Sunday, August 26, 2012

The OASIS at St. Nazianz, Part 6

Here is the front of a potcard I mailed out last week.

Just a short update...

Today I went out to St. Nazianz to find out how to turn on the relatively ancient lights in the gym, and familiarize myself with the electronic things, etc.   A friend, Peggy, and her daughter, Sarah, met me there. 

As it turned out we spent some time drinking lemonade in the community kitchen of the remodeled "boiler building."  Jim and Linda have an apartment there, and others have living spaces too, but they share a common kitchen and dining room.  We met  a new friend, Dave Petri, who had dropped in to talk to the Frasch's.   He and his wife are starting a ministry in Manitowoc, "The Prodigal Project," for  people who need a live-in environment while they deal with life-controlling problems. 

They also have a handyman business that helps support their efforts.  So I think Ken and I know who we are going to call for some badly-needed repairs and projects at our house.  Hooray!  Here is his website, in case you live in the area and need a handyman like we do!

Linda and Kris took all of us over to the old church.  After wandering around a bit, we were all gathered near the front, and Linda or Kris started singing the chorus "Alleluia."  Peggy and Sarah and I joined in.   Just five female voices harmonizing...and...oh my! 

It was glorious. Our voices soared to the vaulted ceiling and all around and for a few minutes the beautiful old church was full of sound and song and praise.  I had goosebmps, and tears in my eyes, and when we finished I thanked them for singing and getting us started so we could hear...and sing too. 

"Can you imagine how it would have sounded with 600 people joining in a chant?"  Linda asked. On the way out, Kris pulled a rope to ring the bell that still hangs in the church bell tower. I really like church bells (Sadly, not a usual feature in Assembly of God church buildings). I loved the sound of the bell...thinking to mysel that it was saying, "Listen! Come to worship! Somethng new is happening here!"  

We are going to spend some time worshipping a capella in that church before it is too cold and too dark.  Even if there is only a handful of us.  Wow! 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Oasis at St Nazianz Part 5

In the spring, Ken and I went out to St. Nazianz Christian Center, its new name. We toured some of the buildings, which Ken had never seen, with Jim and Linda.  We talked a bit about their hopes for the place.  We prayed with them briefly.

On the drive back home I asked Ken if he had any sense that we were supposed to volunteer or help in some way. 

"Well, we will keep praying, and I hope things go well.  But, no."

"Me neither."  (I think, after the kitchen visitation, that I expected something profound.)

"But if there is something, you will know when the time is right.  I can't do physical work, and that seems to be what they need most.  I wish I could, but...."

"I know." 

That, it seemed, was that.  I watched, waited, prayed, kept busy at work and at home and at church.  I'm still busy at work and at home and at church...but something shifted.  Conversations, circumstances, sermons, songs--all combined to make me aware that it was time to do something.  I can't say how I knew, but I told Ken, "I am supposed to do something on a Saturday."

"Something?  What?"

"I don't know.  Some ministry.  And it is supposed to be on Saturday."

"Okay."  Always the stoic, that Ken.

Not long ago, a young man who had grown up in my former church died tragically.  I was asked to do the funeral.  Somehow in the midst of tears, wrenching conversations, loving people and trying to share some good news, I knew that the time was coming very soon.  I began to feel a sense of urgency and decided that I needed to take some sort of action.

Not knowing what else to do, I talked with the Frasch's.  I shared a little of my thoughts.  They were gracious and open but said someone was already doing something on Saturday nights.  There are only a few spots with electricity on the property.  It gets cold in Wisconsin in the winter. 

Jim asked me if Friday would be okay. I said I'd think about it, and I did.  I thought and prayed for about a week.  Nope.  Not Friday.  Saturday.  But I had already told the Frasch's that I would meet with them on Sunday to take a look at the space and see what might work. In addition to the Saturday night group, a different group is meeting there on Sunday, starting a new church and using the space for a while. 

I wondered if there could possibly be a different space to use. I wondered how to tell Jim that Friday would not do, that it had to be Saturday.  That seemed unreasonable, but I couldn't shake it. 

So a few Sundays ago I drove out to the property and entered the building that houses the thrift store and food pantry downstairs.  Upstairs is the former gym, the place where, ten years ago, my friend and I had seen lights on but one one around.  Now the space holds furniture and other large items for the thrift store. 

