“I never did figure out what made you decide to go to the service,” my older sister Darcy said, buckling herself up in the back seat of my truck where our Corgi, Lucy, had nestled earlier in the day. Sensing her best wool coat would attract dog hair like a magnet, I hoped she wouldn’t notice until later.
“I figured it would be an adventure,” I replied. “Plus, the Methodist church was a large part of our life growing up. I tend to be nostalgic about certain traditions.”
In front of us was a white-knuckle 22-mile drive over four inches of snow and ice to the town where we grew up. Wife Nancy was in her usual anxious mode when road conditions were challenging but otherwise assumed the role of a willing companion to my version of an adventure. When I tried to talk Mom into going with us she said, “I don’t feel the need to attend after playing the organ there every Sunday for 40 years.”
A high school friend had sent me a notice on Facebook a few months back informing that the Weston United Methodist Church was “down to five members” and that the last service, “A Benediction to 140 years,” would be held December 23 at 6 p.m. Weston was an hour and a half drive from the Tri-Cities so attending an evening church service was anything but convenient. I debated what to do before finally deciding to spend the night with Mom in Walla Walla and celebrate Christmas Eve with her the next day.
The few times I attended a church of any faith in the past 40 years or so was for weddings and funerals of close friends. Back in the day, Mom and Dad marched us five Dauble children up the hill to the Methodist church every Sunday without fail. I received my first bible after taking communion alongside adult members a day short of my tenth birthday. As a teenager, I read and studied the Old and New Testaments and earned the coveted Boy Scout “God and Country” award. You could say I was an indentured servant to the Protestant faith, a prisoner of the Methodist religion. I put in enough pew time to know who nodded off during sermons, trimmed their fingernails at communion, peeked during the invocation prayer and sang out of tune. Despite this upbringing, and like many other sinners who leave the fold to fish on Sunday I drifted away from organized religion.
Downtown Weston is lit up for the holiday. Festive stars hang from street lamp poles and multi-colored LEDs adorned the windows of the town library. I turn up icy Main Street, and pass the Blue Mountain tavern and other two-story brick buildings that have been closed for years to the top of the hill to where a familiar whitewash building welcomes. Leaning concrete steps lead us up to the belfry steeple and through double doors to the main area of worship where 20 people, including young children and a small choir, were in attendance. The minister, Tillie MakePeace, stands at the pulpit reading a letter written by a senior pastor who chose to celebrate the poignant occasion from afar. While we search for a place to sit, an attendant chases us down with a bright yellow program. A folded insert has an Advent song printed on one side and lengthy email text from the Reverend J. Quinton Kimbrow, subject line “A few thoughts on Weston,” on the back. A quick glance of scheduled activities indicates that we had missed two hymns, including one of my favorites: #246, “Joy to the World.”
That dang Sheldon, I think. I asked him twice when the service started and both times he replied, “6 p.m.” How can I get credit for showing up at an event 10 minutes early when I arrive 20 minutes late? Evidently, historians have a different sense of time. Sheldon nods hello as we sit down. He sits behind the minister with a serene look on his face, attired in a long flowing white robe, brown wool socks and Birkenstock’s. I forgive him for his transgression because forgiving is sublime.
Upgrades since my last visit to the Weston church include red velour cushions gracing all seven rows of hard mahogany pews, a broken piece of stained glass replaced and new carpet leading to the main pulpit. Missing is the once familiar scene of Mom sitting at the organ, several friends and neighbors who have since entered the pearly gates and a passing of the silver collection plate for which I had specifically set aside a twenty dollar bill as penance for past sins.
I’d like to say that my singing was confident and on key, but that assertion would be lying. Nancy’s voice pretty much carries each tune while Darcy and I mumble words and look around with great earnest as if to catch a glimpse of the Holy Spirit who has inhabited these hallowed chambers since 1871. Following three prayers, two scripture readings, four unfamiliar hymns, 23 hand-written notes read from the Blessing Box (we arrived too late to enter a blessing), a rousing group “Hallelujah” and two history lessons narrated by Sheldon that celebrate the people of the United Methodist Church, the finish line arrives and we all clasp hands during the Benediction prayer. Sadly, not a single hymn in the new songbook ended with a perfunctory “Amen.” Evidently, the “so be it” part of the Methodist religion, one that I relied on regularly for moral support after an unsuccessful day of fishing, is no longer in force.
Some things never change though. That’s a good thing. Following the challenging hour-long service, coffee, cookies and small talk awaited in the daylight basement. Let there be peace on earth and goodwill to all.