And Then?

Beside the squat, square tower

of the red-brick church, up which

the ivy cannot commit to climb,

an oak has begun its autumnal rite,

one quadrant turned to gold–

not yet glory, but the promise of it.


Truth that, yet a falsehood as well,

for the trooping of the colours precedes

the dead march toward the brown rot

that winter will freeze and try

to mask with dirty snow.


Eternal expectation that the compost

will feed new growth in spring,

but still also the persistent doubts–

Who are the elect, who the elector,

what if the plan should fail?


Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper



In the Cathedral

The church might have fallen into disuse,

become more tourist attraction than place of worship;

the visitor might have wandered away from religion,

believing in tradition more than faith,

or might never have believed at all.

One might reason the ornamentation wasteful,

lament the money diverted from charity.

All true, and yet, on stepping inside,

one must yield to the power of the ethereal blue

and admit, however reluctantly, the spiritual presence.


Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper

Christ Window at St. Luke’s

In the great window over the altar,

Jesus with flowing blond hair,

tall and straight like a Doric column,

ruby-red mantle draped over left

shoulder, right hand raised.

Beatific expression on his too-pale

face, but the most remarkable feature,

apart from the sun-fueled intensity

of the jeweled glass, is the artist’s

representation of the feet of Christ,

glowing white, fanned together

in a most unnatural position, as if

he does not stand but rather levitates

over the adjacent panels below,

the intent presumably to show

Christ as mediator between

heaven and earth, a protective

comforter hovering over the

congregants. And yet the effect

proves distancing, surreal.

The priest reads the Gospel,

the story of the sinful woman

who washes Jesus’ feet with

tears and dries them with her

hair focusing greater attention

on those translucent feet,

perhaps the feet of divinity

being the only part for which

we mortals can aspire to reach.


Note: The window’s location is St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper



Old Church

The loveliest building in town,

some might even say the only pretty one,

unquestionably the only church

worthy of architectural notice,

in Oologah, Oklahoma, the town

that time misspelled—the key

players being the post office

and a drunken sign painter—

known, if at all, for a lake,

Will Rogers, and a whole lot

of trains (also storm prone,

so if the train in the night doesn’t whistle,

you’re probably in for it),

the old Methodist church,

a wood-frame structure, white,

with a red paneled door that says

“picturesque American small-town church”

better than any description of it does;

if you were writing the textbook, you

would choose it for the illustration.

church (2)

Angled into the corner of Locust and Alta,

adjacent to the city park, its

congregation outgrew, abandoned it,

built anew, a spacious but generic

“facility,” out where the old highway

meets the new one, with a big parking lot.

The town government bought the

fellowship hall for municipal use,

but obviously didn’t need a church.

There was talk of conversion

to a library, a peaceful reading room

making the most of stained glass and hardwoods.

But “prohibitively expensive” inevitably

entered the conversation, the threat

of demolition not ruled out.

The nave sits square with the streets,

the narthex (maybe Methodists

call it something different?) with steeple

and bell turned on the bias.

Though I’ve never been inside,

I’ve been in enough other ones

to guess about what it looks like:

white walls, red-carpeted aisles,

time-worn wooden pews. The exterior

not ornate, its beauty in simplicity.

lambwindow (2)

The windows, though, are marvelous,

depicting Christological symbols

rather than pictorial narrative:

a lamb, a star, a dove, a fish, a chalice,

a theology in fragments of glass.

The building reminds me of a similar,

though less exemplary, church

in my home town, long vacant,

windows boarded over—the result

of a dwindling congregation,

members dying off, their children

moving away, rather than a growing one.

Not among the Methodists, though

I served as musician for one of their

churches once, my interest lies

mainly in the architecture, but still,

a church, or any house of religion,

abandoned seems weirdly lonesome, empty.

What happens to belief

when the believers all depart?

The Spirit goes, it’s said, where

the gathering takes place,

but what of the spirits of those

whose lives passed through here,

the God-fearing farmers, mechanics, and clerks;

the singers of hymns, bakers of cookies,

mowers of grass, bearers of flowers;

the christened, the married,

the unmarriageable, the dead?

Even outside, I intimate their presence,

don’t think they’ve moved out

to the highway.

Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper