It was an accident. The girl had been driving with her father. She was practicing for her upcoming drivers test.
Then it happened...
...she lost control of the car and ran into the side of the Meeting House. The force knocked it off its foundation, leaving it teetering on a single cinder block. There it has remained for the last twenty years. Abandoned. Frozen in time since the day of the accident. No more Prayer Meetings are held in it. No more Sunday School.
It's just decaying slowly...
...in someone's front yard.
The Meeting House begged to be photographed, and I aimed to oblige. I went in search of its owner. Fortunately an old pickup truck soon emerged, driven by the next-door neighbor. Reverend Thompson told me the tale of the old Meeting House, the young girl, and the accident. He was quick to add - a new Meeting House had been built in town to succeed the old one. So that they could continue to spread the Word. He also confirmed that the owner of the old Meeting House was his neighbor - the Reverend Middleton.
I was in business.
I crossed Reverend Thompson's yard. Strode onto Reverend Middleton's property, past the old Meeting House, and up the slope to the big house. Initially I couldn't see who was around - the direct afternoon sun blinded me. I just heard the barking of a dog - getting louder and more frantic the closer I approached.
I found him - Reverend Middleton was parked on his front porch. Along with his wife and their daughter. As well as Maisy, their dog. They were simply enjoying the warmth and beauty of a springtime afternoon. And of each other's company.
The Reverend gave me permission to shoot the old Meeting House. More importantly, he agreed to let me photograph him. "As long as I don't have to get up" - his only stipulation.
I shot - while he sat on his throne.
Mrs. Middleton was a bit camera shy but incredibly gracious. Maisy not so much. But Mrs. Middleton kept her at bay for me.
I spent about an hour with Reverend Middleton and his family. He's now retired from preaching. He was born and will (likely) die in Hollywood, SC. His wife grew up across town. Their grandkids have started to disperse - including to New York City.
His neighborhood is made up of six homes (plus the old Meeting House). Reverend Middleton lives next to Reverend Thompson. And most curiously...
...next to four other Reverends. Six preachers and their families, all living side-by-side on The Reverends Court. I found it astonishing. He thought it completely normal.
I suspect Reverend Middleton was, and is, a great preacher. His religious training may or may not have been extensive and deep. His sermons, hallelujahs and amens may or may not have roused people to their feet (though...I bet they did). But his ability to teach - that seems to be his gift.
I sense he's a man who knows himself. Who knows what matters most. Who understands that a more important measure of a man is what you offer the world...rather than the quantity of your worldly possessions. Who believes that anyone and everyone can lead a full life, even if the border of that world is Hollywood, South Carolina.
I sensed he not only taught lessons like these, but also embodied their words. And through his words and deeds he became a powerful teacher. And won-over his parish. Not because he is fine religious teacher, but because he is a fine human being.
Spending an hour with the Middletons was inspiring. And a privilege.