Small Town Church
By Peggy Simpson
On a balmy Sunday morning in late spring, I accompanied my husband, Jim, to Corder United Methodist Church in Corder, MO. Corder is a small town, population 398 according to the 2013 census, just ten minutes northeast of Higginsville, MO, a much larger small town an hour due east of Kansas City. The area is 100% rural with acres and acres of rolling cropland dotted with farmhouses and silos surrounded by decades-old trees. The corn was just sprouting and looked like rows and rows of narrow green ribbon against the brown earth. The wind, blowing strongly that morning, made the foot-high winter wheat look like shimmering green waves. As we drew closer to town, we passed the Confederate Memorial Cemetery, yards with tractor tires planted with summer flowers, and cows napping in the morning sun.
Jim, who is a District Superintendent of the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church, had been invited to preach and help preside over confirmation that morning. I knew it was a small church, so as we drove up and parked in the grassy lot across the road from the church, I was not surprised to see a small white wood-frame structure. Within sight on Main Street were three other small white churches there on “church corner.” As we walked up to the entrance, we could see that a handicapped accessible ramp had been installed next to the front steps, a sign of keeping up with the needs of all.
The doors were open wide letting in the wonderful morning breeze and encouraging our entrance. I stepped inside to the scent of coffee and wood polish and had the overwhelming feeling of stepping back into childhood. There was the red carpet flanked by ten pews with red cushions. The wooden altar table, inscribed with Do This In Remembrance of Me, was holding an open Bible and white paraments fringed in gold. Decorating the front wall was the banner created by the confirmands this year, and fresh cut flowers from someone’s garden adorned the organ.
Rev. Ralph and his wife, Doris, were there waiting to warmly greet us, as well as everyone else who entered. As we were early, I had time to sit in the quiet cozy sanctuary and just take in all the memories the room held. The American and Christian flags were standing at their posts in the two front corners. There was a small communion rail in front of the altar, where no doubt countless people had kneeled in prayer, and the big chairs for the pastor and liturgist sat behind the altar, no longer in use.
One of the two modest stained glass windows behind the chancel displayed a blue butterfly with a Chi Rho symbol, the other a descending white dove, likely dedicated in memory to a saint of the past. The walls also held stained glass windows, but included on the east wall was the hymn board, where the hymn numbers for the day were still displayed, and on the west wall the attendance and offering board listing twenty-one in attendance last week and an offering of $384.
As folks started to arrive it was a virtual “hugfest.” No one was left untouched. It was apparent that these relationships were vital to their lives. The room was filled with love overflowing. It was a big occasion to have two young people confirmed, so the attendance bumped up to about fifty that morning, all stuffed into the last seven pews on each side, a trend of all good Methodists. I’m not sure if we don’t sit in the front pews because we are afraid the pastor will call on us, or folks just do it because that’s what their parents did. After people were through greeting each other, we got down to “church.”
There was no screen, no band, no multi-media, just one lavaliere microphone for the pastor. Two young acolytes in pretty dresses came forward to light the altar candles and the pianist played the prelude. We stood for the Call to Worship followed by the hymn, How Great Thou Art, and an Affirmation of Faith written by the confirmands, Macie and Dylan, who coincidentally were cousins. We sang the Gloria Patri, and listened to a wonderful children’s sermon given by Grandma Gail. There were at least a dozen children listening, also a bump up due to the occasion.
Another hymn, the scripture readings chosen by Macie and Dylan and then a distant train whistle announced Jim’s message. Rev. Ralph told Jim to “keep it short” and he did as he was told.
Finally, it was time for confirmation. The young people were presented by Grandma Gail. We later found out that Grandma Gail was the confirmands’ actual grandmother. What a wonderful experience it must be to have your children and grandchildren attend church with you and have the honor of presenting your grandchildren for confirmation.
We were instructed to turn to page thirty-three in the red United Methodist Hymnal. If you have been a Methodist for any length of time, you know the one. The page was dog-eared from years of baptisms and confirmations. The parents were invited forward and there was a complete set for each child. We proceeded through the formal service, Macie and Dylan committing their lives to Jesus Christ, the congregation promising to support them. We continued with the worship service outlined in the same hymnal, not skipping one element to save time.
The service closed with the going forth hymn: Shall We Gather at the River, the benediction and the congregational response hymn: God Be With You. We were invited to stay for lunch in honor of the confirmands, but we had to hurry back to Kansas City so Jim could preside over a meeting. Rev. Ralph said they had a dinner after church on the first Sunday of every month, but next month they would be joining their Lutheran friends for a benefit dinner to support someone in need.
What a refreshing experience! How blessed we are to have pastors committed to serving Jesus in small town churches. They walk through life with their people in simplicity, warmth and love for God and each other. There are many advantages of membership in a large, suburban church, but oh, the feel of a small town church!