In one corner were rows of chairs, a cross, a podium and other things for church.  A few people were gathering, and I sat by Linda.  Jim joined us and sat on my other side. After greeting me, Linda announced, "Well, the guy who was holding services here on Saturdays is gone."


"Yes.  He told us yesterday that he wouldn't be back."

"Won't be back...period?"

Jim chimed in, "The group is relocating to Rhinelander."

"Rhinelander?"  Maybe they were thinking, "Is there an echo in here?"  I stared at Linda.

"Oh my!  I was going to tell you guys that I really believe whatever I do is supposed to be on Saturday, and I was feeling unreasonable....oh my."

"Well, I guess that's that then."  Like Ken, Jim is a man of few words, it seems.

After church we gathered in another spot in the gym, a small room in a back corner.  It contains a stove and refrigerator, and room for about 40 chairs or so.  It presently is holding a few tables and Jim and I sat with Jack, the man who is leading the church until they can locate a pastor. 

"So, you are Dorcas.  You used to pastor Jubilee AG, right?"

"Yes.  How do you know that?"

"I'm a Gideon.  We pray for all the churches and pastors in the area. I've prayed for you several time, so I remembered your name.  It is unusual.  So, Jim tells me you want to do something on Saturdays...."  Interesting conversation followed about people he knew that wanted a Saturday night place to worship.

After church I sat with Jim and Linda on the flat roof of the boiler building.  Now it is their front patio and overlooks a lake and woods.   Linda told me that they like to sit where they can face away from the property with its battered and broken buildings and weight of responsibilithy.  Like me, Linda loves the old church, even though she knows it doesn't make much sense to try to save it.  

We talked about many things.  Jim told me that if it were up to him he would just get rid of the church.  "But," he said in his matter-of-fact way, "God said no."

"God said no?  What do you mean?

"God said no.  God said, 'Save the church.'"  Jim sighed.  "So we are.  That is why we put a temporary roof on the church.  To save it.  I don't know if we will be the ones who do anything else with it.  Maybe it will be us....maybe it will be future people.  God knows."

I didn't ask Jim just how God spoke, but I wondered.  He went on to share some very practical needs, some frustrations, some ideas about church and our country and the world. 

On the visit I had mde there with Ken, Jim had shown us the miniature golf set up, the paintball area, the garden, and what will be two small lakes.  He had spoken of camps, of places for churches to come, of ideas for the various buildings.

Now he began to tell me just a little bit about why he and Linda had come there in the first place.

"I'd rather be out on the water on a boat or something."


"Yes.  It would be easier."

"Well...yeah. For sure."

"But a long time ago I had a vision of a place in the country.  A large place with grass and trees, water and plenty of room.  A place of safety and refuge.  A place of peace.  A place where people can come to be refreshed."

" an oasis?"

"Well, I think of it as an ark.  A place of God's presence.  A place for restoration and healing.  A safe place in difficult times.  Yeah, you say oasis, I say ark.  Kind of the same, in a way."

We talked for a couple of hours.  

I left knowing that the OASIS acrostic was about to be resurrected.  A few days later I called Jubilee AG and inquired about the banner.  Honey, still the church secretary, located it rolled up in a corner of a basement storage room.  Not long after, I had the banner in my possession and the present minister, Pastor Jake, had said I could have it.  I am not sure yet how I am going to cover the "Jubilee Assembly of God" part of the banner, but I'll find a way.

We are going to start meeting on September 8th at 6:30 PM in the corner of the former JFK Prep gymnasium.  Maybe sometimes, before it gets cold and dark early, we will meet in the old church and do what we can to fill it with prayer and praise. 

When winter comes we will meet in the small back room of the gym.  I overheard Jim telling someone that he thinks he has a way to section off and enclose a larger portion of the gym so that if gatherings outgrow the smaller room they can heat part of it without trying to heat the entire large space.

After we get started, perhaps I will share about the people who are coming together, some of whom I don't even know.  I don't have any idea what to expect.  I do not have much of a plan.  I know a few things.  Only a few, for now.

This is the Oasis at Saint Nazianz, and I think perhaps we will be reading Isaiah 43 from time to time.  (Smile.) 

We are not competing with any church in our area.  It is not church in the traditional sense, but it is church in the sense of people gathering together. 

