August 18, 2019

Another Look: Fear Not, Little Flock

Another Look: Fear Not, Little Flock
From 2011

• • •

Last Sunday, my wife and I entered the side door of the old church building. The small entryway had a few steps that led up to two vintage oak doors. The one on the left led to the back corner of the sanctuary. Next to it, the right door led to an overflow room that people walked through to get to the offices and classroom building.

As we opened the left hand door, it creaked. The floor creaked under our feet. Light streamed in from the bright winter day outside through the large stained glass windows set above the sanctuary. The room had been designed in a rather unique fashion. Square, the pulpit area was set in a corner and the pews fanned out and up from it in auditorium fashion. I walked to the platform and noted the ancient chairs and the pulpit with its small velvet-covered top. I looked out over wooden pews and surveyed a sanctuary that was over a century old.

It brought back memories.

At the tender age of 22, still single and only a few years into a whirlwind time of life-change that included moving east with my family from Chicago, finishing high school, undergoing a tumultuous adolescent storm and a spiritual awakening, cutting my hair and going off to Bible college, getting my first car, serving my initial pastoral role as an assistant to the ailing pastor in our home church, getting my first exposure to the wider world on a mission trip to Haiti, meeting and becoming engaged to the love of my life, and then leaving home for good — packing all my belongings in my little black ’74 Super Beetle to go to Vermont — I heard news of a church in the hills that needed a pastor.

The little Baptist church was in a small village in southeastern Vermont, just over the mountain from one of the most popular ski resorts in the region. The church building was one of those “calendar” churches — white clapboards, steeple, tall side windows, front steps. They rang the bell in the tower when it was time for church to begin. Years before, congregants had attached the town’s old one-room schoolhouse to the rear of the building for a Sunday School room. The church proper was nearly 120 years old. Set close to the road that went up over the mountain, it was one of the few public buildings in the heart of the village, along with the volunteer fire department, the post office, and a small general store that went in and out of business over the years. A small fellowship hall, used infrequently and maintained by the Ladies Aid and Missionary Society, sat across the street.

The congregation had first incorporated in 1814, just about a generation after the Revolutionary War and the founding of our nation. You can still go to the town hall and read records that stretch back to its beginning, when the village had a grain mill on the brook that ran down the mountainside. Amid the perfunctory accounts of names, finances, and business meetings, you can read about such events as when the church officially disciplined a young man accused of stealing from the mill, actually holding a trial in the church to take testimony, examine the evidence, declare a verdict, and pass sentence.

The church used to practice closed communion, dismissing non-members after the main worship service, so that the members who had professed their faith openly could gather at the Lord’s Table. One of the longest disputes in town, between two families, grew out of an incident when a man took objection to being excused from taking the ordinance.

And so they have carried on over the years, struggling to be God’s people among neighbors who live close, know your secrets, and probably heard you take the Lord’s name in vain when you smashed your finger with the hammer. Throughout various seasons, they made it through without a pastor in the pulpit. Every year to this day, they have “Old Home Sunday,” when they send out invitations to anyone they can find who has ever come to church there, encouraging them to come back for worship and dinner on the grounds.

Someone once wrote a brief history of the church. For its theme, the author chose Luke 12:32 — “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Over the years and decades, the Father has done that. They have always been, and probably always will be a “little flock.” But of such are the kingdom of heaven.

The parsonage, also across the street from the church, was built just before the house of worship. It was a plain white wooden two-story affair, with an old garage/barn attached. It became my home, and soon our home when Gail and I were married. It had big square rooms with high ceilings, wooden floors, a nice big country kitchen, a small study that became my office, an oil furnace (in the midst of the “energy crisis” no less), and — get this — no heat upstairs. In Vermont. A round hole in the upstairs bedroom floor marked the spot where a stove pipe had come through when the house was heated by wood. It provided the only opening for warmer air to rise into the second floor. Not much rose, let me tell you, especially on subzero winter nights in New England. It might have provided the ideal situation for newlyweds to snuggle close at night, except that we wore more clothes to bed than we did during the day!

The congregation had been without a pastor for several years when I showed up. With little more to offer than a pittance of a salary (without benefits) and a 120-year old manse with no heat in the bedrooms, set in a village of 200 people in the mountains, ministers were not beating down the doors for the opportunity to serve there. Apparently the denomination wasn’t helping the church much either, believing the setting to be unpromising. That was a source of irritation the church leaders felt perfectly free to scowl about. The New England states also had a reputation as spiritually barren. People were cold there, like the weather; that was the scuttlebutt.

