Today I traveled from my usual haunt on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island to Warren, a historic, waterfront town where I photographed St. Mark's, a lovely old Episcopal church about to go on the market.
The Diocese of Rhode Island assumed responsibility for St. Mark's a couple of years ago when the congregation could no longer support it. A member with whom I served on a board recommended me, and although the request gave me pause, I was intrigued at the prospect of finding someone to breathe life back into this 1830s house of worship now sitting empty and dark in a densely populated neighborhood.
Today I got started. It took several tries to get the key to turn in the stubborn lock. As the heavy red door creaked open, I entered a dark vestibule that opened to a knave filled with light streaming in through enormous stained glass windows. It was quiet and cold as I walked up the aisles inspecting the little doors on the painted pews with upholstered kneelers, bookshelves with missals still in place and ubiquitous red carpet on the floors.
As I photographed the altar, the choir loft, the baptismal font and the glass it occurred to me I might be the first person in 180 years to look at this place with the intention of repurposing it. As I climbed into the pulpit I couldn't help wondering about the clergy who stood there before me and the congregants who came to hear them all those years. I suspect many former members still live in the neighborhood, and the empty presence must weigh on at least a few local hearts.
So I hope I can find a church group in need of a new home or a creative soul who wants to live among the spiritual legacies and community spirits of old St. Mark's.
If you have any stories of successful Second Acts for proud old churches please pass them along here!