On Easter, we took a drive up to White Springs, a small historic town north of Lake City. After spending the afternoon visiting Big Shoals and the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, we headed back south on Highway 41. We hadn’t gone out looking for churches, although the day was certainly appropriate to do so.
This is the South, an area of the country with a deeply religious streak. There are more churches in Gainesville than I’ve seen in any small city, and finding simple frame houses of worship on rural county roads is the rule rather than the exception.
So it was that I went zipping by an architecturally unexciting white concrete church called Word in Power Outreach Ministry. Smoke bellowed from the back of the building, but we took this to be an Easter barbecue since a red pickup truck was parked alongside. We don’t like to go poking around too much in rural Florida; the general rule of thumb is that if there are a lot of beaten-up pickups and barbed wire around a property, it’s best just to mosey on by. Junkyard dogs are another sign that you might want to stay well inside your vehicle, as are old men in overalls sitting on porches with shotguns at their sides.
As soon as I had sped by the church, Mr. B. said I’d probably want to get a picture of it. He was right; the more I photograph Florida the more demanding I become, so I’d driven past the church’s unremarkable building. After all, it wasn’t historic, it wasn’t derelict, there were no pink bulls or plastic candy canes hung on the door and there was truly nothing scenic or rewarding about it.
How wrong I was. As I was turning my car around to pull back onto the highway, Mr. B. spied the church’s sign. My apologies for the poor quality of this picture. I didn’t want to get out of the car to walk closer, not with that smoke bellowing out of the back of the building–you never know who might be coming for dinner.
The sign reads:
WE’RE ON FIRE!
Given the smoke, I’d say this was as true a statement as any.
Although the sign displayed a regular schedule of worship, there was some indication that the service schedule might be, how shall we say it, a bit irrregular:
Service Is Subject To Change Due To The Movement Of The Holy Ghost
A short distance south of the church, Mr. B. noticed a sign for Falling Creek Falls. We stopped to enjoy the tannin-stained waterfall and then read a sign that mentioned a small church that had been in business since the mid-1850s and was located just a few yards down the road. This was the Falling Creek Chapel, a modest place that had been holding regular services since the 1880s, when the original chapel was rebuilt. The church has two front doors, one for men and one for women. The men sat on one side and the women on another. The church was Baptist until 1866, then spent 131 years as Methodist place of worship before coming non-denominational in 1997.
We were able to go into the church, which smelled of aged wood, of hot sun on good solid wood that has lasted for well over a century and is still as sturdy as the day it was built. There was something in that, I think, about the original Florida settlers who came to this land in Columbia County. The contrast between the antic modern hellfire of the Word In Power church and the quiet devotion of the Falling Creek Chapel couldn’t have been greater. We left Falling Creek feeling as if we had found something very special indeed.