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February 28th, 2011
Commentary: Where have all the steeples gone?


I was on a venture several weeks ago, along the golden corridor of our main freeway system here in the San Antonio/Austin area, and I was shocked to realize that the “object” of my search had become almost extinct. As far as the eye could see, I could not find what I was looking for that day, and I immediately experienced a moment of panic and loss, and knew it might not ever be part of my life again. I was melancholy, a bit nostalgic, but most of all, really didn’t understand why.

I was looking for “steeples” and there were none to be found. I kept thinking that surely there’s a steeple on a church somewhere around here. I saw building after building with signage on the front lawns that denoted it was indeed a church, but no steeple.

I panned my eyes across the field to look closely at a brand new massive edifice that had the same generic look of an office building, a hospital or a school, but was called a church. You could tell there had been a great price tag on the building, but not the added expense of a steeple. The only visual that would say a congregation met there would be the sign, and from the freeway, that can be hard to read unless it’s really big. Many signs don’t face the freeway, so if you miss it in passing, it’s hard to look back in your rear view mirror and catch the name.

Now that I’m looking more closely at church signs, I’ve seen digitized monstrosities that would make the local car dealer or furniture store drool for such advertising exposure. They have scrolling messages delivered as fast to the human eye as the speed of all cars passing by. Whew! It’s sometimes exhausting to read all the activities going on at certain churches. It’s listed and flashed before your eyes as quickly as the brain can engage and process.

What churches don’t realize is that they already have a “corner on the market” for signage and exposure if they’d just get their steeples out. That spire says more about what’s going on in that church than the “speed of light” message trying to get your attention.

Now this is not to say that all churches have taken down their steeples, but it’s an obvious depletion from yesteryear.

Through my travels into small town USA, I always approach each off-ramp looking out over the trees to see if there are any “steeples” in that certain little city. Oh, what a feeling when you see those spires peering above the treetops, reaching for the sky!

I’ll never forget traveling throughout the New England states many years ago, and oh, how beautiful were the “steeples.” There were white spires, red spires, silver and gold ones, all shapes and sizes, but you knew right away what it represented. You would see a steeple peak out amongst the fall foliage of brilliant colors and there was a peace that comes over you when seeing that beautiful edifice crowned with a spire that speaks loudly about its very existence.

If you find a Christmas card with a picture of a church on it, you will always see a steeple. Never have I seen a card of a church without that beautiful spire. It just seems American. And it’s surely Christian. Why wouldn’t we pay the added expense of a steeple, or do we want to have that generic look about us. Are we afraid to let passers-by know we are a church.

One of the biggest advertisers in the marketplace wants you to know you need only look for the golden arch and you will find your answer to hunger and thirst. And I, like many people, will do that very thing . . . looking for those golden arches, because I know I’m just a hamburger away.

I would like to believe that a steeple on every church would have the same effect as a golden arch . . . a place to find your answer to hunger and thirst.

Why have we taken all our steeples down. At first thought, I rationalized it had to be money. But I couldn’t justify the cost when I know those huge digitized signs must cost a fortune, so we’ve replaced our steeples with message boards that try to say it all. If the church only knew what that single spire says, it would do wonders to a hurting community who needs someone to point the way. Why not the church?

DEBBIE DANIEL is a San Marcos area resident.

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2 thoughts on “Commentary: Where have all the steeples gone?

  1. Nicely written and I have observed the same, although I must admint, I took it a step further and interpreted it as evidence/symbolism the church moving in somewhat troubling direction.

    Could be all in my head, but a steeple (often on a modest church) feels like it is reaching out to the community, offering support. A simple, dignified and easily understood, that this is a place for those who are looking for guidance, assistance, or, as you say, someone to point the way.

    The other stuff feels much more capitalist, like “how can we grow and get more butts in the seats?” Any ol’ butts will do. Striving to be the next megachurch. Which is not the same as being open and welcoming to anyone. This feels colder and more self-serving, like the inflatable gorilla and flashing lights in front of the used car lot.

    Of course, perhaps it is just longing for a simpler time and reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that even the neighborhood church is not immune to change. Sometimes change is great and sometimes things really were a little better before.

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