When my sister, who had lived in Minneapolis, Maryland, Connecticut and Belgium, visited us on the farm we often discussed social issues. She’d throw up her hands in despair and say, “You live in a different world!” It was truer 30 years ago than now.
We’d all like to think that babbling brooks, sweet-smelling hayfields and thriving country churches exist out in the midlands someplace. Hard working, innocent people endowed with good country common sense are surely out in soybean and corn country.
My congregation is 132 years old and light years away from the gathering places we see on television. The pioneers looked into the future and put up the church walls. The building remains the same size our ancestors determined to be adequate. We added a basement and back room, but we worship in the space the founders intended. We remember when chairs had to be carried in for the crowd at the Christmas program, or occasionally standing in the entryway and along the walls—but only if we are old.
Common sense seems to say that the bottom line dictates closing or merging small rural churches. They aren’t economically feasible and can’t offer the same programs as larger congregations. It’s difficult to find pastors willing to serve three- and four-point parishes. The discussions go on, and we in the small congregations tend to ignore them. This congregation is home. But it’s not only our Sunday morning home. Beside it is the cemetery where we have walked in tears.
This community holds not only our families and friends but memories of God’s sacred truths learned and sins confessed. We are small but have a constant influx of new members and babies born. Young people leave and old members die. In a small community, they come and go one or two at a time. The congregation remains. We don’t face great budget crises. A loyal, small group recognizes the needs and responds.
The congregation was built and is maintained to be the word in this place. The word in the world and to the world. As long as God has a mission for us, we will continue to be the word in this place.
There really are tiny brooks and sweet-smelling hayfields and thriving, alive country churches.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers