Move over, O McLeansboro, Illinois. Move right on over.
Join me now, gentle reader, from the air-conditioned comfort of your computer desk, for a stroll around my hot, dry little North Carolina town, replete as it is with churches of many vintages.
We’ll start at the COVNTY COVRT HOVSE. The Covunty Covert Hovuss, as Enoch Emery would doubtless pronounce it were he with us, dominates and anchors the uptown landscape — I actually once overheard some person on a cell phone, outside the Covert Hovuss, referring to his whereabouts as “uptown” — and gives this town a reason to exist. Anyway, it’s an imposing piece of civic architecture, and I think it sets a certain tone.
A few steps to the south of the Covert Hovuss we find, first, the Emmanuel Lutheran Church.
This area was heavily settled by Germans back in the day; there’s also a significant Moravian population in North Carolina. Emmanuel Lutheran’s a pretty church, with a Luther Rose in relief over the red doors, which is how we knew, before we saw the sign, that it wasn’t the Episcopal Church.
This week, as you can see, the Lutherans happen to be having Family Bible Week, doing a thing called “Crocodile Dock.” I know, I know. I can’t get that song out of my head now, either. But there it is. Imagine how much worse it must be for them.
Rounding the square to the west, we come next upon the Presbyterian Church.
Like the Lutheran church, it’s got that sort of neo-Gothic thing going on, and it stands next to a lovely, shady little pocket park where my children like to play. I could not help noticing, as I passed, that they too are doing “Crocodile Dock” this week. Hm.
Let us proceed in peace around the square to the north, passing the bakery, the coffee shop, the bike shop, the discount furniture place, the “Sell Your Stuff on eBay” store, and the restaurant, which has a name of its own but is known colloquially and universally by its owner’s name: “Osama’s.” We are a diverse ten thousand souls, living in this major metropolitan area.
At any rate, we’re now heading east on Main Street, and what do we see? Well, lots of things, actually, but in the way of churches, there’s this:
This is the Freedom Church. My teenager says that I should have taken a picture of their window display: “all those flowers and stuff.” Next time. That’s the carp juice store next door, by the way. I could not have made that up.
Across from the Freedom Church we discover the First Methodist Church, under renovation this summer, which makes it look abandoned. Ordinarily they have beautiful early-twentieth-century opalescent glass in those windows, but it’s all out being restored right now.
At the corner of Main and Cedar stands what I think was once the First Baptist Church, built at roughly the same time as First Methodist, possibly by the same architects. This is today not the First Baptist Church, but the . . . uh . . . Covunty Cuvultural Center. Not sure where the Baptists went.
That is, I know they’re still around. My ninety-five-year-old neighbor, Mrs. Bee McCutcheon, has invited me on at least one occasion to visit the First Baptist Church. It’s just that I don’t know where they keep it these days.
Here’s Emmanuel Reformed Church, also on Main Street.
Apparently everyone wants to be like the Lutherans: their Vacation Bible School, their church name . . . I do think, though I’m not absolutely positive, that they were here before the Reformed and had dibs on “Emmanuel.” But then, how do you have dibs on God With Us?
Here, on Cedar Street, is the Episcopal Church, whose quiet churchyard is home to a number of prominent local Confederate dead.
We’ll conclude our tour on my own street, which has a couple of churches more or less in the Freedom Church vein, without the operating budget.
This church, The Way and Truth Restoration Center, once held a fundraiser: a call for donations, really. It is a church composed largely of middle-aged women and eleven-year-old boys, if comings and goings are anything to judge by, and on this particular day an eleven-year-old boy had been deputized to sit out front, presiding over a table of resin rabbit figurines. A sign taped to the table indicated that the passerby might be moved to exchange some cash for one of these figurines. Passing by, my five-year-old and I consulted with each other — she really, really, really likes resin rabbit figurines — and came up with a dollar to give to the boy.
As the five-year-old was deliberating over the figurines, a middle-aged lady appeared in the doorway. “Baby,” she said, “you gave a dollar. Take four.” Apparently they weren’t expecting donations of more than a quarter.
You will have noticed perhaps that our walking tour has not taken us past the Catholic church. This is because you can’t so easily walk to the Catholic church; it’s four miles out in the country to the west of town. Here’s the view from the highway:
As I’ve said before, the Angel of the Perpendicular Style managed to forget Saint Dorothy’s somehow. Fortunately for us, however, there are things about this church which aren’t obvious to the naked eye, at least not from the highway.
But we’ll save all that for another time.