Empty church

Here’s the church

here’s the steeple

open the doors

see no people

We went anyway, my husband and I, on this dark Sunday.

Sanctuary silence. Stillness. Social distance.

But still a sermon, for social media.

A few friends, who filmed.

Here’s the preacher

in spite of the scares

here he is

saying our prayers

No hymns, no music, no choir except birdsong beyond the hallowed halls:

I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m fre

An ill wind moaning under the eaves, an unseen person pulling on locked doors:

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world below
There is no sickness, toil, or danger
In that bright land to which I go…

I went to see. Found no one but me. The sky so moody, the day so broody, like forces dark. Sickness makes its mark. It lurks nearby and that is why—no immunity, no community, Day of Prayer, no one there. In the shadow of the steeple, no people; it’s safer to be home. The Vatican says there’ll be no Easter services in Rome.

Penitents without one plea. Lenten lament, mourning this morning.

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

The songbirds sing, the recorder runs, Scripture is spoken.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Only an interlude of isolation. Will be our preservation.

My husband, the preacher, prays without his congregation.

I bow, and feel a sudden warmth from the stained-glass.

The sun, at last.


Quotations: “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple” nursery rhyme, adapted; John 8:12.

Hymns: His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Wayfaring Stranger, Morning Has Broken

Photos: J. Pearce. 03/15/2020.

25 thoughts on “Empty church

  1. Fran, I didn’t expect social media would ever make me feel connected to church, but it has through your faith and that of a couple other women. I gave up on organized religion a long time ago. I didn’t give up on my faith, although the political climate has shaken it.

    I sang all those songs growing up. I did the hand movements w/ “here is the church/here is the steeple.” Who thought we’d see this day when church is the thing so many are required to give up. I do hope this line is true: “ Only an interlude of isolation. Will be our preservation.” Perhaps that interlude will cause people to turn back to the light, as your final line suggests: “The sun at last.” The double consciousness of that line says it all: The church May be empty, but the Lord is with the faithful.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Glenda – how your words strike deep at my heart. I can understand the distaste for organized religion – many contradictory and horrific things have been done in the name of it. There’s lots of lip service to belief without actions that embody it … yet I believe God still loves his broken, broken world, and not from a distance; He is in the very midst. He remains. That rhyme, “Here is the church/ here is the steeple/ open the doors/ see all the people” returned to me with such a pang when I went yesterday and there were no people. My father taught me the hand motions, helped me make them, when I was little – it is one of my earliest memories and very dim. I was raised in church, drifted away in my teenage years, married young, and my husband went into the pastorate shortly thereafter. I found myself a pastor’s wife at 22 and felt completely unworthy. I never expected the church to be my life. We have served but we have also been served. As my husband puts it – the church put food on our table and clothes on our backs – we never had a need that wasn’t met. Our children had dozens of grandparents. Both of our sons are now in ministry – one a pastor, the other, a music director. So to tell others not to come – COVID-19 has reared its tiny head in nearby communities – is haunting. I hardly have words for it at all, just fragments like I wrote in the post. We will continue to go to the church ourselves and to record the sermons. It is Lent, THE time for hope and renewal; and my hope is that we as humans come through with a deeper appreciation for our connectedness, a greater love for one another, and our faith immeasurably strengthened. Thank you for these words from your heart, Glenda – for seeing those meanings in my lines. I am grateful for you. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing about these moments and I love how you weaved in poems and songs from long ago. It does feel weird to be more connected socially through media than face to face. These are truly historic times. I can’t believe it’s happening…I know it’s going to be important to be strong of faith in these times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Strange, strange times, indeed – I wonder if, paradoxically, having to remain apart for a time will somehow draw us closer together. One can hope … but already I am hearing of great things faith communities are doing to help. How one tiny virus has toppled everything! Here’s to rising and being our best selves. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I will pray for your rabbi’s strength, wisdom, and courage. And for the health of all your congregation. It’s a time of endurance and spiritual renewal (cleansing?) for us all – for we are all connected.


