Thursday, January 18, 2007
“I hear the train a-comin’, it’s comin’ round the bend...”
Preachers do not work all of the time, and I do not suppose people would want us to. Last week, for example, I attended my annual meeting of the Mississippi Great Southern Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society in Hattiesburg. About 60 were in attendance — some are railroaders, but most are “laypeople” like me who just like trains as a hobby. It is always an interesting assembly. The NRHS has chapters all over the country, but I like the one at Hattiesburg especially well.
For some reason a lot of preachers enjoy trains. I am not sure why this is, but it is so. At the meeting last week were my friend Frank Brooks, a retired Presbyterian minister living in Corinth, as well as my host while in Hattiesburg, the Rev. David Price, district superintendent of the Hattiesburg District of the United Methodist Church, and a wonderful pastor and friend in every way. Also present was the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Puckett. Any similar gathering will attract a similar number of ministers.
Perhaps the enthusiasm among the clergy for trains can be explained by a story David Price tells about an English vicar who would slip out of the vicarage every evening at a certain time. People became curious about the minister’s nocturnal disappearances, and finally some members of the parish began to spy on him.
It turns out he would walk through the woods down to a railroad track, and when the train appeared he would wave his hat and cheer at the engineer. When confronted with this strange behavior, the vicar exclaimed, “I love this train because it is one thing in this parish that moves without my having to get behind it and push!”
David Price arranged for our meeting to be held in the fellowship hall of the Main Street United Methodist Church, where he served as pastor before becoming district superintendent. A slight mix-up occurred that illustrates the hilarious things that can and do go wrong in church. (Any church!)
When we arrived, I noticed a good deal of rushing about and conferring between the church hostess and my friend David. It seems that the kitchen staff was responsible for two events that day — our meeting and a wedding reception, and apparently, the order of events had become garbled as it was transmitted to the cooks. They thought the wedding was at noon (the hour of our meeting), and that our meeting was at 6 p.m. — the time of the wedding!
As a result the kitchen staff almost rolled out the wedding cake before our group of railroaders! It was all straightened out in a matter of minutes, but we did have to wait about half an hour while the cooks whipped up a delicious lunch of chicken and dumplings for our crew.
We used the time for visiting and introducing ourselves, and I noticed that the humor of the situation diffused any bad humor that might otherwise have arisen because of 60 men with empty stomachs!
I had to laugh, though, at what the cooks must have thought as we first arrived in that fellowship hall — a bunch of aging, balding, mostly overweight men — many in overalls and wearing engineer’s caps! We made the funniest-looking wedding congregation you ever saw. What if we had been given all the finger sandwiches and tea cakes for that wedding reception and eaten them up before anyone knew better?
The chicken and dumplings we later enjoyed were good, but would hardly have taken the place of the eatables one normally expects at a wedding. All in all, I was glad that the mistake happened with our group and not with the wedding.
Trains sometimes get off schedule, and so do church kitchens. I’m just glad I got to Hattiesburg and back without a derailment!
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