Last night, I slept in the sanctuary of a church in rural Iowa.
I just got a bee in my bonnet and felt like I needed to commune, so I got in the car, searched on my phone for “country church, Iowa”, and drove north. I found a humble church, broke open the door, and poked around. When it was time for bed, I had to try various pews throughout the night because for some reason I slept poorly.
Just kidding. But I did sleep in a sanctuary!
The Quilted Steeple is a retreat center in Lone Rock, IA, far and away the coolest retreat center I’ve ever retreated to. Several years ago, this church was shuttered and up for sale. The fabulous Julie Dodds, who had attended church there most of her life (and whose mother played the organ there for decades) came down from Michigan to buy the collection plates for sentimental reasons. She ended up buying the church itself, partly because she was not keen on the idea of a motorcycle gang taking over the place; they had put in an offer and it looked like they might get it. By the name of the retreat center, you have surmised Julie is a quilter, so she followed her vision to make it a haven for quilters to come and sew and relax. Hooray!
It’s amazing how perfect a church is for a retreat; I am teaching here this weekend and I saw it for myself. Classes take place in the in the church basement. There’s a fully tricked-out kitchen down there for big-group meal prep. Lectures and trunk shows happen in the sanctuary, and the (many bedroomed, many bathroomed) parsonage across the gravel sidewalk serves as lodging. Cornfields as far as the eye can see muffle the big world beyond and I can’t even talk about the sunset/sunrise out here.
When I got the tour, we went into the pretty-but-definitely-country sanctuary; there’s no stained glass here just wood lattice work over the peaked windows — this is no mega-church. It’s not chapel-small, but seeing as I have not been in a chapel except in Vegas, I might be wrong about this. At any rate, it is neat. Julie pointed up to the choir loft and said, “That’s a bedroom now.”
I took the Lord’s name in vain and whirled on Julie. “Is it taken?? Can I sleep there??” Julie said that I could.
I take it as a good sign that I slept like a damned baby.* The trundle bed was comfortable; I wrote in my journal after gazing down at the big bowl of prayer below for awhile. This morning, the sun from the front door lit up the whole aisle in toasted, golden light. I am not a church-going woman, but I do recommend sleeping in a choir loft at least once in life. Very peaceful, even for a depraved sinner like myself.
The Quilted Steeple isn’t just for quilt retreats. I have no compunction about endorsing, even shamelessly advertising this place. Weddings, funerals, any kind of educational retreat, family reunions — whenever you need a bunch of people for at least one overnight, book the Quilted Steeple. One lucky person will get the choir loft bedroom and if the cat’s out of the bag that it exists, I recommend early dibs.
Thank you, Julie. And thank you for taking the organ out because I had room for my suitcase and my purse and my computer bag.
*No way, no how could I resist that one. Sorry.