When the new Bakerville parsonage was ready, the church family made short work of the move. I think the members of the congregation were as excited as we were. The new piano arrived and the snow began to fall. My family arrived so we could celebrate Christmas together: All 15 of us! None had seen the new parsonage and most had never been to Bakerville, never seen the historic looking church with the excellent pipe organ.
We caught up on each other, laughed, sang Christmas carols and ate incredible food…from my sister’s home near Boston, from a NYC deli – chosen by my brother and his wife, and the best we could buy in the local markets (dad paid!!). Mickey and Doreen, a couple in the church that owned an excellent Italian restaurant, brought us a meal – which we ate for 3 meals. Church members came with their snow mobiles to give us all rides. Sally Jo and I arranged a sleigh ride for our family. The day was crisp and clear. Two draft horses with bells pulled us around a high field in Litchfield, CT. A picture perfect experience.
The family left and our adrenalin stopped flowing. We were back to “business as usual” – which was 90% fun work. The people were the church, and they knew it! These were people who wanted to praise God, to learn, to grow and to serve the living God. These people cared about and for each other. They even came to church during two snow storms – on their snow mobiles. Yes, of course there were people and church problems, but we were personally growing.
And then…the phone call! “Chuck, you have been laboring outside of the bounds of Presbytery for 4 years. Would you consider becoming Presbyterian Minister to Students at Middle Tennessee State University, minister of education for three “city” churches and 5 small country churches – and preach each Sunday, rotating through the 8 churches? And you would need to put all this together.” The answer was quite easy: No. I mean why would we leave Bakerville, CT for Murphreesboro, TN to start all over again? And why leave people we really enjoyed, where Sally Jo had close friends for the first time since we were married in 1962? The Lord would not ask us to make our 4th move in 8 years.
I told Sally Jo about the phone call and my response. A couple weeks later, the phone rang again: the church group persisted: “Chuck, you have worked in the south, in Christian Education, and pastored a country church. Would you and Sally Jo be willing to come, see the situation, and share your thoughts? Is this a good idea? How it could work?” Sally Jo and I talked briefly and agreed to go for the visit. After meeting pastors, church elders, a group of university students and seeing church facilities, we met with several key people for an extended meeting. Our job was done. The next day we were taken back to the Nashville airport so we could return to the incredible beauty of a rural Connecticut winter. We could not wait to get back!!!! On the ride to the airport the same question was asked:”would we come?” “No”. “Would you at least pray about it?” How could we say no to that request?
After several days of internal struggle, I realized I must consider the invitation with an open mind. And I did – then quickly prayed:”Lord, you would not ask this of us…would you?” I tried to sort out the implications of our move. I remember standing in the parsonage study looking out the large windows to the little stream flowing through the snow. In Tennessee we would have to buy our own home in town, near the university. I realized we would have no church home in Tennessee. Ouch! Slowly I realized I had no choice”. To do what was right before the Lord, we most go”.
When I went upstairs to tell Sally Jo my decision, I was a basket case. None of me wanted to go…yet I knew. As I spilled it all out to Sally Jo she said “I knew we would be going when we got on the plane in Nashville”. “Why didn’t you tell me? You and your friends were a huge part of this painful struggle – how could I ask you to leave? Why didn’t you tell me you knew what we should do?”
“Chuck, this had to be your decision”. The decision was made!