Fate has left the decision to Leona MacArthur.
And she doesn’t want it.
She’s 82 and would rather spend her remaining time thinking about her five children, 13 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
But fate doesn’t care about what we’d rather be doing.
She and her 80-year-old neighbour are the remaining congregation of the Goldboro United Baptist Church. Built more than a century ago by the craftsmen of a then-prosperous gold mining and ship-building community on Guysborough County’s Atlantic Coast, it is an imposing architectural accomplishment.
But it’s in disrepair and MacArthur has to decide whether to tear it down.
“I’m scared the steeple might blow down,” said MacArthur.
“I’m at the point right now that I don’t want and don’t need all this work.”
On Friday you could hear the birds in the belfry and furtive noises from the walls as stained glass windows cast their uneven light onto the wide space where Goldboro’s souls have been welcomed into this world and escorted out of it.
In 1892, Howard Richardson discovered yellow gold flecks in the veins of quartz runningthrough the stone hills opposite Isaac’s Harbour. Within the year men were clawing at the earth with pick and dynamite.
Community followed industry — children came screaming into the world and the rough miners and their wives turned their minds
to practical and moral education.
A school was opened and in 1899 the newly christened United Baptist congregation of these loyalist settlers ran with the optimism that comes with growth and wealth.
They raised the walls on a church that can seat 400 people.
Whether a bum ever filled each of the maple pews at one time there is no one living that can remember — the mines closed during the 1940s and Goldboro has been growing quieter ever since.
“The fullest I ever saw it was in 1955,” said Leona of the day she walked in a Nickerson and walked out a MacArthur.
“I think so many people came because they didn’t think he (Sherman) would ever get married.”
Thirty years old and already a veteran of the Second World War and Korea, Sherman MacArthur met Leona at a Halifax rooming house and brought her home to Goldboro.
Even in those decades the church was bigger than the community needed, but a few young voices could fill it. Faded pictures of former Sunday school classes, a Muppet play and Good Friday dinners are full of bright faces and long-abandoned fashions — acid washed jeans, shoulder pads and neckties both too thin and too broad.
There’s the guest book purchased in 1978 that took 36 years to fill. Then there’s the new one, purchased in 2014 that bears the names from the second largest gathering MacArthur ever saw in the church.
“They came from all over,” said Leona of the coworkers who attended the funeral of her paramedic son, Phillip MacArthur, in 2015.
“Some even parked their ambulances at the church because they were working and might have to respond to a call.”
But they haven’t been able to afford to hire a minister for the church in two years.
They’ve buried half their congregation already this year — Bertha Silver was buried last week and Juanita Turner a few months ago. Sherman’s long below the earth too.
MacArthur has managed to string up Christmas lights around her porch rail and turns them on each night for a community without any children. Inside, each doorway is strung with tinsel and garland because MacArthur is turning her thoughts to celebrating the living and the three generations of descendants who will be stopping by for visits this season.
After Christmas is over, she’ll deal with the decision that fate has placed in her lap on what to do with that big old building on the hill.
“I have until spring to decide,” said MacArthur.