If I hadn’t slowed down intentionally I would have missed it for sure–even though the sign was large, it was hidden behind overgrown trees that blocked it from view until it was almost too late. The road sloped down to the right in a westerly direction; great green-grassed ditches were on either side of the pavement. In the distance the road disappeared around the bend and into the trees.
“I have to set the stage for you,” said my Aunt, and I slowed to a stop there in the road. There is very little traffic in this part of rural Kentucky, and the road we’ve turned on is even more rarely frequented. I didn’t even think to turn on my flashers as we sat there. “In this town there is a hotel. There is a train depot and railroad track. There are restaurants; there are little streets and houses.”
“Right now?” I was excited at the thought of seeing a little, well-preserved town.
But she shook her head. “No. Well…you’ll see.”
We drove on, she telling me about how my grandfather, who grew up in the area, would drive a horse and wagon down to this town to take grain to be ground, or something like that. Yes, a horse and wagon–I’m not sure what year that would have been, but I believe it’s safe to say that things progressed a little more slowly out there. The farmhouse my grandparents moved into when they married in 1945 had no indoor plumbing or electricity. (This was a quite shock for my poor grandmother, a city girl from Detroit, and whenever she retold the story to us I’m sure she relished our astonishment and sympathy.)
“…Your father and uncles could probably tell you more than I could,” my Aunt said of the little town we were traveling to, and then we came over the hill and saw it.
Or, we didn’t see it.
There is nothing there. A crossroads in the midst of a grassy field. The remnant of the railroad is still out there somewhere, decayed and unused for years. A few houses sit up on the hill. One looks very old. Two are little more than shacks, and two more are double-wides in need of a pressure washing. There are soybeans growing in a field where the part of the town must have been. It was once a thriving community (with a hotel!). It is totally gone.
Well, not completely gone. There is that old house on the hill that must have been there quite some time. There is also one building left standing, and it’s the building we really came to see. Goshen Baptist Church still sits up on a hill, just down a bit from the empty crossroads, its newish sign proudly proclaiming the name of the congregation and the year it was formed–nearly two hundred years ago.
There was a trembling sort of moment when I realized that I was, literally, at a site that had seen times and technologies change, the years come and go, and the only thing that survived was the Church. Only the Church. The Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ–and everything else was gone and trampled and beaten down into a grassy field and an acre of soybeans.
We may be holding on to many things, but are we actually holding on to something that will endure?
I could write more on the subject, but I will leave things here, I think.
Through every age, eternal God,
Thou art our rest, our safe abode;
High was thy throne ere heav’n was made,
Or earth thy humble footstool laid.
Teach us, O Lord, how frail is man;
And kindly lengthen out our span,
Till a wise care of piety
Fit us to die, and dwell with thee.
Psalm 90 by Isaac Watts (read the whole poem here)