Traditionalism is on the rise in Columbia. For three decades, church steeples have been curiously absent in a community that has come to symbolize American liberalism, even down to encouraging its residents to worship in shared, plain-vanilla religious space dubbed "interfaith centers."
Perhaps it is a sign of the times, perhaps a consequence of rapid growth, but Columbia's religious landscape is beginning to change. Several congregations are considering or are in the process of building churches of their own. "One of the sights that is sadly missing in Columbia is that of church steeples," said Rev. W. Stephen Neel, pastor of the 10-year old South Columbia Baptist Church. "We're not against the interfaith concept per se, but we wanted to provide our congregation with a more traditional approach."
Among other things, Columbia's visionaries saw interfaith worship as a means of promoting religious oneness among diverse faiths through a sharing of facilities, resources and religious philosophies. The idea was to encourage a focus on the ministries themselves instead of construction. Thus traditional hallmarks -- steeples, stained glass, crosses and stars of David -- were eschewed in favor of homogenous meeting halls.