Friday, August 7, 2009

the lot

The news that I'm going to be spending the next 11 months working on an organic farm has elicited a range of responses from the adults in my life. Of late the tone has been a mix of amusement and incredulity. I'm at a family reunion of sorts, and of the assembled 10 aunts and uncles, I know that at least seven grew up on farms (though only two chose to farm themselves). Of the many stories they've told from their childhoods in Lancaster County, the following was one of the most interesting.

Among the more conservative Mennonite congregations, being a pastor or some other part of the church leadership was not something one aspired to or discerned a particular calling for. When a new pastor (or bishop, or deacon) was needed, nominations would be gathered (3 from each member) for who from the congregation would be chosen as the pastor on a Wednesday. Any candidate with at least 3 nominations would be examined by the elders for character and leadership capacity, and the following weekend the church would be assembled for "the lot". In my grandfather's case, two men from the congregation proceeded past this vetting process. Two brand-new Bibles (there was some discussion as to whether these actually had metal clamps to seal them shut) were taken by the elders to the back of the church, and a piece of paper was slipped underneath the front cover of one Bible, after which both were closed. Someone else who had not seen which Bible contained the slip of paper stood the two Bibles on the pulpit in front of the congregation, and the candidates, in descending order of age, chose one of the Bibles (usually, but not always proceeding in order from right to left). They then waited for the bishop to come and open the Bibles to see which of the two God had chosen, by means of the lot, to be the pastor.

When my grandfather was chosen by the lot to lead his small church, the changes for the family included switching cash crops from tobacco to tomatoes and moving the radio to the attic (where it could only be turned on for the World Series).

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