In other words, it was the perfect place for me.

When we returned there recently for a visit, a lady told me she had visited the church soon after I became the pastor. When she saw me up front at the pulpit that morning, she thought it must be youth Sunday. I was so wet behind the ears it wasn’t funny. What was funny was the fact that I apparently didn’t know it. I had enough youthful chutzpah and ignorance to think I could be a pastor. Hey, I did great in school! People liked me well enough. I’d had a little experience preaching and singing and standing in front of people in college. I knew absolutely nothing, including the fact that I knew absolutely nothing.

Like I said though, I had found a perfect place. Patient people dwelt in these hills. These folks had lived in the green mountains and along their ridges, forced to eke out a living year after year for generations. Handymen, tradesmen, laborers, all hard workers, many served the flatlanders who came up periodically to enjoy vacation homes with spectacular vistas, ski down Vermont’s renowned slopes, and visit the quaint tourist villages and shops throughout the area. Many of the women cleaned houses or inns, cooked, and took care of elderly neighbors. Others drove school buses, helped at the school or library, or worked in shops and offices in nearby towns.

Most were self-sufficient to one degree or another. They filled their freezers with meat from hunting. They had woodpiles the size of small barns to keep them warm through the winter. They planted big gardens and raised animals. They tapped trees for maple syrup to use and sell. They fixed their own cars and made their own repairs on their houses and property, often making use of a neighbor’s expertise in matters where one lacked skill or knowledge. They figured out a way and kept going.

Lord knows, they were patient with me. I don’t know about you, but I had all the answers when I was 22. When you add to my youth the fact that my entire life had changed dramatically in five years, catching me up in a tempest of spiritual fervor, rapid change, and the adventure of launching out into adult life with all its boundless possibilities, it was a heady time in my life. So our wise God in his providence slowed me down.

He set me behind a velvet-covered pulpit in a 120-year old church building with an old Regulator clock ticking away on the wall. He had me lead hymns accompanied by Rose and Leone, the octogenarian musicians, who played at such a painfully slow pace that I think we still have a verse or two to sing. He called me to sit in on board meetings where we quibbled about literal dollars and cents. I thought I had to wear a suit. I should have toned it down a bit. I should have joined the volunteer fire department, like my successor did, but I was too “separated” at that point in my life to do that. Oh God, I didn’t have a clue.

So God was kind enough to do things like giving me a second job as a school bus driver. That humbled me. I arose on those frigid mornings at 5am and went up to the neighbor’s house so he could try again to show me how to put the snow chains on the tires. I never did get it right. In that church I met Harold, the old Vermont farmer who couldn’t accept that the Bible called him a “saint” or that we ought to pray when there was work to be done. I had to swallow my pride and grudgingly admit that he and a lot of the other men there knew Christ far more deeply than I did, even though I knew the Bible better. And I wore a suit.

I did more funerals than I can remember. Many of them were graveside services overlooking spectacular scenery. Spread my ashes there, please. Evangelism was tough and I wasn’t very good at it, though we had a few notable successes. I drank more cups of coffee and tea and ate more pieces of pie, cake, and pastry on visits to homes than I care to admit. I learned to listen, I tried to speak the right words, and I came to be profoundly convinced of the importance of forbearance and forgiveness. I needed it so often, you see.

It grieves me to recall one particularly painful failure when I walked into the post office one afternoon to get my mail. I greeted a lady with a smile and perfunctory hello and walked out without talking to her. Only later did I discover she had just lost a child in an accident. She was a neighbor and I didn’t know it. You’d better believe I heard about it from the postmistress who was her friend and a member of the church. I slunk up to my neighbor’s door and apologized so fervently my head almost came off.

God is so good. He called me to serve (and mostly to learn) in that little congregation and parish of people with weather-worn skin and calloused hands who knew how to survive. If they could wait out the long winters, they could wait out a young buck like me. And so they did.

As I sat last Sunday on the platform in a historic brick Presbyterian church in central Indiana, in the ancient chair, covered like the pulpit top in red, velvety fabric, I sank low into a cushion that had upheld generations of pastoral posteriors. I looked out on a congregation that had many elderly people in attendance, though on this day it was encouraging to see a good mix of families joining them. I thought some of the faces looked familiar. Not that I knew the people personally, but I knew the faces. Most of them were small town folks and some had been in that church all their lives. They sat in creaky wooden pews. The order of service probably hadn’t changed much in years. The choir consisted mostly of older men and women, and they and we sang accompanied by a white-haired organist. We used hymnals. I wore a suit.