I believe it is supposed to be genuinely non-denominational.  It needs to be a place where Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Pentecostals--and those who don't identify with any church at all--will feel loved and safe and welcome.  It will sometimes be informal.  It will sometimes be liturgical.  Sometimes we will sing hymns.  If one of the individuals who contacted me is able to help, we may have hymns played on a violin.  Or on the old that sits in the gym.  I hope we'll have guitars and drums and who knows what all. 

About the only thing I know for sure right now, other than the fact that this gathering is to be on Saturday, is that every week we will share in Communion, or the Eucharist, or whatever the person leading wants to call it.  We shall see. We may only continue this gathering for a short time. Or for a long time.

Do I know how to do this?  No.

Jim Frash (Linda's husband) said to me, "We are here, and God is here, and life is here now, and that's what we care about."  Later he added, "We've been waiting for you."

I'm still pondering what that might mean. 

Interesting reflections from a photographer. Some of her impressions are much like my own.

More pics from the photographer's blog--the church as it looks now, the chapel, graveyard and more.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Some religious humor, courtesy of  Wesleyan Arminian for you philisophical types.  My favorites?  C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham.  The Mark Discoll one, I confess, did make me lol.  Sadly.  I added to the list.  Can you think of any more?  Have a fun day!

Greg Boyd: It’s a possibility that the chicken crossed the road.

Rick Warren: The chicken was purpose driven.

Mark Driscoll: Because of the rooster’s leadership.

Rachel Held Evans: We’re talking about chickens here, not pigs.

Pelagius: Because the chicken was able to.

John Piper: God decreed the event to maximize his glory.

Irenaeus: The glory of God is the chicken fully alive.

C.S. Lewis: If a chicken finds itself with a desire that nothing on this side can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that it was created for the other side.

Billy Graham: The chicken was surrendering all.

Pluralist: The chicken took one of many equally valid roads.

Universalist: All chickens cross the road.

Annihilationist: The chicken was hit by a car and ceased to exist.

Fred Phelps: God hates chickens.

Martin Luther: The chicken was leaving Rome.

Tim LaHaye: The chicken didn’t want to be left behind.

Harold Camping: Don’t count your chickens until they’ve hatched.

James White: I reject chicken-centered eisegesis.

John Wesley: The chicken’s heart was strangely warmed.

John Calvin:  The chicken was predestined to cross the road.

Thomas: I won’t believe the chicken crossed unless I see it with my own eyes.

Philip: The chicken teleported to the other side.

Rob Bell: The chicken. Crossed the road. To get. Cool glasses.

Brennan Manning:  Because God's love was drawing her, dirty feathers and all.

Creflo Dollar:  The blessings and prosperity would only come if the chicken exercised faith and stepped out into the road!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Oasis at St. Nazianz Part 4

About a year ago, Honey (remember, she had been my "church secretary") called.  After the usual small talk, she said. 

"I have something to say which will make you happy."

"Um...okay.  What's up."

"Remember how you were so disturbed about the site of JFK Prep years ago when you went out there with the other pastor?"

"Yes.  Actually, I'm still pretty disturbed" (chuckle)

"Well, it changed ownership a time or two, I heard.  About a year ago, some Christian people bought it.  They have a thrift store out there and a food pantry.  And I'm not sure what else."

"Um...did you say a thrift store?" (doubtful tone)

"Yes, and Pastor Roy [who followed me at Jubilee AG] wants us to get involved and help them out, and John says..."

"Are they millionaires?"  (rude interruption)

"Um, I doubt it."

"Well, it would take millions...maybe billions you know."

"Well, they are out there and have been for a while.  I met them, and I think you might want to go see what they are doing." (undeterred tone)

"Um...okay.  Want to come with me and introduce me to the new owners?"

"Sure.  Gene [Honey's husband] has been doing some volunteering out there.  Can we bring him too?"

We never did go out to St. Nazianz together.  But one evening some time later, I stopped by Gene and Honey's house to drop off something from a mutual friend.  Sitting at an their kitchen table chatting, I eventually said, "So, what is happening with the people out at St. Nazianz?  I know we never did get out there, but I'd still like to do that."  I'm not sure what else was said, but it was nothing unusual or strange or remarkable.  I think we may have been talking about the food pantry.  Pretty mundane stuff.   

