Capitols and churches: Watching the separation of church and state in Missouri

capitols and churchesBy Gary Flanagan

It had been 11 days, 5000 miles and 19 state Capitols since I left home. Driving through Kansas City, Mo., I was looking forward to a home-cooked meal with old high school friends, John and Charlotte Chauvin. Their home was just off Interstate 70 near the stadiums for the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals. My dear friends had been following my state and church project on Facebook. Charlotte, a school teacher, told me that I was in for a treat at my next stop, the Missouri State Capitol. She said there was a large statue of Thomas Jefferson on the front steps.

Refreshed, I set out in the morning for a pleasant drive to Jefferson City and the Missouri State Capitol. Approaching from the north, it was standing proudly on the bluff above the Missouri river. An impressive site in a city with a population of 43,000. I drove right up to the side of the Capitol and parked.

A few paces to the right was St. Peter Catholic Church, built in 1881. It was about 11 a.m. and I tried the front door of the church, but it was locked. I was tempted to take a few pictures of both buildings, with just a few feet separating them and move on. Then I remembered Charlotte’s advice.

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Statue of Thomas Jefferson/photo by Gary Flanagan

I strolled around to the main entrance of the Capitol and there he was: A 13 ft. statue of Thomas Jefferson staring down at me. I moved back a few steps to take a picture. I felt like his gaze never left. I moved to the right, and even from that angle, his eyes seemed to follow. I jumped to the left and the same effect still happened. It was eerie and cool at the same time.

Even behind the statue, the characteristics of the sculpture seemed to change. It was here that I captured one of my favourite pictures of the journey. I was looking back to the steeple of St. Peter Church and it appeared that the statue of Thomas Jefferson is watching the church from his perch on the steps of the Missouri State Capitol. Switching my iPad picture to video, I tried to capture this illusion. At that moment, the church bells starting ringing before the noon service. Charlotte was right, I did find quite a treat in that moment.

Continuing around the perimeter of the Capitol, I saw numerous other monuments on display. However impressive they may have been, nothing could match the experience of going eye-to-eye with Thomas Jefferson in Jefferson City. Watching him, as he watched over the separation of church and state, at the 20th stop of my journey.

In next week’s column, I travel through the Ozarks to a Little Rock. Meditate on that thought.

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