  3. You pulled from some of my favorite hymns. This was a beautiful and calming Slice to read. Next week my church services are canceled and I think my preacher is going to give a sermon from her home. Thank you for this moment of calm in the storm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We had not planned to cancel services yesterday, but the governor shut down all schools on Saturday and we learned that COVID-19 is in neighboring communities. The network of local ministers in our association chose to close and to go online. The emptiness was so immense … the stillness so great … I took solace that it’s in the name of safety, that it’s temporary… I am glad you found peace and some of your beloved hymns. Oh, how they return to mind, ever-powerful, in the silence …


  4. The quiet rhyme and rhythm of this piece pulled me in. I prefer quiet, dark sanctuaries to packed pews; this scenario would be my perfect place to pray. When it really boils down to it, it doesn’t take much for faith to continue, blossom, grow, does it? A well-spoken sermon, heartfelt prayer, maybe a well-loved hymn or two. A beam of sunlight and a whisper of birdsong to revel in Creation. No great theatrics, booming bands, professionally designed pulpits necessary.
    Thanks for taking me to church today. I needed this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is a return to fundamentals, for sure – you’re so right about a blessed freedom from all the popular trappings of worship services. It IS more worshipful, more holy. A reconnection with the Creator. I’ve reminded myself this is a means of keeping people (my church family) safer – not because they’ve already been struck down as in pandemics of the past. Buying time for healing. Depending on wisdom and grace
      – and keeping hopes up. I am finding solace in it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. These are strange and uncertain times. Preaching without a congregation and teaching without a class. Thankful we have the technology to stay connected. Thank you to you and your husband for your service to your congregation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It will get stranger and harder – but then, better. I believe it. Our strength lies in our ability to endure … technology will help us do so. I wonder about pandemics long ago, when isolation REALLY meant isolation, how people endured. Thank you for your encouraging words!


  6. I am struck by your poem’s ability to connect us regardless of our faith traditions. The exchanges here in the comments restore and bolster my own faith in our humanity. Thank you for sharing these sharp images and the emotions they inspire.And Glenda’s final words jump out at me, too: “The double consciousness of that line says it all: The church May be empty, but the Lord is with the faithful.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • There’s as much – more! – in the comments here as in the post; I am deeply gratified to know they “restore and bolster” your “faith in humanity.” That’s powerful. It means a tremendous deal to me, Sherri – thank you for telling me. And I bask in Glenda’s line. And in yours.


  7. This was a captivating read. I love the way you switched back and forth between snippets of published poetry and your thoughts. For all of the negative that surrounds our interconnection through social media, this is an instance where it is a blessing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right?! We know technology is a great (and sometimes utterly annoying) tool – it is rare for us to realize it can be a blessing. I heard another preacher say “Thank God for technology.” I imagine that is not something they say every day (I KNOW it isn’t). Thank you for your response; I am happy to know you enjoyed reading. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Your lines, your poetry, your urgency interspersed with the lines of rhymes, scripture and song made this post memorable. Though I do not have a church I call my own here in Ottawa, I was there with you in church today, and I remembered all the reasons why attending held such a special place in my life for so long even as you talked about the missing people. This is “only an interlude of isolation” and, with prayers like these, we will make it through. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Amanda. Fortunately, we’re connected in so many other ways – although it is not the same. I am glad if the post stirred memories of special times and people at church. I always appreciate your insights and your warm, lively spirit 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Our churches are the people – and we have expanded that definition with face to face and virtual gatherings – as you described.
    This post was moving for me. I loved the ending: “the sun at last” I was thinking this could also say “the Son at last!”
    Sending prayers all remain healthy – you are doing wonderful work

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Such a powerful slice and so meaningful. You wove it together so beautifully and everyone’s comments have surely captured that. These are unprecedented times for sure and we have to believe that fear will be overwhelmed by much greater and more powerful forces through love, and yes, God is still in control!


  11. Such a powerful slice and so meaningful. You wove it together so beautifully and everyone’s comments have surely captured that. These are unprecedented times for sure and we have to believe that fear will be overwhelmed by much greater and more powerful forces through love, and yes, God is still in control!


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