“Antiques,” advertised the flaking wooden sign, hanging over the closed double doors of an old church planted on a rural Maine hillside.
Driving past with my husband, I had just enough time to glimpse the overgrown grass and darkened windows before the church faded from view. “How sad,” I said to Dana, who sat behind the wheel. “But also how appropriate.”
The sign seemed to describe how many people today view the church – as a strange relic from the past, like my grandmother’s opera glasses, which sit on a bookshelf in my office, a curiosity that is no longer relevant in the modern age.
My grandparents were great collectors of antiques but not great churchgoers. Their faded parlor chairs sit beside a window in my living room. Their early-American hutch holds their musty volumes of Barnaby Rudge, The Arabian Nights, and Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Their six-foot wooden chest contains our children’s board games.
Last year I tried to sell their 18th century, cannonball beds on Facebook – $500 for both. I knew they were worth more but needed the cash. One woman considered cutting them down to size for her grandchildren but didn’t call back. The owner of an inn offered $200, roughly the same price you’d pay for a pair of beds at Walmart. So I held on to them.
My grandparents also belonged to the First Parish Church in York Village, a stately affair with a towering steeple. Built in 1747, the church is itself an antique: the oldest continuously operating religious society in Maine. Yet my grandparent’s association with the church was formal, more like belonging to the local country club or Freemasons, of which they were also members.
Yet, the church I know isn’t an exclusive club or secret society. The church I know is a place that is free and open to all. It is a place where the young and old, singles and families, members and non-members can worship God and grow in their faith together while building genuine relationships and serving their communities. Even more, the church represents the body of Christ.
So why are so many churches no longer in use, like the one now advertising antiques? Maybe people are too busy. Or they no longer appreciate the value of something old. Maybe the message no longer feels relevant. Or the church has let them down.
Whatever the reason, living at a time in which anxiety, loneliness and general discontent are increasing, I wonder if some of our struggles might be related to our decreasing church attendance.
People today may no longer fill their homes with 18th century furniture. Yet, not everything old is outdated. Some things – like going to church – are worth holding on to.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes from a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Best Birthday and four other books celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith. Connect at www.meadowrue.com