Nearing graduation from Memphis School of Preaching, one of the congregations to which I went to "try-out" was in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. The town consisted of a collection of homes at a certain point along a primary, two-lane East-West highway. I was convinced that the first man I met inside the little church house was a vagrant. Later to my surprise, I realized that the snaggle-toothed gentleman in the badly wrinkled jacket was the chief elder.
After morning worship my family and I were greeted by the other elder. He informed us that it was his job to feed visiting preachers, however, that day he had company. The brother gave us a $10 bill and advised us that there was a restaurant just out of town to the West.
The restaurant was really the front porch of a small frame dwelling. We entered and stood hovering over diners already seated, waiting for our turn. The room was so small and the tables so close together that we literally filled the space between the tables.
Later that day, the two elders discussed the work with us. One of the most interesting, though not desirable, terms of employment concerned the relationship between the preacher's vacation and Gospel meetings the little church would host. The successful candidate for the pulpit work there was required to take an unpaid vacation anytime the congregation had a Gospel meeting.
Our first work after graduation was in the mountains of Virginia!
One day while I was preaching, our daughter was alone on the front pew. Bonnie was in the nursery with our new baby. Rebecca laid down on the pew and dangled her legs over the back of the pew and waved them in the air. Without missing a beat in my sermon, I interjected: "Rebecca, go to the nursery and tell your mother you need a spanking!" Not only did our daughter respond to my instruction, but a married woman who had two children of her own, also named "Rebecca," was startled. I thought for a moment that she too was going to go to the nursery and request a spanking.
Two other memories from our work with that congregation stand out. In one business meeting a brother attempted to have me fired for not wearing a tie to the post office to pick up the church mail. He added that I should have 90 days to repent or face dismissal! My most lasting impression on that church was probably the sign I placed at the back of the auditorium beneath the clock. It read, "Remember Lot's Wife!" The sign remained there several years and may be there still.
In 1974 my wife, infant daughter and I left military life in the Air Force to work with a small congregation 350 miles north of Detroit. We were paid $60 a week and provided a trailer with utilities in a mud lot trailer park. The trailers were so close together that anyone walking down the hallways in adjacent trailers echoed in our trailer. Local brethren caught fish and shot rabbits, squirrels and fowl for us to eat. Brethren in Detroit sent canned goods and frozen meat once or twice a year. I'm amazed as we look back how we survived and with what idealism we labored.
While laboring with a small congregation in Illinois, I performed many funerals for members of the church and some others, too. The husband of one of our members had one of two funeral homes in the county. One day while attempting to engage conversation with him, I asked the dumb question: "How's Business?" He immediately and seriously responded, to my surprise, "If we could just have about a dozen more funerals a year, it would be great."
One year I borrowed a pickup truck from one of the elders of the church with which we were laboring then. The plan was to have a neighbor who was a forest ranger ride with me to a site in the forest where for a modest fee we could select and cut our own Christmas trees. The ranger and I were each going to get a tree. However, while in the woods, the ranger informs me that we are getting a third tree for the Baptist Church in town, too. Something just didn't feel right as I, a preacher for the Lord's church, backed an elder's truck to the front door of the Baptist Church to unload a Christmas tree.
My oldest son and I were traveling by car along an interstate on a long journey. We stopped at a rest area so my young son could use the restroom. While waiting in the car, I decided to use the restroom, too. Upon entering I thought to myself, "I never saw one of these in a rest room before." In the stall I said to myself, "I never saw one of these in a rest room either." Next, I noticed the shoes under the partition next to me didn't appear to be men's shoes. I silently panicked when I heard several female voices. I was convinced that there was no way I was going to be able to explain this and that I was certainly going to jail! (The thought of beginning a jail ministry from the inside was not appealing to me.)
When I didn't hear any more voices and as far as I could tell no one was left in the restroom, all the while hoping that the foyer was empty also, I darted from the women's restroom into the men's room. Upon exiting the building I found my son who promptly said: "I didn't see you in there." I replied, "I didn't see you in there either."
In my first full-time work as a preacher, the congregation with which I was laboring used a long, narrow galvanized stock watering trough for a baptistery. Only the person being baptized would fit inside the tub. Anyone baptizing someone had to stand on the outside of the baptistery. This procedure put a terrible strain on the back of the one doing the baptizing. On a single occasion, I dropped a man while baptizing him. Immediately, I went fishing for him. I quickly reasoned with myself that a biblical baptism required immersion and a resurrection to be valid.
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