I felt at home, though by now I’ve traveled enough miles and been in enough different settings that I can have a sense of being “at home” almost anywhere. Whether it’s in a well-appointed sanctuary, a megachurch “worship center,” seated on the rug on a floor in Kyrgyzstan, on a rooftop gathering with youth in India, at an outdoor rally in Brazil, or in a rec center classroom with a small church plant, God has graced me with such a wide variety of experiences with his people that no place seems out of place to me for his presence or service. He is here, and there, and everywhere. “Let us join our hearts together in worship…”

Still, there is something about the scent of old wood, the creaking of doors, floors, and pews, the sound of shuffling hymnal and Bible pages, the feel of the velvet on top of the pulpit and on the cushion into which I sink, and most of all, the sight of the wrinkled faces of those who have learned to survive.

I too will survive. There is a place for us all. Fear not, little flock.

Comments

  1. “I felt at home, though by now I’ve traveled enough miles and been in enough different settings that I can have a sense of being “at home” almost anywhere. Whether it’s in a well-appointed sanctuary, a megachurch “worship center,” seated on the rug on a floor in Kyrgyzstan, on a rooftop gathering with youth in India, at an outdoor rally in Brazil, or in a rec center classroom with a small church plant, God has graced me with such a wide variety of experiences with his people that no place seems out of place to me for his presence or service. He is here, and there, and everywhere.”

    With the church I have attended for years getting ready to disband next month, this is a skill I’m going to have to develop, rapidly.

    • I wonder if CM still feels this way, given his turn in the last years toward a more sacramental understanding and practice of Christianity. If some places are more “thin” than others in a catholic as opposed to Protestant spirituality, as we discussed last week, then it seems to me the ubiquity of the sense of God’s presence would be at least a little more qualified now than in this very Protestant sounding statement from eight years ago.

      • Christiane says

        omni-Presence . . . a very ‘catholic’ term in the ‘universal’ sense, sure; and also profoundly ‘biblical’
        “Where shall I go to flee from your Presence?” (Psalm 139)

        the concept of ‘the thin places’ refers to certain ‘places’ on Earth where people seem more prone to sense the Presence of God . . . . there are such places and they are not all in Ireland, no 🙂 Many find these place in nature, but sometimes the ‘thinning’ experience comes mercifully in times of deep grief and the Comforter comes near to be ‘with’ . . . However the experience happens, the response is almost always thankfulness.

        “To look on nature, not as in the hour
        Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
        The still sad music of humanity,
        Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
        To chasten and subdue.—And I have felt
        A presence that disturbs me with the joy
        Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
        Of something far more deeply interfused,
        Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
        And the round ocean and the living air,
        And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
        A motion and a spirit, that impels
        All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
        And rolls through all things”
        (Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey)

        • No question that the omnipresence of God is a universal Christian belief, Catholic, Protestant, and catholic. But the idea that all places equally afford a sense of God’s presence, with no particular places, such as shrines, the Holy Land, consecrated buildings, etc., being especially suited for or open to such experiences, is almost a dogma in Protestantism, whereas the catholic thinking about these things is far more incarnational, location related, and nuanced.

      • I would say I can be “comfortable” in most settings. That does not mean I find all settings equally conducive to worship or fulfilling in the sense of what I would consider necessary worship practice. When I am in different settings, such as one of my former evangelical churches, I find that when I focus on the people and not on the rubrics, I can fit in almost anywhere.

        • Got it. Thanks for your reply.

        • Chaplin Mike, I would say that you are comfortable in most settings because you are comfortable with yourself, that is a blessing. I go once in a blue moon with my wife and her Mother to Catholic Mass Mother in law faithful old school Catholic. I am comfortable with the people as you state, I go even less with my brother and sister in law to a Baptist Church and am comfortable with the people. I like your message of hope and living in the moment. Life is a journey and a great one , thanks to God. Uplifting honest message.

    • Christiane says

      Eeyore, what happened that they are disbanding? Only share if you want to.

      • BLUF – Way too few people, no new blood, and the money is gone.

        • Your congregation is arriving at the place that lots of mainline congregations have already arrived at, having to shut their doors as a result, or will be arriving at in the near term or not too distant future.

    • I hope you find a new ecclesial port to dock in soon …. if that is your desire.

      • This place (progressive, very un-liturgical, very informal, egalitarian) is gonna be hard, if not impossible, to replace.