Then something strange happened.  I can only describe it as Presence.  A little stunned by something that felt pleasant but...heavy, I bowed my head, not knowing what else to do. 

Awesome is a much overused word.  But this was awesome.  I was awed by...something or someone.  It felt somewhat like a big bubble.  I know that sounds amusing, but I'm trying to describe something indescribable.  It was as though the three of us were suddenly and without warning enclosed.  Enfolded in something powerful.  I didn't want to move.  Long moments passed--I'm not sure how long.  Then, almost as suddenly as the whole experience began, it ended. Feeling a little stunned, and having a sudden realization that the others at the table might be wondering what was wrong with me, I slowly raised my head--to see my companions both slowly raising their heads too.  After a bit, I said, "What was that?  It felt like a bubble..."  Gene nodded wordlessly and Honey said, "So, you felt that too?"  We just sat, not sure what to do or say, and then we decided to pray.  We prayed for the owners of the St. Nazianz property, Jim and Linda Frasch and I'm not sure else, but it didn't take long. The prayer was nothing special.  It was, in fact, a bit awkward.  I left shortly afterwards.

Several months later, I found myself feeling angry.  It had been more than three years since I resigned my position as pastor at Jubilee.  I had expected to find some place of ministry.  Not necessarily as a pastor...but something.  Many disappointments had followed.  I had lost track of how many sincere people had told me, "There will be something.  God uses willing vessels......" 

I was (and am) working at a small financial firm in Plymouth. Among other things, I had obtained my insurance license and was hoping for growth as I focused on the senior citizen market.  But on a small table in my office I had placed a little ceramic sheep. a present from a former parishioner.  I meant it as a reminder that, whatever else I might do in life (and I've done lots of different things and worn lots of "hats") that at my core I know I am to be a "shepherd."  It might be in an official way, or it might be informal, but I know my calling is to be a pastor.  (There are many people in the Church with such gifts, and not all stand behind pulpits.)

I had tried to be patient.  One night my patience was pretty much gone and I lay awake remembering things I didn't want to think about.  Remembering hope deferred, people who had been part of a joyful journey but were no longer in my life, remembering the oasis idea, and remembering it made me more frustrated than ever.  I pictured the joy of our special "Oasis Sunday" and I recalled the words of Isaiah 43.

I wasn't complaining aloud, since my husband was asleep next to me, but I was complaining pretty loudly inside.  Something like this:  "And another thing, God, what about the new thing from Isaiah 43, the thing I kept praying and preaching about...what about the water for thirsty people...what about...I give up.  I just give up." I punched my pillow and turned over, intending to go back to sleep.  "And I never want to read that chapter again!"

There seemed to be a reply.  It was one of those "loud" things that makes no sound.  The reply was something I can't share right now.  But it shut me up with surprise. 

The next day, because of an invitation for the two of us from one of her family members, Honey and I attended one session of a retreat.  During the drive to the retreat location, I shared ust a bit of my late night pondering.  I left out plenty, but I did mention that, once again, the passage from Isaiah had been much in my thoughts.

The worship band that was leading at the retreat was wonderful, and I was enjoying participating with the singing and the worship in a way I had not been able to do for some time.  Suddenly the keyboard player, who I later learned was named Sarah, stopped.  She looked directly at me.  She began to quote a passage of scripture.  Can you guess which one?

Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?

I couldn't help it.  I think I made a little face, and I think Sarah saw me, because she continued, saying something like this, "Yes, I am speaking to you.  You are wondering if you are finished, but you are not.  You are about to enter a new season of ministry, a season of favor.  You will need help."  She emailed me a bit more a few days later.  I don't want to share everything at this point, and I'm pretty wary of "words from God." But to say I was flabbergasted would be putting it mildly.

Hearing I was a minister, someone introduced me to a woman attending the retreat who they called, "Pastor Kris."  A little conversation revealed that Kris was the main coordinator at the St. Nazianz thrift store, living there in one of the remodeled apartments (in the same building as Jim and Linda Frasch.)  We talked a little about Jim and Linda and their ministry endeavors in other areas of Wisconsin. Kris had been part of their ministry team for some time. 

She told me there was a man holding Saturday night church services in the former JFK Prep School gym.  I told her maybe I'd show up sometime.

