I like covered bridges. Why? They are picturesque. They evoke memories from my childhood – when there were more of them. Almost all the covered bridges we used to cross Morgan County, Indiana creeks on are gone. Counties like Park County, Indiana and Ashtabula County, Ohio that maintain several covered bridges have made a tourist industry of them. I suppose, otherwise, the anachronistic structures would be too expensive and limited to keep. Limited – because the old ones are narrow one car at a time structures and the one car needs to go fairly slow while crossing too! Expensive because the old covered bridges are primarily wooden structures and thus require constant maintenance. Which – on the one hand, is funny because the point of the covered bridges in the first place was reducing maintenance! Unless the deck of a bridge is arched and domed, water will pool on it when it rains and it will decay. A less expensive proposition than arching and doming was to put an A frame roof over the bridge deck. The roof would shed the water. Since we hadn’t (and still haven’t) figured out how to get that roof to float in space (Still rooting for anti-gravity, in which case we won’t need bridges at all!) the roof required walls, the whole supported by the deck, i.e. ‘covered bridge’. The walls could be constructed with arches and connecting rods or wooden lattices that would increase the strength of the deck even as the roof protected it from the elements. The bridge deck lasted much longer and the maintenance on the roof was considerably easier and cheaper than the maintenance on the unprotected deck would have been. Win/win!
Then bridges began to be constructed of steel, concrete and asphalt. Not only are these materials more resistant to water damage, they made it comparatively easy to build arch and dome into the deck so it sheds water all on its own. No roof means no need for walls – at most a couple of concrete or steel guard rails to prevent any unfortunate from driving off the side on a dark icy night. As the new materials made stronger bridges, bridges could also be wider for two-way traffic and able to bear higher speed traffic. Better bridges and no need to maintain all that wood!
Which is why I was leery as my wife and I recently began the tour of Ashtabula County’s covered bridges. The first three we saw were frauds. One, billed as the shortest covered bridge in Ohio, is a foot bridge over a ditch I could still, at 63, jump across. Another, billed as the longest covered bridge in Ohio, is built on a state highway and is actually a thoroughly modern bridge to which a totally un-necessary, entirely decorative ‘cover’ structure has been added. A third, somewhere between the longest and shortest, is the same – a modern bridge with covered bridge themed décor. Fortunately, after that, the remaining dozen plus covered bridges were actual one lane, low speed, wood deck, integrated strength increasing wall architecture, honest to goodness covered bridges. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour despite my initial misgivings.
Perhaps I am a purist. But if I take the lid off a butter churn I don’t want to find a hidden mini-fridge full of plastic tubs of Blue Bonnet or Land O Lakes! I get why we have moved on from butter churns, covered bridges and other items featured in my childhood. You don’t need to humor me with pretenses! Well, maybe in just one instance. When one favorite bridge from my youth disappeared they knocked down the embankments that raised the bridge above flood levels and set a culvert in the resultant sump. A culvert! That’s not trading poetry for prose – it’s trading poetry for animal sounds! Now that I’ve got that out of my system –
Materials, construction techniques and efficiency aside – the purpose of the bridges remains the same – to give you a way across the gap and over the flood – to get you and yours safely where they could not go otherwise.
Much has changed for the modern church. Some of it I completely understand. Modern technology makes it possible to reach more people more easily and efficiently. Never mind the internet! I miss some of the period related aspects of the church of my childhood but I understand why we moved on. No need to humor ourselves with pretenses. Still, the functions of the church remain exactly the same. For one, there’s a gap between the world and the Kingdom. It’s a perilous gap. A bridge is needed.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church