Religious and Moral Issues

Part 8:  Hamilton M E Church: Fitting In

  We mulled it over at home.  John had known Floyd Brewer well enough in Kiwanis to invite him to join the X club.  So we decided to send Esther and Bob to Methodist Sunday School.  That may have been sometime in 1944.  I do remember that after Peter was born in 1944 I thought it would be interesting to take a picture for Christmas of Esther as Mary, Bob a Joseph, and Peter as the baby in a manger.  Nell Orwig – the school music teacher and Methodist choir director came to the house to assist me with costumes etc.

      Around this same time there was an interesting quote or sentence set bold face in the center of a page of the Saturday Evening Post “Parents are those who send their children to Sunday School, but take them to the circus.”  That hit with me to the extent that I decided I should attend also – and join so that Sunday School would more truly seem like their church home to Esther and Bob.  John cooperated also – not by joining but by sending small checks several times a year to “help” toward the heat, utilities and other overhead expense of a Sunday School.

      I was open and frank with Floyd Brewer regarding my “theology”.  He responded that he understood – and actually agreed with much I told him.  He saw no reason I could not renew Methodist membership by letter from the Unitarian Clerk George Berryhill.  It was probably in the spring of 1945 that I joined the Hamilton Methodist.

      But within a few months Floyd Brewer was moved to another town – another Methodist church.  Replacing Brewer was Rev. Dickerson.  He was tall, lanky, nearing retirement age.  He was from the Southern Methodist arm of the church and quite conservative – approaching Babtist.  He was a vivid speaker.  I remember two “word” pictures from sermons.  He used the Scripture “As pants the hare for the water brook, so pants my heart for Thee, O God”.  I could “see” that animal running for a clear cool stream of water.  The other sermon in a way was scolding church people who might be very sensitive and touchy – whose feelings were frequently being hurt.  Dickerson spread out his long slender fingers at his hips – at his shoulders etc.  Those fingers were represented as ideas, pet projects etc which are easily bumped by friends – and which hurt when bumped!

      I think perhaps it was at this time I learned there were correspondence courses offered by the Methodist General Conference (National).  I practically devoured these courses.  Some were to help me work with children and Youth Groups:  Others were to improve my understanding of the Bible.  I found I could be very honest in my reports which I mailed back to the Methodist Office of Education.  Most all of those study reports I still have after more than 25 years.

      I remember this correspondence study of the Old Testament gave me some of the answers I was seeking when a high school girl.  I learned of the division of the Hebrews into two major divisions.  While divided, each group developed histories which differed in certain aspects.  When reunited and the early history was collected into one “Bible” or “Torah” or (?) efforts at satisfying both groups led to two versions of various stories – as the two versions of Creation and the garden of Eden in Genesis.

      So with these correspondence courses I felt I was reasonably in line with leaders of Methodism.  But I also worried that Rev. Dickerson was out of line.  Others of the congregation seemed unhappy with him also.

      This was a time I wrote to Nell Orwig (who had retired from teaching and moved home to her sister in Prairie City, Ill), expressing my unhappiness. I also wrote to Floyd Brewer.  Both of them counseled me to” hold on.”  It was Nell Orwig, I believe, who wrote “After all it is not the minister’s church – it is God’s church!”  “Ministers come and soon go.”

      Taking the advice by correspondence of both Nell Orwig and Floyd Brewer, I stuck with Hamilton Methodist, being regular and active along with Esther and Bob.  I was also the Leader of the only Girl Scout troop in town.  Now maybe that previous statement is in error.  I may have just resigned because of another child, baby Peter.

      One of these summers Ann and Patty Dodge and one or both of the Pagett girls, Grace & Pat, attended Methodist Youth camp at Milan Ill.  They came back with great enthusiasm.  Part of camp expense having been paid from one or two church funds, the girls were invited to make a report to Official Board (I think that was the group).

      I can picture how we met that evening near the front of the south section of the sanctuary.  Rev. Dickerson stood there in front with the girls as they told of camp.  He was all smiles and encouragement until they told of the great fun they had at Camp Milan with folk dances.  His smile disappeared and I could feel the chill in the big room as icycles formed all over the minister!