And I went home with no idea what to do next.

Here is an article/short video from about two years ago. It features my new friend, Linda Frasch.  I hadn't met her yet, nor her husband, Jim.  And the second link shows Linda with Kris and tells more about their hopes for the property.

The Oasis at St. Nazianz Part 3

If you want to read parts one and two, click on the "Oasis Sermons and Suff" label below.   On with the story...  

A few years later, the church I served developed an O.A.S.I.S. theme. I remember the day the idea came to me.  I had been praying with a group of fellow pastors who had been participating for some months in a church revitalization project sponsored by our Assemblies of God WI and N. Michigan District.

An OASIS.  A place of peace, of restoration and refreshing.  A place of spiritual "water." 

I remembered how, some time back, and before I had even come to pastor in the little town of New Holstein, I had repeatedly read the beautiful words of Isaiah, chapter 43.  I couldn't get the words out of my head.

“Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert...
Because I give waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My people, My chosen.
This people I have formed for Myself;
They shall declare My praise."

I knew the passage referred to the nation of Israel.  I wasn't sure what it had to do with me or why I  felt so drawn to it, but I used the passage to meditate, to pray, and I preached on it more than once.  That Isaiah passage does sound like a spiritual oasis, doesn't it?

At first, I rejected the oasis idea. How silly. We aren't in tha kind of place--it's lush and green here. It is Wisconsin.  

But the oasis idea didn't die.  I eventually shared it with others at the church and together we developed an acrostic.  I remember the day, and the memory makes me smile, when the last part was put in place.  We had everything but the O.  A group of church folks were sitting with me in a classroom doing some brainstorming.  We were enjoying each other's company, but nothing much was coming of our interaction.

Then John, a deacon and a friend said suddenly, "Offer hope."  The rest of us stared at him.  It grew quiet for a moment, then we all said, almost in unison, "That's it!"  We had our completed acrostic. 

O   Offer Hope
A   Advance God's Kingdom
S    Share God's Love
I     Invest in People
S    Seek God's Purposes

I developed a Advent devotional book based on the theme and I preached a series of sermons. I preparation for a special OASIS Sunday, we build a small oasis in the entryway, complete with fountain and pool and palm trees.  We even had dessert "rocks" made from grocery bags.  Crumpled brown paper and a little spray paint can make a great scenic prop!   A friend designed a banner which hung in the sanctuary.  It was a good time at Jubilee AG, a time of hope and connection.  The label "OASIS Sermons and Stuff" links to some of that, as well as this current story. 

Of course, when I resigned some years later the banner was removed from the sanctuary wall.  It was time for new vision, new leadership and new ideas, as is always the case when a pastor leaves a church.  The banner hung in a basement hallway for a time. Then it was rolled up and stashed in a storage room. 

End of the oasis idea.  Except I couldn't quite let it go. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Oasis at St. Nazianz Part 2

I returned to the my church office next day after a night of dreaming about the old Catholic church and the other buildings I had seen--disturbing, defaced, broken relics of a bygone era.

I dreamed about beautiful stained glass windows, about St. George slaying a mythical dragon, about the wrecked library that had been built on one side and the long dorm that had been added much later.

I dreamed of how it must have looked when a group of monks worshipped there, organ music soaring to the vaulted ceiling, incense filling the air, and how it must have been years later when the JFK Prep School students were there.  I wondered about why the school building felt so intensely creepy. 

I wanted to go back to St. Nazianz, but I couldn't understand why. The place was sad, spooky, smelly and ruined. What would be the point?  Several times that night, I prayed, without quite knowing what I was praying about.

Next day, I told my administrative assistant, Honey, about the experience, adding that I hadn't slept well.  It made me deeply angry that such a beautiful place had been abandoned to the elements and vandals and gangs.  It still makes me angry as I recall the conversation.  It seemed wrong on some sort of deep level. It should, I felt somehow certain, be a place of blessings and good things.

Honey told me about the times the location had hosted Halloween parties, that it is rumored to be haunted, and then added that her daughter-in-law, Wendy, had been a student at JFK Prep.  I later talked to Wendy, who was sad that her alma mater was now, at best, just a hang out place for teens bent on mischief or a scare.

