Friday, May 16, 2014

Greet One Another With A Kiss...Maybe.

My same friend who told of the "non-remembrance" celebration funeral also told me recently that their larger governing body of the church did a demonstration about how to greet one another and visitors on a Sunday morning and they had a group from one particular congregation who came and went round the room kissing everyone. They have a "leader" who has nicknamed herself "Kissy-Lizzy" who is in charge of the kissing brigade.

No I am not making this up. Stuff that happens in the church is too wild, weird and wacky to make up. It really does happen in churches just like yours.

So anyway, I thought about what could happen if "Kissy-Lizzy" were not in the best of health on a particular Sunday, and that got me going and the result is this "news item" that might have appeared in that church's local press...

UCC Congregation Smacked in the Kisser

Reports are coming in that an large number of people have all passed away due to a fast moving epidemic that seems to be infecting mostly the members of one local congregation. The St. Peter’s by the Gas Station United Church of Christ, a fixture at the corner of State and Main Streets since its founding before the Revolution, is almost completely decimated. Merely a month ago, it was a thriving church of over two hundred members, known for its friendly, outgoing and warm welcome. Now it numbers only a dozen members, all of whom refuse to emerge from their homes for worship on Sundays.

About two weeks ago, the first death occurred, when one of their members, Elizabeth “Lizzy” Canitby Herr, the direct descendent of one of the church's founding families, was found dead at her kitchen table, slumped over her breakfast souse. “I came into the room and there she was with her face in her plate,” said her husband Wilbur. Since Mrs. Herr was a bit rotund and had suffered from asthma for some years, her many friends were saddened but not surprised by her death. No autopsy was done at the time. But before long, questions began to arise.

Mrs. Herr’s viewing was scheduled for that coming Wednesday, but even before that time, several members of the congregation fell ill. Agnes Splatz was found collapsed in a heap of slightly soiled linens in her laundry room, the morning after Lizzy Herr’s demise. Her cat was dead, beside her. Not hours later, Maude Garble was found unconscious and near death in her Plymouth Reliant, in the parking lot of the Erstwhile Pharmacy, a bottle of Dr. Silver’s Golden Elixir still in her hand, as if she had been trying for some eleventh hour relief from her terrible affliction. Later that same morning, Mr. Nevin Garble, her husband of forty years was discovered in his workshop at home, also dead. Detectives from the police department later revealed that both Miss Splatz and Mrs. Garble were members of Mrs. Herr’s Golden Hours Sunday School Class at St. Peter's Church.

Before noon that same day, the pastor of the church, the Rev. Eldon Onandon, was found dead in his study, his Bible open to the book of Job, and notes for the coming Sunday’s message nearby. Mrs. Onandon, who has been off visiting her mother in Buffalo this month, was not affected. More members of the church died before suppertime, including Bud Snyder, the church consistory president and his entire family. All eight were found dead in their VW bus at Picnic Park. By that evening all sixteen members of the church choir, many of their family, friends, as well as the choir director, Oscar Waverly had also succumbed to the disease.

“By that time,” says police Chief Dwindle, “we began to wonder what was happening.” No time was wasted before the authorities began canvassing the town, tracking down every lead. In some instances they arrived at church member’s homes just moments after death had beaten them to the doorstep. By this time, church members were dropping like flies.

A lead in the case was broken when they visited the home of Pauline MacTrundle, who was found in a weakened condition, in bed, with a patchwork quilt pulled up to her nose. “It was last week that we were at the Penn Northeast Conference,” she told detectives, “showing how we are welcoming visitors and members every Sunday morning, by passing the peace.” Mrs. MacTrundle tried to demonstrate but the officers demurred, fortunately, as it turned out later. “We went round kissing everyone there, just like we kiss everyone at church on Sundays. Like this, smack, smack, smack! The idea is that no one should go home unkissed. Mrs. Herr is in charge of our kissing program, and she calls herself ‘Kissy-Lizzy’…” “You mean, ‘called’, don’t you?” questioned officer Emil Klinger. But before she could reply, Mrs. MacTrundle’s eyes rolled back into her head and she breathed her last.

Quick thinking and quick acting members of the town’s force soon went to all of the homes where there were known to be members of the St. Peter’s Church. They issued a stern warning to one and all to stop kissing one another at all costs. The funeral services for Mrs. Herr were changed to cremation, with her ashes to be scattered in Slough’s Pond, south of town. Other families followed this example, so as to contain the contagion as much as possible. Even so, scores of St Peter's members were gone by that Saturday and services at the church were a shadow of their former selves that Sunday. Church members arrived with handkerchiefs and bandannas round their faces, and sat far apart from one another, “like the Presbyterians do,” as one member said. A special offering was collected for relief of those whose family members had died already.

As the second week of this epidemic took its toll, the deaths peaked and then began tapering off, so that by the following Saturday, the disease had seemed to petered out. “We’ve learned our lesson, “ said Pastor Guy Neff, of the Methodist church. “All of the town’s ministers have all agreed that there will be no more passing of the peace in our churches.”

When interviewed about her role in the disaster, Mrs. “Kissy-Lizzy” Herr’s husband Wilbur, said, “This is what you get when you try to mix church and that lovey-dovey stuff.” Wilbur Herr, who is not a member of the St. Peter's church, does not seem to have been affected by this terrible disease.

Pastors could write volumes about the wild, weird and wacky things that are said to them, or that they are asked or expected to do, or that happen in and around their congregations, that are often the complete opposite of what the Bible (or common sense, or etiquette, or wisdom) tells them so. But we pastors mostly keep mum and only talk to one another about it saying, "You won't believe this one..." And the funny thing is, the odd stuff keeps on coming, day after day. Like wave after wave, upon the seashore of life.

Never a dull moment in ministry I always say. Fifteen minutes of boredom now and then might provide some relief. But we stick with comic relief instead. Levity, always levity...

If you wonder why your pastor is smiling... Now you know.

Have a great day!


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