Tribute to a Small Church"
Pastor Jerry Selleck,
Holton United Methodist Church
once served a Church that had no plumbing. It was a small, well-kept congregation,
worshiping in a staunch building that was built in 1865, by local farmers and soldiers
returning from the Civil War. It was a simple affair: sanctuary above, and fellowship hall
below, where classes once met for Sunday School, and was perfect for Church dinners. The
congregation gathered about 40 folks on a Sunday morning, and was aging fast. I had nobody
under the age of 65, and my treasurer was 84.
church was built in the middle of nowhere, when farms dotted the surrounding area, and
there were many families and farmers. But modern times bring change, and what was once
many, turned to the few. Conglomerates with heavy equipment, ultimately displaced the
family farms that ran on hard, family labor. And the Church shrunk as a result.
I arrived, fresh from seminary, I seemed out of place: young, full of ideas and energy.
One of the first things I set my eyes on, was the fact that this Church didnt have a
bathroom or running water. Oh, they had a kitchen for potlucks and such, but water was
hauled in. Out back there was a lovely, painted outhouse for everyones use. It was a
two-seater, which was quite a Cadillac for its day. I was never sure how this worked in
reality. Was the second seat for overflow, when nature no longer calls, but starts
screaming, and you dont care who knows about it? Maybe it was for families to take
care of business together, kind of like those family restrooms at the Mall. It
might have been ahead of its time.
year was 1980, and I felt that if we were to attract new families, we had to have a modern
bathroom. We needed $5,000, and so the fundraising began.
members said Why bother? Why feed a dead horse? (this was farm talk). This
congregation was dutifully meeting every Sunday, just waiting to die. But God has a funny
way of keeping small congregations alive. It seems that when someone died, God provided
another body. Someone would start attending, for reasons unknown, perhaps giving credence
to the movement and provision of the Holy Spirit. It seems that small, intimate
congregations, dominated by wise and loving senior citizens, is just what some people are
I checked the attendance records, and realized this congregation had been dying
for 50 years! It was always 40 people or so, but through Gods careful provision, had
stayed that way for decades. I shared this with the congregation, and reluctantly, we
began toilet fundraising.
didnt take long (farmers can have deep pockets when they want to), and within a few
months, we experienced our first flush since 1865. I dont know how you dedicate such
a landmark addition. I couldnt find any toilet prayers, and perhaps I preached
something about water from the Gospel of John, (I cant remember), but I remember
nobody complained. This was especially true in the winter, when nature calls during
worship, and like an unruly child, you tell it to sit down and behave itself. It became a
new experience to calmly rise, go downstairs, and answer the call in warmth, without
having to put your coat and boots on.
congregation closed 25 years later, handing over the building and adjoining cemetery to
the township. It was a sad day. One would be tempted to say that this was a failed
congregation. But if you look at the larger picture, this hand-built Church served its
community in the name of Christ for 140 years, both with, and without plumbing. One cannot
count the lives changed and maintained over that amount of time. This will be one of the
joys of heaven: to finally reveal all that resulted from our dedication to ministry, to
people and places that others wish to forget. Ultimately, it wont be our size that
matters, but our dogged determination to love our communities and proclaim the Gospel of
Christ to an unbelieving world. We dont need size to get that done.