The first time I took my children to Sunday school at our small country church, I doubted I’d be able to find them again. To reach our “educational wing,” I had to exit the lobby into the fellowship hall, pass through a swinging door, go up two steps, down six, turn, go down six more, follow a narrow hall, proceed through a basement classroom, up seven more steps, down another hallway, up five steps, about-face, and ascend another five steps. There, at long last, I found a hallway with five classrooms and a supply closet.

Who knew that dropping my kids off at Sunday school would require a certificate in orienteering?

Like most of the spaces in our church, the educational wing was added when it was needed, and without much thought for overall design. When the congregation first gathered in the early 1920s, all they had was a tent. Eventually, the farmers and factory workers saved enough to build a small brick building at a cost of $8,250. (I know because the original contract hangs framed near the front entrance.)

Over the years, and as the ministry’s needs changed, the congregation added on to this original structure—classrooms, a new sanctuary, a fellowship hall, a nursery, a kitchen. All the usual elements, only cobbled together haphazardly over decades. There’s a complicated beauty in the resulting disjointedness, an account of the highs and lows of a century of faithful ministry—years that included the need for large spaces for worship and fellowship, spaces for babies and children, spaces to grow. But there were also years that included tight, dark hallways, waiting rooms that seem to serve no purpose—and yes, occasionally, even a dead end. In an age when congregations ...

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