For 282 years’ worth of Sundays, someone has sat, and stood, and sung, and knelt, and prayed here, in this space, inside these very walls. Someone in a waistcoat, in a hoop skirt, someone holding a homemade rag doll or an imported, porcelain-headed version, has stood at the first strains of the opening hymn. Someone wearing a bustle, or Confederate gray, or denim overalls, or deep black mourning, has unobtrusively bowed his or her head as a sign of humility as the processional cross was carried aloft and down this very aisle toward the altar. Someone in a middy blouse or boxy suit; in knickers or a knitted cloche; in a belted, darted, shirtwaist dress or Army fatigues, has opened the Book of Common Prayer and followed a liturgy dating from 1549. Like these colonists, these forebears, these faithful, this Sunday, in the oldest town in North Carolina, in the oldest standing, active church in North Carolina, in a short-sleeve dress and flats, I’m doing what they did, and what has been done every week for 282 years.
Like nearly everything in Bath, St. Thomas Episcopal Church is mere yards from water. The town was founded in 1705, on Bath Creek, which leads to the Pamlico River, which leads to the Pamlico Sound, and on to the Atlantic. Behind the church ”” simple, squarish, steeple-less ”” are fields of crops. The church’s front yard ”” indeed, its back yard ”” is randomly dotted with gravestones, both recent and ancient. No fences. No foundation plantings. A few firs, crooked with age. It’s easy to imagine how St. Thomas looked in 1734, when it was constructed. Little, it seems, has changed.
Read it all and enjoy the pictures.