The Old Sheldon Church Ruins near Yemassee, South Carolina was at first “just a place we saw on the map.” That was eighteen years ago when my husband, Sheldon, was only 52 years old. I didn’t joke him about his age and the name of the church ruins being Old Sheldon…. Well, maybe just a little bit. But since he was a pastor and had great interest in church buildings wherever our travels took us, it was appropriate we make the stop.
Old Sheldon Church Ruins
The church, formerly known as the Prince William Parish Church held its first service in 1757. Built in the form of a temple, it may have been the first of its kind in the United States. During the Revolutionary War, the church was burned out by the British, later rebuilt, only to be burned again during the Civil War.
The ruins stand in somber silence, an enduring testimony of the faith of the parishioners who long ago met inside these sacred walls. I find it interesting that though the church was torched on two separate occasions, the walls didn’t come tumbling down.
I discover I am humming the song from my childhood, “The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock” The second verse states that the foolish man built his house upon the sand, and the walls came tumbling down. And here I am walking through the ruins of a structure built more than 250 years ago and the walls still stand.
As we walk around the building, Sheldon and I occasionally poke our heads into the interior, examining the entire structure, commenting along the way. We discuss what it might have looked like before the burnings, the tragedy that it had been burned at all…the people who possibly were members of this congregation and the heartache they must have felt when their church burned.
It is a sunny afternoon, not hot, not muggy like a summer afternoon sometimes is. The shadows are lengthening, the breeze is gentle, the silence; ominous – except for an occasional bird call in the massive moss-covered trees around the property.
Sheldon crosses the trampled grassy carpet to what remains of the pulpit, or lectern as possibly it was called. At first we are exchanging a bit of bantering as he lifts his arm and eloquently begins a sermon to the people. I mean, what fun is it for a preacher to stand behind a pulpit and not deliver a sermon? After a few light-hearted moments, we begin to walk quietly through the ruins, alone in our own reveries.
I conjure up in my imagination, the faces of the parishioners who have been a part of this congregation. I see them as they worship. I envision the look of earnest desire to meet with God in this place.
I gaze across the sun-filtered interior and out beyond the columns to the cemetery. Those columns stand like sentinels around the exterior. Though they withstood the raging fires of two wars, they could not protect the inhabitants against the reality of death – deaths of parents, children, and friends.
The towering oaks stand as they have stood for perhaps hundreds of years. They lend a quiet reserve to the solitude. I walk reverently among the headstones, reading names and dates. I think of the many families who survived not only the deaths of these loved ones, but have survived the heartache of losing their place of worship.
I begin to get a keen sense of who these people were and of their determination to establish a place of worship. I applaud them for the fortitude of rebuilding their house of worship after the American Revolution – and feel their despair after the Civil War in letting the burned building stand in ruin. Some historians believe that the interior was gutted by those whose houses had been burned during Sherman’s “March to the Sea” and were in need of supplies to rebuild.
As our visit begins to come to a conclusion I am drawing my own conclusions regarding the experience. It is called the Old Sheldon Church Ruins – and indeed, the building in all its original splendor – is in ruins.
The original splendor may be gone – but not the enduring beauty. The purpose for which it was originally built remains as a place of worship to all who desire to enter into a time of reflection, peace, and communion with God. It is quiet. It is peaceful. It is holy.
I’m so glad these walls did not come tumbling down and have endured through time. I’m encouraged to have “met” the many worshippers who long-ago stood within these walls being refreshed and sustained by God just as I have been today.
Visiting historical sites, and in particular old churches and lighthouses is a hobby that my husband and I have enjoyed for the past 46 years. If you find your travels taking you along the South Carolina shoreline, take the time to visit the Old Sheldon Church Ruins in Yemassee. It’s a neat “off the beaten path” experience that I think you, too, will enjoy.