Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Church of Christ, Gould, Oklahoma

Back in March, I was returning home to Amarillo. I'd spent the night before at my folks' house in my old hometown of Altus, Oklahoma. Driving west along State Highway 62, I went through Duke and then came to an even smaller town: Gould, Oklahoma.

I grew up in Altus, so I've been through Gould many times. But I don't believe I've ever stopped there before. If I have, I don't remember it. Since moving to Amarillo three years ago, anytime I've driven through, the little Church of Christ just south of the highway has caught my eye. I've wondered, . .

How many little churches just like this one dot the map across the U.S.? What's the history of this church? When was the congregation established? Who are its members? What was the congregation like during the glory days, when many more people lived in Gould? What are the congregation's hopes and fears now that the town, like so many others, is drying up? (I checked the Census figures for Gould. In 1990, the population was at 237. By 2000, the number was down to 206).

I still don't know the answers to my questions. But this time as I came through, I remembered that my camera was with me. I decided to stop and chronicle what I could. Here's the north side of the building. (That's my car, Big Blue, in the distance).

The front doors face east . . .

It was a gorgeous afternoon, and I stood outside the front of the building for a while. Then, just because, I decided to see if the building was open. Maybe someone was inside, maybe a preacher sitting at his desk or practicing his sermon from the pulpit. Maybe the custodian was there, making sure everything was ready for the next morning.

I was surprised to discover that the front door was unlocked. I stepped inside. "Anyone here?" No one. I sort of felt like an intruder. But I also knew that nobody would mind that I was there. From the foyer, here's the empty auditorium. I love the effect of the afternoon sun shining through colored windows . .

At right in the previous photo, you can see the small statistics board on the right. Here it is up close:

As I look around, I wonder why this is so fascinating to me. Why do I look at all of this as though it were a piece of art? Is it because I see it as some quaint scene quickly fading into the past? Maybe. Either way, I can't resist standing behind the pulpit. I back up a step and look out at the empty pews . . .

This intrigues me for reasons I don't fully understand.

Anyway, sometime this summer I want to do a few posts on small churches. I'm not an expert on the subject. Far from it. But I am interested in the present and future of small congregations, especially Churches of Christ, across the U.S.

How 'bout you? Ever stopped at a small church somewhere, just because? Many of you have visited a small congregation while traveling. Or maybe you have memories of being a part of a small congregation. Do you ever wonder what's happening to church life in small towns as the U.S. becomes more and more urban? Maybe small church life is your life right now. What's that like? I'm interested in hearing about your experiences and what you know.


Dusty Chris said...

I grew up attending the Paonia Church of Christ in Paonia, Coloado. My parents moved from Sharon, Tennessee to Paonia in 1970to help the struggling church. They committed to 5 years and are still there, working with a close knit group of Christians. Now that I live in the Dallas area and attend a church of 1600, I miss the closeness and fondness that I still have for members in Paonia.

I think the small town church is alive and well and "get church" better than their larger counter parts "in the big city." They help each other, they love each other, they eat together often, they depend on each other like I have not seen in larger churches. The benefit is in its smallness...everyone has to be available for ministry and leadership. Smallness is not bad. It means there are more opportunities for intimacy and closeness...and that beats the pants off the larger churches.

I feel like Norm in Cheers when I walk in to the Paonia CofC. Everyone knows my name.

Brian said...

that was cool, glad you did that. i preached for a few small groups while a student at HU, and of course, my aunt and uncles congregation, which is only a few years old has the same number of people

Carisse said...

Oh, Frank, do you by any chance have a closer photo of the baptistery painting? I want to add it to the digital collection I am building called "Here is Water" -- am checking my files to see if this painting is known to us.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Dusty and Brian, thanks for your comments.

Carisse, I'll look to see if I have any more photos. If I have a better one of the baptistery, I will email it to you.

Carisse said...

Thanks, Frank -- that would be excellent. The email is cmb04c at acu dot edu.

I don't have any record of a painting at Gould, so this would be a find!

Know any others?

john alan turner said...

Like you, I have a fascination with churches and buildings like this. Thanks for the photos.

I cannot help, though, but feel a little sad when I think about it. It feels more like a museum or like you've stepped into Colonial Williamsburg. They've preserved things from a different era with precision and care, and certainly if folks hadn't done what they did way back when we wouldn't be where we are today.

But to think that some places get so caught up in preserving the past that they fail to move ahead and end up losing all sense of contemporary relevance ... well ... that's a little sad.