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Leaving Beaufort after a few hours of browsing and sightseeing, Martha suggested that we look for the signs to Old Sheldon Church.

“What’s that? Something historic?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s an historic site, ruins of an old church actually. People have ceremonies there,” she answered.

“Ceremonies?”

“You know, like weddings,” she said.

“Oh, I see.” But I really didn’t. Nothing Martha had said prepared me for the sights and sounds of this sacred place. When we came upon the site, I was so immediately spellbound that I pulled up just beyond the gate and turned off the ignition. I didn’t even see the nice parking lot across the tree-lined low country road.

Once inside the gate, Martha and I went our separate ways, each of us snapping pictures of the beauty around us. Aren’t iPhones amazing? The church remains are what loom majestically in the large space, so naturally we walked through, behind, and around them. Then there were the graves, big and small, old and somewhat recent. Who were these people? Why was this land important to them? What was their history?

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It had been raining on and off most of the day, and no matter where I stood on the grounds, I heard frequent splats of raindrops falling from the huge oak trees. Cleansing and refreshing. The air was cool, adding to the magical ambience of the place.

As I walked within the remains of the old church, I wondered about the congregations who had met there witnessing weddings, funerals, baptisms, and other rites of passage. They had listened to words of encouragement and guidance from the pulpit, sang hymns of praise and thanksgiving, and perhaps felt a calm respite from the world during their moments inside the sanctuary. How do I know that? I felt it.

The sense of peace and refuge was almost palpable. But there was a disturbing presence beneath those huge trees too, one of fear and desecration. We walked about almost reverently, each of us with our individual thoughts and feelings, only speaking occasionally in low tones. As we left the grounds, I read a sign and realized the source of my unease. Twice built and twice burned, Old Sheldon Church and its people had suffered much loss.

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As we headed back to Edisto, I found myself marveling at the richness of South Carolina’s low country. It’s lovely. And so full of history. After the touristy aspects of Beaufort (not a complaint, just an impression), a visit to quiet Old Sheldon was the perfect topper for the day. We both felt better for our presence there, and I hope Old Sheldon felt better for ours.

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