Church Characters #6: Annette

During a series entitled “Church Characters,” I’m recalling some memorable people from decades of ministry.

During my first years of pastoral ministry in small churches, I visited homebound members on a monthly basis. I regularly saw Annette who lived in a single-wide trailer with her daughter and cats.

Note that I wrote “cats” in the plural.

Annette suffered from progressive dementia. She possessed a sunny disposition but comprehended only the simplest conversations. In addition to watching daytime TV, she loved the company of her cats.     

Note that I wrote “cats” in the plural.

I never tabulated an accurate census of the feline population, which milled around in perpetual motion. It probably totaled over 30 but under 100! After sitting on the sofa, I appeared to be wearing a fur coat while scratching at imaginary fleas.

The olfactory experience of summer visits in the single-wide without air conditioning exceeds my descriptive powers. The heat, humidity, and malodor produced asthma-like symptoms. I welcomed the dog day heat outside after enduring the cat stay smell inside.

Annette’s daughter impressed me throughout my tenure at the church. Lou Ellen cared for her mother without complaint, accepting the living conditions with equanimity. Whenever I inquired about her personal wellbeing, she talked about her devotion to her mother who had cared for her.  

People typically assume that the Fifth Commandment instructs young children to respect their parents. Annette’s life testified that honoring our fathers and mothers encompasses a lifetime; and sometimes it includes cats.

Note that I wrote “cats” in the plural.

However, Annette proved to be the heroine of the story.  

Church Characters #5: Tommy

During a series entitled “Church Characters,” I’m recalling some memorable people from decades of ministry.

Tommy attended Mount Carmel Church, and his wife played the piano for worship. The devoted family faithfully fulfilled their vows to support the church with their prayers, presence, gifts, and service.

Tommy was the kinda guy who would do anything FOR you and anything TO you. In the latter category, he loved harmless, practical jokes.

A shrub died in front of the parsonage. Tommy served on the Trustees. Rather than replace the plant, he spray-painted the brown branches a bright green.

The United Methodist Men took a mission trip to Louisiana. One evening we went to New Orleans for dinner before strolling through the French Quarter. Tommy delighted in pointing out every clothing optional establishment to his young pastor.

Tracy and I married in May 1986. While away on our honeymoon, Tommy sowed the parsonage lawn with fescue and rye before applying a liberal amount of fertilizer. I cut the grass every 3 days that summer. The churchman explained that he was concerned I might have nothing else to do as a newlywed.

Tommy was the type of guy who would do anything FOR you and anything TO you. In the former catalog, he supported his pastor with love and compassion.

The country church introduced me to deer hunting. After I harvested my first buck, Tommy showed me how to field dress and butcher the deer.

A wood heater warmed the parsonage. I purchased a chainsaw, and Tommy taught me how to cut firewood. I attribute my current possession of ten digits to his past instruction.

Most of all, Tommy offered wise counsel to a pastor fresh out of seminary. He helped me understand how to minister to the congregation and community. I remain grateful for his friendship and support during my first five years of ministry.

May all of us be the kinda person who will do anything for others.

Church Characters #4: Wilmer

During a series entitled “Church Characters,” I’m recalling some memorable people from decades of ministry.

The bishop appointed me to a two-point circuit after graduating from seminary. Founded in 1840, Mount Carmel was the larger of the two churches. The white clapboard sanctuary still stood, but rotten wood sills made it uninhabitable.

A new building stood next door. With the sanctuary completed, the congregation began work on the education space. The Sunday School area took another year to finish.

A church member and builder named Wilmer oversaw the project. The general contractor invested countless hours into his church home. In addition to regular churchwide work days, Wilmer often worked alone on nights and weekends.

Wilmer and I came from radically different worlds. Wilmer grew up in Coweta County and possessed a high school degree. He took a conservative view of the world. I grew up in Decatur before our family moved to Woodstock. I attended college and then seminary. I must have appeared to be a flaming liberal in his eyes.

However, we both loved the church in general and Mount Carmel Church in particular. Even when we couldn’t agree to disagree, neither of us ever questioned the other’s faith and devotion.

One fall day I received a frantic call from a family member. While framing a house, Wilmer lost his grip on a pneumatic nail gun. It landed atop his head, driving a nail through his skull and into the brain.

I waited long hours with the family in the Emergency Room. The doctor later told us he literally used a claw hammer to remove the nail! Despite bleak warnings about brain damage, infection, and long-term effects, Wilmer recovered completely.

I don’t believe the Lord dispenses miracles based on merit. Wilmer’s selfless work on behalf of the church PROBABLY didn’t affect his medical results. However, I cannot help but suspect that Jesus intervened in a special way for a fellow carpenter.

Church Characters #3: Glenn & Lizzie

During a series entitled “Church Characters,” I’m recalling some memorable people from decades of ministry.

Glenn and Lizzie belonged to the first church I served after seminary. They lived in a gray-weathered, clapboard house near the parsonage. The living room featured a wood heater stoked yearlong. On frigid winter days, I exited the home soaked in sweat.

An ancient chimney vented the smoke. One memorable day Glenn decided to burn off the soot and creosote by firing up the heater to a cherry red. I followed the fire engine sirens to the house. The tinder-box home miraculously escaped burning to the ground.

Despite age and health, Glenn continued to work the old family farm. The octogenarian wore a brace that supported his entire back, causing him to lean forward 45 degrees. One summer I helped him carry corn to a mill where the ramshackle, rumbling contraption converted the ears into meal.

Lizzie suffered every illness known to medicine. She kept the kitchen cabinets stocked with prescription bottles that avalanched to the counters below. The matriarch moaned about imminent death throughout the five years I served the church.

Glenn and Lizzie married in their twenties and celebrated 65 years of marriage during my tenure. Although they bickered and disagreed, they honored their vows with love and respect. The couple sat in matching recliners, passing the time together.

Hallmark would never make a movie about their lives, but I am grateful for older couples who model marital fidelity. In this world and the next, Glenn and Lizzie made quite the pair.