Last week, returning to Savannah from Saint Simons Island on “back road” U.S. 17, I enjoyed the moss draped scenery, the small towns, the marsh and the feel of rural Georgia. If you’re in no particular hurry those “blue highways” (old-timers who used the archaic gas station road maps understand the reference) are far more relaxing and peaceful than the interstates.
Somewhere between Darien and Riceboro I pulled off the highway to see The Smallest Church in America. Sitting in a dirt parking lot this white cinderblock chapel, complete with steeple and bell tower, has a center aisle, six very short pews, a tiny chancel rail and a pulpit. The sign says that the church had been deeded to Jesus Christ, which would make for an interesting title deed.
Although the building has undoubtedly been a haven of rest and peace for innumerable travelers over the years, I found it strangely unsettling. Various trinkets and objects of devotion competed for attention on window ledges while notices about writing checks and scheduling weddings crowded walls like a community billboard.
A whole gaggle of churches across the nation claim to be “the world’s smallest church.” I had no idea this was such a proud accomplishment. Search the internet; you can find these buildings in the middle of lakes, surrounded by desert mountains, and hidden by foliage. One website identifies 26 “houselets of worship” described in language that would be amusing if not so offensive. A church in Iowa is described: “The sanctuary holds all of the necessary accoutrements you would see in a church.” (I’ve never thought of the cross, the altar and the pulpit as accoutrements.) Another site calls these mini-churches “adorable symbols of understated Christianity.” (Makes them sound like house pets.)
I suspect most of these micro-buildings are tangible expressions of genuine faith by devoted Christians and I write not to defame them. Whether a church sits on a postage stamp piece of property or occupies hundreds of acres of land makes no difference. Either way, the church has very little to do with a building, a fact mostly announced in the aftermath of a church fire.
The church consists of the people called out of society by Jesus Christ, disciples striving to love God and each other and to serve society. The church is those who are saved, who are being saved, who will be saved. The church is the body of Christ feeding the poor, healing the sick, standing up for the abused, defamed, derided and bullied. The church is you and me living with courage and conviction in a loveless world, being found faithful in a world that prizes laxity, maintaining confidence in God despite continuing recession and falling home equity rates.
Every week people gather to sing, pray and study in church buildings neither the smallest or largest church in America, giving testimony to their faith as the called out people of God.