        • Sometimes I think that, particularly in our times, there is an authentic vocation to exile from institutional Christianity. I already feel like a spiritual exile most of the time I sit in the pews worshiping on a Sunday morning. Two patron saints of such a church in exile would be John of Patmos, and Simone Weil.

          • I’m beginning to wonder about that myself. Eeyore from 20 years ago would think I’m a heretic.

            • Truth be told, I yearn for the kind of comfortableness that CM describes having in churches and among church folk, but I don’t have it. And, ironically, the sense of God’s absence, which is common in every aspect of my life, is especially acute in church, and during worship in church, because I keep expecting that I should have a sense of his presence there, though I never do.

              • –> “And, ironically, the sense of God’s absence, which is common in every aspect of my life, is especially acute in church, and during worship in church, because I keep expecting that I should have a sense of his presence there, though I never do.”

                My 5-7 year spiritual desert was made more depressing because of this very same thing: the one place where I should have sensed His presence seemingly being totally void of it. I feel for ya, Robert!

            • I think the early Desert Fathers also embodied a self-chosen flight from Patristic Christianity, and could well be a class of patron saints for a movement of modern exile from institutional Christianity.

              • I would wish for a slightly less kooky category of patron saints for this project. 😛

                • Not all of them were kooks, though there certainly were a few — I’m afraid kookiness is deeply embedded in religiosity, and something religious people are at always at risk of.

                  • Ok, I probably spoke too quickly. I had the Stylites in mind when I write that comment. Apologies to the EO readers, but spending your life on a 4 foot by four foot platform on top of a tall pillar… IS kooky. 😉

              • Well, no, they didn’t flee from Patristic Christianity, because the Fathers were the great explicators of the meaning of Scripture. St Basil was both a Father and a monastic and spent time among the desert monastics in Egypt. If you separate those two groups in such a radical manner, you’re positing a division in early Christianity that didn’t exist.

                What the Desert Fathers fled from was complacency, nominal faith, and the type of consumerism that was reflected in the culture of that day – the focus on accumulating wealth in order to live a life of luxury, with no thought for using that wealth to care for others. They express great theological acumen consistent with Patristic writings and interpretation of Scripture, just in a simpler way, often with parables. In this, they are indeed great patron saints for our day.

                No offense taken re the Stylites, Eeyore… they were for a particular time and place and that expression of sacrifice didn’t last. I don’t know if I’d use the word “kooky”, ’cause I don’t want to judge the ones the Church regards as Saints – but I know I’m certainly not “up” to it 😉

                Dana

                • I differ with you in this, Dana. My understanding is that the earliest, first wave of the Desert Fathers separated themselves as much from the institutional church as from the Christianized Roman Empire. By the time Anthony joined the movement, it had existed for some decades already, and Basil came later. Very few of them were priests, most of them were solitary, so they did neither gather as a community for worship nor did they celebrate the Eucharist in their remote dwellings. They stayed completely away from the cities where the churches were, so they were uninvolved in the liturgical cycles of the church year, not marking or participating in the great feasts or holy days. They certainly prayed, but they did this alone in their solitary places. When after the first waves and years they came together to form small communities, they were forming alternative Christian societies in rejection of what they saw as the corrupt character of the Christian civilization they’d left behind. Later on the movement was definitely grafted into the regular life of the church, some would say co-opted, but in the beginning and for the first decades to a century it was not so.

                • When I say they fled Patristic Christianity, I don’t mean they had a conscious intent or program to do that. Their movement was way too unsystematic for that. But they definitely were making an intentional break away from the institutional church, which they came to believe no longer reflected the truth of Christianity, nor the spirit of Christ. Nor did they think the institutional church, with its sacraments and liturgies, provided the path to salvation, at least not for them; instead, they believed they must pursue salvation away from all the machinery of the church, in solitary prayer and spiritual struggle.

                  • Robert, they would ***never*** have forsaken the Liturgy. Forgive me, you need to do some further reading. There was no “institutional church” the way it developed in the West. There were nominal Christians and less than faithful priests and bishops, just as there have always been; this is what they were fleeing in their desire to live as faithfully as possible.

