fairly standard on the edge of the Plains.
They conjure a time when there were more people on the land, when every two or four miles a school with a bell stood out in a corner of cropland, a place with an outhouse and kids--maybe twenty--because far more families were around back then, far more kids in those old families. You needed kids to farm, to make it on the land.
Finally, even all those kids weren't enough. Nor was 160 acres. Nor were the horses. And so, for more than a century already, Zion Presbyterian and churches like it withered away, not because of some dalliance with modernity or women preachers or death-like conservatism. Churches died because their people left the neighborhood. They died because the kids left, and what's an institution to do when it has no kids, no future? They died because people did, a couple hundred just across the road.
Birds flew in, and weeds grew through the cracks in the sidewalk. For a while, vandals did what vandals do. The people who own the place got told by an insurance man that the only way to protect themselves from lawsuit would be to make sure nobody got in the place anymore. "I don't care what you do really, but you've got to protect your interests--put some 2 by 12s up over the front door, you know? Do something," that friendly insurance man must have said.
You can cry for the church, but as long as you're at it, let a few tears fall for the whole neighborhood too--and the school, already long gone, I'm sure. It's life and death on the Plains.
As it was even before its demise, this old country church is a startling image. For some of us, believers, it's even a little scary. those demanding planks barring the door a symbol of repression, devout Christians who can't not choose to bake a cake for people whose marriage they cannot condone, or "Happy Holidays" taking the place of "Merry Christmas," a battle cry in the Trump crusade.
But at Zion Pres the story is different. No one is afraid. No one is persecuted. The sadness--although it's not profound--is not that Zion Pres did something wrong, but that most all of the residents of the area live across the street beneath granite stones in a graveyard that could use some cleaning up. Truth be known, they're all gone too. No one wants in anymore.
The image is not only sad but foreboding. A locked wreck of a church makes fears grow in the hearts and souls of believers. Look again.
I can't help thinking this week that the barred doors of Zion Pres, way out in the country, suggest what the followers of Jesus felt late Thursday night, and all day Friday and Saturday: It's over. The whole five-loaves-and-two-fishes thing, the "blessed are the peacemakers,'' the flipped temple table, a bunch of suicidal pigs, Lazarus in a winding sheet, dinners with harlots and crooked pols, and that kid thing, too--you remember? "Go on and let them come sit in my lap," he said, "see if you can learn something." And then that wry smile.
It was done. Finished. Over. Time to go back to boats and nets and H and R Block. It was fun for a while, a real kick. Sometimes they thought the whole thing just might upset the whole Roman apple cart, you know?
And then Golgatha.
It's over. The good times are behind us, the people long gone.
It had to be something like that, something like Zion Pres, somewhere out on some lonesome gravel road, dying.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:20 AM