Christian pilgrimages have been difficult for the last 1,500 years. The oldest Christian locales have been appropriated by people who, unlike Christians, are allowed to appropriate things without being called imperialists and bigots.
But the church is where God plants it, and since disciples continue to be made of all nations, there are lots of Christian places all over this world. If you’re traveling in the United States this summer, why not add a Christian cultural stop to your itinerary? Here are some ideas. (And remember: one Christian’s oddity is another’s piety. Niceness isn’t a fruit of the Spirit, but kindness is.)
The Big Ones
You’ve probably heard of these: Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C., Sight and Sound Theaters at Branson, Missouri, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania; the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky; Holy Land Experience in Orlando.
These are whole-day (or more) stops with a touristy feel. If you’re the kind of person who would look for a vacation stop like this, you’ll also enjoy explaining the things you didn’t agree with to your travel companions while you drive back to the hotel.
The Middle Ones
The mid ones. Lots of cities have an impressive cathedral, basilica, or cathedral basilica. If your itinerary allows, take in some mosaics, colonnades, or anything they got now. These places are low on snacks, but the air conditioning is reliable.
The Little Ones
The little ones are the real treasures. There’s St. Kateri Tekakwitha, rupturing the landscape of tiny Ridgway, Illinois like a rogue fault block mountain. There’s Holy Transfiguration Skete, with its golden dome piously peeking out of the pine and birch forest of Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, and its lordly Jampot bakery.
Several replica stave churches in the upper Midwest can save you a pricier trip to Norway. Get lots of bang for your buck on the southern end of the Texas Triangle, where you’ll find the astonishing Painted Churches in towns barely big enough to accommodate a case of hiccups.
Another great church route is the Benjamin F. Long IV Fresco Trail in western North Carolina, where you can find sacred frescoes born in the USA. Places like this might require you to pound on doors in the neighborhood for a look inside. It’s a proven method.
Look for Church Architecture
Get to know an architect besides Frank Lloyd Wright. In the general vicinity of Arkansas, have the road to take you to Thorncrown Chapelor another of E. Fay Jones’ 15 churches. If you’re going more Okie than Arkie, look for some of Bruce Goff’s funky houses of worship.
Find a church designed by Ralph Adams Cram anywhere between Massachusetts and Nebraska (and one lonely specimen out in Tacoma). Harold E. Wagoner has installments all over the country in addition to his famous Coral Ridge Presbyterian. Erhard Brielmaier designed so many churches that you might want to check if he built the one you attend.
On the west end of the country, see one of the California missions, famous not for their architects, but for their lack of them. And you’re right, Mr. Lloyd Wright had a church worth seeing, and so did his kid.
Religious Cultural Sites Abound
Stop by a college or seminary, a monastery or convent, a denominational epicenter, or a church historic site. You’ll likely find a museum, gallery, archive, or chapel where you’ll learn something. Instagram it to look very holy in an intellectual way.
Try Some Weird Ones
Evangelicals exhibit it as a spiritual gift, and for Roman Catholics it’s a charism, but since they both have it you can tell that weirdness is an ecumenical mark of the church. Get in on the fun and hit a Christian weird spot, like Bible Mini-Golf in Lexington, Kentucky. T. H. Stemper church supply in Milwaukee is the American Science and Surplus of Catholicism; both places should be national franchises (and really, most church supply stores have a back room full of goofy stuff on clearance).
If the Creation Museum is too crowded for you, try the Museum of Creation in Southern Pines, North Carolina, which rejoices in God’s gift of taxidermy. Biblical gardens come in varying degrees of weirdness. And, Exodus notwithstanding, Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee decided to go with the Egyptian motif. Seeing isn’t believing, but you might want to take a look.
Ever Heard of a Carillon?
Listen for a carillon. Since bell towers tend to belong to churches, chances are good that you’ll catch some sacred music selections you can’t hear anywhere else.
Carillon concerts are very family-friendly since they’re outside. Bring bubbles and victuals for your smaller humans, teach the bigger ones that there is stimulation apart from screens, and enjoy the listen. How do they practice those things, anyway?
There’s Always Sunday Morning!
Go to church on Sunday morning, even though you’re on vacation. God doesn’t take a vacation from you.