“You can do this,” she told herself, “The question is why are you doing this?”
Sara made her way in the darkness walking swiftly with her head down and her hands shoved into her pockets. She wore all black for the occasion not that it would have made much difference in the middle of the night.
The burnt out chapel had been on her mind lately. It was in the background of all of her dreams, and whenever her mind wandered in class, it wandered over to the chapel. It had been over a year since the chapel had burned, and while the ruins still stood in the same place on the seminary grounds, people had moved on. There was a new chapel to build, a better chapel, a chapel that promises to usher in a promising new age of worship and formation.
Sara could not even remember the last time she even looked over at the chapel ruins. It was different right after the fire, she looked at it every day then, but like everyone else she lost interest and had better things to do. It was just a building after all and eventually it would be torn down, and something safe and beautiful would be put in its place. Probably some kind of memorial garden.
But for some reason there she stood, in the middle of the night, staring through the chain link fence at the old husk of a building. Sara walked slowly, around the chain link fence till she came across a spot where the fence butted right up against a wooden bench. Taking a quick breath she stepped onto the bench and hoisted herself up and over the fence.
Looking up at the ruined chapel, a sense of great sadness came over her. The chapel seemed alive somehow, and the fire had stolen away something precious that the old building desperately longed to have back again. For over a century the faithful had worshipped in its walls. Joy and sorrow, faith and doubt filled the building every day. It had never been alone; trusted and loved, the chapel had shared in the greatest moments of so many lives. But for a year not a single person had walked inside, and Sara could feel the loneliness pouring off of the chapel.
Sara knew she was probably projecting these feelings onto the church. It was something she used to do all the time as a child; she would anthropomorphize everything from buildings to furniture. She would apologize to boxes of cereal that didn’t get bought in the grocery store and feel sorry for dented cars. At some point as she grew older this stopped, but every now and then when she came across something old and loved Sara couldn’t help but feel as if the object was looking back at her, trying to tell her something. And now it was as if the building was calling out to her for mercy and she could not help but feel sorry for this poor abandoned house of God.
“They all move on, and you are left behind with nowhere to go,” Sara said looking up, “We’re not so different, you and I.”
She wasn’t sure if she would even be able to get into the chapel at this point. All the windows and doorways were boarded up. The only door that looked promising was on the South side of the building where the original doors were still on the hinges. “Surely they have nailed this shut” Sara thought, but she went up to the door and gave it a tug anyway. The door scraped loudly against the brick landing as it opened a few inches. Sara stopped and listened, she couldn’t believe her luck. She pulled again, and the door opened just enough so she could squeeze inside.
Sara stepped into darkness. The choir loft was still intact and it hung over the narthex like it always had, but the effect was disorienting and it took Sara a second to adjust. Slowly she moved through the rubble. The floor creaked as she made her way to the center aisle between the pews. She stepped out into the nave and looked up. The roof was gone except for some rafters which looked like the ribcage of some giant mythical creature. Carefully she made her way down the aisle. Fourth row from the front on the right side, that is where she always sat. It was remarkable how intact everything looked; she wondered if she could sit in her old spot again, she leaned her wait onto the seat of the pew testing its compression strength. It seemed okay, so she cautiously sat down. Charred around the edges and water logged, All the hymnals and prayer books were still sitting in the back of the pews. Gingerly Sara lifted out one of the hymnals, “shall I sing for you?” she whispered. Opening the hymnal she started to sing, “Deck thyself my soul with gladness, leave the gloomy haunts of sadness.”
As she continued to sing a soft breeze started to whistle through the rafters as if the chapel were singing too. The weight of loneliness began to lift, but if it was the chapel’s loneliness or her own, Sara could not tell…