Mike and Kenny heard the creak of the front door echo across the wooden floor as they opened it. As Mike felt on the wall for a light switch Kenny said, “I think if there was a treasure here someone would have found it. They did some renovations whenever someone had the bright idea of this being a museum.” When the Elm Avenue church was built, the old church sat empty next to the church’s graveyard until someone thought it could be a place to display town memorabilia and pictures of the past. Most of the time it was empty of visitors except for school field trips and history days where the front doors were unlocked and the displays were dusted for viewing. One of Mike’s church members had the unpaid job of town historian and loaned him the key to the place.
The light switch made a loud click across the room as the florescent lights slowly sparked to life. Mike said, “I don’t know where else to start. George Williams’s journal said when fear overcame the city Rev. Cogman hid the precious things here.”
“I don’t know what they could have back then that was so precious. It’s not like they were keeping the church funds in gold bars.”
Where the church pews used to be display cases sat along the walls showing old pictures and things that survived the decades. Mike looked into one case, saw a picture, and said, “Look at this, Kenny. Here’s Robert Perry in front of the factory when it was new. Was he Chip’s grandfather?”
“Grandpa or great-grandpa. I forget the proper lineage of Thomasville’s first family. He was the one who made the big donation for the church building we have now.” They looked around from case to case, seeing pictures of state championship basketball teams and posters for presidential candidates making whistle stop campaign appearances in Thomasville.
Mike asked, “If you were a treasure where would you hide here?”
“I don’t know,” Kenny said. “It’s really just one room here. The pastors back then used the parsonage as their office so it doesn’t have a lot of places to hide.”
“What about the bell tower?”
“No. I went up there when we rang it for the memorial at the cemetery. It’s just some rickety steps and a bell at the top.”
Kenny sat down at what used to be the front of the church. The raised chancel was still there, and the carved pulpit sat where the pastors used to preach, even though a few old high school banners now hung from its front.
Mike sat down a couple feet from him and asked, “So a rough meeting the other night?”
“Yeah. Like I told you, if things don’t turn around they’re going to rethink my employment there.”
“And Skip Perry is the guy leading the inquisition?”
“Well, he’s the most vocal one in the meeting. I don’t know if others feel the same as him or if they just go along with what he says.”
“So what’s your deal with him?”
“What do you mean?”
“It got pretty cold at McFly’s the other day. I think the temperature dropped 20 degrees as soon as you saw each other.”
“I’m dumb but not that dumb. It was pretty obvious something was going on.”
“We were ok the first year or so I was here. He kept talking about how lucky they were; happy days were here again, blah blah blah. Two years ago he wanted me to preach on restoring America’s cultural heritage.”
“You mean all the political stuff about preserving America’s legacy? It all seems like a cover for immigrant hate to me.”
“Exactly. He came and said we needed to hear about this from the pulpit, America’s Christian heritage and all that. I told I respected his views but I couldn’t find Jesus in English-only sloganeering and fear-mongering about immigrants coming to change us all.”
“Oh man. You really stepped in it.” Mike said. “I don’t think he’s used to people telling him ‘no.’”
“Yeah. The Christmas presents stopped after that and he stopped praising my performance. I guess he tolerated me for awhile, but the church isn’t doing so well. You can see all the fresh gravestone outside. We buried a bunch of our regular attenders and givers and money started getting tighter.”
“It’s not your fault people don’t live forever.”
“Yeah, but Chip decided I wasn’t on the same page as him and then we’re cutting the budget and pews are empty and it’s my fault.”
“I don’t know why he blames you. We’re not doing so hot at Bethany either. A good Sunday we have 50 people. We don’t fight, but we’re not a model of success.”
They sat a little longer, and Mike said, “I think you’re right. I don’t see any treasure here. You want to get some coffee?”
“I’ve never said no to coffee, and you might even see Karen there.”
Mike asked, “Yeah, and maybe she’ll go to the school dance with me if I ask her. What are you, 13 years old? Let’s go.” He got up and as he wobbled onto his feet his elbow hit an old hymnbook that was on the edge of the pulpit. The hymnbook fell and landed with its face slapping the chancel floor, sending a boom across the echoey room.
“Mike,” Kenny said. “did that sound like it’s hollow underneath here?”
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict