We came across the old church on the road from Gatlinburg to Cherokee. The church sits on a ridge high above the roadway near a clear water fast flowing creek but back up in the trees on the mountainside. It wasn’t too far back up the hillside so we thought that we’d make the short hike – that it wouldn’t be too hard even on old knees although we worried that it was cold and damp and the wet leaves would make the trail a little too slippery. We meandered up the path taking our time pausing to check out the long metal pipe sticking straight out from a bubbling spring. If we’d had a good bucket we would have filled it up and enjoyed a good cold drink of cool spring water….straight out of the heart of the mountain.
We came to the church not expecting the door to be open but hoping for a peek inside. But the door was open as if waiting for the long forgotten congregation to come on in for the Sunday morning service…..as I imagined it had been for the past hundred years or so. I cannot say that this was sacred ground. The Park Service may have moved the building here when it was restored in 1912….out of convenience, I suppose. And yet, when we entered, we lowered our voices out of some sense of respect or, perhaps, out of awe at the thought that people had joined together here, in this place, to worship God through the years.
The church was so quiet on this day, beautiful in its simplicity – bare wooden benches worn smooth over time, a single pulpit with another old bench to serve as an altar. But this church would not always have been so quiet and still. The old building would have been a bustling place as the congregation made their way inside after coming up the mountain on horseback or in wagons, all decked out in their Sunday best – long muslin dresses and black woolen suits – ready to greet their friends with handshakes and hugs and to hear the word of the Lord at least one Sunday every month from the preacher riding circuit ministering to the few churches in the hills.
“I am the way, the truth, and the light. No man cometh unto the Father except by me.” 1 And, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” 2
Words of love for people who lived hard lives filled with work, day in and day out, just to eke out a living off the land. They would have nodded their heads and called out, “Amen”, to the preacher’s reminder to keep God’s word in their hearts and his blessings would rain down upon them.
And they’d all sing the old hymns about grace and the cross and coming back to the Lord,
“Just as I am without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bid’st me, come to thee.
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”3
There would be prayers, heads bowed, soft words sent up to the heavens asking for forgiveness and help for the sick and bedridden and about thankfulness for crops that had come in, bills that had been paid, and storms that had been weathered…….prayers and songs rising up to God through the old wooden rafters.
We also paused for a moment to say our own silent prayer – thankfulness for gifts received and a small request for safe passage back home through the mountains. Then we were back on our way leaving the church empty and silent once again yet for the prayers and memories and long forgotten hymns from a hundred years ago.
- Bible, New Testament, King James Version (KJV), John 14:6.
- Bible, New Testament, King James Version (KJV), John 3:16.
- “Just as I Am, Without One Plea”; Text: Charlotte Elliott, 1789-1871; Music: William B. Bradbury, 1816-1868; Tune: WOODWORTH, Meter: LM