Unable to stop thinking about it, or wanting to return there (I didn't), I wondered what was wrong with me.  Come on, I reasoned with myself, it's just old buildings.  Okay, it really is too bad about those beautiful windows not being seen and appreciated.  From an artistic standpoint alone, someone should have done something.  But the church is not a building.  The church is people. That old place is just an abandoned building.   And it's not like you are even Catholic!  You are a Pentecostal preacher from the opposite end of the church spectrum.  You wouldn't have ever fit in worshipping there in any case.  Let it go.  End of story.

But I thought about the site of the abandoned JFK Prep School for at least a month.  I dreamed about it many times.  I felt almost compelled to go there again, and I consciously resisted.  Still, I prayed every day, sometimes several times a day, that something good would somehow happen there, that the beautiful location would be redeemed.  I prayed that if there was someone meant to change things, that they'd find out about the site and do something.

Later I heard that the woman who had purchased the property, who was reported to be a strange woman indeed, gave up and put it up for sale.  I forgot about it.  Mostly.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Caught-In-Between

This morning I read Rachel Held Evan's latest blog post: Her list of things she agrees with in the liberal and conservative church camps doesn't look exactly like mine would. I'm not posting my own lists because it doesn't matter and because I don't want to start arguments with brothers and sisters I love and value.

I am posting this link because I understand what she is saying. The spirit behind her post, and the number of people I know who don't go to church anywhere anymore, are part of why I am pondering what may be the purpose of, "The Oasis at St Nazianz." I'll share Part 2 of that story soon!

Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity, and the Caught-In-Between

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Oasis at St Nazianz Part 1

I have not had much to say for a while.  Now it seems time to begin sharing a story.  Some people may find the story interesting from a historical point of view.  Some may think I am superstitious. Or silly.  Or some sort of religious nut.  Some of the story seems, even to me, the teller, a bit odd.  Mystical.  Fanciful.  I know that.  But it is the truth, as much as I can make it.  I am not trying to make any sort of point.  I just feel the need to begin telling a story that I don't quite understand. 

I do not know the end of the story.  I don't even know the middle of the story.  I do know the beginning, and the words of "Do Re Mi" from The Sound of Music, "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start..."

Well, not quite the beginning.  Just the beginning of my own part of the story.

About ten years ago on a sunny summer morning, I stopped working on a sermon for the church where I was serving as pastor. It was a lovely summer day, and Deena, another woman pastor (from a Methodist church not far away) had suggested a ride out to the "old JFK Prep."  She seemed surprised that I did not know what she referred to, but she promised to fill me in on the ride over.  Someone, a "friend of a friend," had purchased the property and had invited her out to take a look.

We drove through the farmland that covers most of the area where we live, and as people who live in a rural area often do, we talked of the weather and admired the lush fields of corn, alfalfa and soy beans.  We talked about our respective congregations, our families, her daughter's excitement about preparing to show off her horse at the county fair.

Finally, my companion talked a little about where we were headed. The abandoned property, she told me, had once been a campus that began as a Catholic seminary meant to train those who were considering the priesthood and then late became a somewhat prestigious private high school. There was a short-lived orphanage (a century ago), a small nunnery, dorms, a large boiler plant, and so on. She said the place had hosted dubious Halloween parties, was rumored to have been a spot for major drug deals involving gangs from Chicago, and she added that there had been plenty of late-night vandalism over the years. 
Then conversation trailed off as we arrived at an imposing stone gate, crosses etched into large granite posts.  Beyond the gates I saw many beautiful old trees with gnarled and twisted trunks, lushly green grass, and a gently curving landscape.  The JFK Prep School building, abandoned more than 20 years earlier, was directly ahead, visible beyond the trees.  "Why," I said in surprise, "It is beautiful!" 

The ruin of what had obviously once been an imposing church stood sentinel on our right, a blue tarp covering part of the roof.  A square bulding (pictured) and a long, low building of more modern origin was attached to one side. 

No one seemed to be around.  We pulled up on weed-studded gravel in front of the church and approached the door.  It was partly off its hinges and cracked and peeling paint hung in long strips.  I could see that the church still had its beautiful stained glass windows, and I was surprised that they seemed mostly intact.

We glanced at each other.  I remember gazing up at the steeple, wondering if there was still a bell.  I noticed how intensely blue the sky was, a few clouds, white and puffy, the sun bright and warm. It all seemed strange, incongruous, in stark contrast with the ruins around us.

