It had been nine days since the Rev. Sarah Hyden-Smith made her first appearance in the pulpit of Lennox Valley Methodist Church. Her schedule was filled with unpacking boxes, meeting with committees, preparing her first two sermons and other ministerial duties.
Thanks to the surprise remarks from the Albright siblings during her first children’s sermon, along with the large number of folks who had come out to hear the new preacher, Sarah was feeling pretty good about her first two weeks in the Valley. Still, Sarah knew that the newness would eventually wear off, and her attention would turn from getting acquainted with her new surroundings toward shepherding her flock.
Three weeks before moving to her new appointment, Sarah made a visit to her predecessor, Glynn Vickers, who was re-tiring after 42 years in the ministry. She was eager to learn all she could about her new congregation and gain any insights that could help as she prepared for her position.
Being newer to the ministry, Sarah didn’t know much about Vickers, but soon learned that he would be an invaluable resource. Glynn was an amiable sort, quick-witted and easygoing. Sarah took a quick liking to him.
They mostly talked about her new church. Vickers had enjoyed his years there, and Sarah could tell he didn’t want to force information on her. Finally, she asked him if he had any advice for her.
"I’ve been in the ministry a long time," he began. "I know a lot of pastors spend most of their time in meetings and preparing for sermons."
Sarah was on the edge of her seat, hoping for any information that would help her be a better pastor to her new flock.
"In my four decades, I’ve found that it all comes down to three things. As long as I did those, people seemed to like me, and congregations grew."
"He must know what he’s talking about," Sarah thought.
In her research, she had found that the Lennox Valley church had increased in membership and attendance each year since Glynn arrived.
"What are those three things?"
After pausing briefly, Vickers said, "First, make a personal visit to the home of every new visitor within three days."
"Three days?" she asked pensively.
"It’s important to get to them quickly. That way, they know they’re important to you. Wait any longer, and they’ve probably forgotten they even attended."
"OK. What else?" Sarah asked.
"Visit every member of the church in their homes at least once each year," he said, as if it were common knowledge.
"But how do you find time to prepare for sermons if you’re visiting so many people?"
Glynn grinned knowingly, looking down toward the ground.
"People will forget your sermon by dinner time. They will remember when you visited their home for years.
"People come to church," he continued, "because they want to matter. And when you visit them at home, they feel like they matter. It’s not hard. We have 104 family units in the church. Some live alone, some are families. If you get to two homes each week, you’ve visited everyone."
Both were quiet for a moment while Sarah digested this new information.
"And what’s the third thing?" asked Sarah.
"Visit every member and their relatives every day while they are in the hospital."
"But the nearest hospital is in Springfield," noted Sarah.
Vickers rubbed his chin, as if to say, "I know. I go there just about every day."
However, no words came from his mouth.
Sarah left their meeting convinced she would heed his advice. So here she was, 10 days into her first year as pastor, and it was time to start.
Looking at the visitors’ list from her first Sunday service, she read, "Claire Lapella."
Quite fortuitously, at that very moment, Claire Lapella was planning her march to protest the upcoming men’s breakfast and turkey shoot at First Baptist Church. Hyden-Smith’s first visit should be quite interesting.
Each week, "The Good Folks of Lennox Valley" chronicles the happenings of a fictional American small town.