      The girls were eager to introduce the idea of our local youth group having folk dances in our church basement.  They might have had their wish if they had used the term “Folk Games” but the word “Dance” was a No No!

      I was not on the Pastor-Parish committee that year, but I did write to the District Supt. to tell, to explain, how Rev Dickerson and the youth were at cross swords; and that he seemed to be aging too much to carry on the church responsibilities.  Sometime that late winter I found notice in some of the church literature of a Methodist Youth Caravan which would be traveling in the Midwest to help MYF – Methodist Youth Fellowships.

      The Youth Caravan at that time was a group of four or five college students and a slightly older counselor – chaperone for the group.  Several such groups were together for a week of training then they traveled to spend a week at each of six to eight churches during that summer.  As younger children have a week of “Bible School” in the summer, the Jr and Sr High school youth have a week of religion with this “Caravan” as leaders and resource.

      When I read about the Youth Caravan project, I wrote immediately to see if one would come to us.  Back came word that normally a Caravan was sent only if the local minister was eager for one to come, and asked for one.  The Conference authorities knew we would have a change of minister but they were willing to send the Caravan to Hamilton.  They seemed to have learned enough about me to feel I would make advance preparations and strive for a good experience both for the local youth and for the Caravan.

      Routing of the Caravan called for them to come to Hamilton as their very first church following training at Wm Penn campus at Oskaloosa Iowa!  They arrived to be at church to be introduced at the same time as our new minister.  He was a Carthage College student, John Keller.  He laughed with his booming laugh, as he said it was difficult for the congregation to know who were Caravaners and who was new minister!

      The Youth Caravan seemed to be a success.  We met late afternoons and evenings.  As I recall, an evening meal was a part of the program, which also included worship, study, mission, etc.  One evening was a very sparse sacrificial meal – crackers and very thin soup by candle light.  A donation went to MYFund.  We invited some nights the youth from the other Hamilton Protestant churches.  Esther was scarcely old enough for sessions.  But she was mature for her age, and the best available pianist!

      As I remember, having the Youth Caravan was good for the Youth of our church, good for all at our church, Good for young Rev. John Keller, and also good for the Caravan youth – according to later correspondence.

      John Keller was good for the Hamilton Methodist church.  I can remember him raising his fist and booming out “When I get to be Bishop, I’m going to require that all starting student preachers be accompanied to their first church by a Youth Caravan.”

      I felt I was of considerable help to the young man.  The church had no mimeograph, but I bought an old used one for myself, stencils, ink.  I was on some mailing list that sent me a great variety of designs and figures that could be traced on the stencils.  Keller and I had a great time producing a church calendar for each month.

      About this time my neighbors to the Northeast, Fred and Mildred Mills, had a big dalmation dog named “General Mills” or “General” because Fred worked at “General Mills” in Keokuk.  This dog had one eye brown, and the other eye blue.  That was the first time I had seen such.  So I was really thunderstruck when Keller appeared on some church errand at our house, but the male companion with him from college had similar eyes – one brown, one blue.  It was difficult not to be rude and stare at him!

      In the years following Rev Dickerson, I did take active parts in the organization of Hamilton Methodist.  I held various offices in W.S.C.S.  I remember being treasurer for as many years as allowed.  I had troubles with my personal honesty and my treasury book-keeping.  I think I managed to stay honorable.  But I can see how someone could adjust the treasury accounts to cover a few dollars at a time.  Family needs can be pressing when there are several growing children in a family.  It can be so easy to “borrow” cash “briefly”.

      Most of my official jobs with the church were connected with education and youth.  That put me on the official board – now called Administrative board.  I also at times served on the Pastor – Parish committee, or nominating.

      John Keller and I got along well.  One of my main memories from any sermon of his:  He wanted to stress that Christianity was a full-time commitment.  He said in effect “I’m going to build some shelving out there in the entry, so as we leave here on Sunday morning we can deposit our religion for safe keeping.  It will be safe and untarnished when we return next Sunday or later.”  When Keller moved on to another charge he took with him as wife one of those youth who had come back from church camp so eager to have Folk dancing in MYF! Patty Dodge (she was one of my Scouts also).

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