A few weeks ago, I spent a long weekend at Hilton Head Island to get rejuvenated for the “Fall Retreat Season” at the retreat center where I work. On my way home, I made a slight detour. Nestled between Beaufort, SC, and the sleepy intersection called Yamasee is a most unlikely structure. Rising out of the tidal marsh, surrounded by low country palmettos and live oaks rests the ruins of Prince William’s Parish Church. Built between 1745 and 1753 in the ancient Greek revival style, the majestic columns still reach toward the sky.
It has a checkered history. During the Revolutionary War, the American army used it to store weapons. The British army discovered the cache and set the building ablaze in 1779. It was rebuilt after the revolutionary war ended. A hundred years later the Confederate army once again opted to use the church to store weapons. In 1865, General Sherman and the Union army burned all that was combustible. Today, only the massive walls and columns remain.
There’s a metaphor here. Saint Paul says, “You are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (1 Cor 3:16) I have to ask the question: If my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, have I made it a fitting dwelling, or filled it with ‘weapons’?
The Old Sheldon Church (as it’s currently called) twice was used to store weapons. Both times it brought about destruction. There is an incongruity in converting a place for worship into an arsenal for war. There is an equally disturbing incongruity when my temple of the Holy Spirit harbors weapons like anger, bitterness, or unforgiveness. These barbs stand ready to be hurled at any force that threatens my ego and assaults my pride.
The Old Sheldon Church was modeled after Saint Mary Laurentia in Greatbaddow, England. Built in 1172, the same original structure still remains (see photo) and parish life continues. For almost a millennium, the prototype avoided destruction, maybe because it remained truer to its original purpose: a place to offer praise to God and provide a fitting dwelling for the Holy Spirit.
Saint Paul seems to speak directly about the Old Sheldon Church. In the preceding verse he says, “If someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss, yet the person will be saved but only as through fire.” (1 Cor 3:15) It was through the burning that the weapons were destroyed. Like purgatory, salvation came ‘through fire’. After the first burning, the church was restored to its original dignity to fulfill its original purpose. The curator told me he’s hopeful for a second restoration.
The musings made me want to take a peek into my own temple and identify anything that the Holy Spirit may find objectionable. In one corner I saw a little pile of resentment for a past offense, in another a cache of ill-will I too often direct to another. As I cleared out the debris, I found a few more little weapons buried underneath which also would be incompatible with the indwelling Spirit. I’ll keep working on it. I certainly want to avoid that ‘purging fire’.
What’s in your temple?
If you’d like to know more about the Old Sheldon Church, follow the link.