                    Some quotes from Benedicta Ward’s “Sayings of the Desert Fathers”, available as a PDF on line:

                    “It was said about him [Abba Theodore] that, though he was made a deacon at Scetis, he refused to exercise the office and fled to many places from it. Each time the old men brought him back to Scetis, saying, ‘Do not leave your deaconate.’ Abba Theodore said to them, ‘Let me pray God that he may tell me for certain whether I ought to take my part in the liturgy.’ Then he prayed God in this manner, ‘If it is your will that I should stand in this place, make me certain of it.’ Then appeared to him a column of fire, reaching from earth to heaven, and a voice said to him, ‘If you can become like this pillar, go, be a deacon.’ On hearing this he decided never to accept the office. When he went to church the brethren bowed before him saying, ‘If you do not wish to be deacon, at least hold the chalice.’ But he refused, saying, ‘If you do not leave me alone, I shall leave this place.’ So they left him in peace. [Being a deacon was already a liturgical function – as it still is in EO – in addition to having responsibility for the charitable care of the community.]

                    “There was a liturgy on the mountain of Abba Anthony and they had a small bottle of wine there…”

                    “It was said of Abba Arsenius that once when he was ill at Scetis, the priest came to take him to church…”

                    “It was told of a brother who came to see Abba Arsenius at Scetis that, when he came to the church, he asked the clergy if he could visit Abba Arsenius.”

                    “When from time to time he [Abba Arsenius] came to church he would sit behind a pillar, so that no-one should see his face and so that he himself would not notice others.”

                    “It was said of Abba Ammoes that when he went to church…”

                    “AGAPE: the primary meaning is ‘love’. In the Apophthegmata it is also used to mean the meal taken in common after the celebration of the Liturgy. The Agape can, however, also refer to the Liturgy itself. It is also used in these writings to mean a love-gift, or a loan.”

                    There are many, many instances in this source and in others of the monks going to church/Liturgy/Agape. They may have indeed needed to go to the nearest town for this, and they did. Don’t let your wounds from “the institutional church” color your reading of this history.

                    With love in Christ-
                    Dana

                    • St. Anthanasius says in his biography of St.Anthony that he went without human contact for twenty years, Dana. Since Anthony was not a priest, if what Athanasius says is true, Anthony did not participate in the Eucharist for two decades, and yet is considered among the holiest in the early Christian hermits, and a primary shaper of Christian monasticism. He had clearly separated himself from the institutional church for an extended period of time, and all that time he sought holiness apart from participation in the Eucharist and the liturgies of the church. That pattern of institutional separation from the church was not unique to him; it was common among the first waves of hermit, and for decades, though it changed over time.

                    • Even if St. Athanasius was exaggerating this aspect of Anthony’s career as a hermit (and no doubt others), as would not be unusual in a hagiography, the point is that, even as late as the time of St. Athanasius, it was acceptable and possible for a dedicated churchman (like Athanasius) to think of and portray a holy man (like Anthony) withdrawing from all human society, including the church, for an extended period of time as doing so in the pursuit of a personal holiness and salvation without reliance on the offices of the church.

  2. Dana, I posted a longer comment, but it disappeared into cyberspace. I will try again, more briefly: In his biography of St. Anthony, St. Athanasius says that he went without human contact for twenty years. Since Anthony was not a priest, that means that he did not partake of the Eucharist all that time. He was striving for holiness and salvation apart from the sacrament and the liturgies of the institutional church; the path he followed was not unique among the first waves of Christian hermits, but in fact common.

    • From Athanasius’ “Life of Saint Anthony”:

      4. Thus lived Antony and he was loved by all. He, in turn, subjected himself in all sincerity to the pious men whom he visited and made it his endeavor to learn for his own benefit just how each was superior to him in zeal and ascetic practice… Having thus taken his fill, he would return to his own place of asceticism…And so all the villagers and the good men with whom he associated saw what kind of man he was…

      8. Then he left for the tombs which lay at some distance from the village. He had requested one of his acquaintances to bring him bread at long intervals…

      11. …So he at once set out for the mountain by himself…On the far side of the river he found a deserted fort…There he settled down to live…For a long time he persisted in this practice of asceticism; only twice a year he received bread from the house above.

      13. His acquaintances who came to see him often spent days and nights outside, since he would not let them come in… His friends would come again and again, expecting, of course, to find him dead; but they heard him singing: “Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered…”[This is the Psalm that is sung at Pascha Matins, so he had participated in the Paschal Liturgy.]

      14. So he spent nearly twenty years practicing the ascetic life by himself [this would have included the Hours of monastic prayer, which practice was inherited by Christians from Judaism; see Acts 3:1], never going out but seldom seen by others.

