My Stewardship Story
“Hello, this is Pastor Roger, would you be able to take me for a little drive this afternoon?”
Kansas native Pastor Roger was relatively new to my mother’s United Methodist congregation and was preparing to officiate my mother’s funeral service on the following day. My brother, and my sister and I were only too happy to get out of the house and take a drive out into the wide open spaces of rural southern Nebraska.
As Pastor Roger got in our rental car, he made a simple request, “Let’s just take a drive out to Spring Valley. I keep hearing about it but I’ve never really had the chance to see it yet."
After about 10 miles of lonely blacktop followed by another 5 miles of dusty gravel road, we crested a low hill and could clearly see the 3 or 4 farmsteads which were sprinkled across a small creek valley known locally as “Spring Valley.” In my mind’s eye, I was trying my best to visualize the more than twice as many farmsteads that thrived there 6 decades ago as I was growing up, populated mostly by my Aunts, Uncles, cousins and other relatives. This was the place where both my Mom and my Dad were born and raised, where they met, where they were married, and where they made their home and raised their family.
As we pulled into the overgrown grassy parking lot of the old Spring Valley United Methodist Church, Pastor Roger got out of the car to kick the dirt and to feel the crisp breezes of that early spring day. He didn’t say much as he took a closer look at the grounds and the simple frame church building which was gradually succumbing to the ravages of the prairie sun and winds. He seemed deep in contemplation and perhaps in prayer as we headed back to town and listened quietly as we pointed out the places where cornfields had replaced familiar farmsteads where we remembered a favorite family picnic or a game of backyard baseball.
The next day at the service, Pastor Roger spoke movingly and reverently of Spring Valley, he spoke of the love of God and love for each other and the sense of community that was palpable to him as walked the grounds of that old church, a feeling that he could sense from the soil and the air of that place.
The Spring Valley Methodist Church was then and still is a bittersweet memory for me. During my childhood and adolescent years, it helped keep me safe, it allowed me to explore, and it nurtured my hopes and dreams and my faith. It was indeed my beloved community, but as fewer and fewer farmers tended more and more acres and the older generations retired and moved to the nearby small towns, well, you know the rest of the story. The inevitable destiny of rural communities like Spring Valley was pretty much determined when the tractor replaced the horse.
First Presbyterian Church of Valparaiso has now been my church for more than 25 years. I think Pastor Roger would like it if he were able to walk our grounds and check out our worship spaces and better yet, meet some of our members. If you are reading this, you have probably laughed with me during good times and prayed for me during the tough times. You helped provide a safe and loving community for our own children. You prayed with me when I lost my Mother and then my older brother not so many years ago; and you didn’t hesitate to open the church’s doors to host our daughter’s wedding in the middle of a global pandemic.
As a faith community, we have been truly blessed, we have a beautiful facility and a congregation of kind, generous, and loving individuals and families. We have a wonderful and sometimes under-appreciated location in our corner of the state not far from Lake Michigan and Chicago, with growing and thriving communities like Valparaiso and Chesterton nearby.
So my simple message is this, and that is to remind everyone that, with God’s help, our destiny is within our control, and that is a wonderful gift.