One of Mississippi’s historic and architectural treasures is Rodney Presbyterian Church. Everyone seems to acknowledge this, so why can’t we figure out a way to at least keep the yard mowed a few times during the summer? Getting to Rodney is an adventure, and I was lucky enough to arrive as the afternoon sun was hitting the building just right, but I was horrified to see the condition of the church. Overgrown with weeds that I prayed weren’t inhabited by snakes, the church’s doors were standing wide open, and the side door to the balcony has been completely ripped from its frame. On the one hand, I have always wanted to see inside the building–the doors have always been locked previously–but on the other hand, this was the openess of neglect, not welcome.
I knew the church was endangered because it was listed on the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s 10 Most Endangered List in 2003:
The Mississippi United Daughters of the Confederacy obtained the building in 1966, receiving a grant to restore it. Since then, however, funds to maintain Rodney Presbyterian have been low, and the building, among the oldest surviving churches in Mississippi, has slipped into another period of decline and is threatened by deterioration from the elements.
Inside, like the other churches on my day’s journey, Bethel and Rocky Springs, there was a guest book and a container for money. Unlike those other churches though, here the guest book was filled and the last entries, written on the back of the back cover, were from January 2012. The container next to the book for donations was completely empty, and given the state of things, I didn’t leave money as I had at the other churches, feeling that it would be stolen before anyone came to check on the church. I saw neglect inside, but no major structural problems or big roof leaks, so the building is still as sound as it can be after four decades without its congregation, but I left very discouraged. If we can’t maintain these obvious historic landmarks, what does that say about the strength or lack thereof of the preservation ethic in Mississippi in this generation?
Just down the street I passed a group of five or six hunters outside their cabins. Their lots were freshly mowed, and it seems to me if a few of them would volunteer to mow the church’s lot once a year, at least that would keep the building from being overgrown. And maybe they could also volunteer to check on the guest book and donation container for the UDC on a regular basis. Brighten the corner where you are, folks!
You can read more about the history of the building and see pictures of its much better condition in 2011 at Southern Lagniappe