Friday, December 11, 2009

Week Three: Third Sunday of Advent: Rural Reunions

It was 5:30 pm on Thursday evening. The White Pigeon Library was having its annual Christmas Open House. The tree was decorated and three young ladies wearing white chef’s coats circulated trays of oven warm tiny quiches and chocolate delights.

A young man played “My soul is filled with joy” on a quiet keyboard. A raffle fundraiser was under way. About thirty people or so dipped into cheese balls and pineapple tidbits, sat, talked and listened and browsed books.

It had been a reflective rural day for me. I spent all morning in my nightgown sitting by the wood stove at home and working on my sermon for Sunday. I made a few phone calls, to the church treasurer and chair and a ministry mentee.

Then I drove 10 miles south to Goshen to meet with Kathy (yes, she is also the church treasurer) and Lorna for lunch at the new delicatessen kitty corner from the Electric Brew on Main Street. Following a leisurely lunch of salmon chowder, Kathy and I brainstormed at the Brew about January worship on the theme of Sabbath.

From Goshen I drove 21 miles to White Pigeon, Michigan for the open house. An hour later I would drive 16 miles home. Why?

Well, as it turned out, eleven of those thirty people at the White Pigeon Library Christmas Open House were members of my far flung rural congregation, Florence Church of the Brethren Mennonite.

The musicians were Ben Nofsinger (keyboard) followed by the Bair Lane Christmas Band of Luke Nofsinger and Solomon Fenton Miller (guitar and mandolin). They had driven down from Marcellus, 21 miles away. Not only that, but Marcellus had received eight inches of snow the night before and the snow was still coming down when the musicians, along with Ben and Luke’s father, Gary, set out.

And how did they get invited to play? One of the librarian’s is Judy Broadworth, also a member of Florence. It was her “Just for Girls” club that was hosting this event and serving the tantalizing tidbits.

Soon after I arrived came another carload from Marcellus: mothers of musicians, Christine Nofsinger and Kathy Fenton-Miller, and Luke’s one year old son, Micah.

Are you counting? The last two Florencians to arrive, to make the total eleven, were Jan and Jerry Warstler who had driven 12 miles from Sturgis to join the party. As recent retirees and well know community volunteers in Sturgis, they support Judy in her work as an artist and teacher in the Open Door Gallery. And in turn they have called upon volunteers from Florence to help with dry wall and mudding in the gallery renovation a few years back. Here they are to connect with Judy, delighted to see all of us.

Rural vibrancy looks like this. We go the distance to make connections.

We love our kids. We support them in the arts, in sports, in discovering Christmas with Micah and the next generation. We thrill in seeing them share their gifts with the world.

We love each other. We support our links to our local communities. Chris, who is the librarian in Marcellus could be seen later in the evening comparing notes with Judy about library programming. I had no idea of Judy’s program that connected young teen girls with women working in a variety of professions. In a county with the highest teen pregnancy rate in the state, this is brilliant! I also learned that Micah’s mom, Daniela Zehr, was the invited guest for the next meeting of “Just for Girls” with the title, “So you think you can dance…” Daniela is a sexy salsa dancer who also happens to be at Goshen College training to be a nurse. Awesome model for girls to meet!

We love food.

We love parties and celebrations to keep our spirits bright as we go home in the deep dark to our warm, quiet rural homes on county roads and small town lanes.

So, does this warrant all this driving, all this gas, all this time? Heck, at this very moment the U.N. Climate Change meeting it taking place in Copenhagen.

Hmmm…in God’s economy I am not sure, but I think perhaps the answer is YES. I just know that as I was leaving the White Pigeon Library Sol and Luke were playing “What child is this” and an older White Pigeon couple was having the most delightful evening of their week. I know that when Florence friends come to worship this Sunday we will feel a different kind of joy and connection and understanding of each other, of our gifts and passions, of our scattered rural communities and our hopes for them.

I know that this gathering on a cold and bitterly windy night feeds my soul and sparks love and service. It is good.


Marcellus to White Pigeon 21 miles

Sturgis to White Pigeon 12 miles

Goshen, IN to White Pigeon 21 miles

White Pigeon to home 16 miles

Florence Church to White Pigeon 6 miles

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Week Two: Second Sunday of Advent: County Road 23

So much depends upon
a white blazed Morgan
blanketed in verde
beside the blue pelota. Nina

[Apologies to William Carlos Williams...]
So much depends upon
a red wheel barrow
glazed with rainwater
beside the white chickens.

WHAT depends? Seeing.

On my "block" of County Road 23 in Bristol, Indiana, north of US 20 until the T at County Road 14, I am determined to SEE, to be awake to where I am.

I have lived here in rural Elkhart County for seven and a half years. But I have felt "geographically challenged." I am an urban person, growing up on the north edge of Philadelphia, living later for four years in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and for nearly twenty five years in south central Elkhart, Indiana. It was my husband Donald's dream to "live on some land," not mine. So in some ways I have resisted making this home. It is time.


My block is 1.8 miles long. There are 30 houses on my road. Two are huge, looking to me like mansions. One of these we used to call "The Hopeless House." It has been under construction for about five years and no one has lived there yet. Some houses are manufactured homes. Many are like ours, "in between." But ours is the only A frame.

There are two large stables and horse pastures on the east side of the road. There is one very large wetland on the west side and several smaller wetland areas both near the road and back into the woods. They can be seen now that the leaves are down. There are woods, small ponds. There is a corn field on the south end and a herd of cattle in a pasture on the north end.

Our home on four acres of grass, a small pond and woods is adjacent to 100 acres of Nature Conservancy. It is unmarked and basically unknown beyond the folks who live right by it.

So now, as I drive or walk up and down County Road 23, will there be any evidence of "vibrancy?"

As I drove home from church on Sunday with my eyes open I immediately saw a large bird perched in the first tree by the edge of the road to my right. I slowed and stopped. An owl? It's head did not look big enough. It stared at me and I at it. I carefully grabbed for my camera and as I turned it took to flight. Ah! The red tail! The red tailed hawk. It flew south toward my home.

And then, half a mile down, I see the vibrant Morgan blanketed in verde.

I smile.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Week One: Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent

I am driving at dawn on the North River Road from Mottville to Constantine. The sun stalks me from behind the trees, glimpsing at me from curve to curve from the far side of the St. Joe River.

In this season of hunting I should be looking for deer crossing the curves in front of me. But the chase of the sun compels my glance, my glint, as an open curve sparkles in sun caught frost.

Rural vibrancy. Here it is. Literally. The fields are down to corn stubble or new curves drawn by farm impliments, fingerprints in the soil. The sun reveals their DNA. It dazzles crystals of frost caught in tight cradles of dry Queen Ann's Lace and arches of brittle twists and stems, names unknown. Its great eye chases me and then slips around a corner to beat me to the last open field before the new houses and the 25 mile per hour speed limit at the Constantine Village limit. So I tag the sun back -- with my camera.

Why should this give me such delight? There is shape, light, color, shadow, sparkle and rings of refracted light making their own circles in my lens and image. This is my morning reverie, a way to honor the holy wholeness this sun has circled, creeping round the cosmos from Cambodia and across Tanzania and Congo to Bristol and this North River Road.

We take snapshots of the ones we love. Weeds, sky, cloud, sun, streaks of light. These I love. These spaces of silence and morning glory. A way to begin again -- a vibrant rural year of R & R.

"Thus says the LORD God, the Holy One of Israel:

'In returning and rest you shall be saved;

in quietness and trust will be your strength.'"

Isaiah 30:15