Every fifth Friday of the month, which generally comes around about four times most years, the clergy of the Valley would gather together for lunch. Over time, the gathering came to be known as the Ministerial Alliance of Lennox Valley.
To outsiders, meaning just about anyone who doesn’t work for one of the Valley churches, the words "Ministerial Alliance" bring thoughts of important discussions concerning major theological and ethical issues. The pastors are careful to be sure the meeting is included in each of their respective church newsletters, and the good folks of the Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches can feel relief that their shepherds are guarding against any corrupt influences that might infiltrate their community.
To the clergy of the Valley, however, the Ministerial Alliance basically means a chance to have lunch together and compare notes about what’s going on in their congregations.
So it was on July 31, 1998, the ecclesiastical leaders of the community gathered together for lunch. One danger of announcing the meeting so prominently was that members of the community often requested an opportunity to address the Alliance, usually to bring to their attention some moral concern requiring their collective wisdom and guidance.
It didn’t take long for the pastors to realize the necessity of planning a "business meeting" after lunch to allow members of the community to address the group. Otherwise, the respected leaders would never be able to discuss politics, sports or other matters of great importance.
This would be the first Alliance meeting for Sarah Hyden-Smith, and she approached the date with a combination of excitement and trepidation. After all, she was the first female to enter the all-male fraternity of ministers in Lennox Valley, and she was concerned she might not be welcomed with open arms.
Sarah was pleasantly surprised by her reception. All her colleagues, even those from churches that didn’t allow female clergy, offered their sincere welcome and quickly made her feel at home.
She had considered bringing the subject of the annual Men’s Breakfast and Turkey Shoot at First Baptist Church to their attention, but thought better of the idea. After all, what concern of hers was it if men wanted to have a meal together and shoot paper plates? Maybe after a year, the time would be right to address such things before the group.
Father O’Reilly was the first to welcome Sarah as she entered Betsy’s Diner on Highway 11, just north of the VFW. The group usually lunched at Betsy’s, instead of the Haufbrau, to keep the Baptists and some Methodists from getting upset at their pastors for eating at an establishment that served beer.
Most of lunch was spent discussing the upcoming election, with Father O’Reilly taking a good bit of ribbing for having the only church without a candidate on the ballot.
"Looking at the candidates," quipped the good father, "I’m thinking I should round one up."
Following lunch, the group began their business meeting in the "social room" at Betsy’s. The social room was a fancy name for four tables that could be separated from the rest of the diner with an accordian-style folding wall.
There was one item of business on the meeting schedule, a presentation from Vera Pinrod, representing the Auburn Hat Society.
"You might remember," Pinrod began, "earlier this year I brought an item to your attention about a scandalous book being read by many of our children."
Being new to the alliance, Sarah had no idea what book Vera was referring to.
"Harry Potter," continued Pinrod, "might be the most dangerous element to prey upon our youth since Dungeons and Dragons was banned from official school activities in 1987."
Being a fan of Harry Potter, Sarah almost giggled before catching herself.
Vera continued, "I have spoken to both Raymond Cooper and Mayor Bland, and both agree that something must be done about this menace. I’m sure you will give this issue the prayerful consideration it warrants."
Lutheran Pastor Brother Jacob, sitting next to Sarah, leaned over and whispered, "Welcome to Lennox Valley."
Each week, "The Good Folks of Lennox Valley" chronicles the happenings of a fictional American small town.