The Churches of Page (Part one), wherein I visit five out of a baker’s dozen
By way of full disclosure, I must first admit that I was raised in church, steeped in church, schooled in church; in fact, spent an inordinate amount of time each week in church from the age of five days old right on up through middle age. I once held strong opinions on doctrine, standards, predestination, infallibility, life after death – and especially the practice of perfect attendance at corporate worship.
If you must know, I have been from time to time a collector of churches. On my first foray as an adult and away from home, I collected pictures of all the beautiful churches I stumbled upon in Germany; the church in Konigsee, the cathedral in Strasbourg; tiny, abandoned capellas in small hamlets.
The churches in Germany are old, very old, hundreds of years old. The churches in Page are closer to my age, built in the 60s, brick or stucco and often including a parsonage next door. On my first drive into town, they caught my eye. Not because of architectural beauty, but because of church proliferation in such a small population. Church Row. Eleven churches line Lake Powell Boulevard. St Peter’s list of 13 welcome you to Page on Highway 98.
“What small parking lots,” I said aloud as I scanned the neighborhood. “There is a story here. I bet they work together and schedule services so as to share parking space.” As I drove my way down Lake Powell Blvd on that, my freshman day in Page, I came to an ecumenical resolve: I would visit each of the churches in Page. I would find the story.
Page was founded in 1957. That explains a lot. It means Page is relatively young as municipalities go. From the get-go it was planned, engineered. And it was planned and engineered in the 50s, that bucolic time of home, hearth, God and country, and Betty Crocker.
Turns out those churches do work together on special events. They do get together for benevolent purposes. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, oh churches of Page, for you all meet at 10:00 am on Sunday morning.
I arrived at St. David’s Episcopal right on time. I chose St. David’s first for no particular reason except that my father is named David as is my favorite cousin and two other cousins. Also, it was Sunday, so I had missed my opportunity to begin properly with the Adventist Church. Two other cars and my Colorado-bred Subaru had the choice of parking spaces. No shared parking lots needed here, I concluded. Also, it appeared not to matter whether I chose the gospel side or the epistle side. Seats were available everywhere. Shaking hands with the greeter, I explained my mission: to visit all the churches in Page. “We hope you will come back another time,” he said, “When we are all here, every one is at district conference in Utah, today.” How episcopal can you get?
As a self-guided, ecumenical, eclectic church hopper, I hopped right over the next church – the LDS– and saved them until later – besides, they will come out two-by-two looking for me anyway, I reasoned. And they did! But that is another story.
The next available Sunday found me entering the nave of the Lutheran Church – Shepherd of the Desert, to be specific and Page is certainly in the desert. The Lutherans were a few more in number, the parking lot put to use. On that particular Sunday morning, they were enjoying the acoustic guitar ministry of a visitor from Flagstaff; a man who used to live in Page. While in Page, he was a member of the Assembly of God and then the Nazarene – or was it the other way around? Then he moved to Flagstaff and joined the Lutherans. Apparently I had just found a fellow church connoisseur – or would that be better classified as church drifter?
At the United Methodist Church I met five ladies, four older and grayer than I and one much younger (the minister). The women introduced themselves, were friendly and interested in my quest to visit all the churches in Page. “Where did you go last?” asked one. “The Lutheran Church,” says I. “Oh,” she said confidentially leaning toward me on the padded pew we shared, “I hear they have lots of men there.”
Perceiving that it is good to break up the routine once in awhile, I veered completely off course the next week and cut across from third base to shortstop to try out the relocated Faith Bible Chapel. What have we here? Not all men, not all women, not all gone to conference, but if the red-white-and blue flags and floral arrangements don’t lie; a fine example of God and Country. Furthermore, as I scanned the assembled multitude, I concluded they were also a fine example of the Sunday School chorus, “red and yellow, black and white; they are precious in His sight.” Thus, I was comforted by a good representation of the creative praise and worship music and ethnic diversity usually found in bigger box churches.
Feeling bereft of good manners and dreading making a bad first impression, I nevertheless pealed into the parking lot of the Assembly of God church at 10:02 am. Perhaps I should turn back now? Forsake my bent to tardiness and simply visit another time? Peace, be still my guilty soul. Behold, here was a casual- Friday- clad greeter still shaking hands at the entrance. With a warm welcome, he took my hand, shepherded me to a side door, and flung wide the gate. He announced my name to a room full of baby-boomers all facing me like I had just blindly entered their elevator. Amid questions, I quickly explained myself, “…and so I resolved to visit all the churches of Page…” Interest piqued. Ears perked up. With genuine curiosity one woman asked, “Have you been to the Seventh Day Adventist Church?” “Because we would really like to know what they are building back there in the garden area,” explained another.
The churches of Page; they are interested in you and interested in each other.
Yes, I am well churched. I have played the piano in churches all across the United States. I have played for churches in Karlsruhe Germany, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Seattle and smaller villages scattered throughout the Rocky Mountains. I have been to church for the same reasons I have played the piano: for weddings, for funerals, for revivals and for my own enjoyment.
Ah, churches of Page, you serve such a necessary purpose in the fabric of life and death. No wonder they intentionally plotted you in to the planned community. No wonder your head diocese, general assembly, or conference promptly arranged to build a House of God and to begin seeking the lost in this desert -parched, sandstorm-tossed construction community.
Yes, churches of Page, you well serve that necessary purpose in the fabric of life and death in Page Arizona. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against you for you all meet at 10:00 am. Alas, I am used to larger cities and bigger boxes. I like the option of a Saturday evening service. That way, I can have leisure meditative time on both Saturday and Sunday mornings and spend Sunday morning hiking alone – with my Creator.
But I also carry the guilt of one raised to be in church on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday midweek. Some feel comfort in the formal liturgies of episcopal and catholic churches – and yes, I mean that with a lower case e and a universal c! Those folks know when to sit, stand, kneel; when to say “Thanks be to God” and when to recite, “And also with you;” when to meekly receive the transformed elements from the one serving as priest.
I, on the other hand, was raised in a congregation that eschewed liturgy, chose to shout Hallelujah and to say A-Men, instead of the more cultured Ah-men. And so, with some feelings of trepidation, I returned to the fold for one Sunday and one Sunday only.
At the Nazarene Church I slipped into the first pew that seemed moderately available to a solitary visitor. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of empty rows up front and no self-respecting Nazarene Church would ever show more prestige to the wealthy than the least among you; nor assign honor and a pew plaque to give importance to select families or well-coffered patrons. Today, I am the outsider, but I know this gig. I know there are pillars of the church who have attended here since the cornerstone was laid and those august persons expect to be and are expected to be in their usual- though unmarked-pew. The pews are cushioned and less severe than those of old. There is the usual sitting and standing and prayer requests and singing of all the verses. After 40 years of absence, I can still sing all the words and harmonies without cracking the hymnal.
There is an entire row of churches in Page. I need to complete my pilgrimage with resolve. So far, I have visited – and in some cases returned – to five churches in 10 months. Not bad at all for a woman who prefers to spend Sunday mornings hiking alone – or with my Creator. I prefer to think of my hikes as following the example of Enoch – just putting one foot in front of the other until I am no more.