I grew up in the small town of Salida, California. This story is once of the ghost stories that comes from my childhood.
At the corner of Finney and Westwood in Salida, there once stood a church. Now it is a parking lot and a large warehouse building for Salida Union school. But when I was a kid, it was an old church, the once-white paint now peeling and grey. The grass was patchy and sick looking. The interior lights were rarely seen turned on, though, as it was next to our school, we had little reason to see the church on Sundays when one would expect the lights to be turned on.
The church was surrounded by a grove of trees that that shed their leaves in the winter and looked like gnarled claws on trunks for a large portion of the year. Though the trees blossomed and were quite beautiful in the spring, this was not the image that stayed with us kids...no, we always thought of the church as being surrounded by evil leafless clawed trees, more creature than plant and malicious to the root.
We kids knew that the church was haunted. Some thought it was a Satanic church, others that it was an abandoned church on which evil had fallen, others that it was a church that had been abandoned and taken over by evil cultists, and others that it was a Christian church, but one built and pastored by an evil clergyman who was more interested in his own power than in religion (we were too young to understand or articulate it, but even as children we were aware of the corrupting nature of power, and it showed in many of the stories that we told each other). Our parents would assure us, usually while rolling their eyes, that the church was simply a building that had fallen into disrepair. But we knew better, we knew that it was haunted by something evil and corrupting.
The symptoms of the haunting, as far as my sisters and I ever felt them, were a vague sense of unease when walking by the church, and the occasional sense of being watched when near it. When one of us was feeling particularly brave, we might run up and touch the building, ensuring us both bragging rights and the (usually brief-lived) admiration of our siblings. Other kids told of tales they had heard - all of them second-hand of course - of sinister things inside the church. There were supposedly Satanic symbols near the altar, there was a painting of Satan that would kill anyone unwise enough to stare at it for more than 1 minute, and some stories said that the painting would leave the wall and float about the building of its own accord.
Of course, nobody ever entered the building to find out if these tales were true. No doubt we would have said that to do such a thing was foolish - suicidal even. But the truth is that this was part of our shared childhood folklore, and whether or not it we ever confirmed any of it was quite beside the point.
Commentary: As I said at the end of the story, this was part of our childhood folklore. We were frightened by the story, yes, but also thrilled by it. None of us ever looked for any evidence of the story - we never tried to get inside to church, we never inquired with people to find out if the church was still in use, and we never dared challenge someone who had come up with a new detail to the story. Whether or not it was true was beside the point. Walking close enough to touch the church was a test of bravery, and trading stories about the church was a favorite pastime.
When I was around 11 or 12, the church was renovated. The trees and lawn were tamed by gardeners, the white paint replaced with a fresh layer, and the doors were oftne left open on warm days, allowing members of the community to see inside the church. I don't know whether the church had ever been abandoned, but it had certainly not had the life that it would obtain during my teenage years. I never knew the pastor well, the church re-opened after my church-going years had ended, but I did know him at least in passing, and he always seemed to be a decent fellow and someone who was as concerned about his community as about his own church.
I don't know when the church was finally abandoned for good and torn down. It occured some time after I left Salida to go to college. By that time, it was no longer a terrifying edifece that harbored menacing spirits. It had become a part of the community. I wonder what the children in the area tell ghost stories about now.