Dear Family and Friends at Trinity,


   Sterling.  That was the name of the church, the Sterling United Methodist Church.  Sterling was, and is, an appropriate name for that little one room rural church, seven miles north of Brookings, SD.  Established in 1895, it is still a viable congregation and witness to the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ.  At the time I served the church almost everyone was related to everyone else; I do not know if that is still true; I simply know it is still an active congregation.  In the years I was there, membership never exceeded 30-that didn’t stop them.

  The congregation was one of the most loving, sweet, everyone-pitch-in-and-work congregations I have ever served.  Once, I convinced them I had NOT been sent there by the bishop to close them down-a false idea they had gotten from somewhere-but then churches are often getting strange and unreal ideas-we had a great time.  It also had some of the most interesting things happen to it, and in it. Here are a few.

   *They were originally a German speaking church; during the WWI someone painted yellow stripes on the church; they knew who it was because the painting was done after a rain storm so there were buggy tracks; they decided the Christian thing to do was leave well enough alone.   *They built new outhouses; someone stole them; again they knew who it was, but let it be.  *Early in their history they had wallpapered the sanctuary with a paper that had a “swirly” design; the swirly design was made with a metallic paint; the church building was struck by lightning; it followed all of the swirls and curls in the wallpaper, cutting it and making a “jig-saw” puzzle of sorts out of it.  The lightning actually burned a path across the aisle on its way from one side of the church to the other. Next time they just painted the walls.

 * Once, because she was not going to be in church the following morning, the communion steward set the communion elements on the communion table the night before. When I uncovered the bread during communion the following morning, I discovered the mice had eaten it!

 *There were no little boys in the congregation, just little girls. This meant there was always a Mary for the Christmas pageant; these were farm girls so they understood that girls could care for livestock so there was no problem with them being shepherds. They thought it was kind of “cool” being the wise-women but no one would play Joseph; each Christmas we had to ‘rent’ a neighbor boy to be Joseph.   *Since there were no boys, Baby Jesus was always a little girl-the youngest of the grand children that year. One year, “Baby Jesus” made a run from the manger, dressed in her red velveteen dress, her black patent leather shoes, and lacey sox. * For the Christmas pageants, they had a live baby goat and a live baby lamb, making the nativity scene quite realistic with their soft bleating, first of the goat, then the lamb, then the cooing of the Baby Jesus, It was sweet.

*I wasn’t there the time the raccoons who lived under the roof fell through the ceiling during the church service.

*The pianist often had epileptic seizures while playing the piano. She would just stop and sit there. The congregation knew what was happening and so one of them would just go sit by her to make sure she didn’t fall off of the piano bench; after a couple of minutes she would come to, and begin playing right where she had left off.  *Knowing that I was not a good singer, one Sunday they wired my hymnbook shut and tied it to the pulpit.

*My most faithful worship attendee was a dog; he belonged to a farm family near the church and came when he heard the church bell, would sit quietly at the door, and leave during the last hymn. He was never a problem.

*They did not have a drive way; you simply charted your course and dived down into the road ditch and up into the church yard!

   I could go on and on about the trials and tribulations of this little church-the yearly costly flooding of the basement because years earlier they voted not to spend the $25 necessary to move the church back away from county road as it was being built up; a pastor that broke up a marriage, including his own, the young woman who donned a fake beard one morning in church, sat in the front row and flicked her fake beard at me trying to make me laugh, or the time I was in such a hurry to get there, I forgot my skirt….but…what I really want you to know about this congregation, is that in spite of all of these set-backs, some of them funny, some costly, some worrisome, in and through it all, they maintained a joyful spirit.

They paid their apportionments (denominational “dues’), they supported missionaries and missions, they sent representatives to denominational events, and most important of all, they remained true and faithful to the gospel.

They produced generation after generation of faithful disciples of Christ. They were friendly and fearless. They were the church at work in Brookings County, and in the world. They understood the church was not about the building, but about the worship and work that happened in and out of the building; they realized they were the church with or without a pastor. When they could not see the future, they trusted God because they believed He held their future.

  Aren’t you curious what I will write about Trinity years from now? Actually that text is in your hands. Write it!!  

Pastor Penny


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