Everything started moving fast after Easter weekend. The title search revealed the only deed ever issued on the property was to a Civil War veteran in 1886. He was buried in a nearby cemetery in 1889 which means there is a 26 year gap between his death and the year the church was built. That is still a mystery for now, but we own a historic property for sure. We mailed out and posted our letters to warn him and the “occupiers” and/or “owners” that we would be taking legal possession of the property if they didn’t respond. He obviously didn’t respond.
Our awesome legal team worked to get all of our paperwork written up correctly – we are sooooo thankful for them! And on October 21, 2014, the collector’s deed was issued to us. We received it in the mail October 29, 2014. Words cannot describe how amazing it felt to hold that document in my hands and read its words. God is truly amazing.
April 9, 2013, He spoke His promise.
August 26, 2013, He kept His promise.
October 21, 2014, He delivered His promise.
And He isn’t finished yet…
We look forward to the day He will complete His promise to this little white church!
On November 1, 2014, a crew of nine of the most wonderful people in the entire world entered that building and cleaned out 1600 pounds of debris. It was about 22 degrees when we started. One of the coldest mornings yet this fall, and it was beautiful! Before we started our photographer friend, Lane Simmons, captured these images. This is what years of abandonment looks like…
I was so excited about the boards coming off of the windows. Seeing light flood that old church again… I just couldn’t wait. (It’s hard to write these words and look at these images without crying, guys.)
The sun was just peeking over the trees as my dad took the board off of the southeastern window. I stood in the middle of that wreck and watched the light break through for the first time in years.
My heart was overwhelmed. And as this all unfolds before my eyes, I am still overwhelmed by what God is doing. Friends, this is not about an old abandoned little white church. It’s about us. It’s about our testimony as the Bride of Christ. This dramatic moment is the one we all want to talk about. It’s that moment when, for the first time in your life Light breaks in and you can see what you really are. It’s that moment when Light reveals how much you need LIGHT to see what you are doing in life. So many are afraid to let Light fall on our situation. We don’t want anyone to see what it all really looks like, we don’t want to see it ourselves. But God bless those people in our lives who are determined to gently take the boards off at the right time, when we are facing the right direction so that all we see is the Son shining in our face and we are simply overwhelmed at how beautiful He is.
For so many, the testimony tends to end at this dramatic moment. But the reality is the Light comes in so we can see what needs to be done. The Light comes in and we start to work on the mess. And that work and maintenance is on-going, with His help, until He makes us perfect. Our lives tell this story. We symbolize this in our marriages, our families, our friendships, our work, our communities, and, of course, in The Church. Our work on this pretty little abandoned church is a symbol. I pray you are beginning to see yourself in this place. I certainly am seeing myself…
It takes brave, hard-working, fearless, and loving people to walk through the doors of your life and remove 1600 pounds of worthless trash.
“It’s time for healing time to move on
It’s time to fix what’s been broken too long
Time to make right what has been wrong
It’s time to find my way to where I belong…”
Many years of neglect took us about 3 hours to clean up. And while the building is still in terrible condition and will likely have to be deconstructed and reconstructed from the foundation up – God specializes in working with these “jars of clay” type projects, He is able. We are “extracting the precious” from this place with His help. And that is what “sharing your testimony” is really all about. It’s not just about the drama of the light breaking through in your life – that is ONE IMAGE.
Life is a picture book, not a snapshot.
Living your testimony is letting people see the mess while you faithfully trust that Jesus is using THEM to help you clean it up and all the while making you into, as C.S. Lewis says, “a little Christ”. It’s learning how trust God when He brings out the crow bar, the wire cutters, the brooms, the hammers and the saws because you know that He’s not going to leave you in a pile of rubble and burn YOU. The waste and the trash, it will burn – but he will save YOU! He’s going to replace what is damaged and falling apart and then He’s going to wash it all in His own blood and make it white and clean again. And He uses an imperfect people to do the work. It’s not glamorous work, but it is beautiful. The images in the gallery below were captured by Elijah Thomas.
“It’s time to face up
Clean this old house
Time to breath in and let everything out
That I’ve wanted to say for so many years
Time to release all these held back tears…”
We pulled all the pews out. It was quiet work. It was cold and dirty and honestly dangerous work now that we know there was (and still is) about 8′ of chimney balancing on the rafters above our heads. All the pews came out into the sunshine that day and that stirred some interest among people passing by.
At one point right before we finished up for the day an older gentleman pulled his car up into the yard and asked us about what we were doing. I shook his hand and told him how we purchased the property. And then because I just had a hunch, I asked him what he knew about the church. His response, “How much do you want to know?”
He told me about how he began attending the little church when he was around 10-years-old. He said he remembered wonderful services, powerful services, revivals, and picnics. “People would just pull up into the yard here and we’d spread blankets out and eat on Sundays. Is that all the pews? Some are gone… I remember 75-80 people being in that place on Sunday nights.” (Did you have testimony nights?) Oh yes, yes,” he said, “it’s all about telling the Good News, isn’t it?”
He told me the church was a Methodist church when he attended and the Church of God only used it later on. He said he believed it’s been abandoned for several years. I didn’t invite him to go in. I could tell he didn’t want to. But I know where to find him, I pray and hope he will be able to come to the grand “re-opening”. I’m so glad he stopped to talk to us.
“Whatever You’re doing inside of me
It feels like chaos, but I believe…
You’re up to something bigger than me
Larger than life, something Heavenly…”
I pray that as you watch this story unfold you will come to know the mission of The Grace Mask for the Bride of Christ at its core. I see the broken foundation, I see the warped walls, the rotting roof, the holes, the brokenness, the rot, the neglect, the loneliness, the trash. But I see past it. I see the promise Jesus made to you and to me. He loves us and this is what His love does for us…
“Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness.”
“Whatever your doing inside of me
It feels like chaos but now I can see
You’re up to something bigger than me
Larger than life
(“Something Heavenly” by Sanctus Real)
The Mission of The Grace Mask is to Unveil the Face and Declare the Story of The Bride of Christ.
All eyes on The Groom!