Western Knox County is a few miles north of my heartland. The countryside there is indistinguishable from the land where my dad, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather lived.
But west of Mount Vernon, the county seat, the countryside rolls gently toward the flatness of western Ohio. There, just off St. Route 229 about a fifty yards down Tucker Road, is a white frame hall shaded by a cluster of Maples. The building is well over a hundred years old. The sign in the gable end reads “Liberty Grange.”
Another mile down the road is the Mark Boucher home. The Bouchers were one of the founding families of a church we started there. He passed the Liberty Grange every day and the building came to mind after the men met and agreed not to borrow money to build a church building.
One night I had a dream of a simple preaching hall where we could meet with our families and preach and worship together. When I heard about the building I drove out on a clear blue autumn afternoon to pray. The little hall looked exactly like the one in my dream.
Within a few weeks we had worked out an agreement with the leaders of the Grange to lease the building for a dollar a year. We agreed to add a wheelchair ramp, paint the building, repair the roof, add indoor restrooms, build a small office and a nursery room, and expand the parking area. The Grange would continue its meetings and we would have the freedom to use the hall any other time. Once a year the church and the Grange would meet together.
In late October the men arrived in pickups with power-tools and tool belts. During the remodeling of the building one of the men leaned a ladder against the back wall and climbed up into the attic to examine the insulation and roof. When he shined his flashlight into the dark attic he could see that the inside of the sign in the gable end of the building had faded writing on it. He removed it and brought it down for us all to see. It was clearly lettered, “Hopewell Baptist Church.”
Mark Boucher’s wife remembered her grandmother telling her that as a young girl she had attended church there. It was there she had come to believe in Christ. The pastor had resigned under a cloud of scandal and the little Baptist church closed. It would be exactly seventy years to the month until another Baptist group sent prayer heavenward from the little building again. It would be seven decades until another assembly of believers would send hymns wafting out the windows over the waving corn again.
It was a rare Sunday when we had fewer than 100 or more than 135 people gathered there for worship. Almost every Sunday the little building was full of young families. Lives were changed there. Much good was done. It was a humble place but it was real Christian ministry. In all God gave our family ten years of service in quiet Knox County.
The night we found the sign I drove west, across the country toward home in my little brown station wagon. The boys were quiet. All along I had thought the church was just my idea, a private dream of my own I shared with a few others. But it was in the heart of God that after seventy years he would bring a group of people back to worship in the little hall again.
March 28, 2006
Riverfront Character Inn