It was early and no one would be at church for another hour or so. Since I was alone, I jumped down the last two steps, belting out the wrong words to one of the hymns we were going to sing later that morning. As I landed on the sanctuary floor, there was a large bang and a swishing, scampering noise from the nearest air vent. I proceeded with my day thinking the Diaconate would take care of it. The next Sunday, I was again walking down the stairs and saw the vent. I remembered we had no Diaconate and per BCO 9-2, “the duties of the office shall devolve upon the ruling elders.” While not a Ruling Elder, certainly nothing was preventing me from devolving and serving the church by removing the plastic bag. As I approached, I noticed that there was something else waving in the air vent. I reached down to open it when I saw the most horrifying thing – a church opossum. Its beady, sinister eyes were staring at me, daring me to open the vent. Since I was a Yankee and didn’t carry a gun, I could not handle this situation properly by myself, so I texted the Session.
This week marks one year since I left my first pastoral call. In the summer of 2018, as a licentiate of Warrior Presbytery, I started to preach at Marion Presbyterian Church in Marion, AL. She is an historic church having been founded in 1832. The current building was constructed in 1871 or 1872. She looks like a castle surrounded by magnolias and camellias. After serving for two years as pulpit supply, the Lord saw fit to call me as their pastor. I was ordained and installed on November 15, 2020. I pray that every pastor has an opportunity to serve a small, rural church.
There are many things a rural ministry teaches you that a seminary could not (this is not meant to bash seminaries. There are loads they cannot teach but must be experienced). I thought I would share some of those lessons for your general edification. The last one could very well save your church.
- You don’t need a security team because everyone has a gun. I am from the North and we have a complicated relationship with guns. I never grew up with them and I’ve never owned one. I am not for or against them. They are just foreign to me. I forget when exactly but there was some issue going on and churches were afraid of potential shooters. I was talking with the elders about it and one told me not to fear and proceeded to show he was carrying. He also sat in an incredibly secure position in the church where he could see anyone coming into the sanctuary. At a church picnic some months later, it was revealed that I had never shot a handgun before. Our host, one of our Ruling Elders, was shocked by this revelation, and I think distressed. As we cleaned up, he approached me with some urgency and said, “Follow me!” I thought there was an emergency, and I was correct the emergency was me, “I cannot believe my pastor has never shot a handgun before!” We proceeded to walk away from the remnants of the picnic. He put a Smith and Wesson M&P Shield in my hand and said, “Have at it.” I commenced with vigor to “have at it.” To mark the solemnity of the occasion, he picked up a few empty cases and handed them to me, “so you can remember,” is what my elder said. They rest in a special box on my dresser ready to prove that this Yankee has now shot a handgun.
- The faithfulness of the saints. I always figured there was a retirement age for service in the church. I don’t mean you stop attending or being faithful, but at a certain age surely you’ve earned the right to step down and rest. Dr. B proved me wrong in that area of thinking. When I arrived, she was 92 years old and our church organist. Some Sundays, because the furnace was out or some other issue caused us to leave the sanctuary, we would have church in the fellowship hall, which had an old piano and some pews along the walls that we could move into the center. One Sunday when we were in that hall, Dr. B arrived with a cast on her left hand. She had taken a tumble and broke her wrist. Sticking out of the cast were her pinky and ring fingers. I asked her, “Dr. B, are you going to be able to play today?” With a huge smile, she walked to the piano and proceeded to play beautifully. She played the entire service with five fingers on her right hand and two on her left. Dr. B had been at Marion Presbyterian since the 70s as the music director and then organist. She no longer lived in Marion. Her daughter would faithfully drive her up from Montgomery every Sunday which is about an hour away. One Sunday when everything went wrong, it was just me and Dr. B. She played hymns, I read Scripture, and we prayed. It was a sweet Lord’s Day.