I recently helped a church, celebrate its 150th Anniversary. We pastored that church 1967-1970. Talk to an historian and they will tell you 1967-1968 were among the most shaking in American history. Modernity died in those years. Assassinations, race riots, music change and Woodstock. Talk to a church historian and he or she will tell you life changed for traditional churches during that time. Mergers, splits, new books of worship and the beginning of the charismatic renewal in traditional churches. It was the year when Methodist became United Methodist. American church life has not been the same since.

Twenty-five miles from our farm community, race riots burned neighborhoods and threatened us all. We “adopted” a seven-year-old inner city kid for two weeks to bring him to the safety of our community. It was the year the community built a swimming pool and his black skin in that water surrounded by white skin could be seen by people on Mars. Our lily-white community was challenged by his black skin presence. We discovered a lot of ignorance—we just didn’t know. I wish I knew where Larry is. He touched my extended family. I was working on my undergraduate degree after 4 years in Bible College and six years in full time ministry. I was studying Sociology and that “helped” me interpret the social upheaval.

We remodeled the sanctuary to add seating, replaced carpet and painted. The church bought a larger and newer parsonage during that time. One person is still mad at me for insisting the youth group do Bible study. I’m sure the world of those nice people had to feel like my family was a source of constant upset. I, no doubt, made it worse than it had to be. The guy cornered me to tell me how ruinous I was to his youthful years.

I’ve always been willing to start a fight with my rebuttal of people’s contention that “Our youth are the church of tomorrow.” Our responsibility to the youth is to prepare them to live for Jesus—but probably not here. They will move away. Many of that youth group has moved away. One to Turkey and others to other churches and cities.

Preachers in small churches come and go. They are a necessity, but often people don’t get to know them or share much of their lives. The above church has had 14 pastors since we lived there. Some were my acquaintances. They’ve had some good ones. But the parsonage family who drew the emotional reaction/response was the one we followed.

Reverend Gaide and his wife lived in the old parsonage with a flower and vegetable garden in the back yard. They were retired and spent time with and loved the people. They had no need to remodel or change anything. The church assignment was what Methodists called a “two-point” charge. A small outpost church and a larger—usually “in-town” church. Had the two churches linked programs, they could be ten times more together than each church trying to conduct individual programs, but that was kept them alive and invested and able to say, “We are small, but….” To join the bigger church forecast the possible end of their generations’ old family church. Wasn’t going to happen!

Christmas Eve, the pastor would attend both services. They would rush from one church to the other in time for the opening hymn. The roads were slick, there was an accident and the Reverend and Mrs. Gaide were killed. When they didn’t show up for that second service, parishioners went searching. They were the ones who found their beloved pastor and wife.

We followed that pastor into the pulpit a year later. The grieving continued and it affected ministry. Almost 50 years later, the people pointed to three pivotal points in the church’s history. The death of their beloved pastor was one and the grief still saturates the mention of those names and memories.

My family benefitted from the perennial flowers in the back yard and the constant reminder of the gracious gentleman and his wife.

I’ve been processing my trek back to the village and church after 44 years. Two things have gone into my journal. First is the awareness that we do not minister in a vacuum. I cannot evaluate our ministry without acknowledging what was going on in the society and culture around us. Our predecessors influence and color our ministry. Another item is a sign in front of a school on our way home from the celebration.

“We still need mentors.”

We acknowledge the shoulders upon which we stand and think carefully about how what we do and in whom we invest will pay off. We still need to be and provide mentors.

A 98-year old church member, asked about me: “Who in the hell is that preacher sitting next to that cute boy?” The cute boy is our son who was in kindergarten or first grade when we left that community. I think Doug got top billing and that works for me.

©2014 D. Dean Benton

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