The sunlight shone not only through the windows of this tiny historic church, but through the church itself, silhouetting the profile of someone waiting for the service to begin.
This is Old St. Luke’s Church in Scott Township, PA, the oldest Presbyterian church in America west of the Allegheny Mountains. Set on a bluff over Chartiers Creek, the setting sun shines through the west windows and right through the sanctuary to the east windows, very plain yet colorful and elegant stained glass in a traditional diamond shape.
As the winter solstice approaches the quickening days of late autumn bring earlier sunsets, sometimes much earlier than we are prepared to accept. Bare trees allow the sun to illumine familiar sights that have been draped in cool shade and fluttering leaves all summer. The lower winter angle of the sun casts dramatic shadows, especially at sunset. The whole effect can change a world we take for granted into a place that looks familiar but is somehow strange.
And sometimes the place just has an “otherness” about it. This is Old St. Luke’s Church in Scott Township, established as a stockade church in 1765 but serving as a lookout point for centuries before that for tribes of Native Americans who paddled the “Catfish Path”, now Chartiers Creek, after hunting on the verdant hills. The overlook stands above a bend in Chartiers Creek and overlooks a flood plain valley, and even prior to European settlers’ Christian homage, the site seems to have had a spiritual essence. No doubt the very soil remembers many feet, many words, many prayers.
The church yard holds the graves of settlers from the Revolutionary period, and a scattering of others from later years. The building was rebuilt at least twice and served as a church and burial ground from 1765 until about 50 years ago when it closed and fell into disrepair. While I was growing up we were all sure it was haunted and that Revolutionary War soldiers’ bodies littered the pews inside. About ten years ago a group of interested people found funding to re-open it, preserving a part of it as a museum, conserving the church yard and offering tours and services.
Today was dark with heavy, lowering skies from the first light, but nearing sunset the clouds parted and drifted away toward the east, leaving the sun to set in a varied sky, etching the old oak tree against the brilliant display. Still, as welcome as the sunlight was after a short dark day it looks somehow ominous, and I remembered the long history of the site as I stopped to take the photo.
Visit the website for Old St. Luke’s at www.oldsaintlukes.org.