Driving through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan — a vast, sparsely populated region that is as big as some states — I saw a familiar roadside sign.
It was the "the Episcopal Church Welcomes You" sign that almost all Episcopalian churches have erected as a way of pointing visitors toward their church.
Driving along U.S. Highway 2 toward Duluth, Minnesota, this is the last thing I expected to see. The closest city, Escanaba, was about 20 miles behind me.
As both a church crawler and a faithful Episcopalian, I was intrigued because there was no real explanation for an Episcopal parish church out here in the middle of nowhere. Years ago? Maybe, but not today, especially when the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan is basically dead and the ecclesiastical equivalent of a rotten borough.
So, I made a U-turn and then turned left, crossing railroad tracks and then drove a couple of blocks past a handful of older homes — homes that had seen better days — until I saw a simple white church and the same familiar Episcopal signage, although it was obvious that the church was disused. And of course, the doors were locked.
Architecturally, the edifice is not dissimilar from other countryside churches and one-room schoolhouses. However, it would be a stretch to call it Carpenter Gothic.
The map application on my smart phone told me I was at Zion Church in Wilson, an unincorporated community within the boundaries of Harris Township in Menominee County.
A quick reading of Wikipedia revealed there was an active railway station here from the late 19th century through the early 1950s, which would partially explain the church. Back in those days, a church was often the first building erected after a post office. (Wilson got its post office in 1881.)
Churches in small towns across the country are struggling to cope with rural depopulation. The situation is only made worse by the demographics of the Episcopal Church, a denomination that has been on a downward spiral for years. And in the case of Wilson, it turns out the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the all-but-established local church.
But back to Zion Church.
Sadly, little information is available on it without a visit to the Episcopal diocese's historic archives at Northern Michigan University
The national Episcopal Church website still lists the parish, but there is nothing to indicate that regular services are still held at Zion.
Of course, I would love to at least get inside the church to see the interior, though I suspect it is just as simple as the exterior.