Looking over the attendance pads from her first Sunday service, new Methodist Pastor Sarah Hyden-Smith read, "Claire Lapella." Next to the name, the box marked "visitor" was checked.
Just below, on the next line, she saw the shaky handwriting belonging to Caroline Tittle, owner of Caroline’s Beauty Salon. She had also checked the visitor’s box by her name.
It’s quite interesting that these two women’s names were listed in order on the attendance pad. That meant they were seated side by side in the pew. Since the sanctuary was packed for Sarah’s first Sunday, they must have been seated close together.
Leaving her office to make her first visits as minister of Lennox Valley Methodist Church, Sarah had no way of knowing that these visits would be with two strangers who happened to have so much in common.
Before she exited the building, Sarah was met just outside the church office by Beatrice Justice, a peculiar woman with the reputation for being a bit unusual. Beatrice, Sarah learned, had dropped by the church to pick up a copy of the Upper Room Devotional for a sick friend. At least, that’s what she told her new pastor.
The real reason for Beatrice’s stop was to get a close-up view of her new pastor. After all, she had never met a female preacher up close. Perhaps, she imagined, she might pick up some interesting tidbit concerning the new minister to share with her fellow members of the Lennox Valley Auburn Hat Society.
After a quick introduction, Beatrice asked her new shepherd how she was adjusting to her new home. "I’m finally starting to learn where things are," Sarah conceded.
She had no idea how much of an adjustment she was in for.
Her new congregant took Sarah by surprise with her answer: "Exodus 2, verse 22."
Then Beatrice nodded, turned and walked out the door. The Rev. Hyden-Smith wasn’t sure what to think about the encounter.
Sarah would soon realize that Beatrice’s reputation was well-deserved. Instead of speaking in sentences, like most everyone else, she would often answer with a Scripture reference.
It’s not so unusual for folks in a place like Lennox Valley to quote Scripture now and then. Even Sarah might offer some pastoral advice like, "The Bible says God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear."
The difference was Beatrice didn’t quote Bible verses themselves. She would just spit out the chapter and verse number, leaving most to wonder what kind of backhanded compliment or advice they had just been given.
Customarily when she did this, many had noticed, she had a devilish smile on her face, as if she had outwitted her less scripturally educated conversation partner.
Walking toward her car, Sarah took a mental note to look up Exodus 2:22 later and see what Beatrice was talking about. "Maybe," she thought, "I should brush up on my Old Testament."
Her first stop was at the home of Claire Lapella. The house looked like many in the Valley: White, with an old-fashioned front porch, probably built 30 years before Sarah was born.
There was a porch swing that hadn’t been occupied in some time. A couple of planters with the remains of what used to be azaleas and geraniums nestled against the front edge of the porch.
Other than an occasional salesman or someone selling a religion, there hadn’t been many visitors to Claire’s home since her soulmate moved on to be with his new soulmate. She recognized her guest immediately from her visit a week earlier to the Methodist church.
It’s interesting how two strangers can form an instantaneous bond. She didn’t say anything about it, but somehow Claire knew they were going to be close friends from the moment they met.
Once inside, Sarah was surprised to see a Bible on the coffee table. "I believe it belongs to my landlord," Claire told her.
"Do you mind if I look at it?" Sarah asked.
As the pastor flipped through the pages, Claire asked, "What are you looking for?"
Sarah faintly replied, "Exodus 2, verse 22."
Each week, "The Good Folks of Lennox Valley" chronicles the happenings of a fictional American small town.