The Smallest Church In America
by Ruby Johnson
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While visiting with my sister in Darien Georgia, I had the opportunity to visit a tiny church called the “Smallest Church in America”. Darien is a main destination for fisherman and is a tiny town where shrimpers dock.
This tiny church is only 15 feet long and 10 feet wide, though it seats12 parishioners and a pastor. Outside the church entrance stands a small, miniature-looking bell tower about 12 feet tall with a little bronze plate dating 1998. However, the church itself, the brainchild of Ms. Agnes Harper, was completed in 1949. Ms. Harper was a widowed grocer of modest means when she decided to build a church for those in the area. At the time, it was thought such meager funds would not do justice to the magnificence of the Lord. But Ms. Harper persevered, deeding the title of the church to one, “Jesus Christ.”
Walking through the never-locked door, a burst of light floods the small room and shines on the prayer bench between the pulpit and the pews. The room is quiet and there is a holiness about the room giving me a sense of peace.
Pews made of wooden chairs form three rows on either side of the abbreviated aisle, each chair with a built in wooden slot for hymnals and a fold-down prayer bench that tucks gently underneath each of the sturdy seats. On this overcast afternoon, the room has a slightly used feel to it caused by the sandy tracks on the carpet. The Church pamphlets state it is “Where Folks Rub Elbows With God” and it is easy to see from the size why they would state this. A bird chirps outside the entrance, a lonely sound in the quiet of the afternoon. The simple wooden planks that form the arched ceiling allow for the filtered sounds of cars going by along with the chirping of the bird.
The space is filled with sincerity and warmth, a quality that feels in high demand in this era of political preaching. It is as though you can feel the comfort of a higher power. In such a small area, where just a few people can worship, it is powerful to still feel so miniscule.
The pulpit is made of maple wood with a simple cross adorning the front. To the right side of the pulpit against the wall is a sign, soliciting donations. A box built into the wall has a slit in it.
Underneath the powerful lock holding the collection deposit closed is a sad note with a hollow warning “Do not cut lock.” Underneath this script, and to the side of the lettering are handwritten notes with such sentiments as “You will go to hell” or “You’re stealing from God.” I am saddened by the realization that evil can invade such a small sacred place. I realize that the sheltered chapel is in a particularly vulnerable spot. Yet, even this weakness may bolster the strength of the little building, whose existence continues on despite thieves and vandals.
A step down from the pulpit area on the right hand side of the church is a binder full of notebook paper, which serves as a guestbook . There are pages and pages of entries, some a single line, stating merely the visiting party, date and hometown. Others are more religious, such as, “God so love the world he die on the Cross for all of us I should love Him” and “No church is too small to learn about God, to the not-so-religious, “I’m here hangin in the smallest church in America!” I added my name and “Feeling the holy presence in this small church.”
The Smallest Church is full of little dedications. Small private glimpses into personal relationships are all over the room. Behind the pulpit is a small plaque dedicating the building to “the glory of God and for all who pass this way in loving memory of their parents.” On a bulletin board, tacked up were several handwritten notes. More personal mementos dotted the windows,and ledges of this non-denominational church. By the plaque rested two beanie babies, and the windowsill behind the pulpit is decorated with an assortment of figurines depicting the Mother Mary.
The spirituality and the comfort of the smallest church is difficult to put into words, but a bronze plate slipped into the background of the chapel has some words which come close. “I came to this place in search of inner peace and found it. I heard, what could only be, the wings of the Angel of God. I felt them brush by me and was filed with the peace and comfort of the Lord. I will no longer doubt his presence in our time. This is a special place.”
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