Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Southern Churches

Summerton United Methodist Church
Don’t you just LOVE Southern Churches? I’m not talking about the monster mega-churches you might find in larger cities. I’m talking about small town churches—you know, the ones that have been there forever and are filled with families who have been attending the same church for generations. These unique places are not only houses of worship—which is their primary and most important function—they are also places that are the social, moral and charitable centers of many areas, villages and towns all over the South.
Taw Caw Missionary Baptist Church
Nathaniel Hawthorn wrote in The Scarlet Letter, “The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized that among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.” Around these necessary cemeteries, churches were usually built. In later years, churches moved away from that practice; however, small Southern churches remain essential centers of small Southern towns.
Summerton Presbyterian Church
I personally love taking photos of picturesque churches as I travel around the South. I am fascinated with the architecture of them. Some are gleaming white clapboards. Some are red brick monoliths. Some have grand columns. Some have bell towers, and others have steeples. Some have elaborate stained glass windows, and some have artless glass through which the sun streams brilliantly. Some churches are simple, and some are grand. Doors can be doubled or single or even configured with multiple sets of accesses, which I often wonder if they were designed to allow for a rush into or out of a particular church. Perhaps the congregation put them there to accommodate for overzealous preachers stepping on too many toes on Sunday mornings.
The unique architectures do not end on the outsides of those buildings. Inside, distinctive features can be found, as well. Carved wooden alters, elaborate cornice work, old timber floors, curved pews, grand lecterns and clergy chairs and more decorate the interiors. Some have ornate chandeliers, columns, tapestries, statues, and even balconies. Because churches are centers of worship, many are decorated with the very best a congregation can buy; however, do not dismiss the simplistic beauty of humble places of worship because many of them have an allure with which grandeur cannot compare. Sometimes I’d like to think that God may like them best, but, then, this isn’t a discussion about religion.
St. Matthais Episcopal Church
I have particularly fond memories of attending a small, Southern church when I was a child. I loved dressing up in my finery on Sunday mornings with my little patent leather shoes, listening to old hymns echo through a lofty building and being amazed at the way the sun streamed through the textured windows and illuminated all that was around me. The church ladies would comment on my little dresses or bows, and I would run and play with my friends on the grounds after the service had ended. Ah, childhood! But I digress.
Summerton, South Carolina, the small town in which I live now, is populated with varied and beautiful churches of all sorts and all denominations. Taw Caw Missionary Baptist church (which is filled with the most INTERESTING history ever), St. Matthias Episcopal Church, Summerton United Methodist Church, Summerton Baptist Church, Liberty Hill AME Church, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Summerton Presbyterian Church, Andrews Chapel, Calvary Baptist Church, and believe it or not, many others anchor the extremely small town! Churches are a serious business in the South!
Summerton Baptist Church
One can learn a great deal about a town and its people by attending a small town church. Is the congregation formal or informal? Are the people friendly or aloof? Are they focused on local charity or on missions in foreign counties? All are important elements to consider as far as differences go, but there are some similarities in small Southern churches, as well.
Southern churches are great places to celebrate all of life’s big events: weddings, baptisms, christenings, Christmases and Easters. They are essential to making connections, personal and professional. They are places where you are taught the morals and mores of local society. Some have schools, and many have daycare centers. They are places where you are held to standards, and if you fall away from those standards, there are always the ubiquitous “church ladies” who will try to keep you straight, if they can. Many times churches are places of love and acceptance, and they will be the place from which you’ll receive meals when you are ill, cards or calls when you go missing, invitations to worship at special events, and visits from the minister at your home or in the hospital when you are leaving this earth.
One of the most important social features of Southern churches is the breaking of bread together. Again, I’m not talking about the more reverent “Communion of Saints;” I’m talking about Sunday dinners on special occasions. It is called by many names: homecoming, dinner on the grounds, church suppers, church socials, potluck dinners, fellowship dinners. No matter the name, it involves eating the most delicious food you’ve ever tasted. Why? Because that’s when all the ladies break out their special recipes to show off their cooking skills! And if those ladies have ever gotten together to publish a cookbook, well, you’d better buy one because they are filled with the best recipes in the region!
St. Mary's Catholic Church
I could go on forever—especially about the food—but that would be tedious to readers. In summation, many good things come from Southern churches. They are places to connect, to understand the culture and town, to admire beauty inside and outside the buildings, to learn and to teach, to give and to receive, but no matter the reasons that bring you to the buildings, they are first and foremost places to worship as you choose, if you choose.