      67. …Renowned man that he was, he yet showed the profoundest respect for the Church’s ministry and he wanted every cleric to be honored above himself. He was not ashamed to bow his head before bishops and priests; and if ever a deacon came to him for help, he conversed with him on what was helpful; but when it came to prayers, he would ask him to lead, not being ashamed to learn himself… [The editor’s note on this passage says, “It should be remembered that only a very few monks were also priests or in sacred orders at all. The life of independence they led in the desert and their life of asceticism as compared with the life of the clergy serving the needs of the people in the world could easily prompt them to think little of the ‘seculars.’ Elsewhere, Epistle to Dracontius 9, Athanasius suggests that monks must not depreciate the secular clergy…]

      Anthony would not have forsaken the Eucharist completely; that would have been unthinkable. Not partaking often, probable; and it is also plausible that among those visiting him were priests who brought him the Holy Mysteries. This nearly 20 years when he did not see people ***often*** was not the bulk of his lifetime; he lived to be 105.

      Derwas Chitty, Anglican scholar whose area of specialty was early Egyptian and Palestinian monasticism, writes in “The Desert A City”: “He [Anthony] was soon persuaded to come down from time to time to Pispir, where there was presently a fairly constant stream of visitors–ecclesiastics, monks, and men of the world–seeking his advice, his consolation, and his healing power.” (p. 16)

      The Desert Fathers, including Anthony, were not fleeing people in general or “institutional Christianity”; they were fleeing a nominal, complacent faith and the distractions of city life.

      Anthony is the early monastic about whom we know the most because of Athanasius, but he had other monastic contemporaries, most notably Pachomius. And he wasn’t the earliest; the first of them named is Paul of Thebes, c. 227 – c. 334, so a whole generation before Anthony.

      Robert, regarding few of the monks being priests you are right. As to the rest of it, you are mistaken. I don’t say that lightly or to disparage you; I try to avoid saying that at all to anyone in a blog comment. I try to emulate Willard in practicing “the discipline of letting the other person have the last word,” and I don’t expect everyone (or really, anyone) to agree with me or understand what I understand about EO. However… I think that our relationship can stand me saying to you that I think the source of your information is deficient. You are a brilliant, insightful person. Please do some further reading.

      I have lately discovered the blog “The Whole Counsel” on Ancient Faith Ministries and can recommend it right alongside Wright for understanding the inheritance of Judaism in early Christian thought and worship, particularly for the understanding of how Jewish and other early Christians saw Judaism fulfilled, and among other things also indicating why and how, because of that understanding of fulfillment, the Eucharistic Liturgy was the center of Christian life.

      Dana

      • I’m not sure I understand the passage you’ve cited here to be saying all the things you understand it to say regarding the frequency or character of Anthony’s contact with the outside world during the twenty years, and the editorial interpolations are a separate matte. But it is clear that Athanasius depicts Anthony as someone respectful of officials of the church, that’s certain in any case. And I concede that my understanding of the matter must be deficient, since I’ve come to it by reading mostly secondary sources (Thomas Merton’s introduction to his The Wisdom of the Desert first among them!), and that means my firsthand knowledge is limited. I also concede that it would be better for me not to take strong positions on controversial matters like this where I have little firsthand knowledge! Lesson offered, and hopefully learned. Thank you, Dana.

        • Ah, Merton… I love him – and he had his own issues with church officials 😉

          D.

          • Very true, Dana.

          • I will add this, since I have definitely not acquired any competence in the discipline of “letting the other person have the last word” (though I think it is a wonderful discipline): The fact that in one of the above quotes you cited from Athanasius he feels it necessary to advise solitaries and monastics that they shouldn’t “depreciate the secular clergy” leads naturally to the conclusion that such a problem must have existed. How widespread that problem was is another issue that I now acknowledge I haven’t the competence in this subject to address.

          • Btw, I think Athanasius was right to advise the solitaries/monastics not to scorn the secular clergy. As someone who highly values secularity, my own criticism of and alienation from the institutional church is not the result of thinking it is too secular. In a certain sense, I feel just the opposite, that the church in its entirety is not secular enough. My sense of inner (if not outer) exile from the church is not the result of feeling or thinking it insufficiently religious or spiritual.

  3. Shirley Ann Keith King says

    I enjoyed reading this and just wanted to say my husband and I attended this little church back in October 1995 while visiting with the pastor and his wife, my nephew James Kelvin and Judy Keith and family. Unfortunately was sadden to hear that later that month on October 29th he was called home to be with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ suddenly. A blessed man who has been greatly missed by his lovely wife , family and friends. I live in a small town in Illinois of 900 and our church was closed December 1969 for same reason your little church is . Great memories. Thank you.

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