A couple of summers ago my family and I found ourselves strolling down the street of the picturesque New England town of Stockbridge Massachusetts, when we came upon a gorgeous stone church. Dedicated to St. Joseph, the church had a beautiful statue of the saint holding the small Christ child (decidedly less wiggly than the toddler we had with us). In the back garden, we stumbled upon another treasure—a large grotto with an altar built into the granite mountainside.
My children were enchanted by the lush garden, the beautiful sculptures, and the altar standing out in nature, a holy space discovered among the trees. They climbed on the rocks, they walked through the shaded grasses, and they took in the Holy space with large and eager eyes. With quiet reverence, they approached the large stone altar, amazed to find such a thing out in the midst of the trees, and very satisfied with themselves for making the discovery.
I realized after that morning that we often forget about these type of adventures with our kids. We might plan a trip around the shopping, the theme parks, the nature and the view. But another wonderful aspect of family travel, especially in the summer, is the visiting of holy spaces where we can find the wonder and beauty of God in unfamiliar surroundings.
I’ve found the best way to do this is simply to be curious about the churches I come across that look beautiful or have an interesting story. Chances are, especially if you’re in a historic place, there will be a historically important church in the area to make your visit to that city all the more special.
Last year I was lucky enough to be in Alexandria, Virginia for a conference at the Virginia Theological Seminary. It just so happened that Christ Church in Alexandria, just a few minutes down the road, was the place of worship for George Washington, and they still have his pew there in the church (you can go sit in it! You know I did!).
A quick evening visit to that beautiful brick church that has been so lovingly preserved is one of my most treasured memories of that trip—capturing me with its architecture, history, and amazing story.
There are countless churches like these across our nation–from the Old North Church in Boston where it’s said the lanterns were hung to signal Paul Revere to begin his midnight ride (“one if by land, two if by sea!”) to the gorgeous Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe with its miraculous staircase that, legend says, was built by a saint.
I’ve developed a fondness for exploring old churches, perhaps stemming from the fact that I live in a part of the country where things aren’t terribly old. If my children are along with me (and they usually are!) I like to encourage them to really look and explore, and touch when appropriate.
I think sometimes we think that children won’t be interested in these sorts of things, but I’ve seen my daughter’s eyes light up when entering the amazing heights of a light filled cathedral or when we stumble upon a hidden little garden in a church yard. My son, who is smaller, can appreciate the sound of his voice echoing in an old stone nave and has always loved the colors of stained glass and the sound of choirs singing. You don’t have to be a stuffy old grown-up to enjoy the beauty found in a church, and I think the earlier we learn this, the better!
We often forget in our ‘day to day’ thinking about churches that they can be destinations in themselves for travel and adventure. But if we get out of the spaces we see every day and treat it as an adventure, holy spaces can become wonderful places to seek out with your family, or on your own.
Inside our nation’s churches lie history, amazing architecture, priceless art, and a chance to get our breath taken away from us as beauty meets truth.
What beautiful or historic church is a destination for you?