The church’s death knell


She was a member of the church I served as a student pastor, but never came to worship during the four years I was her pastor. I figured one of the reasons she never came was because the judgmental attitude that some of the church members had towards her.

It was a tiny church. Average attendance was 12 members. That was about the maximum the bishop was going to entrust to this student pastor. One might think that those dozen attendees would want every warm body they could get, but that wasn’t the case.

A few of the members assured me that this woman was sleeping with the man who stayed in the house with her. They told me this with such conviction that I assumed they’d been looking through the bedroom window.

The woman was a frail widow, slight in stature, wobbly of foot and sprightly of spirit. I’m not sure whether she was a divorcee or had previous marriages. The man who had taken up with her was grizzly of chin, quick with a smile and reputed by the community to be influenced by alcohol. He was not a church-going man.

I visited this twosome often, not knowing to this day whether to call them a couple or not. Was their relationship one of convenience? Was romance involved? Was it financially advantageous to both of them? I didn’t know.

The house, which sat a couple of blocks from the church, probably had been at one time a grand country house. But now the gray, weather-beaten wood was flanked by a sagging porch, an old pickup truck parked in the driveway the only sign of transportation. Ancient pecan trees and overgrown shrubbery were prominent in the yard; the interior rooms were all dark, the furniture on the threadbare side and the curtains musty.

But to visit this duo was a delight. They were simply interesting people. I don’t recall the subject matter of our conversations, but I always came away from an enjoyable visit. Was it German pastor Helmut Thielicke who once observed that he’d almost rather be in the presence of salty pagans than shriveled saints?

I don’t want to be too hard on that little church. Maybe they’d tried in the past to win their church member back into the fold. Maybe they’d been soundly rebuffed. Maybe they knew things were never going to change. But what seemed to this young pastor was that this congregation would be happier with a few respectable people rather than a larger crowd that included some questionable characters.

I’m sure this man and woman are long since deceased. They seemed old to me when I was their pastor. I’m sure they never entered that beautiful little Methodist Church. But here’s the other certainty: that little church I once served is no longer alive, either. Those few members, content with their tiny band, died out. It was easier to ignore and shun the morally suspect than to love them back into the church. That’s the tragedy.

Creede Hinshaw, a retired United Methodist pastor of 36 years, can be contacted at