Growing up, I was often one of the last people to leave the church at night, especially during the Summer, especially on Wednesday nights. My mother felt we were safe at church and I was, overall, a pretty good kid -- meaning I tried to avoid getting into trouble but was adventurous and curious and often pushed those boundaries. All that said, the church was alive in a different way at night...
The church itself wasn't old, as churches go; less than 100 years. It was founded in a part of town that was booming at the time. Many families came and left as the church grew from a one-building chapel to a nine-building religious complex connected by a series of outdoor covered walkways. All but one building was two stories tall, all but two were rectangular block buildings. It could easily be mistaken for an institution of some sort, except for the steeples. There were three chapels; the original white building, the expanded (and slightly older) chapel, and the (new) sanctuary. Yes, they all had different names to avoid confusion.
There was an incident in the 80s that prompted church officials to spread out classes all over the buildings. Fear not, I'll discuss the incident one day. Suffice to say, the chapel (built in the 40s) had fallen into disuse; now, it would become the Teen Chapel and all teen aged church-goers would have Sunday School and Wednesday night Bible classes in that building.
I cannot count the number of times I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye, particularly in the area of the church complex around the Teen Chapel. It always made me wonder if someone had built the church on top of a graveyard; I mean, the church had an incredibly haunted 'feel' but wasn't very old at all? Perhaps spirits were naturally drawn to the area? I would be curious to go back now and see if I could learn a few things.
One particularly cheerless task was opening the back, ground-floor doors of the Teen Chapel. It seems the lock was particularly difficult to open from the outside. A far easier but gruesomely creepy solution was to open the upstairs door, walk down a hallway to the middle of the building, take the unlit stairs down to the ground level, feel your way along a wall to the door (and light switch), and unlock and open the door. At dusk, there would be some light trickling in from the classrooms on the outside wall but after sunset the downstairs was completely pitch-black. If you held your hand in front of your face and slowly drew it in towards yourself, you would touch your nose with your palm long before you ever saw your hand; in fact, you could touch your eye and still not see it coming.
We normally made this trip in pairs. Very few would do it alone. If they gave merit badges for solo door duty, only a few would be given out. I would have mine, though. Sometimes, I was the only person who would open that door, alone or in a group. My mother once asked me to do it for one of her classes. I was no stranger to the danger.
But one time, right around sunset, I agreed to open the door. Alone. I made my way down the stairs and into the darkened ground floor. The downstairs was almost completely devoid of light. But something was different and I couldn't put my finger on what it was? Was that a swish of fabric and a change in the darkness down the hall? Was that sweat I smelled? Did the temperature just drop a bit? For the first time in making the daring Door Run, I was utterly afraid. That was when I prayed. I prayed for an angel to protect me. In the darkness I thought I saw a pulse of light around me. I definitely felt a surge of warmth throughout my body. And the darkness retreated slightly. I walked to the door, turned on the lights and opened the door. And, in a back room of the building, the faint clicking sound of a door closing could be heard. With a gaggle of teens and some adults in tow, we searched the building but nothing could be found.
I believe that there was someone or something in the dark with me. I am quite certain my prayer protected me but I am uncertain if I was in any physical danger or not. Over time, we did learn some terrible things about the Teen Chapel. But that will have to wait for another blog.