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News -> Pastor's Column Wednesday, July 16, 2014
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"A Tribute to a Small Church"

By Pastor Jerry Selleck,
Holton United Methodist Church

I 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.

The 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.

When 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 didn’t 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 everyone’s 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 don’t 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.

The 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.

Most 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 looking for.

So I checked the attendance records, and realized this congregation had been ‘dying’ for 50 years! It was always 40 people or so, but through God’s careful provision, had stayed that way for decades. I shared this with the congregation, and reluctantly, we began toilet fundraising.

It didn’t take long (farmers can have deep pockets when they want to), and within a few months, we experienced our first flush since 1865. I don’t know how you dedicate such a landmark addition. I couldn’t find any toilet prayers, and perhaps I preached something about water from the Gospel of John, (I can’t 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.

That 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 won’t be our size that matters, but our dogged determination to love our communities and proclaim the Gospel of Christ to an unbelieving world. We don’t need size to get that done.










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