One of the things that I love most about my home in the mountains is all the little churches. The steeples just seem to pop up above the canopy like friendly wave of hello. I remember as a kid that one of the most important jobs in the congregation was to be responsible for ringing the bell. The call to worship had to be given at about an hour or so prior to the start of service and then again when it was time to get started. On a good day we could hear the bell ring from miles away. Soon there was a parade of cars moving on the one lane road. You had to there early so you could get a good seat and a place to park. The funny thing is that everyone occupied the same seat and parking spot every Sunday. And, if one of the kids sat in a different place an adult would quickly remind them of the unwritten rules about where to sit. “Hey, that’s where so-and-so sits.” We would have to move around until we finally wound up in the same spot we sat in last week. At the end of service was another unwritten ritual. The shaking of hands. In a small country church the Right Hand Of Fellowship is a common practice. But young boys are mischievous by nature and quick to adapt a custom to their own uses. As soon as the service closed there was a race to the door where The Right Hand Of Fellowship was changed into the Running Of The Gauntlet. The boys would line the exit and extend their shaking hand to anyone trying to leave. The adults would then be obliged to accept the handshakes before they could exit thus creating a bottleneck at the door. I think that final joke was on us boys because we grew up to be the adults caught in the bottleneck later in life. I have to smile and and get warm fuzzies every time I see the steeples poking up from the trees. It always brings back childhood memories of the little churches and the extended family who attended them.
I remember when the crosses started showing up along the highways. The man who started this project was Bernard Coffindaffer and He was from Craigsville, West Virginia. Not too far from my home. He was certainly a man on a mission. My understanding is that the Spirit of God spoke to him and gave him a commission for the work that needed to be done. He was a six year veteran of the Pacific Theater in World War Two and as a Former Marine nothing was going to stand in his way.
I never met him personally that I can remember but I remember the talk in the county. He had a lot support from his brothers and sisters in Christ but he also faced a lot criticisms and laughter. He didn’t let negative opinions get in the way. He just stood for what he believed in and continued to work anyway. I have read that the project never ended even though Bernard passed away in 1993. I have also read that some of crosses have been planted in the Philippines and Africa. It just shows that when God gives you some inspiration you should go with it. You might not realize how far it will go or how many lives will be touched.
- Growing up in the Bible belt I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to visit a lot of small churches. In the days before the mega church and when there was nobody selling religion. The churches of small communities were places where families gathered to hear the word of God and not just what the preacher said. We knew good and well that nobody can buy a ticket to heaven with money or goid works. Vain obligations were just that. We resisted judging each other because we were justified by the blood of Christ and not by works or money. Church is a place for bonding not bondage.
- The architecture of small community churches is something special. Everything from little cabins to scaled down cathedrals can be found tucked into Appalachian landscape. Bells and spires are sometimes topped with crosses and sometimes not.
- The ringing of the church bell was a special privilege. Young people (mostly boys) would like up and take turns tugging on the rope. In trutruth we just liked making noise.
- After church service extended family would get together at the home place for a large meal. The cooks would all gather in the kitchen and soon the house was full of wonderful smells the sounds of laughter. During the warm weather the children be outside trying to have fun without getting dirty. That’s a very difficult skill to master for a 10 year old boy. I can still smell my grandmother’s homemade bread when I think about it.