Steeples - Word&Way


A steeple is perhaps the most distinguishing architectural feature of churches. When you see a steeple, you think “church.” There was a time when churches were at the center of villages. And the steeple, pointing to heaven, indicated this community belongs to God.

Wade ParisWade ParisCities and towns are so large and scattered today, that is no longer true. However, when I am in an unfamiliar town, I look for the steeples and often drive by the churches they adorn.

As a child growing up in New Orleans, I observed the steeples on the Catholic churches, almost all of which bore crosses. I asked an adult why our church, a Baptist church, had a steeple but not a cross. I was told by this “all-knowing” adult that crosses were Catholic, and we were not Catholics. That seemed to make sense because there were so many Catholic churches with crosses; but even to a child, it didn’t sound quite right.

steeple 812885 640 (Pixabay)When I was a teenager, I was with a group of pastors who had seen a church in Mississippi with a unique steeple. Atop this steeple was a hand with a finger pointing to heaven. Someone in the group asked if it was a Baptist church.

“Of course not,” one pastor quipped. “If it was a Baptist church, the hand would have its palm up.”

Fast forward several decades when I was pastor of a church erecting a lovely new facility. Expenses had escalated and we were searching for ways to cut cost. The steeple is a big-ticket item; reluctantly we decided to “leave it for another day.” Instead, we installed a large, less expensive cross on our lawn, visible to all.

A parishioner came to me and said, “If we don’t put that steeple up now, I will never see it. I have an idea. If everyone would give a dollar for each year of their age, we could afford that steeple.”

“I’ll give my part,” I said, “and when the steeple is installed, I will put the final piece on top.”

She shared her idea with some lady friends. The plan spread rapidly. Everyone wanted that steeple. Soon, we had adequate funds. I gave my dollar for each year of my age (forty-six dollars). However, the contractors would not allow me to install the top piece.

“Insurance won’t allow it,” so they said.

I drive by that church often and admire the steeple. The lady with the idea? She’s in heaven. She was right; if we hadn’t done it then, she would never “on earth” have seen it.

Wade Paris writes a weekly syndicated column titled “The Shepherd Calls.”