Less than 20 miles from my home, developers have discovered a historic altar. It is a rock. A moss-covered boulder actually, with a large, simple cross carved into one side. Archeologists believe this artifact marks the spot of “bush meetings” – worship services held secretly in the woods by slaves and free blacks in the 19th century after meeting houses were closed following Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831. The current plan is to move the stone to storage, before creating a permanent home for it at a nearby Methodist church.
While it is heartening to see that the developer and historians have been working together cooperatively on this project, those who care about the altar’s significance are concerned. Will dislodging it damage it in any way? How will storage conditions affect its appearance? What if it cracks in transport? Despite the advice experts will give, these are questions that can really only be answered with, ‘We won’t know until we try.’
Sometimes I look at something so beautiful as this altar, and wonder if the preservationists see in it the same thing I see…..A community of people, oppressed in every way, came together in a private place to humble themselves before the Almighty. Sure, today it’s a thread in the narrative quilt of our county, but that carved cross represented so much more to the people who put it there. The believers who risked their lives to come and worship in secret cared more about the God to whom they surrendered their souls than they did about the altar. It was just a reminder of where to go – a place of redemption and hope that enabled them to endure their suffering.
The cross on the boulder still works today – if, despite our reservations and questions, at some point, we give it a try. People of every era experience fear, pain, and losses. We’re not so advanced or unique. So our community would do well to concentrate on understanding for ourselves the strength of these people’s faith and the grace they experienced, gazing up at that cross, and embracing the Rock of (all) Ages.