"How terrible to let this place just....just waste away."

"Shall we go in?" 

"I'm game if you are."

"I love old places."

"What if we get in trouble?"

"Well, I was invited."

So without much difficulty we stepped over broken stones and squeezed in the door.  A stained glass portrayal of St. George slaying the dragon, vivid and beautiful, greeted us.  We were assaulted with the stench of rot and mold.  The pews, still in place in the long sanctuary, were mostly sound, but the communion rail was broken.  The walls were defaced with graffiti, some obscene, some occult, some just silly.  Debris covered much of the floor.  But the windows, tall and glorious and ablaze with color, arose on each side of the ruined sanctuary.  Rays of sunlight poured over us, illuminating the artistry of a century ago.  

We stood for long moments in silence.  Then one of us whispered, "The windows--glorious aren't they?"

"And...and all this ruin and graffiti and vandalism...and yet the windows aren't shattered."

"No.  Maybe it was some spark of...of holiness...of beauty...and people just couldn't throw rocks."

"Why are we whispering?

Nervous laugh.  "I don't know."

The two of us, Protestant ministers, made our way up the center aisle and onto the altar area of this historic Catholic sanctuary.  In spite of the ruin, the overwhelming odor, the graffiti, we were silent, feeling a need to be reverent.  To the right of the altar was a smaller window, it's purple, blue and red glass particularly striking.  I stared at it for a long time before we walked back through a sacristy, its damaged wood cabinets retaining some of the beautiful craftsmanship of  long-ago. 

We squeezed through a partial doorway and walked down a hallway lined with small dormitory rooms, complete with tiny sinks.  Some still had faded and tattered curtains in colors popular in the '70s, a bed or two.  We agreed that if someone could afford the cost of restoring the site, it would be a wonderful place for a retreat center, a shelter, a refuge.  I thought of the silent retreats I have participated in at the beautiful Norbertine Center for Spirituality in DePere, a place I love.  This should be, I thought, a place like that.

We turned back to the church.

The sadness was almost overwhelming.  It was, in the way only abandoned places can be, eerie.    And yet, it seemed to me, it was holy too.  I turned my head, hiding the tears in my eyes.  This was just wrong.  This place was beautiful and terrible.  It had been built as a place to honor God and I didn't want to think of what might have happened within the church walls over the years. 

We left the church and crossed the drive to enter a back door of the school.  We didn't go far.  The floor was covered in a deep layer of dried mud and dirt, and it was dark.  And it was very spooky in a way I can't describe.  The hair on the back of my neck stood up as my companion said, with a forced grin, "It feels...not good in here.  We'd need a gallon of anointing oil to pray over this place..."  She forced a grin, but she wasn't joking.  We exited, grateful for the sun on our faces, and headed over to the former gym, which seemed to be the soundest building on the property.  It was unlocked and someone had turned on the old halogen lights, so we figured the owner must be somewhere about.

"Wonder where the electricity is coming from?"

"Hello...hello...hello?"    No answer.

We decided not to visit the nearby cemetary. We could see the small chapel and some of the graves on a nearby knoll, but we both felt, I think, overwhelmed with the beauty and the lonliness and the sadness of the place--and the senselessness of its present state of decay and ruin.

It was time to go.  We climbed into the car and drove down the exit road and out through the stone gate, silent pillars to a bygone era.

"It would take a fortune to restore that place."

"But something should be done.  I wonder if the new owner is a billionaire?"

"I was told she wants to make the gym an art center of some sort."

"An art center?  Groan..."

I'll share more in the next entry.  For those who are interested, here are a couple of links.   I'll share more links in a future post that will show you some more of the story.

This first link has some history, a lot of "hooey" and some good pictures of how the site looked around ten years ago, about the same time I visited with my pastor friend. Some things have not changed much. The blue tarp on the church has been replaced with a temporary roof. The boiler building is largely renovated inside, and provides a pleasant home for several families. Sadly, some of the beautiful church windows now have holes in the glass. But you will get a sense of the beauty, and the sadness, of the place as it was a while back.

From Wikipedia, about the church and the founders, and I'm not sure why the link isn't working, but just click on the link at the top of the Wikipedia page, "Are you looking for___?" and for some reason it works that way:,_Wisconsin)