A Little White Church Advent
Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past. Micah 5:2
You’re going where?
That was the reaction I received from friends who knew me from my well-heeled days—and my not so perfectly manicured nails—as a Manhattan editor, when I told them I was going to be moving to rural America to pastor a little white church from the 1700s.
Let me explain here about the not so perfectly manicured nails. I had—and still have—a habit of nibbling on them while deep in the writing process. In fact, one nail just bit the dust right now.
Anyway, the reaction of where I was going didn’t get any better from ministry colleagues whom I thought would understand that this “call from God” thing often took you to the very place you least expected to go.
“I didn’t know you had aspirations of blessing cows,” was the joke made to me when I had to tell the chair of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry (Presbyterian lingo for the committee that guides you through the process to ordination and accepting a call).
“Very funny,” I said, trying to hide my annoyance and then trying to explain the unexplainable. When I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere with the chair of the committee—or anyone else—I would just give up and go along with them.
“Yep, well, what can I say? I’m looking forward to blessing the goats as well.”
Truth was, this move to a little rural village in which few had heard of didn’t make complete sense to me as well. And yet every time I thought of ministry there I was filled with hopeful anticipation and excitement for what God would reveal to me. I just had this incredible peace that certainly did pass all understanding that God was leading me to something I just couldn’t even imagine for myself.
It just didn’t make sense to my Manhattan friends or to my ministry colleagues or even to me. Yet it made complete sense to God. And day-by-day as I settled into role of an accidental country pastor something happened. I fell in love with a region of the country I never thought I would live in.
Each and every day I was in awe of the amazing sunrises. Each night awe struck again by how beautiful the sun set over hills and mountains and fields. The mooing of the cows echoing in the night brought a peaceful smile to my face. Even the smell of freshly sprayed manure made me smile.
My father grew up on a farm in Switzerland and a visit to the family home nestled in the Alps when I was a little girl certainly had its share of freshly sprayed fields. So in a way, the smell was sentimental, connecting me to my Swiss heritage.
I fell in love with the little rural village and its hills and fields and mountains. I also fell in love with its people who showed me it was possible to still smile even when life was tough. The perseverance mixed with a strong sense of community was refreshing and unique having come from city living where one didn’t even know the neighbor living in the apartment right next door to you.
Most of all, though, I fell in love with my life once again for when I first moved to the village on the border of Vermont, I had baggage to unpack. I’m not talking about boxes with my dishes or books in them. I had baggage of being 40 and single and still aching from the unanswered question as to why my boyfriend was killed years before, leaving me on this path of having to live life alone—or so it seemed.
Day-by-day, though, I unpacked the baggage of love lost and crushed dreams and before I knew it, I was coming back to life. But I was coming back to a life I had never expected to live, let alone fall in love with.
And so imagine my dismay when at one Advent Bible study at the little white church, while exploring the significance of Jesus being from Nazareth, a town in which one of his soon-to-be followers initially questioned, “Can anything good come from there?” the remark was made, “It’s like asking if anything good can come from this little rural village.”
Knowing smiles and chuckles came from those sitting at the table. A few days later, while hanging out with the children at the church’s after school program, we began talking about the same piece of scripture the adults had discussed. Same reaction came.
“Can anything good come from…”
“YES!” was my response. Yes, it can and it will. For that is the beauty of the Christmas story. God sees great significance in what the world says is insignificant. God didn’t raise a great ruler from a big and powerful city. God chose a little town. God didn’t choose the brightest and the richest to be the parents to Jesus. God chose regular working class people. God didn’t break the news of the birth of a Savior to the elite. God chose to let the lowly shepherds in on the good news first.
Can anything good come from a little rural village let alone a little rural village ministry?
Yes! It can and it did as day-by-day I saw hearts open to God and wills surrendering to God’s mysterious plans that proved way better than any of our plans.
O little town of…
In the middle of writing this, my reflections of a blessed ministry at a little white church in a rural village, I received an email from a friend who lived just down the block from the church and who would visit me every Sunday morning as I prepared for worship. He wrote:
I am glad this little town, in the middle of nowhere, has made a difference [to you]. It really helps to know that we actually matter, in such a big world. May the love and remembrances of Christmas past fill your heart with the anticipation of Christmas future.
Can anything good come from…
Yes. Good came.
In a a little village my heart was healed and I found a life I never thought I would ever find. I fell in love with the region, the people, my now husband who came from the little rural village and, I fell ever more deeply in love with the God I have come to trust a little bit more.
May we never look at things as little or insignificant, for they are the very things God smiles upon and uses for His purpose of hope and healing.