By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
It sits by itself, beside a gravel road adjacent to rolling pasture land.
It is a solid-looking, if somewhat nondescript building, clad in Silverdale stone, with a set of concrete steps out front and a handicap ramp sloping off to one side.
The building is one of thousands of small rural churches whose heyday has come and gone, and whose congregation has dwindled as the years have passed. The main level is taken up by the sanctuary, with classrooms and the small fellowship area in the basement.
Residents of the robust southern Kansas farming community first decided to build a church in the late 1800s. A local farmer donated the land, and the church was dedicated Oct. 29, 1890.
And there it stood until one stormy summer day in 1940, when lightning struck and the building burned to the ground. That was a Saturday. The next day, 37 members of the congregation held their worship service just across the street from the ruined building.
That Oct. 29, a half-century after the dedication of the original church, the cornerstone for the new building was laid.
For decades, the walls of this old church rang with the sounds of praise and the laughter of children.
Dozens of preachers have delivered hundreds of sermons there, on occasion prompting one or more in attendance to nod off in the old wooden pews.
Thousands of prayers have been lifted within its confines, all answered, in one form or another.
The strains of hymns have risen to the high ceiling, offered by voices both strong and weak.
Children have been taught the gospel and, occasionally, taught to be silent when mother says so, within the little old church.
Parents have watched and listened with pride as their offspring have performed in various programs, portraying Biblical characters and offering songs ranging from “Jesus Loves Me” to “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.”
These days, the building is vacant much of the time, save for Sunday mornings. Many families have moved away and even more longtime members have gone on to their eternal reward.
For the bulk of the week, the old church sits isolated and a bit forlorn, standing steadfast against the onslaught of time and the ceaseless wind.
On a recent weekend, however, the little church was alive and bustling.
A young man whose family’s roots date to the construction of the first church building in 1890 was about to become the latest relative to be married in the its sanctuary.
The church hosted the wedding of the groom’s great aunt and uncle in 1957, of his grandmother and grandfather in 1961 and his uncle and aunt in 1989. The building also has been the site of many far sadder occasions. Numerous family funerals have been held in the little church, with burials following in the little cemetery just up the hill rising to the east.
The young man and his bride chose to marry in the tiny church to add to the family’s legacy within its walls.
The rehearsal was, as such occasions tend to be, loose and a bit free-wheeling. During rehearsals, things just don’t seem quite real, as if the whole affair is simply a bit of play-acting.
But on the day of the wedding, the heart beats just a bit faster, the jaw is set tighter and the laughter, such as it is, is of the nervous variety.
As the appointed time approached, the little church began to fill with family and friends of the bridal couple. It’s a good bet the last time this old building hosted this many people, it was for a funeral.
The music began, the crowd in the pews swelled and the principals moved into position.
The tiny church’s small narthex couldn’t hold all the wedding party, so they were forced to line up outside before making their entrance.
After the parents and grandparents were seated, the lanky groom, far more comfortable in blue jeans and camo than in a tuxedo and tie, strode purposefully to the front of the church with the preacher.
Next came the groomsmen and bridesmaids, the best man and maid of honor.
Finally, it was the appointed time. The pianist played the first notes of the wedding march, the congregation stood and the diminutive but beaming bride walked in, clinging to her father’s arm.
The train of her dress had become snagged on a rock just before she made her entrance from outside the church, causing a brief moment of consternation, but those looking on were none the wiser despite a few loose threads trailing along behind.
A wave of emotions played across her groom’s face as he watched his intended move down the aisle that has been trod by many branches of his family tree down the generations.
The old church seemed to glow with the joy of the occasion, and one could almost imagine the groom’s family members, whose earthly remains lie in the small cemetery, looking down from the hill and beaming with pride.
And the hearts of the young man’s relatives swelled, throats tightened and eyes moistened with pride, joy and a wave of bittersweet nostalgia as the building that has been the site of so much of the family’s joy and sorrow, offered its blessings on yet another generation.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.